The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:17-19 that the true Christian no longer conducts himself (or herself) like the non-Christian. He then actually lists a few characteristics that can really be boiled down to three traits. First, the Old Man is characterized Intellectual Deficiency (v. 17b), and, second, Spiritual Debility (v. 18).
Third, which we started last time, the Old Man is characterized by Moral Depravity (v. 19). Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. The latter part of the verse describes the practical outworking of moral depravity: Consider three characteristics.
1. Lasciviousness (aselgeia) speaks of unrestrained self-indulgence, especially in sexual sin. The Greek root behind uncleanness is katharos, which means clean or pure, so with the prefix (a) added (akatharos), it forms the opposite: “the whole realm of uncleanness, ranging from menstruation to moral pollution through wrongdoing.”
Actually, in fact, that is putting it delicately. The debauchery of the ancient world was beyond comprehension. As one scholar comments: “The refinements of art too often ministered to such groveling pursuits. The naked statues of the goddesses were not exempted from rape, and many pictures of their divinities were but the excitements of sensual gratification . . . There was a brisk female trade in potions to induce sterility and barrenness. In fact, one dares not describe the forms, and scenes, and temptations of impurity, or even translate what classical poets and historians have revealed without a blush.”
One such poet was the famous 1st and 2nd Century Roman poet Juvenal, whose sixteen Satires, especially the Sixth, were graphic depictions of and scathing attacks on the moral perversion of the Empire. In one place he wrote, “What neighborhood does not reek with filthy practices?” Satire ii, 8). Another poet of the day, Martial, wrote, “Long have I been searching the city through to find if there is ever a maid to say ‘No;’ there is not one” (Ep. iv, 71.). Worse, homosexuality and sodomy were considered acceptable and normal behavior. Is it any wonder that the Roman Empire fell and why our own nation is following suit?
The same was true of the Greeks, as the Ephesians were quite aware. Due in part to the fact of the pagan temple of Artemis (or Diana), Ephesus was a leading city in debauchery and sexual immorality. Some historians view it as the most perverted city of Asia Minor. The rituals and ceremonies merely justified the perversion of the people’s hearts. Every indulgent sexual practice was common and condoned. Artemis was, in fact, a goddess of sex, which was served by thousands of temple prostitutes, eunuchs, singers, dancers, priests, and priestesses. Even the pagan 5th Century B.C. Greek philosopher Heraclitus referred to Ephesus as “the darkness of vileness. The morals were lower than animals and the inhabitants of Ephesus were fit only to be drowned.”
The general behavior of the Greeks was equally wretched. Theft was dishonorable only when the thief failed to conceal it. In other words, “It’s okay as long as you don’t get caught.” While they prided themselves in philosophy, and professed to desire truth, Truth was, in reality, not a priority. 4th Century B.C. poet Menander lays down the general rule “that a lie is better than a hurtful truth.” The so-called great Plato allows us to lie as needed, as long as we do it at the proper time. 600 years later, this philosophy remained unchanged. 2nd Century philosopher Maximus Tyrius asserted, “There is nothing decorous in truth, save when it is profitable, and sometimes a lie is profitable, and truth injurious to men.” In the 4th Century, philosopher Proclus likewise asserted that “good is better than truth,” a philosophy we are hearing today even among evangelicals. During the same period, historian Herodotus records the common teaching of the day that, “When telling a lie is profitable, tell it!” These examples are more than sufficient to justify Paul in his condemnation of the crimes and corruptions of the heathen world. So important is this, in fact, that He returns to it later in verses 22 and 25-32, as will we. We’ll conclude next time.