Darkened Understanding

“…you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.”

Ephesians 4:17-19

In the passage above, Paul reveals the connection between insightful thinking, a tender heart, and actions that line up with God’s way of living. He starts by exhorting the Christians in Ephesus to no longer live as the Gentiles do, and he specifically identifies the problem: “the futility of their thinking.” He rewords this same problem a couple more times saying the Gentiles are “darkened in their understanding.” He exposes their “ignorance.”

All of this is a problem in the mind. Their thinking was skewed. They lacked insight and wisdom in the way they thought about things. Their minds were cut off from God’s revelation and truth. What is most interesting is Paul’s diagnosis. How did their minds and their thinking get so warped? How could they become so blind to the truth? Paul says that this happened because of the “hardening of their hearts.”

I find this fascinating!

The reason their thinking was so warped and their ability to embrace truth so damaged was because of a condition in their heart. They had “lost all sensitivity.” What does that mean? It means that, over time, if we don’t actively try to keep a tender heart, our heart will become hardened. If we aren’t actively forgiving those who hurt us, if we aren’t actively being sensitive to the contamination of sin and impurity, we will eventually become desensitized. Bitterness will become normal. We will stop feeling the pangs of conviction when we sin. Instead of feeling the natural guilt that comes from lust and perversion, we’ll feel nothing at all but justification for our actions.

When hearts become hardened to sin, our actions become unrestrained. Selfishness, indulgence, pleasure, and ego become king. Greed becomes normal, along with lust and jealousy, fear and hatred. And it’s not difficult to see how this works its way backward toward darkened understanding and futility in thinking.

When sin abounds in our life, our heart loses its sensitivity to conviction, its sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. And when our heart loses sensitivity over time, it becomes hardened, calloused, desensitized. Inevitably, the hardness of our heart prevents our mind from receiving truth, illumination, and revelation. We are cut off from the profound insights that the Lord wants to plant in our minds, and our thinking becomes darkened and futile.

So often we compartmentalize the wholeness of our being and we miss the deep connections between our actions, our heart, and our mind. Paul makes these connections clear to the Ephesians and to us. We all want to have profound, insightful thoughts, but most people don’t see the connection between how they’re living and how they’re thinking. We want to have illuminating thoughts without obedience. We want insight without self-discipline. But they are connected.

The more willing we are to surrender our actions to the Lord, the more willing we are to be obedient in our self-denial, then the more tender our heart remains. We want a heart that is sensitive to the gentle nudges of the Holy Spirit. We want a heart that is quick to embrace conviction of sin and quick to repent. This then keeps the door open and receptive for when God wants to download His thoughts into ours. This then keeps us ready to receive profound, illuminating thoughts that are thick with wisdom and insight.

Our actions change the condition of our hearts. Our hearts then change the receptivity of our minds.

Depth of Insight

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 

Philippians 1:9-10

Occasionally in the Paul’s letters, he writes out his prayers. This is one of the prayers he prays for the believers in the city of Philippi.

His prayer is that their agape love would abound more and more. But how would this unconditional, Christ-like love grow in them? He prays that their love grows in two areas: knowledge and depth of insight.

The word here in the Greek for knowledge isn’t gnosis, which is the standard word. The word here is epignosis, which means “knowledge gained through first-hand experience or relationship.” Paul didn’t want them to amass more information and think that was going to grow their love. What they needed was personal relationship with Jesus, first-hand encounters with the Holy Spirit that helped them gain more knowledge about who God is and what He is like.

The Greek words that form the phrase “depth of insight” are the words for “all or every” and a word that means “perception, understanding or discernment.” Literally it could be translated “every perception.” The root of this word for “perception” is used when Jesus tries to tell His disciples that He is going to be crucified.

While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it…

Luke 9:43-45

The disciples did not grasp it. They could not understand it. They couldn’t perceive the reality of it. This is the same word used in Paul’s prayer when he prayed for the Philippians to have “insight.” The way that they will grow in their love for God and for other people is if they can grow in their understanding, depth of insight, and perception of the truth.

Love is not the fullness of itself unless it is combined with understanding and truth. We’ve seen enablers perpetuate the addiction of their loved ones and call it love. We’ve seen domestic violence victims protect their abuser from criminal prosecution and call it love. Everything that feels like love and looks like love isn’t always love. We need our love to abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight in order for it to really be love.

And we see this happen on so many issues today to well-meaning Christians. In their attempt to be loving, they leave behind knowledge and depth of insight. In doing so they limit their ability to be “able to discern what is best,” what is “pure and blameless.”