17 ¶ This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, 18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: 19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
Gentiles are non-Jews. Many times, in the Bible, they are referred to as Greek as it was the predominant culture of the time. Clearly, Paul is talking to a church that, unlike many in the early history of the church, was predominantly non-Jewish. The first Christians were almost all Jews but as time progressed the Christian faith went out into the world at large.
Our heathen ancestors walked in the vanity, or emptiness, of their minds, devoid of truth. Notice the following complaint about the Hebrews’ faithlessness.
2Kings 17:15 And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them, that they should not do like them.
The Gentiles created gods in their own minds out of the wind, out of fire, thunder, and any other natural occurrence. They worshipped gods thy made with their own hands out of wood or stone. This, the Israelites copied, to their shame.
Isaiah 2:6 ¶ Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers. 7 Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots: 8 Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made: 9 And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.
You and I were darkened by the vanity of our mind before we trusted Christ. We worshipped a lifestyle, perhaps, of drugs, alcohol, rocknroll libertinism, and self-abuse in a world controlled only by money and our baser impulses.
Perhaps, though, the vanity of our mind included a worship of celebrity, education, pleasure, or material possessions. Maybe even we worshipped youth. Our gods are no different. Our vanity is no less disgusting to God.
Our understanding was darkened and we were willfully ignorant, because our spiritual hearts were blind. I can remember in the 1970’s the oft-repeated mantra, “follow your heart.” Yet, God has said through the prophet;
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
We were told to trust ourselves and yet;
Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
We placed ourselves in opposition to the God who created us by our love of the world’s values and aspirations.
1 John 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world .
After Adam and Eve were convinced to doubt God’s word in Genesis 3, these were the three things with which she was tempted.
Genesis 3:6 ¶ And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food [lust of the flesh - Deut. 12:15], and that it was pleasant to the eyes [lust of the eyes – 2 Sam. 11:2] ,and a tree to be desired to make one wise [the pride of life – Dan. 4:30], she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
These are still our gods.
A long time ago we deadened our senses to God’s standard. We are, “past feeling.”
Lasciviousness and uncleanness with greediness are the world’s passions. Lasciviousness is wantonness and lewdness; the proverbial dirty, old man making inappropriate comments to a young woman, the young woman who dresses immodestly and acts in a flirtatious manner, the young man who is always thinking of how he might exploit a young woman’s weakness for attention, flattery, and approval, or the middle-aged woman addicted to romance novels and sexual fantasy all are examples of lasciviousness of thought and manner.
Lasciviousness has other companions;
1 Peter 4:3 For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries:
Uncleanness has many definitions but particularly in Leviticus it is a reference to being defiled in some manner. It, too, has a strong sexual connotation but here the words, “with greediness,” are part of it. We know that Paul warned us that,
1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
It is easy here to think of how money mixed with sexual uncleanness is a great corrupter of our age. From pornography to ordinary advertisements in magazines and billboards sex is sold and products are sold with sex. In the world it is not just the joyful bond between a man and a woman who are committed to each other for life, it is a product, a means of moving an advertising message, and instructional in how to exploit, manipulate, and abuse others.
This is nothing new. Ancient religions were filled with sexual implications and acts. In Daniel Snell’s book Life in the Ancient Near East he revealed how every woman, when she came of age, was expected to go into a temple of Ishtar and wait until a stranger tossed a coin in her lap and then engage in sex for Ishtar. Some even insist that coins themselves developed partly as a need resulting from this religious practice.
Historians give us the reason why the Corinthian Christians were so insistent about long hair on their women, something that Paul says is founded in good reasons but was not an issue in the other Christian churches. It seems there was a temple to Aphrodite, the Greek version of Ishtar, at nearby Acro-Corinth, with a thousand temple prostitutes with short hair or shaved bald. The men of Corinth were very religious. Christian women needed to be distinguished from these temple prostitutes.
God had to warn the Israelites not to permit temple prostitutes of either sex in His temple. Keep in mind that a dog is still a slang term for a male prostitute.
Deuteronomy 23:18 Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the LORD thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
Whore is not just a rough word for a woman of low morals but is often used for a female prostitute in the religions of Canaan just as a sodomite is a word referring to a male temple prostitute.
Deuteronomy 23:17 There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel.
Even some Hindu temples are adorned with depictions of perverse sexual practices performed in conjunction with religion. The Gentile world was twisted and perverse in God’s eyes and still is with money being inextricably intertwined with the perversion.
Our Gentile ancestors had long ago deadened their senses to perversion and greed. We are called out of that evil world where a girl’s virtue is sold for a coin and a boy’s honor for money just as the Hebrews were called out. There are quite a few sermons to be preached about not buying products advertised with models in sexually suggestive poses due to the damage those ads do to young women’s self-esteem and morals, and how they deaden our senses so that we are less and less shocked and shamed at what we see, as they exploit our most basic desires and take something that is good and to be enjoyed in its proper context and make merchandise of it.