You No Longer Walk Just as the Nations Walk
“You no longer go on walking just as the nations also walk . . . while they are in darkness mentally.”—Eph. 4:17, 18.
1. Why is the following information important?
The moral condition earth wide is worsening drastically. Forms of entertainment that, several years ago, would have been considered appalling are now very much accepted by the masses. Such influence is threatening even the Christian congregation. What can be done to resist such trends? The following articles will provide some meaningful answers.
2, 3. (a) To what did Jesus and Paul liken the conduct of Christians? (b) What is the reputation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in general, yet what has happened to some individuals?
2 “You are the light of the world,” declared Jesus Christ. A Christian’s conduct is to shine brightly in a morally dark world. Paul charged all disciples “living in a warped and diseased world” to remain “shining . . . lights in a dark place.” Yet those early disciples, though associated with Jesus and the apostles, were still imperfect humans. If not careful they could be influenced by the moral atmosphere of a “warped and diseased world” and in a moment of temptation could forsake their Christian morality. In fact, some returned completely to works of darkness.—Matt. 5:14; Phil. 2:15, Phillips’ translation; Phil. 3:18, 19.
3 So, too, in our time the pressure is on to make us return to the darkness of this world. Regrettably, some Christians have yielded to the pressure. Though by and large Jehovah’s Witnesses are known world wide for their honest and moral lives, individually some have ceased walking as “children of light” and have had to be removed from the congregation. Their conduct is no longer exemplary. What could be contributing to such unpleasant occurrences?—1 Cor. 5:13; Eph. 5:8.
PRESSURE FROM THE WORLD
4. What has happened to the morals of the world, and how do the popular forms of entertainment verify this?
4 Obviously the worldwide moral environment has worsened. Many in the world have “come to be past all moral sense.” (Eph. 4:19) This is apparent in the forms of entertainment that thrive today. Why single out entertainment? Because we can learn much about a person’s inclinations from what he does after his regular working hours, when he can do what he wants to do. What a person does with his free time, when he is “off duty,” as it were, tells much about what he is really like. Judging from the notoriously bad forms of entertainment that are popular today, the moral quality of today’s world is quite low. But is such baseness affecting you?
5. Why is it timely that we consider counsel from the book of Ephesians?
5 Remember, we are not the first Christians to live during a period of sunken morality. The description of persons “past all moral sense” applied to some who lived in the Mideastern city of Ephesus during the infancy of Christianity. The apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Christians should be of utmost importance to us, for in it he gets to the bottom of what it means to walk as “children of light.” His counsel is truly relevant in these critical “last days” when many professed Christians are “lovers of pleasures.”—2 Tim. 3:1-7, 13.
HOW THE NATIONS WALK
6, 7. (a) At Ephesians 4:17, Christians are urged to cease to do what? (b) How were people of the nations “walking” in the first century?
6 At Ephesians 4:17 Paul urged his fellow Christians “no longer [to] go on walking just as the nations also walk in the unprofitableness of their minds.” How were people of the nations then “walking”? A first-century eyewitness confessed:
“Men seek pleasure from every source. No vice remains within its limits; . . . We are overwhelmed with forgetfulness of that which is honourable. Man . . . is now slaughtered for jest and sport . . . it is a satisfying spectacle to see a man made a corpse.”*
Without any genuine goal in life many persons overemphasized amusement, seeking pleasure from any source.
7 Ancient Ephesus was well suited to provide for one’s recreational desires. It contained a massive 25,000-seat amphitheater and a stadium or racecourse that could offer spectacles to delight any fancy. These structures were products of the existing world empire, Rome, of which one historian said: “The moral condition of the empire is, indeed, in some respects one of the most appalling pictures on record.”
8. (a) Ephesians 4:18 calls attention to persons with what kind of heart, and what did the Greek word originally mean? (b) Did such a condition develop suddenly?
8 Paul described the people as being “in darkness mentally, . . . because of the insensibility of their hearts.” (Eph. 4:18) Their hearts were without feeling. The Greek word for “insensibility” can be traced back to the description of a stone that was harder than marble. The word was used in medicine to refer to the chalk stone that can gradually form in some joints of the body till all action is paralyzed. Slowly the hearts of such bedarkened ones had become dulled, insensitive, as hard as a stone. This did not happen overnight, but was a gradual process. Their choice of entertainment directly contributed to the process. How so?
9, 10. What was the most popular form of entertainment during the first century, and what effect did this have on the spectators?
9 Do you know what form of entertainment was the most popular at the time? The gladiatorial games, where man was often pitted against man or animal in a fight to the death. Imagine the scene: The stadium is packed with thousands of spectators, some sitting under the shade of a gorgeous silk awning. Delicate music and the aroma of perfumed water flowing through the aisles provides a pleasant background that covers the sounds and smells of death. Suddenly the whole throng rises in a frenzy of shouting: “Kill him! Lash him! Brand him! Why does he meet the sword in so cowardly a way? Why does he strike so feebly?” All this organized butchery was done, as one who attended the games said, for “some fun, wit, and relaxation.”
10 Persons who could watch such violent encounters, whose eyes could gloat on such gore, found other forms of entertainment dull and insipid. As one historian summarized, it “destroyed the nerve of sympathy for suffering which distinguishes the human from the brute creation.”
11. True or false?−Since the gladiatorial games are no more, today’s entertainment cannot produce persons with ‘insensible hearts.’ Why do you so answer?
11 An unbelievable condition, you might say. But does not a comparable situation exist today? True, the gladiatorial contests are long gone, yet note the experience of one news reporter:
“Kill her! Let her have it again! On cue, the killer did ‘let her have it.’ He shot bullets into her. . . . Those ordering the execution—three persons sitting behind me in the theatre were, in every other respect, average moviegoers.”
An isolated case? Hardly. The fact is that in many lands the most popular movies and television programs often are those that feature violence. Such entertainment has helped to produce heartless persons, who have “ceased to feel pain,” or any stings of conscience.—Eph. 4:19, Kingdom Interlinear Translation.
GIVEN OVER TO LOOSE CONDUCT
12. (a) Ephesians 4:19 gives what additional description of how people of the nations were walking? (b) What does “loose conduct” mean, and did the entertainment of that time reflect it?
12 The apostle Paul adds that people of the nations not only had ‘dulled hearts,’ but also “gave themselves over to loose conduct to work uncleanness of every sort with greediness.” (Eph. 4:19) He also spoke of “fornication” and of things too “shameful even to relate.” (Eph. 5:3, 12) In the first century, again it was entertainment, this time the stage or theater, that contributed greatly to these practices. What could be viewed?
“The adventures of deceived husbands, adulteries and amorous intrigues formed the staple of the plots. Virtue was made a mock of, . . . everything sacred and worthy of veneration was dragged in the mire. In obscenity, . . . in impure speeches and exhibitions which outraged the sense of shame, these spectacles exceeded all besides. Ballet dancers threw away their dresses and danced half naked, and even wholly naked, on the stage. Art was left out of account, every thing was designed for mere sensual gratification.”—The Conflict of Christianity with Heathenism, by Gerhard Uhlhorn, p. 120.
How shocking! It is the very epitome of “loose conduct,” for the original Greek word conveys a readiness for any pleasure. It is a shameless disregard for decency where one ceases to care what people say or think.
13. Is similar “loose conduct” readily apparent in some of today’s forms of entertainment?’
13 Is it any different today? Sexual immorality has saturated the fare offered by the entertainment media. In some countries, pornographic movies have been shown even on the television screen, thereby reaching right into the home. Does the audience respond? In Italy, when a pornographic film was shown on TV, “the city all but came to a standstill while the show was on.”
14, 15. (a) What does “greediness” (Eph. 4:19) mean, and do forms of entertainment today create such? (b) Can dedicated Christians be affected by viewing as entertainment material that features sexual immorality?
14 Describing the context of many movies and the attitude of people, one writer said:
“In a majority of the new films, naked sex scenes—heterosexual, incestuous, or homosexual—are staples, . . .” He concluded, “We have, in short, now reached a state in our society when anything goes, where all is permitted, and where no limits are placed on the appetites of the individual, on the gratification of his desires and fantasies.”
15 Such individuals are, just as the apostle Paul describes, persons who “work uncleanness of every sort with greediness.” Yes, “greediness” (“having more,” Kingdom Interlinear Translation), an avaricious desire to glut one’s appetite for the unseemly and to satisfy one’s emotions at whatever the moral cost. (Eph. 4:19) Could not the viewing of such depraved material affect a Christian’s thinking? One who watched several movies of this nature admitted:
“You never forget those scenes, [depicting sexual immorality] the more you think about them the more you find yourself wanting to do what you’ve seen . . . The movie makes you think you’re really missing out on something.” Another added: “You start wondering what it would be like.”
This may not be the experience of everyone, but the danger is there. Our minds can be subtly influenced.
A MORAL MIRACLE
16. According to Ephesians 1:6-8, what rich blessing had Christians received, and how did this affect their lives?
16 What a contrast that is with the course of those in the first century who genuinely followed Christ! These had once walked under the influence of the system and its “ruler,” Satan, and their very nature had been to do “the things willed by the flesh.” But they changed. The elevated truths of Christianity opened up an entirely new outlook on life. Imagine, God was willing to sacrifice his own Son, his “loved one,” so they could have their heavy debt of sin forgiven! What a great price! What mercy and undeserved kindness! “This [undeserved kindness] he [God] caused to abound toward us in all wisdom and good sense,” stated the apostle Paul. So not only did they have knowledge of the truth, but they also were given the “good sense” to be able to deal successfully with the everyday problems of life.—Eph. 1:6-8; 2:1-5.
17. (a) What evidence is there that Christianity was a religion of power? (b) How was its moral power demonstrated?
17 Theirs was a religion of power. God’s spirit had raised Jesus from the dead to an exalted position far above every worldly authority. Now this same “power is toward [those] believers.” (Eph. 1:19-21) What results it produced in the lives of those believers! By considering the matter of morals we can appreciate the power of first-century Christianity. The ancient world regarded sexual immorality as the norm. Cicero, an early Roman writer, even pleaded:
“If there is anyone who thinks that young men should be absolutely forbidden the love of courtesans [prostitutes], he is indeed extremely severe. . . . When indeed was this not done? When did anyone ever find fault with it?”
Yet the “children of light” broke free and stayed free from such practices. There was nothing in all history to compare with the moral miracle that Christianity achieved.
CHILDREN OF LIGHT BEHAVE DIFFERENTLY
18. By what course would the early disciples show their appreciation for being “holy people”?
18 These disciples had a high standard to meet. Hence, Paul counseled: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every sort . . . not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people.” (Eph. 5:3) Not merely refrain from doing such things, but avoid even discussing them for the purpose of deriving some sensual pleasure. How far removed was his thinking from some today who feel, ‘As long as you do not actually commit immorality, there is nothing wrong with watching it and discussing it as entertainment’!
19. How did second- and third-century Christian writers feel about (a) the ‘shamelessness of the theater and the savagery of the arena’? (b) the viewing of “a man put to death”? (c) that which can ‘inflame one with passion or lust’? (d) How can one learn to do wrong things?
19 How did those early Christians feel about the gladiatorial games and the theater, which were the “going thing” in the way of entertainment? Notice these comments of some professed Christian writers who lived during the second and third centuries:
“We [Christians] have nothing to do, in speech, sight or hearing, with the madness of the circus, the shamelessness of the theatre, the savagery of the arena . . . Why should we offend you, if we assume the existence of other pleasures?”—Tertullian.
“We, deeming that to see a man put to death is much the same as killing him, have abjured [solemnly renounced] such spectacles [gladiatorial games].”—Athenagoras.
“The corrupting influence of the stage is still more contaminating. For the subject of comedies are the dishonouring of virgins, or the loves of harlots; . . . What can young men or virgins do, when they see that these things are practised without shame, and willingly beheld by all? They are plainly admonished of what they can do, and are inflamed with lust, which is especially excited by seeing.”—Lactantius. [Italics ours]
“What does a faithful Christian do among these things, since he may not even think upon wickedness? Why does he find pleasure in the representations of lust . . . ? He is learning to do, while he is becoming accustomed to see. . . . We quickly get accustomed to what we hear and what we see.”—Cyprian.
20. (a) Why did the early Christians avoid abased entertainment? (b) Why was their conduct noticeably different?
20 Though these men lived some years after the first-century Christians, we can see how they understood the position of a Christian in these matters. They shunned such debased amusements. They could see the inconsistency for those who had been elevated out of darkness, who had removed obscene talk, violence and immorality from their lives, deliberately to sit and watch such things as entertainment. For the most part those Christians heeded Paul’s counsel to “quit sharing with them in the unfruitful works that belong to darkness, but, rather, even be reproving them.” Their daily lives of purity in the midst of a debased world were a constant ‘reproof’ to the people of the nations. No wonder these were labeled by the ungodly world as “enemies of mankind.” Those disciples gladly showed that they were under a better influence than their carnal-minded neighbors. They demonstrated that they had been “made new in the force actuating [their] mind.” And what a different “force” it was! Others could not help noticing. Are not these the kind of persons we want to be? Regardless of our profession, we either show the “fruitage of the light” or walk as the nations do.—Eph. 4:23; 5:9, 11.
21. For what reason should we today take a realistic look at our choice of entertainment?
21 What, then, about our choice of entertainment today? When we or our children turn on the TV set or go to a movie, what is seen? Is there any real difference between what we choose to watch and the ‘shamelessness of the Roman theater and the savagery of the arena’? Actual cases tell of how some Christians have been negligent and have become ensnared in immorality because of what they made it a habit to watch.
22. (a) Was it easy for the first-century Christians to walk as children of light, yet what were they able to do? (b) What further questions need answering?
22 In contrast, what moral strength those early Christians displayed! Despite living in a world where men’s hearts were so petrified they were not even aware that they were sinning and all sense of shame and decency was forgotten, they managed to keep their minds focused on things that were ‘true, of serious concern, righteous, chaste, lovable, well spoken of, virtuous and praiseworthy.’ (Phil. 4:8) How did they maintain such strength in the midst of an immoral atmosphere? Remember, they were just people of flesh and blood like us today. They had a basic need also for recreation. What were their “other pleasures”? How can we imitate even more closely such sterling examples of “children of light”? These are important questions to consider in the following article.
Lucius Seneca (4 B.C.E.?—65 C.E.) Epistle 95, #33.