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Why Apparently Happy People Really Aren’t Having All the Fun

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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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 4:18

One time, when I was a college pastor, a young woman I'll call Toni challenged my teaching that the Christian life leads to the most fulfillment and joy. "I look at all the things I'm not supposed to do," Toni began, "and then I look at my non-Christian friends. They party all the time. They get to have sex before marriage. They do all sorts of crazy things. It seems to me that they're really having all the fun. I'm not sure the Christian life is all you're claiming it to be." Though I didn't agree with her point, I did appreciate Toni's honesty. She gave expression to something that many of us have secretly thought. It may seem at times that those who "party" all the time are having the most fun.

And, for a while, they may be having the most fun, if you want to call it that. But, Ephesians 4:19 reveals something profoundly true and important. Excessive sensuality, while it appears to augment our feelings of happiness, actually has the opposite effect over time.

Ephesians 4:19 describes the Gentiles in terms reminiscent of Toni's objection: "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." It's likely that the last phrase, "and they are full of greed," refers in this context to an insatiable desire for more impure sensual pleasures. Notice carefully the first phrase of the sentence, "Having lost all sensitivity." Here, Paul uses the perfect participle of a rare verb, apalgeo, which appears only here in the Greek New Testament. It conveys, not an excess of feeling, but rather a loss of feeling. The ESV translates this phrase as "They have become callous." The Message prefers "Feeling no pain," which is close to the literal meaning of apalgeo.

However one translates this Greek verb, it reveals the association of excess sensuality with a lack of feeling, not with more feeling. When we continue to indulge in immoral sensual actions, we end up dulling our feelings, not enhancing them. We become callous to the pain that our sinful actions cause, both to ourselves and to others. And, in our desire for more "fun," we dive deeper into the pool of hedonistic behavior. Yet our happiness is fleeting, and feelings of true joy cannot fill our hardened hearts.

Ephesians 4:19 focuses on the negative results of carnal excess. It assumes what is not stated here, namely, that experiencing the life of God and living according to his wisdom is not only right, but also the way of true joy. And sometimes, it is downright fun.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever wondered to yourself about whether non-Christian folk have more fun? Have you ever experienced, in yourself or someone else, the connection between excess sensuality and a lack of feeling? Have there been times in your life when living as a Christian was downright fun? What made those times so enjoyable?

PRAYER: Gracious God, I do not want to lose all sensitivity. I do not want to become someone who must indulge in more impurity in order to feel. I do not want to lose the pain that comes with sin. Forgive me, Lord, when I allow my heart to become hardened, when I minimize the impact of sin in my life.

Help me, Lord, to be fully sensitive, aware, and tenderhearted. May I delight in all of the good you give to me. May I enjoy you and the fellowship of your people. May I live with joy inspired by your Spirit each day. Amen.

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Coming to Terms With Our Limitations

Are you struggling to face the chasm between your dreams and your not-so-glamorous circumstances? Then our series Coming to Terms with Our Limitations is for you. If you or someone you know needs encouragement along these lines, join us on The High Calling.

Image courtesy of Laity Lodge Family Camp, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.

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