The word of the day is “futility.” Today’s business climate puts a premium on efficiency. Management models focus on ways to save time and energy to increase profits. However, efficiency does not equal effectiveness. One can be most efficient, but our work may not be worthwhile. Today in our reading of Ephesians 4:14-19, Paul warns his flock against living as other Gentiles do in the “futility of their mind” (vs. 17). From the apostles’ spiritual point of view, the unbelieving citizens of the Roman empire are living unproductive and ineffective lives despite their efficiency. Today we consider how we can avoid the entrapments of lifestyles that are empty of meaning or benefit to others. We reflect on how we can live effective lives in terms of the standards of the Kingdom.
The Romans were very good at certain things: architecture, roads, baths, cisterns, transport, oratory, the arts, partying, and waging war. But what did all these things accomplish in the measure of eternity? Moreover, there was an underside to Roman prosperity, not only slavery but immorality, avarice, and indulgence (vs. 19).
The Futility of the Mind
Paul blames the Gentiles’ spiritually fruitless and morally degenerate lives on the “futility” of their minds (vs. 17). The Greek term translated as “futility” refers to what is empty, meaningless, and in vain (Strong’s #3153). The way the Gentiles “walked,” that is, “lived,” was in vain because of the vanity of their pagan thinking (vs. 17). Their understanding was “darkened,” their hearts were “hardened,” they were “alienated from God” because of their ignorance of Him (vs. 18).
St. John Chrysostom asks, “What is vanity of mind? It is the being busied about vain things. And what are those vain things, but all things in the present life? Of which the Preacher saith, ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2.) (NfPf1:13, 307). But Chrysostom asks, “If the creation is a work of God, why are the things in it ‘vain’?” He answers that neither the sun nor moon, nor stars, nor our own body are useless. But they were made “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But the Preacher notes that Ecclesiastes calls vineyards, singers, pools of water, flocks, silver, and gold “vanity” (NfPf1:13, 307). Why? “Because,” Chrysostom says, “they come not from the hand of God but are of our own creating,” and “they have no useful end” (NfPf1:13, 308).
We learn from Paul’s warning that our lives and possessions are empty when they are not useful to God and His Kingdom. Chrysostom wrote, “Riches are vain when they are spent upon luxury; but they cease to be vain when they are ‘dispersed and given to the needy’” (NfPf1:13). So it is with everything we have and are. We can live effective and not just efficient lives when we dedicate what we do to the glory of God and the sharing of His love.
Self-Indulgence or Usefulness
Therefore, as Chrysostom observes, we have a choice. We can seek comfort, luxury, and self-indulgence. Yet all these pleasures will amount to nothing. Or, we can seek the Kingdom of God, as Chrysostom concludes, “But scorning all these things, as men living in the light, and having our citizenship in Heaven, and having nothing in common with earth, let us regard but one thing as terrible, that is, sin, and offending against God” (NfPf1:13, 316).
Chrysostom urges us to free ourselves of worldliness and to become “unshackled for [our] course toward Heaven” (NfPf1:13, 316). And we should pray that we may be worthy of God’s good gifts so that we might make a “contribution” to the good of others (NfPf1:13, 316). Then we will be both efficient and effective in speaking and acting (NfPf1:13, 316). Then our walk through life will not be futile but valuable for God and the Kingdom.
 Thursday, Pentecost 17