Children have another quality that we want them to outgrow.
Because of their comparative lack of experience, they can be naïve, credulous, gullible.
In a child, that’s endearing.
In an adult, it’s a flaw.
In the second half of our verse, Paul changes his metaphor to add depth to his illustration:
carried about … by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive (Ep 4.14b).
The KJV’s phrase “sleight of men” (NASB “trickery of men,” ESV “human cunning”) uses the Greek word kubeia. It’s where we get our word “cube.” It comes from the use of dice in gambling and the associated cheating, trickery, fraud.
Nobody likes to be taken advantage of.
But like it or not, there are bad actors out there, who are more than happy to lighten your wallet. And in the field of theology, there are fraudsters who would like to make merchandise of you. It’s pretty obvious these days that professing Christians are suckers for such fraudsters, from miracle prayer cloths on down.
Sometimes they’re not after your money; sometimes they’re after your soul. Maybe they want your following; maybe they just want you to think as they do. But they peddle their doctrinal and practical perversity, and they attack the church “by craft, with an evil plan [methodia] to deceive”—they scheme to trick us into believing a lie.
God’s people are supposed to be streetwise enough that they don’t fall for the doctrinal legerdemain. And where does “streetwisdom” come from?
It comes from knowledge of Christ. Knowledge about him, and knowledge of him.
Too many Christians are still falling for Satan’s simple tricks: materialism, broken marriages, pride of recognition and acceptance. These are old tricks—which means Satan’s good at them, because he’s had a lot of practice—but precisely because they’re old tricks, we should be well aware of them and see through them.
Fool me once, and all that.
I occasionally use a little trick on my students when we’re talking about divine election and foreordination. I tell them to think of any positive number. Literally any one, from the billions available. Then I tell them to multiply it by 9. Then add up the digits of the product, and if the sum is more than one digit, add the digits again, until they get a single digit. Then subtract 5. Then take that letter of the alphabet—1 is A, 2 is B, and so on.
You with me so far? Ok, now think of a country that starts with that letter.
Take the second letter of the name of the country, and think of an animal that starts with that letter.
Then think of a color that animal could be.
Then I ask how many students are thinking of a grey elephant from Denmark, and there’s an audible gasp in the room.
I’m a mind reader—no, a mind controller, you see.
Nope. And you math people know exactly how the trick works. It’s all based on the fact that they multiply their number by 9.
For any multiple of 9, the digits will add up to 9. In magic, that’s called a “force”; no matter what they do, you’ve forced them to a certain result. They subtract 5 from their 9, and they have 4. The letter of the alphabet is D.
Now, I’ve learned that this trick isn’t as reliable outside of the US and Europe. Westerners tend to pick the country of Denmark, which is what I’m counting on. There’s Djibouti, and the Dominican Republic, and Dominica, and the DRC, but Americans and Europeans are highly likely to pick Denmark.
So the second letter is E, and they’ll probably pick an elephant rather than an ermine or an eel or an eagle or an elk.
And elephants are grey. Or at least that’s what everybody thinks.
It’s simple probabilities.
Don’t fall for it.
There’s one more directive in this passage. We’ll talk about it next time.