Two weeks ago, we looked at the first two verses of Ephesians 5, in which Paul tells us to imitate God because we are His children, and to walk in love, imitating Christ. Now, we examine the next section of this chapter to see some practical ways we can do that.
God calls us to obedience, and obedience is a necessary fruit of knowing Christ. Not perfect obedience, but a desire for obedience and a lifelong growth in more and more obedience. But it is God’s grace that makes us obedient. As we examine what it means to imitate our Father and our Savior, remember we are His children by His grace; we are His people by His grace, and we can only follow Him by His grace, by that undeserved favor God gives to sinners to rescue and redeem them.
“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has not inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”–5:3-6
I’d imagine you only have to look through the channels on your television for about 90 seconds before hearing or seeing something sexual, whether it be a sexual joke, a sex scene, or inappropriate innuendo. Making light of the gift of sex has become the norm in our culture.
But it is not to be the norm in the church. Instead, as Paul says, it “must not even be named” in the church. Other translations say there should be “no hint” of sexual immorality within the church. No lust, no porn, no sex outside of marriage, no inappropriate physical or emotional relationships…not a hint. The bride of Christ is to be pure, because Jesus has washed her with His blood.
Impurity and covetousness must be killed, as well. Covetousness is sinful wanting of what others have, which leads to other sins. This is tantamount to idolatry, to putting something in the place of God. Our desire is to be for Him to be glorified and us to be like Him above all things.
Paul next moves on to discuss “filthiness,” “foolish talk,” and “crude joking.” Continuing along the lines of sexual immorality and covetousness, Paul brings up sins of the tongue. In the same way sexually immoral behavior must not be among the behavior of Christians, ungodly sexual talk should also not be “named.” We have been adopted as the children of God, and have been set apart as holy, separate from our sinful culture. So why talk like them? We weren’t meant to fit in; rather, we were meant to stand out by not engaging in sinful, foolish talk.
We have been rescued from sin, not so we can continue in sin, but so we can be like Jesus. How do we do this? We have thanksgiving. Thankfulness has a way of focusing our hearts and minds on God and who He is and what He’s done. As we thank God for who He is and what He’s done, the last thing we want to do is respond to His grace by committing sexual immorality, being foolish or joking in an ungodly way. Reflecting on the grace of God changes us, leading us to walk in the new life we have been given and to glorify God.
Paul then warns the church: People who live in these lifestyles are not saved. They will not inherit the kingdom. They do not know Jesus. He says to not be deceived.
There is a thought that because Jesus forgives us, it does not matter how we live. The problem is, God makes it abundantly clear that grace is not just pardon for sin, but power to not continue in sin. 1 John 3:8 tells us Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil,” that is, sin.
Paul is not calling out Christians struggling with sin; rather, he is calling out professing “Christians” who talk the talk, but their walk just isn’t there. They’re not struggling to follow Jesus; they aren’t even trying, and the wrath of God is coming because of sin. Paul says these people, no matter what they profess, do not know the Lord.
How do we respond to sin? Do we repent of our sin? Do we confess our sin, and with the power of God’s grace, seek to put off our sin? Or do we stick our hand in God’s face, and say, “No…I want my sin. I want to live this way, and I don’t care what you say?” The way we respond to our sin, and, thus, to Jesus, determines where we spend eternity.
So how should Christians live? How do we live our lives in a world of darkness?
“Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'”–verses 7-14
In saying we shouldn’t “become partners” with unbelievers, does Paul mean we shouldn’t have any interaction with them? After all, aren’t we supposed to go make disciples? What does Paul mean here?
Think of a business partnership. Usually, those are made by mutual parties who have a common interest and common goals. Corporations partner with baseball teams to get their names on their parks so their brand goes, and the team gets an insane amount of money. That’s a partnership–two parties working closely together, helping each other, striving toward a shared goal.
So why would a Christian, whose goals and priorities differ vastly from the unbeliever, “partner” with an unbeliever? We wouldn’t, right? So what Paul is saying is not, “Never be around unbelievers.” That would keep us from obeying Christ by making disciples. Rather, Paul is saying don’t join them in their sin. Your goals are not their goals, and their sinful interests are not to be yours, because while you used to be darkness, “now you are light in the Lord.” So live like it. We reach out to non-believers, but refuse to join them in their sinful lifestyles.
We are children of light. We once lived in the flesh (Eph. 2), and once lived in darkness (5:8), but now we are light, called to be holy in Christ. Instead of joining sinners in sin, we expose that sin. We do so, not out of pride and not to embarrass non-believers, but in love, to draw them to Christ. It’s tough love—we love people too much to let them continue in sin unrepentantly.
In exposing their darkness to the light of Christ, we must preach the gospel. In verse 14, Paul draws from a passage in Isaiah, combining it with language from his letter to the Romans, telling the “sleeper” to awake, so “Christ will shine on you.”
Unrepentant sinners don’t need to try harder. Trying harder doesn’t bring dead people to life; the gospel of Jesus Christ brings people to life. And when we preach the gospel to people who are dead in their sin, Jesus brings death from life. So let’s preach the gospel, in order that sinners can come to know Jesus. That will make them obedient. Understanding God’s grace makes us want to be more like Him.
Lord, may we not walk in darkness, but as light. May we reflect on your grace, being thankful for what you’ve done, and walking in the light of the gospel. May we honor you. May we preach the gospel, and may we be obedient, as you’ve called us to be.
Coming Wednesday: I’ll look at verses 15-20 of this chapter. They fit in with this theme, but I don’t want to go past most people’s attention spans! Look for the next post Wednesday at 10 a.m.!