Monday, December 22, 2008

Ephesians 5:3-4

3But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Paul is wrapping up a list of six exhortations for his audience, people who have already experienced conversion, salvation by grace through faith in Christ by the resurrection/regeneration power of the Holy Spirit. These six commands are fruits of God’s work in us for the practical purpose of unity within the Body of Christ and the display of God’s glory throughout the world. We may come to faith in Christ with a “what’s in it for me” attitude, but we don’t stay there. We move on with the Spirit’s guidance in the Word of God to a “how can God be glorified and others edified” attitude. Specifically, knowledge of who we are in Christ (God’s beloved children) serves to motivate the self-sacrifice required to live the Christian life (see Colossians 3:12). Living out the grace of God is seen through our distinctive lives as Christians in but not of the world, as Paul declares, by (1) telling the truth (not lying), (2) self-control and reconciliation (not uncontrolled and sinful anger), (3) honest labor (not stealing), (4) edifying speech (not unwholesome talk), (5) love (not bitterness), and (6) thankful acknowledgement of God’s gracious gifts (not unrestrained sexual desires leading to immorality). We’ll focus on this last one in this section.

In v3-4, we learn that to trivialize the sexual relationship through crude joking or to idolize it through blatant sexual immorality or covetousness is wrong. Rather, we are to restore the sexual relationship to its proper function (Proverbs 5:18-19; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; Hebrews 13:4). A simple outline of these two verses might look like this: (1) Paul explicitly addresses the issue of sexual immorality, including lust or coveting (greed), in the first part of v3, saying there must not be even a hint that those things exist in the confines of the Church; (2) Paul addresses the issue of coarse talk, or filthy and vulgar language, regarding sexuality in the first part of v4, saying they should not be found in the Church either; (3) Paul tells us why these things should not exist in the Church in the last part of v3 and in the middle of v4; they are improper and out of place – “inconvenient” and “inconsistent” with godly character. Though we may want specifics, Paul will say in Ephesians 5:12 that “it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” (4) Finally, Paul notes at the end of v4 that thankfulness for the sacred gift of sexual relations within the context of a committed, permanent, monogamous, heterosexual, marriage relationship ought to replace anything even remotely related to sexual immorality, lust, or coveting (greed).

There should not be adultery, infidelity, or fornication in the Church. Those are physical acts of sexual immorality. But Paul also speaks of impurity, speaking of internal cleanliness, and we might relate this to today’s age of Internet pornography, chat rooms, and 900 numbers. And he mentions greed, which would be better translated as coveting (it’s the same Greek word). This includes lust and wrongful desires. All of these elements were problems for Paul’s audience, and they remain problems today. When we think of the culture of Ephesus, we might be shocked; but more likely, if the Christians of Ephesus came here today, they’d be shocked. Why? Because then, you had to go where the immorality was. Today, it comes to you; you can’t escape it. But we can try. Paul says, “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). How do we flee temptation? Be thankful for the good that God gives.

Most likely, you’re not engaging in physical adultery. But are you coveting? Be thankful for your marriage. Are you lusting? Pray for your spouse and consider her needs; teach your daughters modesty. Are you struggling with the temptation to view Internet pornography? Think of the image as your daughter when she’s older. Now, do you want to fight it? Get an Internet filter. Don’t erase your history and show your wife everyday. Use “covenant eyes,” which e-mails your accountability partner a list of websites you viewed each day. (Sadly, new versions of Internet browsers are coming out with “privacy mode,” a.k.a. “porn mode,” which doesn’t record cookies or history…With a multi-billion dollar industry thriving off addictions, the browser companies must be getting kickbacks.)

Paul tells us how to respond positively. We make sure our conversation is appropriate. We don’t engage in crass sexual joking or anything even remotely considerable as indecent. We are to be distinct from the world, and this is a place where it should be easy to see the difference – in our language being free from obscenity, foolishness, and sexual coarseness. Calvin says, “The Greek words [morologia and eutrapelia, which appear only here in the entire Bible, are] often used by heathen writers, in a good sense, for that ready and ingenious pleasantry in which able and intelligent men may properly indulge. But as it is exceedingly difficult to be witty without becoming satirical, and as jesting itself carries in it a portion of conceit not at all in keeping with the character of a godly man, Paul very properly dissuades from this practice.” Vincent Cheung says, “Throughout this letter, Paul labors to convey the tremendous intellectual and moral differences between the Christians and the non-Christians, and here the imagery cannot be any clearer – Christians and non-Christians are intellectual and moral opposites.”

Finally, Paul tells us to replace any sexual crudeness, whether in thought, word, or deed, with grace or thanksgiving. (The Greek word for “thanksgiving” is always translated as such, but it has in mind the saying of grace, as in praying before a meal.) Paul says this gift of God is too good to be sullied by immorality and vulgarity. Rather, be thankful that sex is not out-of-bounds for the Christian. Sex is great, a gift from God, and we ought to treat it as such – but solely within the bounds God established. Thank God for marriage and the wholesome intimacy of sex therein. Next, we’ll see that Paul continues on these lifestyle transformations by the resurrection power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He shifts the emphasis from thoughts, words, and deeds, to the motivations for those thoughts, words, and deeds.

1 comment:

Luke said...

Good thing "porn mode" isn't a way to get around good accountability software.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this post! We must all strive for not even a hint of impurity in our midst.