Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ephesians 5:5-7

Now we’re looking at verses 5-21 of chapter 5, in which Paul seeks to motivate his audience to follow the commands he established in Ephesians 4:17-5:4. Paul gives four motivations (1) Judgment Day (future); (2) what you were and who you are (past and present); (3) wisdom (you are wise so act like it); and (4) the Holy Spirit (indwelling). Vincent Cheung says, “Many Christians have changed their theology to accommodate the sinful lifestyle of the non-Christians. It is as if they think that if we are going to affirm that all these things lead to hell, then it would mean that many people are going to hell, and surely we do not want such a harsh theology! But take it or leave it, this is Christianity.” Let’s notice our motivations to live distinctly.

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them.

From Ephesians 4:17-5:4, Paul taught us to live for God’s glory and for Church unity by living selflessly. He gave essentially six commands, six transformations that the Holy Spirit will work in us as we move away from our Gentile / pagan past into a stronger relationship with Christ. Those six commands include transformation from: (1) lying to truth telling, (2) uncontrolled anger to self-control, (3) stealing to useful labor, (4) harmful speech to helpful speech, (5) a sinful disposition to a loving disposition, and (6) unrestrained sexual desires to a thankful acknowledgement of God’s gracious gifts.

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.” This might signal to us another motivation, to be distinct from the world. Another motivation would be striving for God’s glory. Another motivation might be the fact that God made us, Christ bought us, and the Holy Spirit indwells us (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). And in Ephesians 5:5-21, Paul actually gives four specific motivations to help us respond to his teaching. And we may already know that grace is the chief motivation, and that’s true. But Paul will elaborate on what that grace to us looks like in terms of practical motivation.

Now in Ephesians 5:5-7, he remains on that theme but focuses on the internal heart condition that brings the transformations he’s been talking about. He wants to motivate us to respond to his teaching, and so he begins in v5, “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is! The anticipation of Judgment Day ought to motivate us to sexual purity and fidelity. Paul is simply saying here in v5 in the sternest of rhetoric that God does not give us the option of having Him and His way along with the things He despises all at the same time. We can repent and receive forgiveness and joy and peace and hope and life to the full, or we can stubbornly remain in our sexual sin and have none of God’s blessings for eternity. We can’t have God and His blessings along with sin. Paul delivers this message in the same letter that contains the glories of predestination and election, and yet he says none of that is applicable to the unrepentant sinner. It’s a stern warning, because it’s an insidious sin.

One argument against Paul here is King David. We might say, “But David sinned sexually and was forgiven, so God will forgive me too.” Let me answer that rebuttal in two ways: first, David repented wholeheartedly and was granted mercy and forgiveness by grace; second, that sin still brought him great despair, left him without a life of familial love that we all long for, cost him (and his children!) the lives of four or more of his children, and ultimately incurred the downfall of Israel. Sexual immorality is a serious sin that has intense consequences, and when it hardens hearts to the point of no turning back, there is no repentance. Read v5-6 again: “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”

The first part of v5 might better be translated as, “You know with certainty.” In other words, Christians know that they know that God will judge the sexually immoral. In case some of his audience tuned him out on the sexual immorality issue, Paul wants to make sure they realize that they know it’s a problem. As he reveals elsewhere (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), sexual immorality is the ultimate form of idolatry. It’s an exceedingly sinister sin that merits the judgment and wrath of God (Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 21:8; 22:15). We can’t worship God and live in sexual immorality, and we know that we know it. V6 suggests that judgment day may be denied with “empty words” (2 Peter 3:3-4); and knowing otherwise, we ought to be discerning in recognizing that false hope. There are some well-meaning people, even church leaders, who, for the sake of brotherly love and unity, will say, “God is merciful. He won’t condemn anybody. It’s all going to be okay. You’ll see.” We know better. God will divide those who are disobedient (elsewhere translated “the sons of disobedience”), the goats, from the “children of light” (v8), the sheep of His flock. Be certain that you’re in that flock – Repent! And we know what repent means: Turn the other way. Paul tells us not to engage in that behavior in v7. We are not to be partners with sinners, namely unbelievers. Paul speaks similarly when he mentions being unequally yoked. Jude hints at this as well in v22-23. It’s not that we should avoid contact, but we should not be influenced.

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