Hello! We are still in the same longer passage this lesson.
Teaching Text: Ephesians 4:17-5:21
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
5 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 4:17–5:21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
In the last lesson, we talked about this big chunk of the letter being about formation and how what we do informs who we are becoming. In this lesson, I want to pull out a couple specific themes Paul references in this passage.
In this passage, Paul refers to sexual immorality twice (5:3; 5:5), impurity twice (4:19; 5:3) and sensuality once (4:19). While we don’t get much exposition about what the specific issues are, or even if there are specific issues, we can guess that Paul must have his reasons for bringing it up a few times.
Oftentimes, what is pointed out is that the Ephesians worshipped Diana/Artemis. In fact, remember as pointed out in lesson 1, the culture and economy of Ephesus was very much centered around her. Chants were cried out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” in Acts 19:28. The arrival of Christianity to Ephesus caused a disruption and those who profited off Diana worship pushed back and caused a riot. I bring this up because what often gets tethered to this idea is that the practices of worshipping Diana involved “sacred prostitution” and other acts of sex. There is debate about what the actual practices were and some evidence suggests that temple prostitution was not as prevalent as once thought. It’s important to center what you are extracting from the Scriptures from the Scriptures. While we can and should dig into historical texts to give us context, those external sources are not themselves the inspired Word of God.
Whether we attribute the sexual immorality of the day to Diana/Artemis or not, it is not hard to imagine a culture obsessed with sex. We live in such a culture ourselves. Our media is saturated with an emphasis on sex. Myriad television shows, scripted and non-scripted, construct stories based on people sleeping with each other. Advertising associates their products or services with flashes of skin or deep romance to appeal to the hearts and minds of their audience. The internet has created an “anything goes” environment by allowing for the easy consumption of pornographic imagery produced by both companies and individuals. Sex has become so much a focus of our culture that entire groups of people find their identity in who they want to have sex with.
So, we see the culture we live in has given itself up to sensuality and practicing every kind of impurity. With an assault on our senses in so many areas of our life, it’s easy to see how, just as Paul mentions in Ephesians 4:19, one can become callous.
It is worth stepping back and recognizing that God created humans to have sexual desire. Certainly for procreation purposes, but in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul acknowledges the temptation to sexual immorality and the burning passion that men and women feel.
7 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 7:1–4; 8–9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
What we see out of this is that sex is condoned within the marriage relationship. Hebrews 13:4 also supports that the marriage relationship is where sex is allowed, and only within that relationship. It is important to have this vision and take ownership of this understanding. Culture is pervasive and you will find that you will be drawn to align with it. You will likely be presented with situations where it might seem less obvious what the right thing to do is.
- Maybe the movie that you are watching isn’t technically pornography, but shows infidelity or nudity. What should you do?
- Maybe you are with a boyfriend or girlfriend and have a desire to do touching that isn’t actually “going all the way.” What should you do?
- Maybe there is pressure to be perceived as sexually active or knowledgeable by your peers so it changes the way you talk and the words you use? What should you do?
To answer these specific questions, I’m going to refer back to the last lesson and ask another bigger question again: Who are you becoming by what you are doing? What does your vision of a proper sexual ethic look like? Consider this succinct explanation from one author:
What we need is a completely new paradigm to represent God’s sexual ethic.
… It’s time to…embrace God’s vision for sexuality. Holy sexuality consists of two paths: chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage. Chastity is more than simply abstention from extramarital sex; it conveys purity and holiness. Faithfulness is more than merely maintaining chastity and avoiding illicit sex; it conveys covenental commitment.
Both of these embody the only correct biblical sexual ethic and unambiguously articulate the exact expressions of sexual behavior that God blesses.
Yuan, Christopher. Holy Sexuality and the Gospel. Multnomah.
Remember, as we discussed a couple lessons ago, we are a part of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:15–16). This imagery of being members of Christ is not unique to Ephesians. It is used in 1 Corinthians 6. And note that in verse 18 Paul’s response would be to flee—such an active word to use in response to temptation.
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 6:15–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Temptations are pervasive and it’s important to have a strong foundation for boundaries that you will not cross. And if the temptations get stronger, ready yourself for fleeing rather than moving the boundaries. Consider this quote:
This line for sexual purity is not difficult to discern, but difficult to obey—which is why some folks aggressively try to change the sexual boundaries to fit their sexual conduct, or why some quit the struggle to abstain from sexual immorality. But, if we desire to know the unique will of God for us, we must begin by following this universal will of God.
Eggerichs, Emerson. The 4 Wills of God . B&H Publishing Group.
And when we start seeing gray areas when it comes to sexual immorality, it’s important to refer back to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 about lust.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:27–28). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
What is in your heart is the key. When these lusts and passions seep into our hearts, we are no longer loving God with all of our heart. Those passions being devoted to people or things that are not God are idolatry. This is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 5:3. If our desire is for anything besides God, we have an idol problem.
So now we have a better understanding of what sexual immorality is and what to do when faced with the temptation, but what happens if (when) we fail in this way? Paul gives an indication in Ephesians 5:11–14.
11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 5:11–14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
John, in his first letter, says this:
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 1:5–10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
A great deal of shame can surround sin, especially sin surrounding sex. It can cause us to want to retreat and hide from others. But the best way to actually combat this sin is to expose it and confess the sin to others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this of confession:
In confession there takes place a breakthrough to community. Sin wants to be alone with people. It takes them away from the community. The more lonely people become, the more destructive the power of sin over them. The more deeply they become entangled in it, the more unholy is their loneliness. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of what is left unsaid sin poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the gospel breaks into the darkness and closed isolation of the heart. Sin must be brought into the light. What is unspoken is said openly and confessed. All that is secret and hidden comes to light. It is a hard struggle until the sin crosses one’s lips in confession. But God breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron (Ps. 107:16) Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of another Christian, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders, giving up all evil, giving the sinner’s heart to God and finding the forgiveness of all one’s sin in the community of Jesus Christ and other Christians. Sin that has been spoken and confessed has lost all of its power. It has been revealed and judged as sin. It can no longer tear apart the community.
We see the power that can come because of words through confession. Let’s talk about other ways words can affect our relationship with the community of Christ.