Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
We’ve now seen Paul’s transition from general to more specific instruction, and when we left off at the end of chapter 4 it seemed that Paul was describing love among believers as the main priority in Christian living. Now, in the first two verses of chapter five, he confirms this impression with his brief comments on love, in what is really a bridge between instructional passages.
When you take these verses in with chapter 4 in mind, they are even more beautiful than when they are quoted alone, as they often are. Why? Because they show us that as we treat others as we should, which is to say that we place their interests and well being ahead of our own, we are actually following God’s example.
We love to think of ourselves as children of God, and Paul takes this thought and brings it into sharp focus, pointing out that we express this relationship in following God’s example in the way we live our lives. Yet we sometimes seem to feel like we are being asked to make sacrifices living for others instead of ourselves. I know I have heard this mentioned by some who are perhaps not having their best of days… yet Paul manages to put even this into perspective. When he mentions Jesus, he reminds us of how Jesus showed His love for us in giving Himself up as a sacrifice for our sin. As he moves further into this discussion, Paul will show us how we do this by no longer living according to old ways.
But 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. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person 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. Therefore do not be partners with them.
Take a look at these verses again; see the things that Paul is telling us not to do? What is the common thread between all of them?
Exactly, good work!
They are all self-centered. The things Paul tells us we should do are all outwardly focused; not inward and self-centered.
That is the most important part about this short text, it is the main lesson here, and now that I have done my teaching duty, I have a couple of observations of a slightly more “advanced” nature that may not be for the faint of heart.
In verse 3, Paul refers to “sexual immorality” and “greed”. These are the most obviously self-centered things he mentions… and oddly, in today’s world, they are the most controversial. We live in a time when we can’t, as a culture, define sexual immorality, because the word “immorality” implies that there is a standard of conduct beyond the statutes adopted by the government. Nobody would have been concerned with that before the 20th century, and “morality” was even a highly prized virtue at one time, but sadly, that time has passed, and now we seem to think, as a society, that anything that is legal in a court of law is just fine, but that is a lie! Human governments decide what they will permit, but they cannot over rule Almighty God. If you are tempted to argue with me on this point, just remember that the Nazi Holocaust was all perfectly legal, as were most of the outrages of history.
Yet Paul’s point here is not based upon a legal issue, for Paul’s focus is not legal or transactional; it is entirely relational. You see the real danger to the believer in things like immorality and greed comes from the fact that these impulses, unchecked, are very strong indeed, and can pull a man or woman completely away from their relationship with Christ. In fact, a person falling into this kind of trap can be pulled so far away from His loving arms that they may not be able to return, assuring their destruction…
In verse 4, Paul tells us that obscenity, foolish talk and coarse joking are “out of place” and I think many will also understand this in a transactional sense. It is important that we all recognize that sin and its consequence isn’t the point, for remember that Paul is writing to Christians whose sins are forgiven. However, the way we talk reveals a great deal about the way we think, for if we speak in a sloppy and undisciplined way, the chances are that our thinking is sloppy and undisciplined as well, and thus if we are in the habit of speaking in a way that is far from reflecting our relationship with Christ, then the chances are very good that we do not have a healthy relationship with Him. Now obviously I’m not saying that we can engage in pious talk and fool God into thinking we are pious; we probably won’t fool anyone around us either. Paul is trying to teach us that if our talk is “out of place” our thinking probably is as well, and we are on a slippery slope with our faith.
We need to be more focused on our relationship with Jesus Christ− all of us! Can we just change our thinking and living entirely on own power? Maybe, maybe not. If we are waiting for the Holy Spirit to jump into the fray and zap us with perfection however, we’ll be waiting for a very long time, because that isn’t how He works. You see, the Holy Spirit is waiting for us to make the first step. He has given us the instruction to make an effort; you’ve just read it.
We make the effort, we make a commitment, and seek His strength and His presence and He sustains us through the process; that’s how it works.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
This is an interesting piece of text, following along in context with that of our last passage. Actually, it’s quite simple: We were once darkness, now we are light, so pursue those things that are produced by the light of God’s truth and avoid the old ways of darkness.
Simple; you knew that, right?
There are two things about this that are curious; the first of which is found in vv. 11-13. We are to stay away from the fruitless deeds of darkness, instead exposing those nasty dark things done in secret…
As I read it, you can take this one of two ways: First, maybe Paul means that we should sneak into those secret places where things are going on that are shameful to even discuss, and then tell everybody what you saw so those deeds will be exposed. This sounds like a politician’s method to me. The other way you could take this is that we share the light with those who live in darkness so that the light may shine in their lives and shed truth on their misdeeds…
Personally, I think Paul gives us a pretty good clue as to his intention when he mentions that even discussing what goes on in secret in certain places is shameful. If it is shameful to mention such things, then big public announcements seem even more shameful to me.
The other curious thing is the quotation in verse 14. I have no clue who or what Paul is quoting; obviously it isn’t the Old Testament, even though Paul set the quote up just like he would an OT quotation. Might he have made a mistake, thinking this was a Scriptural quotation? Frankly I doubt it. More likely it was something very familiar to the Ephesians that has been lost to history; maybe it was something Paul taught there, or an Ephesian’s representation of Paul’s words. In any event, it’s a pretty good saying, don’t you agree?
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These words are as fresh and vibrant today as they were 2,000 years ago, and they point us to one inescapable conclusion: Place your priority on God.
It matters how we live our lives, where we choose to place our priorities and what we think about and do and say. It matters that we let opportunities slip through our fingers, or that we don’t lend our brother a hand when he needs it. It matters when we make ourselves so very busy that we aren’t available to serve our Master or our loved ones or our neighbor, yes dear reader, it really matters.
Verse 17 is key: We are not to be foolish; instead we are to understand the Lord’s will.
Great Paul, but what is His will?
Yesterday I heard about a pastor who recently asked his congregation to spend the next four weeks praying to God that He would reveal His purpose to them. It seems that pastor told his flock that no one can know the purpose and will of God, so as I come to this verse today, I’m struck by the contrast between Paul and this pastor… yet maybe they just have different ways of saying the same thing. Maybe he was trying to teach his congregation to spend time in their relationship with Christ, clearly that is where Paul is taking his readers.
We mustn’t fill ourselves with wine, but with the Spirit. He expresses his thought further in the remaining verses by saying we should speak to one another in psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Some will disagree with me on this, but I see this musical approach as a metaphor, maybe because I’m a poor singer. I see this as a metaphor for being focused on our relationships with Him and letting Him speak and work through us, so that when people see us, they see Him at work in us. If this means we sing, then I guess we ought to sing!
However you see the musical aspect of this, Paul’s meaning is clear: If our lives are centered on our relationship with Jesus Christ, then He will live in us and through us. If our lives are centered on self and the things of this world, we will be on a difficult and fruitless path.