12. Imitate Your Father, Children (Ephesians 5:1-20)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (28:42)

Gerard van Honthorst, The Childhood of Christ (1620)
As the child Jesus imitated his father Joseph, so we are to seek to imitate our Heavenly Father. Gerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst (15901656), "The Childhood of Christ" (detail, c. 1620), Hermitage, St. Petersburg. Larger image.
"1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
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. 5For 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.
8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10and find out what pleases the Lord. 11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:
   'Wake up, O sleeper,
   rise from the dead,
   and Christ will shine on you.'
15Be very careful, then, how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. 18Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 5:1-20)

  

When children are little, say four or five or six, they begin to mimic their parents. Little toddlers will put on their father's shoes and make big pretense of taking big steps in them. They play house, play store, play church, play school, play war, and in so doing they begin to learn -- by imitation.

This passage in this chapter of our study is a continuation of the previous chapter's discussion of the specific behaviors that Christians are to "put on" like clean clothing, and ungodly behaviors which need to be "taken off."

Imitators of God (5:1-2)

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (5:1-2)

What a wonderful picture of learned godliness! The Greek word used here is mimētēs, "imitator,"1 one who uses someone as a model, imitates, emulates, follows, from mimos, "an actor, mimic". (See also 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Hebrews 6:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:6.) This is a common theme in the New Testament.

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus...." (Philippians 2:5)
"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:21)

Paul's picture in Ephesians is of little children imitating their father. And not just children, but "beloved children" (NRSV), "dearly loved children" (NIV), "dear children" (KJV).

As we follow the Father, we will learn to love as he loves, and begin to "live a life of love, just as Christ loved us...." We will learn to live the kind of life Christ lived when he ministered to people and ultimately gave him up as a "fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." Imitation is another way to look at the learning posture of discipleship -- "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

Sexual Purity (5:3-7)

"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. 5For 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." (5:3-7)

Immorality flourished in the Gentile world. If you've ever read Greek mythology, you've discovered that the morals of the Greek gods left something to be desired. If rape, adultery, lust, and sexual enticement are the stuff of gods, how do you expect mere mortals to act? The urban culture of Paul's day was more blatantly immoral than even America's eroding standards. But Christians were expected to live exemplary lives.

Avoiding Sexual Immorality (5:3)

It's obvious from the history of men and women in the church that sex outside of marriage remains a strong temptation. That is why Paul cautions so clearly and explicitly to bring into check our sexual lives as well as other parts of our lives.

"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." (4:3)

The word translated "sexual immorality" here is Greek porneia, "unlawful sexual intercourse, prostitution, unchastity, fornication."2 A porne was a prostitute or harlot, from which we get our word "pornography." The KJV tends to translate porneia as "fornication," but this is too narrow. "Fornication" is defined in English as "consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other."3 Porneia, on the other hand, includes not only fornication, but adultery, homosexuality, and any other kind of imaginable sexual perversion.

Incidentally, the word "prude" (which originally was short for "good woman" or "prudent woman") now means "a person who is excessively or priggishly attentive to propriety or decorum; especially a woman who shows or affects extreme modesty."4

I once had a couple in my church who became fond of each other and then became engaged to be married. Both of them loved the Lord. Both were children of the '60s. The man had grown up in the California surfer culture and sex between two people who loved one another seemed right to him. She wasn't so sure. I patiently explained what the scripture taught from Old Testament to New, but he couldn't see it. His culture had blinded him. However, he said, "Pastor, though I don't see anything in the Bible against sex before marriage, I'll abstain because you say so. His bride looked relieved. And eventually they were married, and enjoy, I am sure, the joys of marriage together.

Paul is even more specific in 1 Thessalonians as he instructed a pagan culture in ways of holiness:

"It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8)

This runs directly against our culture, which says that sex between consenting adults is okay. We don't have to condemn and put down all those around us who live loosely, but we need to hold high standards for ourselves, and see that our churches hold high standards for members.

Greedy for Sex (5:3)

Ephesians 5:3 extends this farther. Not only sexual immorality but "any kind of impurity or, of greed" are prohibited to Christians. Impurity seems to fit the context well, but greed? Perhaps Paul is using "greed" in a metaphorical sense such as is found in 4:19, "They have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust (pleonexia) for more" (NIV). Greek pleonexia means "greediness, insatiableness, avarice, covetousness," literally, "a desire to have more than one's due."5 Usually it is used of money and materialism, and perhaps it is so used here, too, though I think it refers to insatiability for sex.

Obscenity and Dirty Jokes (5:4)

Verse 4 cautions us about "obscenity,6 foolish talk or coarse joking." Using the F-word isn't strictly "swearing." Swearing means to take God's name as in an oath, "by God!" But we Christians need to be careful how we express ourselves. We don't have to be prudish or necessarily sober-sided about sex. Nor do we have to constantly complain to others how offended we are by their crude language. But we ourselves must be respectful and clean in our speech. God is fully capable of retraining our mouths if we desire him to. Clean speech is part of the purity that God seeks to lead us into.

Robbing Us of Our Kingdom Inheritance (5:5-6)

Notice the seriousness of Paul's warning:

"For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person ... has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words ...." (5:5-6a)

There's a similar solemn warning in 1 Corinthians 6:

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes nor homosexuals ... will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

"There's nothing more wrong with sexual sin than any other kind of sin," you'll hear people say. True. But the warnings about it are especially severe. And God's miracles of washing and sanctifying and justifying are especially wonderful. Many of the Christians in Paul's day came out of a life of immorality and afterwards lived a life of purity. God grants the same kind of washing and forgiveness and repentance today!

Q1. (Ephesians 5:2-3) Why does Paul warn so strongly against sexual sin? Is sexuality part of our spiritual life or can it be (should it be) partitioned from our spiritual life?
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Greed for Money (5:5)

Let's look closely at Ephesians 5:5 for a moment. Paul mentions the "greedy person" (pleonektēs7), and then comments, "such a man is an idolater." An idolater is one who worships a false god. You and I have met people who seem to worship sex -- and money. Anything which consumes us so much that we seem to worship it is wrong -- unless it is God whom we love with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.

Do you have anything in your life that you love so much that it displaces God and God's work? On Super Bowl Sunday, for example, our values become clear. Where do your values conflict? We are to be worshippers of God, not idolaters.

There was a movement beginning in some of the churches of the Greek empire to treat sexual immorality as a light thing. Scholars call it proto-gnosticism. It was very dualistic. The body is "matter" and therefore bad by definition, these people would teach. The "spirit" is good and holy. Thus, they would reason, it doesn't matter what you do with your body sexually -- the body is bad by definition -- so long as your spirit is pure. You can see hints of this in 1 Corinthians 6:13 and Revelation 2:14-15, 20-23. Paul says concerning this kind of reasoning, "Let no one deceive you with empty words" (5:6).

From Darkness to Light (5:8-14)

"8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10and find out what pleases the Lord. 11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:
   'Wake up, O sleeper,
   rise from the dead,
   and Christ will shine on you.'"(5:8-14)

In a darkening world, Christian purity and faithfulness shine all the brighter. Whereas in the 1950s, America espoused these values culturally, in our day purity and goodness are mocked and caricatured. But in the increasing gloom, Christians shine as "light in the Lord" (5:8).

It is hard for us to stand against our culture, to be counter-cultural. The essence of Christianity is not being counter-cultural, however, but a personal love for the Lord that delights in "finding out what pleases the Lord" (5:10). We've had too much negativity in our faith. This is the positive, the seeking, the finding out, the searching to see what pleases God. When we please the Lord, we can have the strength to stand up under pressure.

And pressure there will be, since light by its very nature exposes dark corners. When we live with high moral values we put to shame the actions of others and some of them will hate us for it (while perhaps admiring us at the same time). I don't think that our job is to be society's tattletale, but to be society's example and standard of righteousness.

Ours is a calling to live as light vs. darkness, brilliant light vs. shameless unmentionable sins done in darkness. To conclude this section, Paul quotes what seems to have been a well-known Christian hymn, though we do not have any other extant text of this hymn except the fragment here:

"Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." (5:14)

Just as preachers today quote well-known hymns ("Amazing Grace," etc.), Paul did the same in his day. Every contemporary would recognize the reference for what it is. That's probably what we see here.

Make the Most of Every Opportunity (5:15-16)

"Be very careful, then, how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." (5:15-16)

In our light-living, then, we are to "be very careful," to be "wise," making the most of every opportunity to shine for God (5:15-16).

Verse 16 is interesting. KJV translates it: "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil." The verb is exagorazō, which had commercial uses of "buy, buy up something" and "redeem, buy back." Figuratively it means "to gain something, especially advantage or opportunity, make the most of."8 This is joined with the noun kairos. Greek has two main words for the concept of time: chronos, which is used in reference to the stream of time, and kairos which is used of individual periods, points, or moments of time.9

So this verse is referring to taking full advantage of every "moment," each "opportunity" which presents itself. The opportunity to do the right thing, to say the appropriate thing, does not come at all times. There are those "teachable moments," those significant times that we are to watch out for and not let slip by due to our timidity or fear.

So this verse is to be translated "making the most of every opportunity" (NIV). Eugene H. Peterson paraphrases it in The Message this way: "So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!"

Q2. (Ephesians 5:15-16) Why does Paul exhort us to make the most of every opportunity? Why do we resist that? What must happen in our lives so we can be ready for the opportunity?
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Avoid Drunkenness (5:17-18a)

"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." (5:17-18)

"Do not be foolish," Paul continues, "but understand what the Lord's will is" (5:17). Our standard is not what others do, or what we can get away with, but what God's will is.

Paul's society, as ours, was afflicted with drunkenness as an escape. But alcohol and mind-altering drugs while facilitating escapism, dull the believers so they can't "make the most of every opportunity" (5:16)

Paul isn't a teetotaler (1 Timothy 5:23), but he stands firmly against drunkenness. What is drunkenness? A certain blood-alcohol level? The problem with intoxication is three-fold in this context:

  1. Drunkenness leads to "debauchery" (NIV, RSV), "dissipation" (NASB). The word is Greek asōtia, "the character of an asōtos, i.e., of an abandoned man, one that cannot be saved,"10 from a, "not" +sōzō, "to save." Asōtia denotes "wastefulness", then "reckless abandon, debauchery, dissipation, profligacy."11 So drunkenness leads to moral abandon, it leads people to a place from which they cannot be saved (except by God's grace and power).
  2. Drunkenness prevents our light from shining brightly in the dark world (5:8-14).
  3. Drunkenness dulls our ability to "be careful" (5:15) and to "make the most of every opportunity (5:16).

In Paul's day drunkenness came primarily from wine and beer. They didn't have distilled spirits in those days. Nor did they have marijuana, cocaine, heroin, crack, or speed. They had wine and beer as intoxicants. We are admonished to avoid intoxication! Rather, we are to seek another kind of intoxicant, another kind of "high," the fullness of the Spirit (5:18).

Q3. (Ephesians 5:17-18) What is the primary temptation involved with drugs and alcohol? How can drug or alcohol use substitute for the "high" of the Spirit? How can being filled with the Spirit help us fend off the temptations of drugs and alcohol?
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Be Filled with the Spirit (5:18)

"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." (5:18)

Sometimes people can be so overwhelmed by the presence of the Spirit that they appear intoxicated. What happened on the day of Pentecost was one of those occasions.

"All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." (Acts 2:4)
"... Some, however, made fun of them and said, 'They have had too much wine' ...
Then Peter stood up... 'These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning!'" (Acts 2:13-15)

They were experiencing a kind of ecstasy, a spiritual buoyancy in the Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit, however, is not always ecstatic. While speaking in tongues seems to be associated with ecstasy in Acts 2, in 1 Corinthians 14, people are told to control themselves and their manifestation of the Spirit.12 An initial experience with the Spirit is sometimes ecstatic, but once we've learned to include the Spirit and his power in our lives, being filled with the Spirit can be wonderful, uplifting, and empowering without being ecstatic. Jesus was certainly filled with the Spirit without ecstasy. This is not to say that there may be times that we will be caught up in ecstasy before the Lord. And when that happens, enjoy the Lord!

Singing to One Another and to God (5:19-20)

"Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (5:19-20)

The kind of Spirit-intoxication of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 5:18-20 involves worship and mutual spiritual upbuilding.

  • Psalms were singing the Psalter, the book of Psalms, which was written to be sung, and was sung by the Jews in Paul's day.
  • Hymns "probably had a religious and cultic significance ... as a technical term for festive psalms of praise, and for liturgical calls and recitations."13 Group members were encouraged to each bring a hymn or some other contribution from the Spirit when the believers gathered, in order to build up one another (1 Corinthians 14:16).
  • Spiritual songs may have been more spontaneous, perhaps like Paul's "singing in the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 14:15), though the lines between psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are not firmly drawn.

Notice that verse 19a focuses on the effect of our songs on one another, while verse 19b looks at our musical worship as it relates to God. The manner of these Spirit-filled praises is always God-oriented: "Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (6:20). An attitude of thankfulness underlies all true worship.

Q4. (Ephesians 5:19-20) What kind of attitude should underlie our corporate singing? How is corporate singing designed to help us singers? How is it designed to worship God? How does singing in your own daily life help you worship?
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Disciple Lessons from Ephesians, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
All the lessons are now available as an e-book or printed book for your convenience.

This section spells out the joyful intimacy of walking with the Lord, the relationship we enjoy with our Father and with Christ. Paul exhorts us to:

  • Imitate our Father as beloved children (5:1)
  • Live as children of light (5:8)
  • Learn what pleases the Lord and then do it (5:10)
  • Make music in our hearts to the Lord (5:19b)
  • Thank God continually in everything (5:20).

What a contrast between the darkness of unbelief and the light and joy that Christians enjoy! We must leave the mental blindness and moral bankruptcy of the Gentiles, Paul says, and instead put on the new self, the purity and light and spirit and joy of the Lord. May this understanding of essential Christianity permeate our churches anew in our day!

Prayer

Father, help us as we learn to walk in light. Help us to surrender to you our desires for sex, for money, and for intoxication. Instead, let us find our "high" in you -- knowing you, walking with you, and loving you. Give us a continual attitude of thankfulness, we pray. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Key Verses

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children." (Ephesians 5:1)

"Live as children of light ... and find out what pleases the Lord." (Ephesians 5:8, 10)

"Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." (Ephesians 5:16)
"Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 5:18-20)

References

  1. Mimētēs, BDAG 652. W. Michaelis, mimeomai, ktl., TDNT 4:659-674.
  2. Porneia, BDAG 854. Also Friedrich Hauck and Siegfried Schulz, pornē, ktl., TDNT 6:579-595.
  3. Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary.
  4. Ibid. "Prig" means "one who offends or irritates by observance of proprieties (as of speech or manners) in a pointed manner or to an obnoxious degree."
  5. Pleonexia, BDAG 824.
  6. "Obscenity" (NIV) and "filthiness" (KJV) is aischrotēs, "behavior that flouts social and moral standards, shamefulness, obscenity" (BDAG 29), from aischunō, "to shame" or "be ashamed."
  7. Pleonektēs is from pleonexia, "greed," which we looked at in verse 3.
  8. Exagorazō, BDAG 343.
  9. Hans-Christoph Hahn, "Time," NIDNTT 3:833-844.
  10. Asōtia, Thayer 82
  11. Asōtia, BDAG, 148.
  12. For more on this, see my essay, "Spirit Baptism, the New Birth, and Speaking in Tongues," The Joyful Heart, January 15, 2000 (www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/spirit-baptism.htm).
  13. Karl-Heinz Bartels, "Song, Hymn, Psalm," NIDNTT 3:668-670

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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