5. A New Way of Life in Christ (Ephesians 4:17-5:20)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (31:51)

'Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery,' by Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515-1586), oil on canvas. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
Jesus said to the woman taken in adultery, 'Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.' 'Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery,' by Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515-1586), oil on canvas. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

Some of the problems of largely Gentile congregations, like those found in the Province of Asia, were believers who still held onto the pagan lifestyles that dominated the culture, especially in the cities. Christians live by a new standard, says Paul. You're different. You are to begin to imitate your Father, rather than the world around you.

5.1 Putting on Clean Clothes (4:17-32)
5.2 Children, Imitate Your Father, Children (5:1-20)

5.1. Putting on Clean Clothes (Ephesians 4:17-32)

We may think of the twenty-first century as secular and hard, proclaiming evil as good and deriding good as evil. And it is.

In America we've observed a religious and moral decline interrupted by the mercy of powerful national revivals in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much of the good and righteousness that those movements had worked into our national character has dissipated now.

But Paul's day was even worse. His era wasn't "post-Christian" but "pre-Christian," and sin abounded in the great cities of the Greco-Roman world of the day. Paul calls the Christians of Ephesus to take seriously the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. What follows in Ephesians 4:17 through 6:9 is a call to righteousness in all areas of life:

  • Speech (Ephesians 5:25-32),
  • Sexual mores (Ephesians 5:3-7),
  • Use of intoxicants (Ephesians 5:18),
  • Family relationships (Ephesians 5:21-6:4), and
  • Employer-employee relationships (Ephesians 6:9).

Just previous to this passage, Paul painted an exalted picture of the church as Christ's Body which is upbuilding itself in love (Ephesians 4:1-16). Now he spells out some of the implications of being a part of this community of believers. Verse 17 begins with the word "so" or "therefore," indicating a transition.167

Darkness of the Secular Mind (Ephesians 4:17-19)

"17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more." (Ephesians 4:17-19)

Paul analyzes the moral temper of his day. The secular people in the first century are:

Futile in their minds. "Futility" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "vanity" (KJV) refers to a "state of being without use or value, emptiness, futility, purposelessness, transitoriness."168 Big thoughts and lots to say, but in the end empty, vain, fruitless.

Darkened169 in their understanding. Recently I watched a documentary about Albert Einstein and other brilliant physicists of the last century. Einstein could see what no one else could see because he was able to question every presupposition afresh. Some of the presuppositions about the nature of physical matter were wrong, or at least inadequate, so without reexamination, he would not have been able to grasp the truth. Unbelievers are darkened in their understanding because they selectively exclude the light about Jesus. They presuppose that Christianity is wrong. They won't hear of it. They reject it. And consequently they are darkened inside.

Separated from God's life. This selective rejection has shut them off from God's life. "Separated" (NIV) or "alienated" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) translate a verb meaning to "estrange, alienate."170 How very tragic! God's life is all around us, pulsing through the creation. But to miss out on the ultimate reality of the universe because of selective deafness is terribly sad.

Ignorant. The unbelievers just don't know about God. They suffer from "ignorance, unawareness, lack of discernment."171 But it's not as if they've never heard.

Hardened in their hearts. The reason for their ignorance of God, says Paul, is because they have hardened their hearts. The verb refers to a "state or condition of complete lack of understanding, dullness, insensibility, obstinacy."172 Sometimes people complain about God hardening Pharaoh's heart. Poor innocent Pharaoh! In his overweening pride he was doing pretty well hardening his own heart,173 so God gave him over fully to a hardened heart, and hardened it still more.174 Don't blame God for your hardness of heart! Rather, quickly repent.

Given to sexual immorality. The Greek word is variously translated "sensuality" (NIV, ESV, NASB), "licentiousness" (RSV), and "lasciviousness" (KJV). It refers to "lack of self-constraint which involves one in conduct that violates all bounds of what is socially acceptable, self-abandonment."175 It is sexual depravity, utterly outrageous behavior, "with a continual lust for more" (NIV). With the constant portrayal of sex outside of marriage in novels, television and films, this kind of sexual behavior has become widely accepted and acceptable. Sexually loose behavior has become part of our young people's courtship rituals.

Paul paints a dark picture of the unbeliever because he wants his readers to clearly see the contrast between darkness and light, between hell-bent behavior and holiness.

Q42. (Ephesians 4:17-19) Using Ephesians 4:17-19 as a basis, how would you describe (in your own words), the secular, non-Christian mindset of our age? Why are we tempted to conform to its values?

Our New, Holy Self (Ephesians 4:20-24)

"20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." (Ephesians 4:20-24)

This kind of behavior and empty living has nothing to do with Christ, and what you've been taught about him, says Paul. You've been taught to put off the old, corrupt self, and to put on the new holy and righteous self.

Paul uses the analogy of taking off dirty clothing and putting on clean clothing. We see this kind of language elsewhere in his writings (Romans 13:12-14; Colossians 3:10, 14). But is it just a matter of taking off something external? No.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)

"Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation." (Galatians 6:15)

We don't become Christians by reforming our ways. God works a basic change inside by his Holy Spirit. Jesus called it being "born again" (John 3:1-8).

When I'm hot and sweaty and filthy, nothing feels better than a nice hot shower. I can luxuriate in the steamy shower and I come out smelling clean. But I would be stupid to put back on my dirty underwear. When I'm clean I want to put on clean clothes, it's only natural. This is Paul's point. You've been "created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:25), so "put on the new self."

One of our chief problems as Christians is that we rush back to what is familiar, what we're used to. It's so easy to look like and act like unbelievers all over again. Don't admire unbelievers, Paul is saying. They live in darkness and emptiness, and have given over their lives to unbridled sexuality. Don't admire and emulate them. Take off that kind of behavior like you would dirty clothing.

That "old self"176 has been "corrupted by its deceitful desires" (Ephesians 4:22). I hear echoes here of the Garden of Eden, of Eve's and Adam's desire for something tasty and daring, something that will give them a God-like status (Genesis 3:5). And all it did was to bring them death, first spiritual and then physical. "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed," writes James (1:14).

The answer to "deceitful desires" is the work that God is doing in us, making you "new in the attitude177 of your minds" (Ephesians 4:23). He gradually changes our desires, and with that change come new habits and living patterns. We are to cooperate with what God is doing -- "put on"178 (NIV, KJV) or "clothe yourselves" (NRSV) with the new self. We are to refuse to clothe ourselves with the old dirty clothes any longer, but instead, clothe ourselves with the new self.

We are to "put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteous and holiness" (verse 24). You mean we are created179 to be like God? Yes. That's what the new nature, the new self, is.

Truth, Anger, and Theft (Ephesians 4:25-28)

"25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need." (Ephesians 4:25-28)

We've just seen the big picture, the ideal, of putting off the old self and putting on the new. Now Paul starts to spell out some of the nitty-gritty implications with another "therefore" in verse 25.

Speaking Truthfully (Ephesians 4:25)

The first change is in our speaking.

"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood
and speak truthfully to his neighbor,
for we are all members of one body." (Ephesians 4:25)

Since God is truth, then we must leave our clever white lies -- Paul calls it falsehood -- and, instead, speak truthfully. As we discussed in the previous lesson, we don't have to be cruel in our truth-telling. Instead, "speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him" (Ephesians 4:15). Since God is the ultimate truth, and we are "created to be like God" (Ephesians 4:24), then we too must speak like our Father, and put away forever the double-speak of our former father, the father of lies (John 8:44). The reason for speaking truth within the Christian community is plain: "for we are all members of one body" (Ephesians 4:25).

Controlling Anger (Ephesians 4:26-27)

"'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." (Ephesians 4:26-27)

Anger180 is the next evil to shrivel under the awesome light of God's examination. Paul quotes Psalm 4:4, "In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent."

Paul recognizes that anger itself is not sin. Anger can be a natural reaction to injustice, the emotion that God gives us so we will not passively allow injustice to have its way forever. But we must be very careful of anger, for it can have many deceitful roots.

1. Selfishness. Anger can spring from selfishness as well as injustice. We must observe our motives carefully, so that we don't justify "righteous anger," when it has much more to do with self than with righteousness.

2. Control. Anger impels us to overflow our inhibitions and take action. It is a powerful emotion designed to overcome our passivity. But without careful self-control, our anger can become abusive, violent, and sinful. "In your anger do not sin," says Paul (Ephesians 4:26). Anger can cause us to say and do things that hurt the people we love and that we regret later.

3. Bitterness. Anger can turn into a deep-seated bitterness if we don't deal with it. "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry," advises the Apostle (4:26b). If we practiced this advice diligently, we would cut the workload of a lot of psychologists and psychiatrists -- and pastors, for that matter. A lot of our psychological stresses and abnormalities have resulted from buried anger, rather than anger which is openly dealt with and resolved quickly.

4. Foothold for Satan. Anger and the bitterness that it can lead to can "give the devil a foothold" or "place"181 in our hearts (Ephesians 4:27). We know how that works. When we're angry, our inhibitions are less, and many times we speak our mind without the normal barriers which keep a civil tongue in our mouth. Once we've said some of those angry, nasty, bitter, hurtful things, we can't recall them. Or we justify our bitterness to the point that Satan, the father of hate, can do his work in us.

For a long time I wasn't really aware when I was becoming angry. I had decided that I wasn't angry. Period. But refusing to recognize the symptoms of anger kept me from the protection I needed from seeing the warning signs and being careful. It's easy to "give the devil a foothold" when we don't own up to our anger and begin to control it. Anger itself isn't sin, but if not checked, it soon results in sin.

"A fool gives full vent to his anger,
but a wise man keeps himself under control." (Proverbs 29:11)

"Like a city whose walls are broken down
is a man who lacks self-control." (Proverbs 25:28)

God is known throughout the Bible as "slow to anger" (Exodus 34:6). We need to stop making excuses for our temper tantrums and become like our Father.

Q43. (Ephesians 4:26-27). Why did God give us the emotion of anger, do you think? How can anger be dangerous? How can we keep from sinning when we are angry? Is anger itself sin?

Theft (Ephesians 4:28)

"He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need." (Ephesians 4:28)

For the Christian, stealing,182 too, must go. Many people today are used to taking things so long as they think they can get away with it. Shoplifting is rampant. People steal pencils and supplies from their offices, copies from the company copy machine, and time from their workday -- and think nothing of it. When the boss is watching we are scrupulous, but when he is elsewhere, we steal with impunity. Our culture is beginning to smirk at dishonesty as something smart. Getting away with it is mark of our cleverness.

But God's Holy Spirit doesn't let us get away with this for long. First, Jesus reminds us to treat others as we, ourselves, would like to be treated. Stealing isn't wrong just because it defrauds someone else. It is wrong because it avoids "work, doing something useful with his own hands" (Ephesians 4:28b). Work is not a necessary evil, it is good. God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. Jesus supported his family as a carpenter until being about his Father's work captured his full-time attention.

A third reason for not stealing is that stealing is the opposite of giving. A person who is a "taker" is seldom a "giver," and our God is the ultimate Giver. The former thief is admonished to do honest work "that he may have something to share with those in need" (Ephesians 4:28c).

Blithering, Blathering, Bitterness, and Brawling (Ephesians 4:29-32)

"29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:29-32)

It is interesting to note how much of the "new self" has to do with our altered speech patterns. James talks a good deal about the evil done by the tongue (James 3:1-12).

"If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless." (James 1:26)

Ephesians 4:29 contains a lot of truth in a few words. "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths," he says first. The adjective translated "unwholesome" (NIV, NASB), "evil" (NRSV), "corrupting" (ESV), "corrupt" (KJV) has the basic meaning of "spoiled, rotten," used literally of spoiled fish, decayed trees, rotten fruits, and stones that are unsound or crumbling. Figuratively, it means "bad, evil, unwholesome to the extent of being harmful."183

Just what is coming out of our mouths? In the latter part of verse 29, Paul gives three guidelines for judging our words:

  1. Is it helpful for building others up? Does it edify? Does it enlighten? Does it encourage?
  2. Is it according to the hearer's needs? Or only our need to vent our frustrations? Does he really need this? Does she really need this? Do they have a need to know? Some things need to be said, however hard. But many of the things we say could just as well be left unsaid.
  3. Is it beneficial to the hearer? If love is our mainstay, then benefiting others is our way of life.

Our speech can destroy or heal, it can rip apart or it can build up. And our words lie at the very heart of our Christian religion, according to James.

In particular, Paul identifies "all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." Slander is "speech that denigrates or defames, reviling, denigration, disrespect, slander."184 I've caught myself telling stories about people that were intended to lower them in the eyes of others. Shame! That is slander. Paul is speaking directly to me -- and you.

Q44. (Ephesians 4:29-32) What kind of "unwholesome talk" is common among us Christians? What three guidelines does Paul give us to measure the value of what we say? What is slander? How common is it among Christians? How can we prevent it?

Grieving the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30)

"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:30)

Our words can "grieve the Holy Spirit of God." The verb means "to cause severe mental or emotional distress, vex, irritate, offend, insult."185 We are indwelt by the Spirit, but our words can insult the Spirit; we can offend Him by our words. We see this phrase to "grieve the Holy Spirit" in Isaiah:

"Yet they rebelled
and grieved186 his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them." (Isaiah 63:10)

We may have trained ourselves not to offend minorities with insensitive statements. We may be politically correct, but are we zealous to be spiritually correct? When we seek to blend in and please unbelievers, we may be offending and grieving our very best Friend. Our words can cause deep pain to others -- and to the One who loves us deeply -- God himself.

Have you ever met an angry man? An angry woman? They have a short fuse and can easily explode into "bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice" (Ephesians 4:31). Some people brawl with their fists; others brawl with their mouths. How often we judge people out loud. "I would say it to their face," we may claim, but we seldom do. Instead, we slander them hoping to gain a bit of superiority by so doing.

We Christians can't afford to hang onto smoldering anger, our bubbling bitterness, for it will destroy us, our testimony, and those around us. What can we do? Confess our anger and bitterness to God and plead with him to take it from us. Repent of our "righteous anger" and call it what it is: sin. While there is such a thing as righteous anger, most of the time, "man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires" (James 1:20).

Can God temper our anger? Certainly. He may not do so overnight, since we didn't develop unrestrained anger overnight. Part of it is a habit and a learned behavior. The Spirit will help us unlearn it if we will become humble before God and be willing to be humbled. Part of dispensing with inbred anger is gained by practicing what is in the next verse.

Kind, Compassionate, Forgiving (Ephesians 4:32)

The final verse of our passage calls on us to:

"Be kind187 and compassionate188 to one another, forgiving189 each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)

Instead of a self-centered attitude that the world revolves around us, Paul commands kindness and compassion towards each other. We don't return evil for evil, but instead good. And these actions aren't just for someone else's benefit. The real cure for our own bitterness and pent-up anger is forgiveness.

Sometimes we withhold forgiveness because we don't think that the person deserves it. While we are probably correct in our assessment, it shows that we don't understand forgiveness. Forgiveness, like grace, is neither earned nor deserved. It is granted freely, unilaterally, by the giver, with no thought to the worth of the one receiving it.

Years ago, as a pastor I found myself explaining again and again what forgiveness was not, since it is so commonly misunderstood. Finally I wrote it down in an article, "Don't Pay the Price of Counterfeit Forgiveness,"190 where forgiveness is explained more fully. Paul reminds us that we are to forgive, "just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32b).

Q45. (Ephesians 4:32) Why is it so difficult to forgive those who hurt us? According to Ephesians 4:32, who is our example of forgiveness? What heart attitudes toward people are evidence of a forgiving spirit, according to verse 32a?

The key to putting on the new self is following Jesus, emulating him, making him our new Role Model. Clever unbelievers were once our role models, but no more. "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ," Paul reminds us, "and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Romans 13:14, KJV).

We are part of Christ's body, part of the church, a new creation, a new self. We've taken an invigorating shower. Let's make sure we put on clean clothes.


Father, we so much want to walk in your cleanness. Forgive us for our sins. Change our ways so that they bless you rather than grieve your Spirit. Help us to put on, as clean clothes, "the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." Grant it for us, we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.

Key Verses

"... Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." (Ephesians 4:24)

"'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." (Ephesians 4:26-27)

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)

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

Audio (28:42)

Gerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst (1590--1656), detail of 'The Childhood of Christ' (c. 1620), The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
As the child Jesus imitated his father Joseph, so we are to seek to imitate our Heavenly Father. Gerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst (1590--1656), detail of 'The Childhood of Christ' (c. 1620), The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

When children are little, 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 is a continuation of the previous lesson'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 (Ephesians 5:1-2)

"1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 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." (Ephesians 5:1-2)

What a wonderful picture of learned godliness! The Greek word for imitator refers to one who uses someone as a model, imitates, emulates, follows.191 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)

"Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Paul's picture in Ephesians is of little children imitating their father. And not just children, but "beloved children" (NRSV, ESV), "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...." Imitation is another way to look at the learning posture of discipleship -- "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). 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." When we live lives of love, our lives are like the temple worship of sweet-smelling incense in God's presence (Philippians 4:18).

Sexual Purity (Ephesians 5:3-7)

"3 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 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 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. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them." (Ephesians 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 Paul expected Christian believers to live exemplary lives.

Avoiding Sexual Immorality (Ephesians 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 under control 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." (Ephesians 4:3)

The word translated "sexual immorality" here is Greek porneia, "unlawful sexual intercourse, prostitution, unchastity, fornication."192 A pornē 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."193 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."194

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 enjoyed, I am sure, the physical blessings of marriage together.

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

"3 It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; 6 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. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.
8 Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8)195

This runs directly against our culture, which says that sex between consenting adults is okay. I don't believe we are called 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 our leaders and members.

Any Kind of Impurity (Ephesians 5:3-4)

Ephesians 5:3 extends this farther. Not only sexual immorality but "any kind of impurity or, of greed196" is prohibited to Christians. The sexual "impurity" mentioned here would include pornography.

Verse 4 cautions us about "obscenity,197 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 (Ephesians 5:5-6)

Notice the seriousness of Paul's warning:

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

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

"9 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 ... 10b will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 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!

Q46. (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?

Greed for Money (Ephesians 5:5)

Let's look closely at Ephesians 5:5 for a moment. Paul mentions the "greedy person"198 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.

Is there 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" (Ephesians 5:6). He would similarly dismiss all our modern excuses for extra-marital sex.

From Darkness to Light (Ephesians 5:8-14)

"8 For 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) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for 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.'" (Ephesians 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" (Ephesians 5:8).

It is hard for us to stand against our culture, to be counter-cultural. It is important, however, to understand that the essence of Christianity is not to be counter-cultural. Rather, the essence is to have a personal love for the Lord that delights in "finding out what pleases the Lord" (Ephesians 5:10). We've had too much negativity in our faith. Too much judgmental self-righteousness. To delight our Lord is 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." (Ephesians 5:14)

Just as preachers today quote well-known hymns ("Amazing Grace," etc.), Paul did the same in his day.

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

Verse 16 is interesting. KJV translates it: "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil." Other translations talk about "making the best use of the time" (ESV). The underlying Greek verb had commercial connotations of "buy, buy up something" and "redeem, buy back." Figuratively it means "to gain something, especially advantage or opportunity, make the most of."199 This is joined with the noun kairos, "time." 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.200

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!"

Q47. (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?

Avoid Drunkenness (Ephesians 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." (Ephesians 5:17-18)

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" (Ephesians 5:16).

Paul drinks wine (1 Timothy 5:23), but he stands firmly against drunkenness. The problem with intoxication is three-fold in this context:

  1. Drunkenness leads to "debauchery" (NIV, RSV), "dissipation" (NASB). The word is Greek asōtia,201 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 (Ephesians 5:8-14).
  3. Drunkenness dulls our ability to "be careful" (Ephesians 5:15) and to "make the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 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, barbiturates, methamphetamine, or fentanyl. Our culture has a serious problem with the desire to get high. We are admonished to avoid intoxication! Instead, we are to seek another kind of intoxicant, another kind of "high," the fullness of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

Q48. (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?

Be Filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18)

"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." (Ephesians 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.202 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 (Ephesians 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." (Ephesians 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."203 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 ("Sing to one another..."), while verse 19b looks at our musical worship as it relates to God ("Giving thanks 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" (Ephesians 6:20). An attitude of thankfulness underlies all true worship.

Q49. (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?

The section we've just examined 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 (Ephesians 5:1)
  • Live as children of light (Ephesians 5:8)
  • Learn what pleases the Lord and then do it (Ephesians 5:10)
  • Make music in our hearts to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19b)
  • Thank God continually in everything (Ephesians 5:20).

What a contrast between the darkness of unbelief and the joyful light 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 the Churches anew in our day!


Father, help us as we learn to walk in light. Help us to surrender to you our inordinate 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)

End Notes

Section 5.1

[167] The word is Greek oun, which is "inferential, denoting that what it introduces is the result of or an inference from what precedes, 'so, therefore, consequently, accordingly, then" (BDAG 736).

[168] Mataiotēs, BDAG 621.

[169] Skotizō, "to become dark, be darkened," then "to be/become inwardly darkened" (BDAG 932).

[170] Apallotrioō, BDAG 96.

[171] Agnoia, generally, "lack of information about something." Specifically, "lack of information that may result in reprehensible conduct, ignorance, unawareness, lack of discernment" (BDAG 13). Our word "agnostic" comes from agnoia.

[172] Pōrōsis, BDAG 900.

[173] Exodus 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34.

[174] Exodus 9:12; 10:20, 27; see Romans 1:24, 26, 28.

[175] Aselgeia, BDAG 141. "Impurity" (NIV, NRSV) and "uncleanness" is akatharsia, literally, "any substance that is filthy or dirty," figuratively, "a state of moral corruption, immorality, vileness, especially of sexual sins" (BDAG 34). "Lust" (NIV) or "greediness" (NRSV) suggests the fervor of this self-abandonment -- pleonexia, "the state of desiring to have more than one's due, greediness, insatiableness, avarice, covetousness" (BDAG 824).

[176] "Old self" (NIV, NRSV) and "old man" (KJV) is two words palaios, "old" and anthrōpos, "a person of either sex, with focus on participation in the human race, a human being" (BDAG 81-82).

[177] "Attitude" (NIV) or "spirit" (KJV, NRSV) is pneuma, "spirit." The word has a number of meanings, including as the Holy Spirit. Here it refers to "a part of the human personality, spirit" ... "spiritual state, state of mind, disposition" (here as well as Galatians 6:1; 1 Peter 3:4; 1 Corinthians 4:21) (BDAG 832-836, 3c).

[178] Enduō means first "the act of putting on," specifically clothing. In the middle voice it has a reflexive idea, "clothe oneself, put on, wear." Metaphorically, it is used very often of the taking on of characteristics, virtues, intentions, etc. (BDAG 333-334, 2b). The same word is used of the Holy Spirit, "until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49, KJV).

[179] Ktizō, "to bring something into existence, create," used here and in Colossians 3:20 of the new birth (BDAG 572).

[180] Orgizō is the verb form of orgē, which can have two connotations: (1) "a state of relatively strong displeasure, with focus on the emotional aspect, anger", and (2) "strong indignation directed at wrongdoing, with focus on retribution, wrath" (BDAG 720-721). Our passage reflects the first definition.

[181] "Foothold" (NIV), "opportunity" (ESV), "room" (NRSV), "place" (KJV) is the noun topos, "place, position, region," here, figuratively, "a favorable circumstance for doing something, possibility, opportunity, chance" (BDAG 1011, 4).

[182] Stealing is the Greek verb kleptō, from which we get our English word "kleptomaniac."

[183] Sapros, BDAG 913.

[184] Blasphēmia, BDAG 178.

[185] Lypeō, BDAG 604.

[186] 'Asab refers to both physical pain as well as emotional sorrow, "grieve, displease, vex, wrest" (Ronald B. Allen, 'asab, TWOT #1666).

[187] Chrēstos, here pertains to being morally good and benevolent, "kind, loving, benevolent" (BDAG 1090, 3bα).

[188] Eusplangchnos, pertaining to having tender feelings for someone, "tenderhearted, compassionate" (BDAG 413).

[189] Charizomai, which appears twice in verse 32, comes from the same root as charis, "grace." The main idea is "to give freely as a favor, give graciously." Related to money, it means "to cancel a sum of money that is owed." Here, it denotes, "to show oneself gracious by forgiving wrongdoing, forgive, pardon" (BDAG 1078).

[190] Ralph F. Wilson, "Don't Pay the Price of Counterfeit Forgiveness" (Moody Monthly, October 1985, https://www.joyfulheart.com/ maturity/forgive.htm)

Section 5.2

[191] Mimētēs, BDAG 652. W. Michaelis, mimeomai, ktl., TDNT 4:659-674. From mimos, "an actor, mimic." See also 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Hebrews 6:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:6.

[192] Porneia, BDAG 854. Also Friedrich Hauck and Siegfried Schulz, pornē, ktl., TDNT 6:579-595.

[193] Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary.

[194] 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."

[195] You can find an exposition of this passage at https://www.jesuswalk.com/thessalonians/04_sex.htm

[196] Impurity seems to fit the context well, but greed? Perhaps Paul is using "greed" in a metaphorical sense such as is found in Ephesians 4:19, "They have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more" (NIV), where "lust" (pleonexia) refers to "greediness, insatiableness, avarice, covetousness," literally, "a desire to have more than one's due" (BDAG 824). Usually it is used of money and materialism, and perhaps it is so used here, too, though I think it refers here to insatiability for sex.

[197] "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."

[198] Pleonektēs, "one who desires to have more than is due, a greedy person" (BDAG 824), is from pleonexia, "greed," that we looked at in verse 3.

[199] Exagorazō, BDAG 343.

[200] Hans-Christoph Hahn, "Time," NIDNTT 3:833-844.

[201] Asōtia, Thayer 82. "The character of an asōtos, i.e., of an abandoned man, one that cannot be saved," from a, "not" +sōzō, "to save." Asōtia denotes "wastefulness", then "reckless abandon, debauchery, dissipation, profligacy" (BDAG 148).

[202] 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).

[203] Karl-Heinz Bartels, "Song, Hymn, Psalm," NIDNTT 3:668-670.

Copyright © 2024, 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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