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Mar 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 8, 2019 – Ephesians 5:3-7

A Reliable Guide Through Complexities

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them . . . Ephesians 5:3-7

Intro: Thank you for your prayers while we were in Israel — we had an exceptional experience

Although it snowed in Jerusalem the week before we arrived, we had sunshine until the last day
– but that seemed appropriate, because the last site we visited was the Garden Tomb
– like so many places in Israel, it’s doubtful that we were at the exact spot where Jesus was buried and rose again
• so I reminded the group, that the precise location was irrelevant because, “He is not here, He is risen”
• then I apologized for bringing them all way to Israel just to learn we are as close to God here in South Orange County

I think “close to God” is what draws Christians to Israel — as it has through the centuries
– for that reason the “Holy Land” is peppered with monasteries and churches
• our souls tell us there’s a deeper human experience, a reality beyond the normal routine
◦ and we hope to find it by walking where Jesus walked or praying in sacred sites
– the letter to the Ephesians and not a tour of Israel, takes us on the journey to that richer experience
• this is the path of Christian spirituality

Ephesians begins with a breathtaking description of “life in Christ”
– it then moves to the practical side of Christian spirituality
• chapter 5 begins with a general “rule of thumb”: “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you”
• next comes more detailed instructions regarding what to avoid and what to adopt
(notice how the contrast is highlighted with “but rather” in verse 4, which is translated “but instead” in v. 11)
◦ avoid whatever is contrary to love and adopt whatever is consistent with love
◦ love that imitates God’s love is always the most reliable guide to to discerning his will
– Paul moves through specific instructions that include:
• a list of “do not’s”
• the play of opposites: light and darkness, wisdom and foolishness
• a list of “do’s”
• behavior that is consistent with a well-ordered Christian home

If we cannot find a structure to this section, we can at least see patterns

Paul uses multiples of three:
A. immorality, impurity and greed
B. filthiness, silly talk and coarse jesting
C. goodness, righteousness and truth (v. 9)
D. psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (v. 19)
• notice how the triads in line A correspond with the triads in line C and the same with lines B and D

We will look first at greed, even though it is the last item in the first triad
– we encountered this word in chapter 3 (v. 19) and defined it as “an insatiable desire for more”
• greed is more passion than action, but the behavior it inspires is all negative
◦ greed can infect every pleasure, possession, and aspiration
◦ it is the capstone of the Ten Commandments

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor (Ex. 20:17)

• in verse 5, the same word for greed is translated “covetous man” and is equated with idolatry
◦ any “thing,” when it takes the place of God in our commitment and devotion becomes an idol – Moses made an interesting statement in Deuteronomy regarding the plunder of pagan cities:

Nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand (De. 13:17)

• at first it looks like a mistake — did Moses mean to say, “Your hand shall not cling to it”?
• this odd expression catches our attention — we have to think about it
◦ the danger of some things isn’t how we hold onto them, but how they hold onto us
◦ we can pursue things that will not let us go

I was reading yesterday in Luke 12

Beware and be on your guard against every form of greed . . . (v. 15)

– greed takes many forms
◦ later on Jesus said,

make [for] yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven . . . (v. 33)

• imagine having a magic wallet that never ran out of cash
• the Lord’s point, of course, had to do with spiritual investments and returns

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (v. 34)

– let’s try to remember, Paul’s sin lists includes greed
• the other items are easy targets and Christians frequently harp on those
• greed (covetousness), however, is the one we are most likely to fall into — and to ignore

Now let’s consider the other words on Paul’s list

“[Sexual] Immorality or any impurity . . . filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting”
– impurity is anything that defiles or desecrates a person, place, situation, or event
• Paul’s use of it is similar to the way Jesus used it
◦ the Lord was responding to the Pharisee’s scrupulous adherence to the ritual part of the purity code

It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man . . . For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man (Mt. 15:11, 19-20)

– William Barclay suggested that the vulgar speech mentioned in verse 4 is linked to sexual immorality in verse 3
• for example, “dirty jokes”
• verse 4 reiterates verse 3, that even talking about these things is not “proper,” or “fitting” for believers
◦ the idea may be that talk stirs up impure thoughts and desires that can lead to impure actions
◦ according to James, if we can control our speech we can control all other behavior (Jas. 3:2-8)
– rather than worthless and useless speech, Christians use words to “give thanks”
• and to encourage each other with “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (vv. 19-20)

Why does Paul place so much emphasis on sex?
– the obvious: there was little sexual restraint in Greek and Roman society

Historian Peter Brown has written that “Paul was a Jew, burning to make pagans into children of the true God. He looked out with undisguised disgust at the tedious prospect of the sins of the gentile world. In that dark landscape, sexual sins cluttered the foreground.”

• in the Roman empire many religious institutions (temples) were supported by prostitution
• in the ancient Canaan religions, sexual acts played into fertility rituals (this was problematic for Israel–e.g., Nu. 25)
– it needs to be pointed out that Paul  wasn’t developing a Christian view of human sexuality here
• he provides a larger view of sexuality in 1 Corinthians 7
• but a full biblical study of sexuality would include:
◦ the first three chapters of Genesis
◦ the Song of Solomon
◦ select passages from the prophets
◦ the celibacy practiced by important figures such as Daniel, Paul and Jesus

Paul did not choose to address sexual sin because it is the most serious or evil
– rather, sex illustrates well how sin can work in natural and legitimate drives to produce insatiable and enslaving needs
• our sexuality is sometimes experienced as a unique and recognizable visceral energy

Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body (1 Co. 6:18)

• sex is the body (that desires and acts)
– the underlying concern is that we resist being conformed to the world
• instead, we want to continue to move forward in our transformation

Peter Brown, again, observes, “Altogether, when Paul wrote on the exact manner in which he wished his communities to show themselves to be a holy people, separated from the world, codes of sexual behavior, taken directly from the practice of the Jewish married household, were made to bear the main weight of his notion of ‘sanctification’ . . .”

– for many people sexuality isn’t the worst temptation
• in fact, our worst struggles may be forms of evil that are far more subtle
• so subtle that by comparison they may not seem like temptation to sin (e.g., greed, arrogance, malice, etc.)

V. 5, If the Ephesians knew this “with certainty,” why did Paul have to tell them?

Because these sins were still present – around and within the Gentile churches

Such were some of you; but you were washed . . . (1 Co. 6:11)

– also, there were teachers who taught and promoted free sexual expression

“Let no one deceive you with empty words”

• I had a philosophy professors who complained that every person living was not required to take a course in logic
• I suppose that if we did, we would all be able to recognize “empty words”
◦ as it is, I’m surprised and saddened by the nonsense that some believers fall for
– “sons of disobedience” (like “children of Light” in v. 8) is a Hebrew figure of speech
• coming recently from Israel, I’m reminded of the Dead Sea Scrolls
◦ in them, the Qumran scribes saw the world tension as conflict between “the sons of light” and “the sons of darkness”
◦ Paul’s exhortation:

Do not be partakers with them

• we have a different connection or partnership (3:6) and a different destiny

Conc: Why are our bodies so important?

They weren’t to Greek philosophers or religious Gnostics
– first, because we were created “good” and then later the Incarnation produced new possibilities for our physical being
• God has entered and continues to enter the realm of our flesh and blood existence
◦ so what we do with our bodies is important
• even for Paul, this is not about being morally uptight, sexless, or prudish
◦ it’s about our bodies being instruments for God’s will, service and honor (Ro. 12:1-2)

Our bodies become the sacred space in and through which God acts and speaks

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? . . . Or do you not know your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit that is in you, that you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:15, 19-20)

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