40. Stay Clean

Ephesians Meditations No.40

Eph  5:3,4 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.

In 4:25-32 Paul gave us a list of specific things that should or should not be in our lives now we are Christians. Now sometimes you hear people say, “Christians aren’t under the Law any more” and as far as the Law of Moses is concerned that is true, although we are still required to love God and our neighbour as ourselves (the summary of the Law – Mt 22:37-40). Yet there are a number of instructions within the teaching of the New Testament which still apply to us. However you might say that if we were living ‘lives of love’ that we referred to in the previous meditation, we would not need these, yet the truth is we do need these guide lines that Paul gives us and so now we come to his second group.

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” For there to be any form of sexual immorality there is a lack of love for God and a lack of love for your partner. Love in marriage is first of all a commitment and then an emotion. If the emotion has burned down, you remain committed and work at rebuilding it. Not even a hint! “or of any kind of impurity.” We have spoken before about purity being a characteristic of the Holy Spirit and therefore of us. Whatever you might think of as ‘impurity’ – that’s out! If in doubt, stay away from it.

“or of greed.” Oooops, that might come a bit closer to some of us. What are our eating habits like? But greed also applies to wanting more and more – of anything! The counterpoint to greed is contentment. Are you content with a reasonable amount of anything in life or does something drive you to constantly wanting more. Do we ‘comfort eat’ because we have not appreciated the wonder of God’s love for us? Greed may be a sign of something else wrong that needs attending to.

because these are improper for God’s holy people.” This is Paul’s reasoning. Very simply such things are inappropriate for a holy people – a people who are pure and righteous. If you have questions over your spiritual life, look at the rest of your life (because we so often wrongly divide our lives like this) and ensure you are totally at peace about all your habits, all your behaviour. Is there anything you would be ashamed about if it became public knowledge? If there is, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

But then he returns to the subject of speech, just like Solomon in the Proverbs so often went back to cover speech – possibly because we say so much and therefore this is a big area of our lives to be looked at: “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” There again there is first of all the negative, followed by the positive. No obscenity means no swearing – none! Check it out and be honest.foolish talk is linked withcourse joking’. As we said before, whatever you say, could you say it in front of your grandmother? This is a time for honesty if the word of God is going to mean anything at all to you. What is your language like? Do you take for granted words you use and excuse them by “Well everyone says that.” No they don’t. If it is ‘course’, cut it out.

Then Paul says some strong stuff: “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.” (4:5). Here he identifies three groups who don’t have a part in God’s kingdom. First anyone who is ‘immoral’. If you stood before Christ who sees right into you, would you be ashamed of some part of your behaviour because deep down you know it is immoral? Then ‘impure’. Again, we can kid ourselves or other people, but in front of God can you truthfully say that nothing you do is impure? And finally ‘greedy’. Again, check it out before God. But why does he say that a greedy person is an idolater? Because if you are greedy you are putting food – of whatever else it is – before God and when we put anything else before God, we worship (submit to) that more than we do God. If you are in any of these three groups, the sad truth is that you cannot enjoy the inheritance that God has in Christ for His children. Very simply you are not enjoying God’s blessing if you are allowing these areas of darkness to reign in your life. (Yes, they do reign if you have allowed they to hold sway so you are struggling to say you will get rid of them!).

Then Paul says something which seems out of place, that doesn’t seem to fit the list he has just been bringing to us: “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.” (5:6,7) What are these ’empty words’ likely to be? Probably words of justification, why these things aren’t so terrible as Paul makes them out to be, excuses why it is all right to live these sorts of lives. The key is that these people are ‘disobedient‘ which means they do not do what God has told them to do or they do what He has told them not to do. These are people who justify their lack of truthfulness (4:25), their unrestrained anger (4:26), their disregard for others’ property (4:28), their unwholesome talk (4:28, 5:4), their generally bad attitudes and rowdy behaviour (4:31), their immorality, impurity or greed. More than that, they try to get you to agree with them. Make sure you don’t join with them in these things, don’t become a ‘partner in crime’.

The overall lesson? Having the Holy Spirit in your life as a Christian has consequences. He is holy and doesn’t like sharing a home with immorality or impurity. This is a serious call to conform to the will of God! No excuses. Do it!

35. World’s Way

Ephesians Meditations No.35

Eph  4:17-19 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. 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. 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.

We start with another ‘link-word’ – “so” i.e. because of all I’ve been saying, Paul says, about being part of this body with Christ as the head, this has consequences – you are the people of God, so live like it. That perhaps sums up what we have here today. But look at how strongly he says it: So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord.” This is as strong as we’ve seen Paul in this letter. This must be very important.

So what is he telling them with such urgency? “that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do.” When he speaks of Gentiles here, it is simply shorthand for ‘unbelievers’, because in fact many of them at Ephesus were Gentiles and not Jews by birth. He has previously, you may remember, in Chapter 2, reminded them of how they used to live, and in many ways this is simply a stronger reminder of that with the exhortation that they should no longer live like that – because they are the body of Christ and are growing up into the head.

But what was it that he had against unbelievers? “the futility of their thinking.” We do really need to understand that the godless, self-centred thinking of the unbeliever is futile. Now if you have ever been a watcher of Sci-fi you will remember the cry of the Borg, “Resistance is futile.” Oh yes, we understand what ‘futile’ means. It means ‘hopeless’. The unbeliever may struggle and strive to achieve, but ultimately it is all hopeless, because you cannot have true peace without knowing God through Christ.

Now Paul describes their state even more: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God.” Do you see the two things there? There is a mind thing and a relational thing. First the mind thing: “they are darkened in their understanding.” I like the JBP version here – “they live blindfold in a world of illusion.” They don’t understand the truth because darkness prevails, the darkness of sin – the self-centred and godless approach to life – and because of the deception that Satan brings them. (see 2 Cor 4:4 & 1 Jn 2:11). Sin and Satan has blindfolded them and they are trusting in a lie, “I’m all right.”  Second, the relational thing. Sin and Satan have separated them from God. Ask an unbeliever and they will either deny God exists or say something that suggests that He is a million miles away. Neither of these two things is now true of the Christian. Our minds have been enlightened by God and we do see the truth through Christ. We now have a close relationship with the Lord. So, is the implication, don’t live as if you are confused and away from God!

But Paul goes on to explain why they are blind and away from God: “because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” They are ignorant of the things we have been learning about in this letter and the reason they are ignorant is because they have hardened their hearts against God. The unbeliever is not passive; they actively harden themselves against God. The extreme of this is the crusading atheist but it is still true in lesser ways in all other unbelievers. If it wasn’t they would seek God until they find Him, or they would listen and hear what the Lord is saying to them, for He surely does speak to all men and women, I am convinced. This ‘hardening’ may simply be the resistance that says, “I want to rule my life and no one else can.” Thus they push God away and harden themselves to Him. (This only goes to show the marvel of the gospel that God by His Spirit can penetrate sometimes the chinks of this hardness and bring a hunger and then a conviction).

But there is an outworking of that which Paul goes on to explain: “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.” This spiritual hardening has a practical outworking. Hardness means a loss of spiritual sensitivity, and a loss of spiritual sensitivity means you are left with only material awareness and when that is utterly self-centred (because that’s all you are left with) then personal pleasure and getting your own way becomes the ultimate and sole focus on life. We see it in a multitude of ways, but this is a true description of the unbeliever. Watch the lives around you, or that you see in the media, and you will observe godlessness and self-centredness. No longer having any boundaries, as God is rejected by society, we thus see the exact working out of what Paul is saying in Western societies. When he speaks of ‘impurity’ and ‘continual lust for more’ you can see these exhibited in Western societies more and more obviously. All you have to do is look with enlightened eyes with God’s help.

What is the point of these verses? It is Paul saying that this godless and self-centred lifestyle is what unbelievers are stuck with. There is absolutely no room for it in the Christian life because we are joined to Christ, part of his body, and he is holy. Check it out. Make sure there is no expression of the godless, self-centred life in you if you are a believer.