We’ve been exploring what a life transformed by Christ looks like. Paul has some strong words for us in the verses that follow, some that are hard to hear in this day and age. We have come to a time where just about anything goes and to say otherwise can mean the loss of a job, the ending of a friendship, or most painfully, the estrangement of family. Because of that, some believe it best to just let things go, assume that maybe it isn’t all that big a deal to God after all. What we see here though is a dire warning that God does take the sins of sexual immorality, greed, and edgy jokes about those activities seriously. Yet, in this text, we are also given a beautiful hope that those who are trapped in those works don’t have to be. We are going to be looking at our two points today: God will judge abusers of His good gifts. And yet we are commanded to Call such abusers to join in the wise life of worship.
In the previous section, we were told to walk in love as imitators of God, but we are about to be given a huge contrast. Paul lines up the sins of this world as if he were speaking directly to America sexual sin and covetousness or greed. These are sins so serious, that Paul says that they should be as far away from us as possible. There shouldn’t even be an accusation of such things amongst us. He is not saying we don’t talk about these sins (indeed, he wouldn’t be following his own advice!), but simply that these are serious things to stay away from.
It might seem odd to talk about greed or covetousness in the same category as sexual sin in terms of seriousness, but that is only because we are around greed so much, we’ve gotten used to it. I mean if I were to walk into the room and see someone throw a magazine away so I wouldn’t see them with it, I would be relieved to find out that it was a gun or fashion catalog rather than something else. Yet, when we are greedy, and I mean like, “I am not going to find happiness until I have this thing” already our heart is moving away from God. One scholar put it this way, “The covetous man makes a god of his possessions, and offers to them the entire homage of his heart. That world[,] of which the love and worship fill his nature, is his god, for whose sake he rises up early and sits up late.” (Eadie qtd in Thielman, 333). When we find our life’s meaning in something else other than God, we are in a very dangerous position, and that thing (whatever it is) will not treat you well. Look at the stars that have idolized their youthful appearance. They’ll put themselves through rough and harmful diets, spend thousands on creams and makeup, some even going as far to have multiple, painful surgeries that end up mocking them with results that look worse than anything that would have naturally happened to them. Look at those who idolize their children. Their lives go up and down on the whims of a child. Pressure is put on those kids that they can never sustain, as now whether or not their father is delighted with them depends on what happens at T-ball. Men can idolize their work. It doesn’t even have to look like promotions and more money. Some men crave so much the affirmation of their bosses they will forsake the good of their family to get it.
When God is at the center, however, everything else falls into place. When it is about God being glorified, screaming at the kid’s coach or ref just doesn’t really come up. When it is about serving God, you will work hard at work but also have the confidence to act like there are other important things. Even as the outer person inevitably wastes away, we can look away from ourselves in the mirror and focus on the work that God is doing on the inside.
Sexual sin works in a lot the same way. We tend to forget that sexuality is a gift from God to be used in His ways! However, when we use that gift immorally for impurity, we selfishly use it for our own ways. One scholar put it this way, “Fornication and sexual perversion of almost any kind might be included under the word porneia (translated immorality by RSV first edition, 1946). Mitton (NCB) says it involves ‘any sexual indulgence outside the permanent relationship of marriage, in circumstances where the sexual appetites are used merely as a means of pleasure without any sense of responsibility or care for the partner’” (Bock). Did you catch that last part? It reminded me of an article I read a while back that talked out a major mistake that men (though this can certainly apply to women as well) make when it comes to sexuality. That mistake is feeling like one is entitled to pleasure in that way, and it should be experienced by any means necessary (Challies). This is not what a Christian should be about. Being greedy for things or experiences is not the life that we are called to.
In fact, this life should be so far away from us that we shouldn’t even make it the object of our humor. At that time, the Romans had social events in the form of banquets that would often by bawdy both in action and in speech, and Paul is telling the people then to not live like that. Our social engagements look different, but those same temptations exist today. Our words should be spent in thanksgiving and lifting up other people rather than complaining and tearing down. Our words are powerful, and as Christians we should always think to use this instrument in the way that God would want us to.
In verses 6-7 we get a stirring warning from God. There will be those who will not take those warnings seriously and dabble in these sins. Don’t do that. The wrath of God falls on people who practice sexual immorality, sexual, coarse talk, and greed. We don’t want to join in those sorts of acts. Now, this doesn’t mean that anyone who has ever been greedy, told a dirty joke, or even fornicated is automatically going to hell. The gospel rescues all kinds of sinners; just look at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. This also doesn’t mean that if we find out someone we know is sinning in this area, it doesn’t mean that we have to shun them 1 Cor 5:9-10. If they are in the church, they need to be disciplined (see Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5:11-13), and if they are in the world they need to hear the gospel. They can’t hear the gospel if we are all shunning them. My old seminary professor put it this way “…instead of emphasizing the battle to keep oneself free from societal evils, Paul in verse 11-14 will underline the transforming effect that illuminated believers can have on the darkness around them.” (339)
Be light to such that they may join in the wise life of worship.
We can bring them the gospel just like it was brought to us, as we see in verses 8-10. Note that it says that we were darkness. Not in darkness—WAS the darkness—but now we have been made light (Thielman, 338). We have been transformed, and now we can be the agents of the transforming gospel in the lives of others. We cannot do that well if we are continuing without repentance in the same sins that they are. Instead, we are to show the world that their sin is killing them. It’s hard to tell someone to stop drinking poison if you are sharing the bottle with them, but your words will mean so much more if you are not participating in those actions yourself.
Verse 13-14 have been the subject of much debate, but in my mind, the explanation that this is referring to conversion makes the most sense. (Thielman, 350-1). Those things that get exposed by the light become that light. You have a powerful weapon in the gospel, so shine it on that sin. Expose the sin for what it is, but then offer the hope of change. It doesn’t mean that everyone that you witness to automatically becomes a Christian, but know that the gospel is the brightest light to shine in the darkest of places. With such a wonderful resource, we must make sure that we are living our lives rightly. The Christian life is not one where we just wander around. We don’t have time for that. We need to bring wisdom in the way we speak, live, and preach because the day is evil. This term “redeem” means to “buy back,” but who or what are we buying such time back from? The answer is “evil.” Again from Thielman, “The business of buying time out of its slavery to evil takes place day by day, moment by moment, in the practical decisions of everyday life” ( 357). Evil forces are more than happy for you to fritter time away in sinful, useless pursuits. Don’t let them keep the time. Buy it back, for there is a world to save!
How do we do this? Well, it comes by being controlled by the Holy Spirit. Paul goes into what seems like a tangent, but it’s really not. Drunkenness was a very common problem in the ancient world (see that note on the Roman banquets). Honestly, life really until about 100 years ago was just super hard. Your life depended on what could grow in the weather you had that year. Life was under near constant threat of invasion or oppression. Death was common especially among infants, and disease had very few cures. The temptation to escape life’s constant problems must have been strong. But here the Lord tells us not to be drunk with wine, as this is a sin. Rather, we are to be controlled by the Holy Spirit.
How does one become controlled by the Spirit? Well, this comes first from saturating your mind with the Word of God.This is the way that He speaks to you. This is where wisdom for how to live is found. Secondly, you are controlled by the Holy Spirit by, well, asking to be controlled in prayer. Taking time to ask for God’s help and the Holy Spirit’s guidance is the way to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. We don’t mention this part as much, but it bears bringing up. Don’t forget that you aren’t just a soul either. You are a body. Just like when you fill up your brain with alcohol, if you abuse your body in other ways, it can make being controlled by the Spirit harder. If you find yourself easily irritated when you don’t get enough sleep, then do your best to get your rest. The same goes with eating, exercise, taking your medicine, all of those things are helps in your journey. We aren’t just a body or just a soul. You are both and both need care.
One great evidence that you are in the control of the Spirit is worship which we see in verses 18-20. Here Paul gives out a list of words for songs that are more or less the same sort of thing. They are pieces of music that are sung to the Lord, and to each other. This is one of the benefits of corporate worship. When we sing these great songs and hymns of the faith, we are reminding each other of the life-giving truths within them. Singing to each other that God’s Faithfulness is Great is an amazing reminder, especially when it is sung by someone who has had to cling to that promise. Watching someone who has had a death in the family sing through the tears is a powerful testimony of who God is and what He can do.
This is what we as light want to bring those who are darkness into. This is the invitation that we offer to them, to be a part of a community that knows and loves Jesus and is being transformed into people that worship Him. That is the goal of evangelism, more worshippers!
I know that we have tackled a lot in these verses, so let’s summarize this passage as a whole to find our takeaway. We have been called into a very different life, one that is not motivated by sexual opportunities and monetary advancement or even joking about it. Instead our lives are focused singularly on worshiping and glorifying God. This is an amazing turnaround, because God’s wrath is for those who live in those sinful ways. Since that is the case, we want to be light to other people so that they may see Jesus and be made into light themselves.
Let’s think through how this might apply. I know that there likely many of you who know someone marked by one of those sins mentioned. Perhaps you have a family member who is making a practice of homosexuality or transgenderism. Does this passage forbid you talking to them? No! Now, you cannot tell them that God is ok with those things. That wouldn’t be kind to them, as that would be lying to them. Instead, bring them the good news of Jesus that can set them free from those practices. No, it won’t be instantaneous, but it will be gradually making progress as the years roll on. Pray for them, be clear on where you stand, and love them as best as you can. The same is to be said of believers who are in sin. We don’t pretend that what they are doing is ok, but we need to have contact in order to bring them back to a right relationship with Jesus.
What we must keep in mind is that there is no darkness into which Jesus can’t shine. No relative or friend or even you can be beyond hope. Bring them the gospel, live in the light of that gospel yourself, and there will be tremendous hope that they will one day be controlled by the Spirit worshiping God forever!
Bock, Darrell, Ephesians, Tyndale
Challies, Tim, https://www.challies.com/articles/things-for-christian-men-to-think-about/
Thielman, Frank, Ephesians, Baker