Sunday School Lesson for May
A Call to Imitate God (5:1-2)
In this fifth chapter, Paul continues to paint the
picture of the radical change the Gospel produces in the lives of those who
have been saved by God’s grace. This
inner transformation sets the stage for Paul to order his readers to “Be
imitators of God” (v.1). That is,
the ethical demands of the Christian life are summed up in this one
imperative—to mimic (the actual word Paul used was mimetes from which we
derive “mimic”) the very character and excellence of God Himself. In general, this concept is characterized as
a “life of love” patterned after the life of Jesus who “loved us and
gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”
(v.2). The sacrifice of Christ upon the
cross for undeserving sinners satisfied the holiness and justice of God. As the
Old Testament sacrifices provided a sweet aroma to the heavenly Father, the
sacrifice of Christ did what the Law and ceremonies could never do in providing
final payment for sin. With this same
self-sacrificing spirit, Paul calls upon the Ephesian believers to love one
A Call to Holy Living (5:3-14)
Verse 3 presents the basic theme of
this section—that of distinction and separation from what they once were when
they were apart from the grace of God. In order to display the genuineness of
their salvation and commitment to Christ, Paul declares that they are to stay
- “even a hint of sexual immorality” – any unlawful sexual
relations (See 1 Thess. 4:3). Sexual evil and licentiousness was and is a
distinctive feature of paganism and certainly characterized the first
century world. The word translated “sexual immorality” is,
interestingly, the word porneia from which we derive pornography.
- “impurity” – any thoughts, intents, desires, passions, or
words which would be considered unclean, or in violation of righteousness.
- “greed” – is basically selfishness. It is the spirit that characterizes the
money-grubber or the person who never has enough. Here the context is apparently sexual
matters and may bespeak of those who, by means of illicit sexual
relationships, defraud and greatly harm others. (See 1 Thess. 4:6).
Note the following passages where similar teaching is
sounded: Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians
5:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-9; 2 Timothy 3:2-5.
list of sins the child of God should avoid continues in verse 4. Here Paul forbids:
- “obscenity” – anything you would be ashamed to do or say in
- “foolish talk” – the kind of conversation one could expect from the lips of a
fool, or one with little spiritual acuity or reverence for God. It is
interesting that the Greek term employed by Paul, morologia,
literally means the “talk of fools.”
- “coarse jokes” – humor which harms or in some way is
destructive to others. Here Paul
may have in mind jokes or humor that is specifically sexual in content.
Note that good humor, a gift from God, is not forbidden, but only that
which dishonors God and brings disrepute to His church. Such levity is off
limits for the believer.
Each of the behaviors described above are “out of
place” – that is, inappropriate for the kingdom of God and those called to
salvation. Rather than indulging in such vices, the children of God should
practice “thanksgiving” for the gracious provisions of their
heavenly Father. Praise to God should be substituted for any unholy speech.
Verse 5 contains a solemn warning to all those
claiming to be followers of Christ.
Paul says that it is a certain fact that none of the following people “has
any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God”—another way of saying
that they are not the redeemed children of God:
- The “immoral, impure” – such a person lives in diametrical
opposition to the commands of Christ, particularly those governing sexual
behavior. This is in stark
contrast to the purity of body and mind called for in the Christian ethic.
- The “greedy person” – this person is in fact an “idolater”
in that he manifests an insatiable lust for more. To sell out for anyone
or any thing other than God is to practice idolatry—the violation of the
The point of this verse is painfully clear: No person who continues to practice
these vices, without regard for the commands of Scripture, has a share in the
Kingdom of God. While true believers do, in fact, fall into many of the sins
named above, none live comfortably in them with an undisturbed conscience. The sinful child of God will surely come to
experience the discipline of their Father in addition to the convicting
ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
In verse 6, Paul declares that such
persons as described above are targets of “God’s wrath.” Such sinful practices actually attract God’s
holy indignation much like “a fully lit up enemy target attracts bombs” (Hendricksen,
believers are forbidden to be “partners,” or fellow-sharers, with the
ungodly (v. 7).
Now Paul again announces the discontinuity between
the believer and the non-believer—“For you were once in darkness, but now
you are light in the world” (v. 8). The responsibility of those who have
received the free gift of salvation is to “Live as children of light.”
That is, to conduct one’s life in such a way as to manifest “goodness,
righteousness and truth.” Bruce
reminds us that the “fruit of light” is identical with the fruit of the
Spirit in Galatians 5:22-33 (374).
In particular, the characteristics of a God-pleasing
life of holiness are:
- The life-long search for “what pleases the Lord” (v. 10)-
compare this with Paul’s words elsewhere (1 Cor. 4:4; 2 Cor. 5:9).
Authentic children of God will, by virtue of their new nature, naturally
pursue those things that are pleasing and acceptable to God (Bruce,
- The exposure of all that is evil—the “fruitless deeds of
darkness” (v. 11)- behaviors that bring dishonor to God—things that
are done in “secret” and too “shameful even to mention” (v.
12). These things should never be condoned or tolerated within the body of
Christ. Rather, they are to be brought into the open—“exposed by the
light” (v. 13)—where there is the possibility of forgiveness and
A Call to Wise Living (5:15-20)
In this passage, the life of wisdom in contrast to
the reckless abandonment of pagan depravity is promoted. Paul states that believers are to “Be
very careful” regarding the way they conduct their lives. More to the
point, believers are to be “wise.” (v.15). In the verses that follow, Paul presents six practical
ways in which the life of wisdom manifests itself.
- The proper use of time (v. 16)-
Paul exhorts his brethren to make the “most of every
opportunity, because the days are evil.” Here, the believer is called
to face the reality of the transitory nature of this life and the constant
presence of evil that will exist until the Lord’s return. Literally Paul
encourages them to redeem or buy back their time so as to make the most of
every moment in the service of Christ.
- Gaining an understanding of God’s will (v. 17)- those who are
wise will endeavor to discern God’s will and follow it obediently. Paul’s command is “do not be
foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” It is, as Bruce
reminds us, “always incumbent on the people of Christ to know and to do [God’s]
will . . . . The doing of his will is not a matter of irrational impulse
but of intelligent reflection and action” (379). Since God’s will is
discovered in the pages of Scripture, it is necessary that believers
immerse themselves in His Word in order to gain an understanding of His
purposes and ways.
- Being filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 18)- while
believers in Christ are to avoid becoming “drunk on wine, which leads
to debauchery,” they are to “be filled with the Spirit.”
Whereas the drunken man is under the influence and control of an
intoxicant, the believer is to be under the domination and control of the
Spirit of God, whose very nature is holy. The continual force of this
imperative must be stressed in order to get at the meaning of Paul’s words. He is calling upon his brethren to be
continually filled with the Holy Spirit as an ongoing, repeated
experience. In this way, the filling
of the Spirit is to be distinguished from the indwelling of the
Spirit which is simultaneous with regeneration and never is to be
- Engaging in edifying speech (v.19)- wise believers have distinct pattern
or characteristic element to their speech. They communicate to one another in “psalms, hymns, and
spiritual songs.” That is, “their mouths will be filled with words
which build up the lives of others and bring glory to the living and true
God” (Bruce, 380).
- Constantly displaying gratitude to God (v.20)- wise believers
are “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.” In
other words, the mature Christian will see the hand of God in all
circumstances of life, even the tragedies and harsh realities of existence
in a fallen world. To thank God “for
everything,” however, is not to be understood in the universal or
literal sense of praising God for things like acts of evil, destruction,
death, or wickedness, but as a call to recognize the truth of God’s
sovereignty and control over all of life.
As Paul declares in Romans 8:28, God is acting to cause “all
things” to work together for the good of His beloved children and the
glory of His name. For this we can
- Manifesting mutual subjection to one another (v. 21)- “Submit to
one another out of reverence for Christ.” Finally, wisdom is manifested in the lives of believers when
there is a spirit of mutual submission present among them. Rather than
behaving in a “self-assertive and brash” manner, those who are filled with
God’s Spirit will “always display the meekness and gentleness of Christ”
toward one another (Stott, 208). Notice carefully the motivation for such
submission—out of their mutual “reverence” or worship and love for