Explore the Bible Series
October 31, 2010
Lesson Passage: Ephesians 5:1-14
The lesson materials for this week continue the ethical emphases we studied, in last week’s session, from Ephesians 4:17-32. Therefore, I have copied, from last week, the introduction we considered a few days ago.
Paul’s epistles often evidence twin concerns about theology and ethics. Christianity, as I understand it, stands on these two legs; indeed, failure to understand these emphases will cripple one’s apprehension of Pauline Christianity. Our lesson immunizes against a lame religion that limps on uneven limbs.
First, I must observe that Paul never espoused a merely theological understanding of the Christian faith. Of course, he scaled the heights of profound theological ideas, but he, I think, refused to treat doctrine as a mere intellectual or academic concern. Even theology, for Paul, was practical; therefore, I have some minor issues with those who speak of Paul’s letters as having a “doctrinal” section and a “practical” section. In the past I have used such language in analysis of Paul’s letters, but perhaps I should have used greater care. These epistles always depict theological ideas in relation to the most practical aspects of Christian life. What one does is an inevitable extension of what one is; so, for Paul, ethics never degenerated into scolding people to just rehabilitate themselves and do better. Instead, the flower of righteous behavior grows from the soil and root of covenant theology (by “covenant theology” I mean doctrine grounded in the gracious redemptive work of Christ and its glorious effects on those transformed by its power).
Second, Paul was not merely an ethicist. He did not advocate ethical conduct as a method of “greasing the wheels” of culture or commerce, and he avoided the strained philosophical ethics that characterized ancient Greek intellectual history. Instead, he saw righteous behavior as an effect of a person’s relationship with God. Ethics, for Paul, always centered on regeneration, renewal, and relationship. For this reason, Paul saw Christian behavior as a growth process. Believers do not emerge, fully developed, from the “womb” of regeneration, but they must grow to maturity.
Here, then, is a “marriage” of doctrine and conduct, and, “what God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” These ethical principles, I should note, do not degenerate into the kind of fundamentalist rule-making that has characterized much of conservative evangelical life. The “rule-making” mindset brings frustration, unwarranted guilt, frustration, and despair. Paul’s ethics affirm life, vitally intertwined with the life of God, in Christ Jesus.
I. A Vital Principle Stated (v. 1): In the midst of this “practical” portion of his letter, Paul inserted a critical element to the understanding of Christian ethics, “be followers (imitators) of God, as dear children.” He called on his readers to imitate God (Greek work mimetai, from which we get our English word mimic). However, this mimicry must be understood in the context of the believer’s relationship with God, as Father and child. Pauline ethics never degraded into legalistic efforts to court the favor of God; rather, Christian ethics grows, as a natural extension of the believer’s familial relationship with the Father.
II. The Implications of Walking in Love (vv. 2-7)
A. The guiding principle of love (v. 2): The reference to the dear children of God prompted Paul to expand on the essential concept of love. In this case, he called on his readers to walk as Christ did, in self-giving, sacrificial love. Of course, love does not carry redemptive weight, as did Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, but the Ephesians, Paul hoped, would progress (thus the term “walk”) in the habit of loving one another—real love that extends beyond cheap words. The reference to “sweet smelling aroma” recalls the post-flood sacrifice of Noah (See Genesis 8)
B. Several abuses of love (vv. 3-4): Paul outlined some implications of his admonition to love. These attitudes and actions militate against the pathway of love; in fact, the apostle claimed that no hint of these transgressions should be named among God’s people (See v. 3b).
1. fornication: Translates a general term for sexual indecency. It originally described the temple prostitution that characterized pagan worship, but, at times, the word’s meaning extended to a broad range of sexual misconduct.
2. all uncleanness: Again, this is a word with broad meaning, in the ancient world, but its meaning, most often, centered on sexual offences.
3. covetousness: Interestingly, covetousness and sexual sin often run along parallel lines. Forbidden in the Tenth Commandment, covetousness reveals a craven greed that demands the gratification of all desires, including sexual passions.
4. filthiness: Dr. Vaughan believed this term referred to indecent, shameful speech.
5. foolish talking: Empty, vain speech, like gossiping, reveals the nature of this vice.
6. coarse jesting: This term does not prohibit an appropriate sense of humor, but it does prescribe a wholesome tone to Christian conversation.
C. The consequence of abusing love (vv. 5-7: Paul stated this consequence in two ways: “has any inheritance in the king of Christ in God”; “because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” Perhaps the reference to “sons of disobedience” should be contrasted with the “dear children” of God, in verse one. This subsection ends with the apostle’s admonition for Christians to avoid partaking in the sins of the ungodly.
III. Walk as Children of Light (vv. 8-14): This paragraph provides an alternative to the sinful behavior patterns of the sons of disobedience. These Ephesian readers once lived in moral and spiritual darkness, but, by God’s grace, they now walked in the light, a light that illumined the path of goodness, righteousness, and truth (See, in particular vv. 8-9). Three implications of living in the light (vv. 8-11)
A. “Walk as children of the light” (v. 8a)
B. Those who are in the light must produce the fruit of goodness (kindness, compassion), righteousness (justice, equity), and truth (sincerity, See vv. 9-10).
C. “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, rather expose them” (vv. 11-14): Vaughan observed, “The light of believers must blaze out into the darkness and be a constant condemnation of the darkness.” These unspeakable works of darkness are so shameful that even the ungodly conceal them in secret. Paul paraphrased Isaiah 60:1 to emphasize his point.