Last week we began to look at chapter 5 of Ephesians, and we looked at the first two verses, which state:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Ephesians 5:1-2 NASB
These two statements parallel each other, to imitate Yahweh is equal to walking in love. The entire Christian life could be summed up as a life of imitating Yahweh as beloved children as we walk in love.
We cannot possibly imitate Yahweh without knowing Him and without knowing His attributes. Time spent in the Word of God is our only reliable source of information concerning Yahweh whom we are to imitate.
Paul says, "Since you are Yahweh's dear children, imitate Him." The basis for imitating is that we are His children. This is our identity. We are Yahweh's children! We are, therefore, to do what He does and speak as He does and think as He does! And this means that we do not get involved in sexual sin.
Paul turns from the theme of self-sacrificial love in verse 2, to its opposite, self-indulgent sexual sin in verses 3-4. In these verses Paul is simply enlarging upon this teaching of our Lord. Yahweh's intention for man is either marriage, with complete faithfulness to the partner, or total abstinence from sex. The Bible allows no deviation from this. But sad to say, many Christians today have abandoned the belief that Christians are to live differently than the world.
But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; Ephesians 5:3 NASB
The adversative conjunction "but," here puts everything in verse 3 in contrast to verse 2. What Paul is saying is that sexual sin is a violation of love. You cannot truly love another, in the biblical sense, and practice sex with him or her outside of marriage. It is impossible; they are mutually contradictory. Therefore, you cannot combine the two. There is no such thing as sexual relations, outside of marriage, done in love.
Let's talk about the culture in Ephesus for a moment. One commentator writes: "The city of Ephesus was noted for moral corruption. The temple of Artemis offered ritual prostitution as part of its 'worship.'" How many of you have heard this before about ritual prostitution? Almost all commentators say this, but none of them that I have found site a source. How do they know what went on in Ephesus?
Ritual or cult prostitution can be defined narrowly as union with a prostitute (whether with a female or a male makes no difference) for exchange of money or goods, which was sanctioned by the wardens of a deity whether in temple precincts or elsewhere as a sacred act of worship. In such cases, the prostitute had semi-official status as a cult functionary, either on a permanent or temporary basis, and the sexual union is usually interpreted to have been part of a fertility ritual. More generally, cult prostitution could simply refer to acts of prostitution where the money or goods received went to a temple and to its administrators. In this latter case, the prostitutes would be slaves owned by the temple.
Here is my problem: S. M. Baugh, who is associate professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42.3 (1999: 443-460), writes, "Let me point outs that neither Strabo, Pliny the Elder, Dio Chrysostom, Pausanias, Xenophon of Ephesus, Achilles Tatius, nor any other ancient author speaks explicitly or even hints at cult prostitution in either the narrow or broad sense in Ephesus of any period. Nor is it evidenced in the nearly 4,000 extant Greek and Latin inscriptions from Ephesus. This is an opinion found only in modern writers."
So I'm not sure if Ephesus had cult prostitution or not, but I'm sure that they did have immorality, or Paul would not be addressing the issue. But I can tell you for sure, from first had knowledge, that America definitely has a problem with immorality. In our culture at large, 47 percent now approve of homosexuality, although that breaks down into 83 percent of liberals versus 23 percent of conservatives. Among liberals, 89 percent approve of sex between an unmarried man and woman; 33 percent of conservatives agree. Having a baby out of wedlock is acceptable to 83 percent of liberals and 33 percent of conservatives (The Washington Times (6/5/2007).
At least 11,000 pornographic videos are produced annually, amounting to revenue for the adult film industry estimated at between 5 and 10 billion dollars a year. A November, 2003, "60 Minutes" report states that many of the largest hotel chains, including Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Sheraton, and Holiday Inn, make most of their in-room profits from the sale of pay-per-view porn—with half of all guests purchasing erotic video products.
A young teenage girl, about to graduate from high school wrote to "Dear Abby" saying that she thought she had a serious problem—she was still a virgin. To her, this was a stigma which no high school graduate should have to bear. Her question to Abby concerned how she should select the young man who would remove her stigma.
It is nothing less than amazing to see how far the value system of our culture has slipped in just a few decades. Not long ago, the stigma that a young girl feared was that of being immoral. There was the fear of being considered "loose" or, worse yet, of getting pregnant out of wedlock. Now, the fear is being known as a virgin.
C. S. Lewis gives us a vivid picture of our culture, stating, "Our sexual instincts are horribly inflamed and distorted, even in the best of people, because of the age in which we live, and the generations of sexual distortion to which we have been exposed. Suppose we treated our other urges as we do the sex urge. Imagine a country where you could fill a theater by bringing a covered plate onto the stage and slowly lifting the cover to let all see, before the lights suddenly go out, a lamb chop or a bit of bacon. Imagine the whole audience titillated by this sight of a bit of food exposed to them. Would you not think that there was something terribly wrong with their appetite for food, that it had become awfully distorted? There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying food, but there is everything to be ashamed of if food is your main interest in life, and you spend your time looking at food pictures in magazines and smacking your lips and drooling over every page."
Our culture is very immoral, but we, the Church, are to be different, we are not to imitate the world. Yahweh said to Israel:
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'I am the LORD your God. 'You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. Leviticus 18:1-3 NASB
Then after listing a bunch of sexual sins that Israel is to avoid, Yahweh says to them:
'Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. 'For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants. 'But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you Leviticus 18:24-26 NASB
Israel followed the immorality of their neighbors, and it cost them dearly. We, the Church, are given the same command, "Walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk," we are to imitate Yahweh and be holy for He is holy.
In verse 3, Paul lists three sins. I believe that all three of these terms have to do with immoral sex. We are basically sexual beings. Yahweh created the human race in two sexes, and He intended it that way. Sex is an important part of life. It is designed by Yahweh to add flavor and excitement to our relationships. Sex in the Bible is like a great river flowing through life which, kept within its banks, is a source of pleasure and power. When it overflows its proper banks, it becomes destructive and, ultimately, disastrous.
The first word that Paul uses is that Greek word porneia, which the NASB translates as "immorality." The first question that we need to ask is just what is porneia? Notice what Yeshua said:
"And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality [porneia], and marries another woman commits adultery." Matthew 19:9 NASB
Porneia is a biblical ground for divorce, so we must understand exactly what it means.
What did the Jews think when Yeshua said that if a man found his wife guilty of porneia he could divorce her? What did porneia mean in Yeshua's culture?
Word studies find that porneia in the LXX had strong associations with harlotry. The term is rooted in a word meaning: "to sell" and referred originally to prostitutes and prostitution. Over time, it came to mean: "the one who visits a prostitute (a whoremonger)" and then began to be applied to adultery.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (often referred to as "Kittel" for its main editor, Gerhard Kittel) tells us:
After the Old Testament the term came to mean all sorts of sexual perversion. In non-inspired, extra-biblical literature, the term is used of 'unnatural vice' and of sodomy. The Testament of Benjamin 9:1 says, 'Now I supposed, from the words of the righteous Enoch, that there will be also evil-doings among you: for ye will commit fornication with the fornication of Sodom.' There is a porneia of Sodom. We trust that our readers can understand the implications of this condemnation of homosexuality and perverse sexual relations—a condemnation that would include acts not defined as 'normal' relations. This is in concert with the findings of the rabbis in their debates and discussion.
So Kittel tells us that the rabbis believed "unnatural forms of intercourse" would also be porneia.
That said, it is apparent that in Yeshua's day sexual activity with a person one is not married to would meet the definition of porneia. A man and woman who are physically intimate with one another and are having sexual relations would easily fit the definition and standard use of porneia in Yeshua's time. To be physically intimate with someone not your mate, making physical contact with another person in a sexual way, is porneia.
Many believers distinguish the biblical concepts of "adultery" as "sex by a married person with someone other than the spouse," and "fornication" as "sex between two unmarried people." But "porneia," actually describes a much larger class of activities, however, than "intercourse between unmarried people." It is, in fact, the root that we get our word "porno" from, and it covers about the same broad class of behaviors as "porno" does to us today.
What does the Scripture say about porneia? As a whole, the New Testament uses porneia, in at least four ways:
Porneia is a broad term used to cover any form of sexual sin. Let's look at some of the Bible's exhortations against this sexual sin:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 1 Thessalonians 4:3 NASB
Clearly, God's will for believers is sexual purity. He says in Thessalonians:
and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 1 Thessalonians 4:6 NASB
The word "avenger" is the Greek word ekdikos, which means: "one who carries out a legal sentence." So, talking to believers, Yahweh warns that He is the one who carries out a legal sentence against those who commit porneia:
Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 NASB
This verse makes it clear that Yahweh does not approve either of polygamy or homosexual "marriages." Paul says that it is good not to touch a woman, but because of immoralities (porneia), every man is to have his own wife, and every woman is to have her own husband. Is this why a person marries? It is one reason. To avoid fornication is not the only reason for marriage, but it is one reason.
Paul is not giving us here his doctrine of marriage. He is speaking of the danger of sexual sin for those who are single. What Paul is doing here is answering a specific problem that was given in a specific question in relation to a specific situation existing in Corinth at that time. The situation was this: Fornication was rampant in the city. Temptation abounded on every turn. A man could not walk down the streets of Corinth without being propositioned. What Paul is saying in this passage is that the real solution to the situation in Corinth is: Let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Yahweh has instituted marriage as the safeguard against such evil. Marriage is not the lesser of two evils; it is the God ordained safeguard against the immorality that was existing in Corinth.
So Paul tells the Corinthians that in order to avoid pornea, they should get married. This would clearly tell us that sex among singles is pornea and is sin. Pornea is not limited to singles having sex, as we have seen, but it does include it.
Before we move on to look at the other words that Paul uses in our text, let me say this. In 1 Corinthians 5:1, Paul says, "There is fornication among you." I believe these words could be said of every church in America.That statement may seem a little strong, but I'm convinced that it is sadly true. Porneia has become rampant in the Church in our day. We must understand that God hates and judges this sin. We must understand the destructive nature of this sin, and we must put it to death. And we must do all that we can to protect our children from it.
Let's move on and look at the other words that Paul uses: Impurity—comes from the Greek word akatharsia, from which the word catharsis or "cleansing" comes. The alpha privitive makes it a negative, meaning: "filthiness," or "uncleanness." This word was used to refer to the pus around an infected wound. In the moral realm, it refers to that which contaminates others and is repulsive and disgusting. Paul used it in 4:19 to refer to the ungodly behavior of the Gentiles, who had "given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness."
This word could refer to what we would call perverted forms of sex, such as homosexuality, child abuse, beastiality. They would all be covered by this one word, "impurity." Paul links this word to homosexuality in Romans 1:24.
Then Paul mentions "greed"—this is the Greek word pleonexia, which literally means: "over-reaching." Generally speaking, when we talk of greed or coveting we think of the lust of money, but it can be an over reaching for anything. In this context it means: "to have a sensual desire or lust. It speaks of an appetite, an insatiable lust and greed to satisfy the appetites of the body and of the soul." That can be seen right back in 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." Exodus 20:17 NASB
One of the things He said not to covet was "Your neighbor's wife."
In verse 5 of our text Paul says, "covetous man, who is an idolater"—linked with this word, "idolatry," it is greed to possess another person's body. That, says Paul, is idolatry—a powerful longing to lay hands on some other person and possess his or her body. It's when you allow another person to become so dominant in your thinking that he or she takes the place of Yahweh to you.
A Roman Catholic priest commented on the sin of covetousness this way: He said that during his long years of service, all kinds of sins and overt crimes were confessed to him in the confessional. But no member of his church ever confessed himself as being covetous.
Paul goes on to say that these three sins, "must not even be named among you"—he obviously does not mean that they should not be discussed, because he is discussing them here. The Bible also contains stories of sexual immorality, as well as a vivid fictional depiction of it (Proverbs 7). What he means is that these sins should be unknown among Christians. They should never be mentioned as happening within the Church of Yeshua the Christ.
As is proper among saints—to those who find their identity in Christ, these must not be named among you because they do not "fit" among those who've been united to Christ. "Saints" is Paul's common word for believers, and means: "holy ones." The Bible never uses the word to refer to a special class of believers who are a notch above the rest. It refers to the fact that as a believer, you are sanctified or set apart as holy unto the Lord. Now you are to live as a saint.
and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. Ephesians 5:4 NASB
Each of these words, "filthiness, silly talk, and coarse jesting" appears only here in the New Testament.
"And there must be no filthiness"—this refers to any indecency, obscenity, or shameful thing. It comes from the same word root as "disgraceful" (5:12). I think this would fall into the category of young men and women enticing each other with pictures from their phones. What is today called, "sexting." The word came into being in the early 21st century, and means: "send (someone) sexually explicit photographs or messages via cell phone." We inventive Americans have come up with new ways to commit immorality.
"And there must be no...silly talk"—this is from the Greek word morologia,we get our word "moron" from the word root. In the Bible, the fool is not someone who is mentally deficient, but rather someone who is morally deficient because he ignores God's Word. In this context, Paul is referring to speech that disregards or makes light of God's moral commandments.
"And there must be no...coarse jesting"—this is the Greek word eutrapelia, which literally means: "to turn easily." What does that mean? It's like when you are in a conversation, and you make a quite innocent remark, but someone turns it on its head and makes it something crass. It's double talk, innuendo. It's turning something into a dirty joke or off-color humor, as most stand-up comedians and TV sitcoms do. Christians should not joke about sexual immorality.
Paul says that these things, "are not fitting"—the Greek here means: "to reach up to, have come up to." It has the idea of that which is appropriate, fitting, and proper.
"But rather giving of thanks"—you would think that Paul would say that we are to replace sexual immorality with purity. That is true, and he will state that (5:9-11). But here he says that the alternative to sexual immorality and greed is to give thanks. Why does he say that? What does thankfulness have to do with moral purity?
Sexual immorality and all impurity, begins inside us, with our heart being greedy or covetous of something we don't have. Paul sees that the reason we venture into sexual sin and speech is that we are not content with the provision of Yahweh, therefore, we covet, which leads to these sins and more. So, Paul is telling us to redirect our discontentedness and be thankful for where God has us. So instead of coveting, be thankful for the station the Lord has you in now, and find ways to bring Him glory.
Thanksgiving is what you experience when you believe that Yahweh gives you only what is good for you and withholds no good thing (single or married!). It's what you experience when you trust Him that every circumstance of your life is designed for your good and His glory. So thanksgiving is the alternative to a life driven by cravings for what you don't have (whether sex or money). Thanksgiving is almost a synonym for the Christian's life.
So how do we grow in our thankfulness to Yahweh? Note the relationship in Psalm 100 between the command to give thanks and the reason:
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth. Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations. Psalms 100:1-5 NASB
We are to give thanks because "Yahweh is good." Thanksgiving is a matter of response to facts of revelation. The more we know Yahweh, the more thankful we will be.
William Law, in his, Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, writes: "Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms, or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice, but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God willeth, who received everything as an instance of God's goodness, and has a heart always ready to praise God for it."
As Saints we are to stop coveting what we don't have and be thankful for what we do have. Instead of sexual immorality, be thankful!
Now what Paul says next has caused much confusion among believers:
For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Ephesians 5:5 NASB
Is this a warning to believers? There is no indication of warning here. Paul can't warn believers of the loss of the Kingdom, because a believer cannot loose his salvation. The life he received as a gift of Yahweh was ETERNAL life.
When Paul says, "no immoral or impure person or covetous man," he is referring to those apart from Christ. He is distinguishing the believers of the Church with those who practice these things as a way of life. He is saying what he said in:
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, Ephesians 4:17 NASB
Paul is saying in effect, "Don't live like those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God."
One commentator writes, "The reasons that he gives for his commands are not so that you will have a happy marriage. Rather, he tells us that those who practice such things will not be in heaven, but will come under God's wrath! Thus is it to your eternal advantage to understand and apply Paul's words here." It is to whose eternal advantage to understand and apply Paul's words? Is it to the believers eternal advantage? Believers have eternal life because of the obedience of Christ. Is it to unbelievers eternal advantage to understand Paul's words? Is this salvation by morality?
Another commentator writes, " While genuine Christians may fall into these sins, no genuine Christian can continue in such sins." Sexual purity is not an infrequent theme in Paul's letters. He mentions purity or warns about immorality in Romans (1, 13); 1 Corinthians (5, 6, 7, 10); 2 Corinthians (6, 7, 12); Galatians (5); Ephesians (4, 5); Colossians (3); 1 Thessalonians (4); 1 Timothy (1, 3, 4, 5), 2 Timothy (3); and Titus (1, 2, 3). Since all of these letters are addressed to Christians, I guess that sexual sin is a problem that Christians have.
John Piper writes:
"Put off the old self of fornication and impurity and covetousness and filthiness and silly talk and levity; be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and put on the new garment of gratitude to God that knows and does what is fitting for the saints. For on this great spiritual transaction in your heart hangs the inheritance of heaven or the torments of hell."
Is it by putting off fornication that we inherit the Kingdom? Is there any spiritual transaction that gains us heaven? What is he saying?
Paul was stating the characteristics of unbelievers here and admonishing the Christians not to act like them. The very fact that Paul instructed the believers not to partake of these sins shows that Christians can partake of these sins:
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Ephesians 5:6 NASB
Believers, understand this sin brings wrath, not blessing. It never brings true happiness. Paul is not warning us that if we sin, we will feel the furious wrath of God. Rather, he is saying that those who are Christ's, who have been made one with Him, who love Him and serve His glory, would certainly not wish to participate in those kinds of behaviors and thoughts that are characteristic of those who will feel His eternal wrath. The children of God would certainly not want to act like the children of wrath.
Who is God's wrath coming on? "Sons of disobedience"—the Greek word that was translated "disobedience" here is apeitheia. This word was also translated: "unbelief." Therefore, this is not denoting anyone who ever disobeys. It is specifying the unbeliever—those who have not put their faith in Christ for salvation.
"The sons of disobedience" is specifying the non-Christians. God's wrath is reserved for His enemies. Do you see the contrast? Verse 6 ends with "the sons of disobedience," verse 1 began with "the beloved children." There's a difference. Children of Yahweh don't experience wrath, ever, for anything!
What I see Paul as saying is, "You are children of Yahweh, you have an eternal inheritance, don't act like those who have no part in the Kingdom of God and upon whom the wrath of God will come":
Therefore do not be partakers with them; Ephesians 5:7 NASB
Believers, we are not to live like the non-believers. Sexual sin, like any sin, robs our joy and fellowship. When we leave the path of His commands it costs us. We must do all we can to guard ourselves from sexual sin:
Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23 NASB
Guard your heart! If we are going to avoid sexual sin, we must guard our hearts. If the battle for sexual purity is in the mind, then we had better start guarding our minds, because we live in a world whose media is consumed with sexual sin. All media touch the mind, stir it, move it, mold it, in every way affect it, even when the process is unconscious. Moreover, cognition is basic to behavior: we act out what we first think. Hence, whatever affects the mind will ultimately, though not always directly or immediately, affect behavior. We must guard our thinking and protect our minds.
Are you seeing things that are causing you to sin? Then stop looking at them. Are you engaged in activities that make sin more enticing? Then stop those activities. It should go without saying that a Christian man or woman should have nothing to do with pornography. Pornography may be defined as any visual, written, or recorded stimulus designed to cultivate or heighten a person's desire toward immoral sexual behavior. If that definition of pornography is true, then today's media is a major source of pornography, because it is often a visual stimulus designed to cultivate or heighten a person's desire toward immoral sexual behavior.
Living the Christian life in our society takes tremendous self-control. Proverbs gives us a vivid picture of the importance of self-control:
Like a city that is broken into and without walls Is a man who has no control over his spirit. Proverbs 25:28 NASB
In ancient times, the walls of a city were its main defense; without them, the city was easy prey to its enemies. Self-control is the believer's wall of defense against the sinful desires that wage war against his soul. Self-control is probably best defined as the governing of one's desires; it is necessary because we are at war with our own sinful desires. Self-control of our minds means: "entertaining only those thoughts that are acceptable to Yahweh." Every believer has the ability to control his thought life.
Believers, guard your heart and the hearts of your children. One of the best ways to do this is to put the Word of God in your heart. David said:
Thy word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against Thee. Psalms 119:11 NASB
Memorize and meditate on what the Bible says about sexual sin:
For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, And an adulteress hunts for the precious life. 27 Can a man take fire in his bosom, And his clothes not be burned? 28 Or can a man walk on hot coals, And his feet not be scorched? 29 So is the one who goes in to his neighbor's wife; Whoever touches her will not go unpunished. Proverbs 6:26-29 NASB
The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; He who would destroy himself does it. Proverbs 6:32 NASB
Believers, we must guard our hearts. Another important ingredient to sexual purity is accountability. Accountability boils down to this: I need people to check up on me, to ask how I'm doing spiritually, and to tell me when they see weakness or seeds of sin in my life. Nothing is more healthy in the body of Christ than a strong sense of accountability to each other. If I know I must answer to someone, it makes me more conscious and careful to do what is right.
Believers, may we all cultivate a heart of thanksgiving that will keep us from covetousness which leads to sexual sin. Yahweh is holy, and as His beloved children we too are to be holy, we are to be separate from any and all sexual sin.
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