Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 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. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 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. Ephesians 5:1-7
Walk In The Way of Love
Paul continues his instructions for Christian living to the Ephesians in Chapter 5. Beginning in verse 1, he exhorts the Ephesians to follow the example of God. He uses the Greek ‘memetes, ’ which means to imitate in English. He encourages the Ephesians to imitate God. This is the highest standard for anyone to follow. The use of the Greek memesis was intended to appeal to the wise men of Greece “Mimesis, imitation, was the main part in the training of an orator. The teachers of rhetoric declared that the learning of oratory depended on three things--theory, imitation, and practice. The main part of their training was the study and the imitation of the masters who had gone before. It is as if Paul said: "If you were to train to be an orator, you would be told to imitate the masters of speech. Since you are training in life, you must imitate the Lord of all good life."
In verse 2, Paul highlights the specifics of what it means to imitate God. It means to walk in the way of love as Jesus did. Paul maintains, Christ so loved the world, he gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. He uses the Old Testament word “fragrant offering” “which goes back to an old idea, as old as sacrifice itself. When a sacrifice was offered on an altar, the odor of the burning meat went up to heaven, and the god to whom the sacrifice was offered was supposed to feast upon that odor. A sacrifice which had the odor of a sweet savor was especially pleasing and especially acceptable to the god to whom it was offered.” It is with this backdrop that Paul exhorts the Ephesians to imitate the love of Christ, whose sacrifice was well-pleasing to God. In verse 3, Paul switches his focus to the moral and ethical practices expected of the Ephesians as imitators of God. He begins by commanding them to abstain from sexual immorality. Paul uses the Greek word porneia, from which we get the English pornography, to speak of sexual immorality. It is the same word that is used for any form of illicit sexual intercourse. As was the case throughout the Greco-Roman world, sexual immorality was rampant and not thought of as sin at all. Customarily, it was expected for an Ephesian man to have a mistress. Temple prostitution was routine in many city-states, including Corinth and Ephesus.
Paul’s stern admonition and warning against sexual immorality would have shocked the moral consciousness of his contemporaries. The Christian standard that he proposes was not the norm during that period. Thus, he pleads with them earnestly and forcefully lays down his laws of purity with such austerity. In verse 4, Paul admonishes the Ephesians against the use of obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking. “Foolish talking is literally “an easy turn of speech.” In the context, the idea is of the one who can turn every conversation into a joking comment on sexual matters, usually with a double-entendre.” For Paul, foolish talk and coarse joking were out of place in the Ephesian church. He wanted them to focus on thanksgiving. Verse 5 is a stern warning against those who would trivialize his moral and ethical exhortation. Paul makes it that anyone who continues in the practice that he said should be prohibited in the church, does not have any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Paul summarizes the immoral practices that will not be permitted in the kingdom of Christ and of God. In verse 6, Paul reminds the Ephesians not to allow themselves to be deceived with empty words. Here Paul is referring specifically to those in the ancient world and in the Christian Church, which taught people to think lightly of bodily sin. Specifically, the Gnostics argued that it did not matter what a person did to his or her body. The Gnostics maintained that “Bodily and sexual sin were of no importance because they were of the body and not of the spirit.”
The Gnostic school of thought was rejected by Christianity, which teaches that body and soul are equally important. In 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul reminds the Corinthians that their body is a temple of God. That implies we are tripartite beings (body, spirit, soul), and we need all three to relate to God. Furthermore, the doctrine of grace was being distorted by people within the Church. In verse 7, Paul concludes this section of moral teaching by appealing to the Ephesians not to be partakers of those who practice those sins he mentioned. Like a caring pastor, he warns the Ephesians to avoid the Gnostics and those who distorted the doctrine of grace. Mostly, however, he wants them to stay away from those whose lives are habitually marked by fornication, uncleanness, or covetousness.
In Ephesians 5, Paul is particularly stern in rejecting immoral practices among his contemporaries. His ultimate goal, however, is that the Ephesians would be imitators of God. The godly standards that Paul wants his brothers and sisters in Ephesus to practice inform his moral and ethical teaching. He wants them to walk in the way of love as Jesus did so they can be a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The goal of every believer should be to imitate God. That means following the standards of God as revealed in His word. God’s standards are designed to help live a life that is consistent with our identity as ambassadors of Christ. They are meant to prepare us to inherit the kingdom of Christ and God.
Even non-Christians would agree that Paul’s ethical standards are not only useful for Christians. They help to maintain social order and safeguard the institution of marriage, as well as provide a context for maintaining law and order. Unfortunately, we live in a society where some people can gain fame and fortune using obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking. Indeed, it is no longer shocking to hear people use obscene language on television or in comedy.
Sexual immorality has destroyed many families and ruined many marriages. Many churches have also been impacted by it, as we have discovered from the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. There should not be any hint of immorality in the Lord’s Church. That is why Christians need to repent of sins known and unknown so we can be imitators of God.
Blessed Lord, please help us to be imitators of God and live by your standards.