But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Ephesians 5:3-5, ESV.
Having called the church to imitate God and love like Jesus, Paul lays out some practices that can never fit in with that calling: “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness.” Sexual immorality and impurity cover any sexual practice outside of the God-given sexual relationship between a man and a woman in marriage. Covetousness is an idolatrous act where the sinner cannot be satisfied without having whatever his neighbor has. Paul also makes it clear that frivolity, vulgar language, and joking about such matters have no place in the life of a child of God. None of this should surprise us.
What may seem a little shocking is Paul’s summary judgment that nobody who is involved in these sinful practices has any inheritance “in the kingdom of Christ and God.” It certainly sounds like Paul is telling the church that these sins will keep them from eternal life. Indeed, he is. Anyone who practices these things is resisting Christ’s reign and rejecting His kingdom. In contrast, the one who finds satisfaction in Christ will not persistently seek for it outside His rule. That is why thanksgiving is presented as the opposite of “filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking.”
Should the professing Christian be troubled if they are involved in such sins? Absolutely. The idea of missing the kingdom should send chills down their spine. Persistent sin in the life of a person who holds themselves out as a Christian indicates that either their profession or their lifestyle is a lie. In either case, the solution is the same: turn to Christ in faith and repentance.
This is your hope if Paul’s words make you concerned about the state of your soul. It is the hope of the gospel. Grieve over your sinful rejection of the rule of Christ. Repent and believe in Jesus as your Savior and Lord. Then follow Him in the power of the Spirit. You may stumble at times, but you will be walking in the right direction—following Jesus.
My prayer is that each of you knows the joy of repentance and the forgiveness of sin!
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2, ESV.
As we like to say, the word “therefore” is there for a reason! Paul is building on the foundation he laid in the previous chapter, “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (4:1) and to “no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (4:17) but in “the way you learned Christ” (4:20). Having established what that walk looks like, he grounds these new covenant commands in the gospel.
As His children, we are to imitate God the Father. We learn how to do so by looking to the example set by His perfect Son, Jesus Christ. What do we see in Jesus? We see His love as He offers Himself to God on our behalf. As the recipients of the love of God in Christ and children of God, our lives must be characterized by a similar love. Paul emphasizes two features of that love.
First, the love of Christ we are to imitate involves sacrifice—intentionally giving ourselves for the good of others. To walk in love as part of our effort to imitate our Father will cost us dearly. This kind of love acknowledges humility and knows no limits based on “my rights.” This kind of love does not cling to offenses but forgives completely, no longer holding the offender guilty. This kind of love does not demand a worthy recipient. This kind of love may be incredibly painful, either physically, emotionally, or financially. This is sacrificial love.
Second, the love of Christ we are to imitate involves holiness—Christ’s offering of Himself was pleasing to His Father because it was the offering of the Lamb of God without spot or blemish. Therefore, the saint cannot simultaneously play around with sin and expect his sacrifice for his fellow man to be a pleasing offering to God. God regularly condemned Israel through the prophets for the sacrifices they brought to the temple while practicing injustice in their daily lives.
Paul expands on this command to imitate God for the rest of the letter. But we would do well to hold these two verses up as a mirror before we dig deeper into specific applications.
May God grant you a heart changed by His grace and bless your pursuit of holy and sacrificial love this very day. I am praying for you.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:30-32, ESV.
In verses 23-34 believers are directed “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self.” Paul then issues four associated commands: integrity in speech, self-control over anger, an honest and generous work ethic, and a call for gracious speech. His final command is a multifaceted instruction for believers to love one another and, by so doing, bring joy to the Holy Spirit.
Paul warns the church not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” because the Spirit is the seal of their redemption. The Spirit is God’s stamp on His people, marking them as such until the day when their redemption faith becomes a resurrection reality. But the Spirit is also One who can be grieved. What a horrible thing to bring grief to the One who is keeping you for that momentous day.
The warning is followed by a detailed list of do’s and don’ts that boil down to the commandment, “Love one another.” The way for the saint to bring joy to the Spirit of God is by loving the saints in kindness, compassion, and sacrificial forgiveness. On the other hand, the way for them to grieve the Spirit is through bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. Even without defining and differentiating between all of the words in these two lists, we get a clear view of what Paul has in mind. We are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ in heart, word, and deed.
Maybe this is an appropriate time to go through that church directory or phone list. Set it next to a copy of these verses and ask yourself, “Am I bringing joy or grief to the Spirit of God in the way I feel and act toward ___________ ?” If it is joy, give thanks to God. If it is grief, repent, seek forgiveness, and sin no more. You will find that the Holy Spirit is not the only one who is blessed as you do.
My prayer is that we might all know what it is to be part of a church where the Holy Spirit of God is blessed by the kind, compassionate, and forgiving love shown among the saints.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29, ESV.
Paul called the church in verses 23-34 “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self.” He illustrated what that would look like by issuing specific commands to integrity in speech, self-control over anger, and an honest and generous work ethic. He concludes this list with verse 29, a call for gracious speech.
The words that come out of our mouths should not tear down but build up, suit the situation, and be gifts of grace. Dishonest, unkind, or vulgar words only serve to tear down (literally, bring rottenness to) the listener. Truth, kindness, and wholesome language builds up. When Paul speaks of talk that “fits the occasion,” he is likely indicating that these words improve the situation for the listener. They are words that sweeten the aroma instead of adding a stench. They put out fires instead of starting them. The listener should walk away from the conversation having just experienced God’s grace in the words spoken.
As we bring this command forward a couple of millennia to our day, I believe we need to add “from your thumbs or fingers” to “out of your mouths.” Paul’s words are focused primarily on the words spoken by Christians to Christians. Even so, I cannot imagine him isolating this exhortation from Christians who put their words out there on the internet for anyone to read. When our words are on a screen, we need to take extra care. The artificial courage of the keypad does not make obedience to Ephesians 4:29 easier. Every post should be written as though it is a word being spoken face to face with every potential reader. We must eliminate words that tear down or do little but throw gasoline on the fires of controversy. We must build up and offer grace. My experience may differ from yours, but there seem to be too many examples online of professing believers doing just the opposite.
May God forgive us for our disobedience to His Word in our speech and grant each of us control of our tongues and our thumbs, on this day and every day. That is my prayer.
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Ephesians 4:28, ESV.
We have seen how Paul applies his verse 23-34 call “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self” with commands to replace lies with truth and anger with self-control. He adds even more specific instruction in verse 28. Here he commands the thief to quit stealing, do honest work, and use his income to help others.
The first thing that strikes me about this verse is how Paul transitions from “do this” and “don’t do that” to “stop it.”. In the early church, just like her contemporary counterpart, some saints struggled with sin. There are thieves in the body of Christ at Ephesus and Paul is calling them out. John Stott observes that this command “had and still has a wide application, not only to the stealing of other people’s money or possessions, but also to tax evasions and customs dodges which rob the government of their dues, to employers who oppress their workers, and to employees who give poor service or work short time.”
What is the thief to do once he is stealing no longer? He is to earn his keep! He is to quit taking what is not his and instead work for what he receives. A fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage is part of God’s design for human flourishing. God’s people are not to seek to get something for nothing. Where God has granted the ability to work, He expects His people to use that ability to provide for their own needs.
But the end to thieving and beginning of honest labor is not the end of God’s plan. The one who earns through labor is to understand that they are also earning to provide for those in need. Given the context of Ephesians 4, it seems likely that this is a specific call to care for those in need in the church. What a transition—from greed-driven stealing to generous caring!
I pray that God enables you to know the joy of a living a life where you earn your own provision and give generously to help those in need. Or, if you are that saint who is in need, I pray you will be blessed by the generosity of a brother or sister in Christ who has been enabled to work and earn.
 John R. W. Stott, God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: IVP, 1979), 187.