Part 26 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians
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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. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (5:3-6).
Dare to Be Different
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is addressed to the “saints” in Ephesus (1:1). “Saints” (hagios) are “holy ones.” Christians have been made saints (because we are holy “in Christ”) and are to act like saints. We must avoid two extremes of holiness: (1) legalism (salvation by law keeping) and (2) antinomianism (salvation without the need for law keeping).
To be “holy” means to be different (in a good way).
In Isaiah 6:3, the angels cried, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.” God who is holy is different from other gods, and so people who are holy are to be different from other people. Believers are to reflect God’s character. “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16; cf. Lev. 11:44).
The Great Commission says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20a). To “observe” Christ’s commands is to obey them. That’s holiness.
The gospel is not only the story of how God saves people from sin’s punishment, but also how he saves people from sin’s presence. “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4; cf. 1 Thess. 4:7). “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25, 27; cf. Col. 1:22).
A Desire for More
How are Christians to be different? To the Ephesians, Paul writes, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you” (v. 3).
Christians are to be different by avoiding sexual immorality and covetousness.
“Sexual immorality” (porneia) means “any sexual intercourse outside marriage.” “Impurity” (akatharsia) means “sexually deviant behavior.” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality” (cf. Gen. 39:12). People often say, “I’ll do what I want with my body.” But the Christian’s body belongs to God. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
“Covetousness” (pleonexia) means “a greedy desire to have more.” Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller, then one of the richest men alive, “How much money is enough?” He replied, “Just a little bit more.” Jesus said, “Be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15; cf. vv. 16-21).
We live in a culture flooded with sexual immorality and covetousness—so much so that those who avoid these sins are often considered weird.
Motivation for Holiness
Paul could have simply written, “Avoid sexual immorality and covetousness because the seventh commandment says, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ (Ex. 20:14), and the tenth commandment says, ‘You shall not covet’ (Ex. 20:17). But he provided reasons for why the Ephesians should avoid these sins.
Why should we avoid sexual immorality and covetousness?
1. Sexual immorality and covetousness are not fitting for saints.
It is “proper among saints” (v. 3) that these sins be eliminated. They are “out of place” (v. 4) in the lives of saints.
2. Sexual immorality and covetousness reveal ungratefulness.
“Instead let there be thanksgiving” (v. 4). “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave our nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5; cf. 1 Tim. 6:8).
3. Sexual immorality and covetousness equal idolatry.
A covetous person is an “idolater” (v. 5).
4. Sexual immorality and covetousness do not characterize people of the kingdom.
“You may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous…has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (v. 5; cf. Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).
“The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:10). “Strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
5. Sexual immorality and covetousness provoke the wrath of God.
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (v. 6).