By Christopher VanDusen
In Ephesians 5:1-5, the apostle Paul says this:
“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.
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.” (ESV)
In this passage, Paul is explaining to the Ephesians how they are to imitate God and Christ. He begins by explaining why and how they are to do this positively — as beloved children, and by walking in love as Christ loved them and God. In the second paragraph, however, he explains what imitating God and Christ requires them not to do. In this study, I want to consider this paragraph.
There are 3 main commands that Paul gives the Ephesians, and all Christians by extension, in this paragraph:
- Be Pure in Desires
- Be Praising in Discussions
- Be Positive of Damnation
First, Paul commands the Ephesians to be pure in their desires:
“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you . . .”
First, notice the word “but”. This means that what he’s about to say is in contrast to what he has just said. And what did he just say? That the Ephesians are to imitate God and Christ as God’s beloved children and Christ’s beloved brethren. In contrast to that way of life, then, Paul tells them that they are not to do certain things.
However, not only are they not to do these things, but they aren’t even to be named among them. What does this mean? It means that they are not even to discuss those things in detail, as if any of them are engaging in them, and they are to give no one any reason to suspect that any of them do those things.
So, what are the things that are not to be named among Christians? First, “sexual immorality”. This means any sexual behavior that is immoral according to God. And what does that mean? To put it simply, it means any sexual act that is done outside of the relationship of marriage. God created marriage as the only legitimate way of satisfying sexual desires, and to attempt to satisfy them in any other way is rebellion against God, and an offense to Him.
So, how far does sexual immorality go? As far as Jesus went in the Sermon on the Mount:
“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28 (ESV)
In other words, if anyone, including women, sexually desires someone other than their spouse, then they have committed spiritual adultery against God. Thus, what Paul means by sexual immorality goes as far as sexually immoral desires.
Second, Paul tells the Ephesians that “all impurity” is not to be named among them. Literally, the Greek word translated “all” could be translated “any”. That is, Paul is talking about any impurity. And what is impurity? Anything that is spiritually and morally impure. The word translated “impurity” could also be translated “uncleanness”, so with this word, Paul is making a grammatical connection to the Old Testament ritual purity code, in which the Jews were commanded to abstain from certain foods and things, so as to distinguish themselves from the rest of the world. In the same way, the impurity Paul is talking about refers to the things that those who are enemies of God do. More specifically, however, these things bring mental impurity, and sometimes even physical impurity, to those who engage in them. To sum up, “all impurity” refers to anything that is spiritually or morally impure — anything that can stain or defile someone’s mind with evil.
Finally, Paul tells the Ephesians that “covetousness must not even be named among you”. So, what is “covetousness”? Well, in slight contrast to the first two sins that Paul lists, this one refers exclusively to desires. Most of the newer translations translate the Greek word behind this as “greed”, and that’s what it means. It doesn’t only mean desiring what others have, but desiring anything excessively, or desiring something that ought not to be desired. It is essentially a lack of contentment with what one has.
To conclude this list of unspeakable sins, Paul gives the Ephesians the reason why they aren’t to be named among them:
“. . . as is proper among saints.”
The reason that sexual immorality, all impurity, and covetousness must not be named among them is that this is “proper among saints”. In the King James Version, the word translated “proper” is translated “becometh”. The word carries the idea of clothing that is appropriate for the wearer. Likewise, the moral clothing that is appropriate for “saints” — which literally means “set apart ones” — is that these particular sins aren’t named among them. Why? Because they are set apart from sinfulness as God’s children and Christ’s beloved people.
The second command that Paul gives the Ephesians is that they be praising in their discussions:
“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
First, of course, Paul tells the Ephesians what is not to characterize their discussions. He begins with filthiness, which refers to impure speech. Like the impurity mentioned before, it refers to speech that defiles the mind, and thereby harms the spiritual life of the hearer or speaker. The NIV translates the Greek here as “obscenity”, which is very good. In our modern life, this clearly includes sexually explicit language, and cussing or swearing.
Second, the Ephesians aren’t to let there be “foolish talk”. The NASB renders the Greek here “silly talk”, and the idea of this is talk that is worthless or nonsense. It also refers to speaking without thinking.
Finally, Paul tells the Ephesians to avoid “crude joking”. This refers to any speech that is intended to amuse or humor using that which is crude or coarse. In other words, any joking that is filthy or foolish is sin.
Next, Paul gives the reason for this avoidance of sinful speech. They are “out of place”. In other words, they are inappropriate, and don’t benefit anyone. They are useless and worthless for any good.
Lastly, Paul commands the Ephesians, instead of speaking sinfully, to “let there be thanksgiving”. Why? Because thanksgiving is fitting for those who have been set apart by God from sin by being born into His family, and purchased by the death of His Son. Furthermore, it actually benefits others, since it testifies to the love and goodness of God and Christ.
To conclude this list of commands, Paul gives his main reason that the Ephesians are to avoid naming certain sins, and to give thanks — they are to be positive of damnation:
“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.”
So, why are they to avoid naming gross sins, and to give thanks? First, because they have certainty — they “may be sure”. Why can they be sure of this? Well, the Greek literally says that they are sure of what follows, according to the NASB. However, Paul wants to remind them of these realities.
What are they to be sure of? Well, let’s start with the main idea. The main idea is that those who are characterized by these sins have “no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God”. First, they have no inheritance. That is, God hasn’t promised them a possession in this kingdom, and the One who gives the inheritance is God the Father. This implies that these people aren’t children of God, and aren’t saints. But what is this kingdom? Well, it must refer to something about the kingdom that’s future, since Paul’s talking about an “inheritance”, which is something promised, but not yet obtained.
In 1 Corinthians 15:50-53, Paul describes this aspect of the kingdom of Christ:
“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (ESV)
According to this passage, the kingdom that’s inherited by God’s children is a kingdom that won’t be established until they receive new, resurrected, bodies. And when will this happen? He tells us in Romans 8:19-23:
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (ESV)
In this passage, Paul tells us that “the redemption of [believers’] bodies”, or their resurrection, will happen at about the same time that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption”. What does this mean? That creation, or the universe, will be remade, and no longer corrupted, but perfect. This implies that the establishment of the future kingdom of Christ will happen at the same time that the new heavens and earth are created. In fact, that’s exactly what the apostle John says in Revelation 21:1-3:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”” (ESV)
But what exactly will this kingdom be like? Again, John tells us in Revelation 21:23-22:5:
“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (ESV)
This is the kingdom that the sexually immoral, the impure, or the covetous, have no inheritance in. So, if they have no inheritance in it, then what will happen to them? John tells us in Revelation 20:8:
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (ESV)
So, what does Paul mean when he says 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”? That no one who is characterized by those sins, or commits them as part of their lifestyle, or who they are, has any inheritance in the kingdom. That is, no one who is a sexually immoral person, an impure person, or a greedy person, has any inheritance in the kingdom.
Note carefully that Paul calls those who are greedy “idolaters”. This means that they worship at least one idol, or false god, which is the thing that they sinfully desire. Instead of worshiping God, they worship what they covet. Why does Paul specifically point out that the greedy are idolaters? To show that simply desiring something that you shouldn’t is tantamount to worshiping a thing rather than the Giver of the thing, and the Creator of the idolater.
So, why does Paul give this truth as a reason that the Ephesians ought to avoid naming sins and give thanks? Because they know that they aren’t sexually immoral or impure, or greedy, or idolaters — and thus, they know that they have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Knowing these things, they have all the more reason to avoid naming sins among them, and to give thanks.
So, are you sexually immoral? Are you impure in any way? Are you greedy, and thus an idolater? Then as of right now, you have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God, but you are under the wrath of God. There’s still hope! God sent His eternal, divine, Son to earth to become a man, Jesus, and to die on a cross for our sins as a sin offering and sacrifice to God by suffering pain, shame, and being abandoned by God. Then, He raised Him from the dead, and took Him to heaven as the King of the universe. He’s now commanding people like you to change your mind about Him, His Son, and yourself, and to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, His death for our sins, and resurrection, as the only grounds for His forgiveness of your sins. Please change your mind and trust in the risen Jesus and His death for our sins for God’s forgiveness, and you will be forgiven and reconciled to God. If you don’t, then you will be punished forever in hell for your sins against God. Be reconciled to God.
If you’ve been reconciled to God, then is sexually immorality named in your Christian relationships?
Is any impurity named among you?
Is greediness named among you?
If so, that’s unacceptable for saints.
Is there filthy talking among you?
Is there foolish talk among you?
Is there crude joking among you?
If so, those things are worthless.
Is there thanksgiving among you instead?
“. . . 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.”
All Scripture references are from the:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.