”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." (Ephesians 5:3-6)
Paul has just instructed his readers to imitate the love of God as demonstrated in the sacrificial cross of Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2). Our love is to be one which lays aside the self and lives for the betterment of others. It might seem odd, then, to hear Paul immediately move into an exhortation to flee sexual immorality, sexual impurity, and sexual covetousness. How is this an imitation of the love of God?
The answer is not complicated, for we live in a world suffering under the repercussions of sexual immorality. There is not one person walking the earth whose life has not been negatively impacted, to at least some degree, by sexual sin. The sin might be theirs, for we've fallen short of God’s glory in this particular area of mind and body. The sin might have been committed against them, for abuse and neglect and marital unfaithfulness have impacted many children, women, and men throughout the ages. The sin might belong to someone at a distance — a boss, a teacher, a leader — who is not all they could have been because of some secret sin which has crippled them. Nations, churches, families — every society on earth is weakened to some degree because of sexual sin.
It should not be difficult to understand, then, how one of the most loving things a Christian community can do is to take up God’s sex ethic. To lay aside sexual immorality, sexual impurity, and sexual covetousness is to set aside pain, heartbreak, and shame. The culture might tell us — as it likely told the Ephesians — that real love follows every sexual desire. But the believer can see past that lie into a hurting world, realizing the stain sexual sin has left upon every generation. To be united to the Father’s love is to reject a life of sexual immorality because it is one of the most injurious activities in which engage. It is the prototype of sin — pleasurable for a moment, but deadly for a lifetime (Hebrews 11:25).
It might surprise us to read Paul’s next exhortation, a rebuke of filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking. This is not Paul’s way of rebuking humor, but an extension of his first exhortation. All of these are rooted in sexual sin. He describes a dirty mind engaging in dirty entertainment and talk.
There is an important element to Paul’s statement because humor and entertainment that center around sexual sin are often a gateway into deeper levels of sexual immorality. The enemy of our souls would love to make us comfortable with sexual sin through what we watch, hear, or laugh about, but his final destination is to get us to move from that sin into the graver sin of active engagement in sexual sin. Viewing sexually charged material, foolish talk about sex, and crude joking about sex are often a starting place for more grievous levels of sexual sin.
The believer expects this particular subject to be a battleground. People who are not in the kingdom, but who claim to be, will promote sexuality free of any biblical restraint. The kingdom is not theirs. They will try to deceive us with empty words, twisting the Bible until it is unrecognizable and without any real authority. Believers expect that when the empty words come, they will often take aim at subjects pertaining to God’s sex ethic because that is often the first thing sinful humanity wants to dispense.
To defend ourselves against these waves of attack against God and His word we must remember this: the sex ethic God gives to His people is the most loving sex ethic humanity could ever embrace. If the whole world lived it out — today — the world would find healing for so much of its pain.
During Fall 2017, I taught Calvary Monterey the book of Ephesians. During the series, I also wrote about Ephesians in sixty-plus short, devotionally styled posts. Each Thursday, through 2018, I will release a post. I hope you enjoy. For the entire series, please visit nateholdridge.com/united-for-unity-posts.