Paul continues to expound upon the new kingdom ethic which should be normative for Christians. There are certain behaviors, actions, & attitudes which should be avoided at all cost by Christians. At the beginning of chapter 5 Paul’s practical guidance reaches from those sins which some consider “light” offenses to those which are very “heavy.” Make no mistake – all of them are sins. Kingdom citizens seek to rid themselves of all impurity.
A Pure Walk (5.1-7)
Living with Christ requires abstaining from impure & immoral behavior.
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
Therefore: Seeing that “God in Christ forgave you”…
Be imitators of God: Be (present imperative) or “become” indicates a process with progress. Paul exhorts these Christians to “become” imitators (Gk mimêtai, from which we get “mimic”) of God. Imitate God in His forgiving love specifically, but also in holiness generally.
The call to follow Christ is a call to imitate God is a call to holiness. We have been made children of God by the grace of God. Since He has saved us by grace through faith (2.8) we have an obligation to live according to His holy calling with which He called us (2.10; 4.1). Of course it begs the question “How is it possible to imitate One who infinitely above us, the Sovereign God of the universe?”
As beloved children: Children should look like their Father who loves them.
2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Walk in love: “Let every act of life be dictated by love to God and man” (Clarke).
As Christ…for us: Christ is our example & model of love. His steadfast love was the impetus for Him giving Himself up to death on our behalf.
This is similar to Hebrews where Jesus is both our great High Priest (4.15) and the better sacrifice (9.23) offered outside the city (13.12).
A fragrant offering…to God: The Offerer and offering are one and the same. Fragrant or “sweet-smelling” is language harkening to the burnt (Lev 1.13), grain (Lev 2.2), & peace (Lev 3.5) offerings. Sacrifice points to Christ’s death as a sin offering acceptable to God to reconcile us. “Christ is not merely one kind of offering, or sacrifice, but every kind” (Coffman).
Christ’s life was a whole burnt offering to God and His death was a sin offering. He fulfilled all the various offerings and sacrifices. In a similar way, when we “live a life of love” (NIV), we unite in Christ’s offering, which is to say our life becomes a sweet savor unto God.
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.
But [fornication]: Gk porneia. This is illicit sexual intercourse of all kinds—heterosexual, homosexual, etc. Marriage is the proper place for sex.
All impurity or covetousness: Or indicates that these are the same but different, the difference being impurity is more general whereas covetousness is specific. The former seems to be “sexual perversions of all kinds” whereas the latter is engaging those activities for selfish reasons (Patzia 257).
Notice the sharp contrast between Christ’s self-denying sacrifice and sin’s self-satisfying indulgence. The Jewish idea of idolatry being the root of all sins is present here. There is always the struggle concerning who we will worship and pledge alligence to: God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) or something else (in particular here, sex outside of marriage – be it physical or fantasy).
Must not…among saints: Engaging this this type of behavior is a contradiction of those who claim to be called by God. Saints are to be holy & these sins must not exist among us.
Our culture is so sexually charged that we need this instruction badly. “Sex sells” and companies such as Carl’s Jr. and Victoria’s Secret know it. In this hyper-sexualized culture, the clarion call of God through this epistle is unmistakable: this kind of behavior is not proper for the saints of God. Like these Christians, we are surrounded by a culture of sex. Yet Christians are not to adopt the lax sexual standards of our surrounding society. Rather, we must uphold the standard of God: the beauty of sex expressed in marriage and the ugliness of sexual sin.
4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
Let…crude joking: Filthiness or “vulgar speech” (NET) is the kind of behavior that a morally sensitive person should be ashamed of. Foolish talk is the kind of talk uttered by a drunkard which is senseless and unprofitable. Crude joking or “coarse jesting” (NASB) is the kind of joking which includes double entendres and obscene references.
Note that this is not forbidding all humor. One can be humorous without being crude, filthy, or vulgar. What is condemned here and should be rejected by saints of God is that which is morally and spiritual perverse, the use of humor as a way to play with sin.
Which are out of place: There is no place for these things in the life of the Christian.
Not only are we not to engage in these immoral practices; we shouldn’t even talk about them. What comes out of the mouth is a reflection of the heart. (Matt 12.34) The three categories covered by Paul deal with everything from vulgarity/obscenity to defiance toward God to innuendos (Snodgrass 276). A quick way to determine if a person is conformed to the world or transformed after Christ is by what they say and how they feel about it. Use of this kind of language which God prohibits and lack of remorse for it is an indication that the heart & mind have been darkened.
But instead…thanksgiving: Gk eucharistia at the heart of which is charis (grace). The three (3) modes of speech preceding are graceless speech. Hearts captured by God’s grace will issue forth with praise & thanksgiving to God with the mouth.
5 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.
For you…is covetous: “For this you know with certainty” (NASB). These Christians knew without a doubt that continuation in certain practices led to forfeiting one’s eternal inheritance. These include 1) Fornication, 2) Impurity, & 3) Greed. These connect right back to verse 3, with the caveat that at the heart of covetousness is idolatry. Whatever one covets—be it money, power, pleasure— becomes their god with their affections & devotion going to that rather than God.
Has no…and God: There are not two rival Kings with rival kingdoms; “God’s kingdom is Christ’s kingdom.” (Foulkes 151). Those who practice the above mentioned sins have rejected the rule/reign of God & Christ in their life. Hence, they have renounced their inheritance.
At the heart of the gospel is a changed life. One cannot be saved by God’s grace and remain the same. The old self is put off; the new self is put on. The man who once exploited his fellow man no longer does so because he has become a new man. And a woman becomes a new woman. “The hope of the world is not new programs but new people” (Boice).
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
Let no…empty words: Surely there were those in the 1st century who were saying that these various practices were not sinful and that these were not offensive to God. Such preaching is patently misleading & erroneous. Further, it is void of purpose & meaning.
Jesus’ words also ring in my head as I read Paul here: Matthew 5.19. “The greatest disservice that any man can do to a fellow man is to make him think lightly of sin. Any teaching which belittles the horror and the terror of sin is poisonous teaching” (Barclay 194).
For…sons of disobedience: Sons of disobedience (cf. 2.2) is not a phrase describing the saved. These are the faithless ones who engage in said practices and hasten God’s coming fury & rage.
“There were then, as there always are, those who made light of sin, and scoffed at the thought of its consequences” (Foulkes 150). This may have been a similar group to those Paul addressed in his Roman epistle (Rom 6.1-2). They had perverted the grace of God into license to keep on sinning and still enter the kingdom of heaven. Paul emphasizes that Christians are no longer “sons of disobedience” but are now “children of light.” Grace is not an occasion to sin; it brings with it responsibility and obligation. Since God has been so gracious, we ought to seek a holy life.
7 Therefore do not become partners with them;
Therefore…with them: Since these various actions are incompatible with the nature of those the Father has forgiven; and since the full force of the Father’s fury is to be unleashed on the faithless, Christians are not to share or partake with them in their practices.
John R.W. Stott [as quoted by Boice] says we are God’s new society:
Their theme [the theme of these chapters] is the integration of Christian experience (what we are), Christian theology (what we believe) and Christian ethics (how we behave). They emphasize that being, thought and action belong together and must never be separated. For what we are governs how we think, and how we think determines how we act. We are God’s new society, a people who have put off the old life and put on the new; that is what he has made us. So we need to recall this by the daily renewal of our minds, remembering how we ‘learned Christ … as the truth is in Jesus,’ and thinking Christianly about ourselves and our new status. Then we must actively cultivate a Christian life.