A Hint Too Far?

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: no immoral, impure or greedy person – such a person is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
Ephesians 5:3-5 NIVUK

These three verses need a bit of unpacking. Paul covered a lot of ground in the theatre of human behaviour when he wrote them. It’s all very well for him to be writing about things like “sexual immorality” but what did he mean, specifically? Similarly, with “impurity”. Can we, or should we, develop a set of rules and regulations, a sort of New Testament version of the Jewish Halakha? The questions continue with “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking”. Again, what was the Holy Spirit saying to him as he wrote this? And how can we avoid violating these “must nots” and “should nots”? The last verse today ends with a warning – “no immoral, impure or greedy person – such a person is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” I think we can all agree that there is something important, no – essential, in these verses. 

But before we head for Google to try and throw some light on the dilemma, here are a few thoughts for today’s pilgrims. Firstly, regarding sexual immorality, is what we are doing based on and grounded in love? Not love of ourselves, but love of another? Is what we are doing or saying honouring the other person? Thinking about their highest good? And are we aware of possible consequences further down the roads of life? Scriptures that come to mind are 1 Corinthians 13. But also, how about 1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters”? There have been many examples where the short term seeking of pleasure has led to long term grief and distress. The act of sex is a wonderful God-given gift and not one to be abused, distorted and violated. Instead, it is an essential part of humanity, to be enjoyed in God’s presence and in accordance with His guidance.

Paul continued to write about impurity and greed. Impurity is the opposite of what God demands of His people – Jesus said in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Impure people, it seems, won’t get into God’s presence. In a chemical sense, impurities can corrupt and reduce the worth of a compound. And so it is with us; if we allow anything into our lives that corrupts and destroys our integrity, we become impure. A lie perhaps. A slanderous comment about someone we know. The potential for impurity is limitless. We need to be on our guard at all times.

Greed is normally associated with the excess consumption of food but it can apply to anything we do. A hoarder of money perhaps? Greedy people grab what they can, often to the detriment of those around them. The last sandwich on the plate. Or chocolate in a box. Buying two hamburgers when one would have been sufficient. But in the process of greed, we can become corrupted in our behaviour, always looking out for ourselves and not putting the interests and needs of others first.

But in everything we do, we should shine on it the light of God’s perspective. I remember rubber wrist bands being handed out at a youth conference some years ago, with the letters WWJD written of them. The letters forming an acronym, “What Would Jesus Do”. Perhaps the best advice of all. Because Jesus loved everyone. He had compassion on all those He met. His grace for others knew no bounds. He knew the right way to behave and live a life to purity.

Paul finally wrote that thanksgiving should replace “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking”. This is a hard one, especially in the work place, where group talk can quickly descend into a negative place. But such difficulties can occur anywhere in society around us. And as pilgrims we have to develop the skills to step back from such offence, instead elevating ourselves into a zone of thankfulness.

Summing up, impure behaviour at any level moves us into a sin-zone. Into dangerous territory. But thankfully, our loving Heavenly Father knows our human frailties and will always welcome a repentant sinner home.

Worldliness

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:17-19‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Strong words from Paul. He presented to his friends the inviolable requirement that they had to change the way they live. No more living in a worldly way. No more going with the flow. No more following the crowd. Obviously his friends in Ephesus were once steeped in worldliness and he points out that living in this way was futile. It would lead nowhere other than to death and destruction. Paul’s observations of living life the Gentile way involved having hard hearts, insensitivity, sensuality, impurity and greed. Strong words indeed. The problem the Gentiles had was that they didn’t know any better. They had no moral compass. They had no appreciation of sin and its consequences. If it felt right they did it, regardless of what might happen. 

Here we are in the 21st Century and Paul’s analysis seems just as relevant today as it was in his day. Nothing has changed. In fact things may even seem to have got worse. Human nature has not been changed by the intervening years, by the improvements in “civilisation”, by the embracing of technologies totally beyond the thinking of the Ephesian Christians. We look around us at the behaviour of worldly people – take just the war in Ukraine as an example of futile thinking, of greed, of hard hearts. Our depressing analysis of human nature today won’t change the reality of the sort of world in which we live. But as Christians we must double our efforts to show those around us that there is a better way. Jesus came to this world bringing His Kingdom, a counter-cultural new way of living. Living God’s way, not the way of human nature dominated by “futile thinking”. And so today we reach out to Jesus and pray. We pray for those around us. We pray for divine appointments. We share our message of hope with our families, our communities. And we pray for our governments, that God will penetrate the dark thinking, the sinful ways, showing them that there is a better way. God’s way.