Not Even a Hint of Immorality – Ephesians 5:3-7

In Ephesians 5:1-2 Paul called on the one who is in Christ to “imitate God” by living out their life in the same sacrificial love with which Christ loved us when he gave up his life on the Cross as a “fragrant offering” to the Lord. Although there is no other place in the New Testament where the believer is called to imitate God, here Paul says we imitate God by living in the pattern of Christ’s self-sacrificial love.

Sexual immorality and impurity seem obvious, but Paul mentions greed in the same line. This is similar to 4:19, all three words appeared there as well.

Immorality is a generic word (πορνεία) that covers a wide range of sexual sin, often called “fornication.” As the Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart once described pornography, “I cannot define it, but I know it when I see it.”

Impurity (ἀκαθαρσία) refers to anything which is filthy or corrupting, so the word is used in ethical texts for sexual sins. In 1 Enoch 10:11, for example, the sin of the angels is impurity. Paul often links filth and corruption, see 2 Cor 12:21, for example. but he does not need to define them since the meaning would be obvious to the reader.

By translating πλεονεξία as covetousness (ESV) or greed (NIV), the reader may think only of financial greed, and then wonder why greed is connected to two words which generically describe sexual sins. In classical Greek, however, this word refers to “vice pure and simple” and is among “the three most disgraceful things” (BDAG).

These vices are not even to be mentioned (looking forward to the next line), because they are not fitting for “the saints.” The verb Paul uses (ὀνομάζω) is rare, and in the passive (as it is here) can have the sense of “be known.” In Romans 15:20, for example, Paul’s desire is to preach the Gospel where “Christ is not known.” Paul’s exhortation here is that the believer is better off ignorant of these things!

For example, I do not need to know the details or experience the details personally to know that heroin addiction is not a good lifestyle choice. In the same way, Paul is simply saying the Christian does not need to dwell on the details of immorality in order to know it is not appropriate for the Christ. This has obvious implications for pornography, but also for other entertainment choices (film, music, literature). Although I would not advocate only Christian entertainment, there are some forms of entertainment which “are not fitting.”

The reason there is no need to know these things is that they are not fitting for those who are being built into a holy Temple of God (2:20). Paul is developing a metaphor of a Temple, and individual members of the Body of Christ are part of that temple. Some behaviors simply “do not fit” into that Temple. Most Christians who have unsaved friends have experienced have experienced some sheltering, “we cannot watch that movie because Bob is a Christian.”

Standing on the Edge of an Abyss

Paul also refers to obscenity, foolish talk coarse joking are three terms found only here in the NT and are fairly self-explanatory (cf. 4:29 and Col 3:8). Filthiness (αἰσχρότης) refers to obscene talk or “obscenity,” or behavior which “behavior that flouts social and moral standards” (BDAG). Foolish talk (μωρολογία) does not refer to stupidity, but intentionally foolish speech, even “foolish gossip” (EDNT, following TDNT, 4:844; cf. 2 Tim 2:23; Titus 3:9). The word had a positive sense in earlier Greek literature (“adroitness of speech”), but in this context the noun is obviously negative. Crude joking (εὐτραπελία) or “base jesting,” or somewhere between “the extremes of buffoonery (βωμολοχία) and boorishness (ἀγροικία)” (BDAG).

Paul is in line with Jewish wisdom literature, and there is a remarkable parallel in the Dead Sea Scrolls Community Rule (1QS 10.21-25):

1 QS 10.21-25 I shall not retain Belial within my heart. From my mouth shall not be heard 22 foolishness or wicked deceptions; sophistries or lies shall not be found on my lips. The fruit of holiness will be on my tongue, profanity 23 shall not be found on it. With hymns shall I open my mouth and my tongue will continually recount both the just acts of God and the unfaithfulness of men until their iniquity is complete. 24 I shall remove from my lips worthless words, unclean things and plotting from the knowledge of my heart. With prudent counsel {I shall hide} /I shall recount/ knowledge, 25 and with discretion of knowledge I shall enclose him with a solid fence to maintain faithfulness and staunch judgment according to the justice of God.

These kinds of people will not inherit the kingdom of God. Although Paul says a similar thing in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (the immoral will not inherit the kingdom), it is surprising to find Paul using kingdom of God as more or less equivalent to salvation.

I find this all very convicting. It seems obvious the Christian ought to avoid obvious immoral things (and there are good psychological reasons for anyone to avoid the things which are corrupting). But it is quite easy for me to tell a flippant joke or engage in gossip. For Paul, the Christian needs to be wise in their speech and not “talk like the world.” This does not mean Christians have to be boring, but it is very easy to get a laugh with a crude joke.



Bibliography: René A. López, “Paul’s Vice List in Ephesians 5:3–5,” BSac 169 (2012): 203–18; Peter W. Gosnell, “Honor and Shame Rhetoric in Ephesians,” BBR 16 (2006): 105–28; esp. 123–24.

15 thoughts on “Not Even a Hint of Immorality – Ephesians 5:3-7

  1. In numerous instances throughout society today we come to see a lot of corrupt and things of immorality. These things are very prominent within the world but more so within the youth of this age. Growing up as a millenial and within this more so digital era there are a lot of things that are corrupt within platforms of technology that contradict to the word of God. For example, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat etc. all feature elements that may be corrupt. Because as we look at the world and some of the individuals living in it we have to know as followers of Christ that everyone may not think as we think or believe in what we believe in. Therefore, as we see things that do not line up with the our beliefs in Christ we must stay steadfast in His teachings. We should remember not conform to how the world does things but more so how God wants us to do things (Romans 12:2). Being able to better understand this facet in Christian life is essential to our spiritual growth and to know that we can withstand all the obstacles that the opposition of God is trying to throw at us is important. Therefore, that sense of being standfast and standing firm on the word of God is pivotal to not only ourselves but pivotal to getting others to follow Christ as well. Because as individuals who might have a different outlook on faith than us see that no matter the situation or circumstances we as followers of Chrst stand firm on His word that idea of being hypocritical diminishes. They begin to see the truth in not only what we are saying in terms of faith but also how we are acting. Just as the infamous quote says, “actions speak louder than words”. Thus, just as Paul exemplified in the book of Ephesians we must really try to imitate God not only by what we say but by our actions as well (Ephesians 5:1-2).

    • Deangelo, good job on your discussion post this week. I really liked the point you made about how “actions speak louder than words”. In my discussion post, I gave the believer sympathy, by saying we have all fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and will continue to for our entire lives because no one is perfect. However, more than not our words and actions SHOULD represent Christ not only because we want to imitate Him like Paul commanded (5:1) but because our actions and words should be different now that we have accepted Jesus into our hearts. The actions and words we continue to do and use now not only reflect our true selves but also who we are becoming (Longenecker, pg. 255). Therefore, although we will fall and God will forgive us for it, we should be doing more good than evil, representing Christ with both our actions and words.

      I also noted that you mentioned our generation is a hard area to grow up in due to social media. I do not disagree with you at all. Personally, I see how much social media affects my life just by the amount of time I spend on it throughout my days. But even worse than that, social media makes it very easy to fall into the many sins Paul told the Ephesians to stay away from. It is easy to post a sexual meme on your Instagram story because you know it will get a bunch of laughs, or a revealing photo you know will generate a lot of likes. This is where I have to see if my faith or flesh is going to stand strong. I wish I could say my faith wins every time but it doesn’t. Something I am still working on and will continue to have to work on. Hopefully, by learning more about how God wishes for us to not only have a relationship with Him but imitate Him fully (5:1) I can overcome this issue in my life and never fall back into it. For me, it is easy to stop sinning for a month and then fall right back into it. I don’t want that pattern to continue anymore.

  2. There are big picture items in Eph. 3 and 4 that you omitted. Do you cover these items in more detail elsewhere? Ch. 3 gives the disclosure of what was hidden previously. The Day of the Lord was known and preached throughout Israel’s ancient history; the Lord would reverse political reality. The Advent was the great mystery of Christ’s love in sacrifice and intercession individually for His people.
    Ch. 4 reveals God’s overall purpose in what He is doing: filling creation. Since the incarnation (The Creator permanently inhabiting material), fullness of deity dwells in bodily form (Col. 2.9).

  3. When reading such a passage in the Bible, I believe it is key to remember that such instructions from Paul on how to live a Godly, Christian life are critical in one’s faith but also guidelines. Meaning, yes one should try their best to not speak foolishly (5:4), sustain from sexually sin (5:5), and not be greedy (5:3); however, one who messes up and makes a crude comment with their friend should not forever commend himself. As Christians, we know that Jesus was the only perfect human which means we should take what Paul says very seriously and try to live by it to the best of our abilities, but we should not become legalistic, thinking God hates those who fall short. For example, if a Christian man makes a mistake and does homosexual acts, according to Ephesians 5:5 he will not inherit the kingdom of God now. However, I do not think Paul meant it in this context. Rather, if the Christian man repents and asks for God’s forgiveness and does not continue in homosexual sin then I believe he will inherit the kingdom of God.

    With all that being said, I do not think you should use Christianity as a “grace card”, being able to do whatever you want and then ask for forgiveness later. These guidelines Paul gave the Ephesians were to form them into children who imitate God (Longenecker, pg. 254). Since God would never do such things, we as children trying to follow/imitate Him should not as well. This brings the reader to the most important part of the passage, I think: do not be partners with them (5:7). When saying this, Paul does not mean to avoid non-believers like the plague, rather, he means do not join them in sin (ESV, pg. 2270). This is why choosing close friends is important in one’s imitation of God because non-believers can easily pull you in, setting you further away from God than ever before. Therefore, I believe if one truly wishes to live by these guidelines and imitate God, he needs to see who he allows into his life and the level of influence they have on him.

    • Great post Jewel! I really love the different ideas and elements that your presented to us within your post. I really like the different perspectives that you brought forth on the issue of immorality in correspondence to the way in which I looked at the issue. There were a couple things that you explained throughout your post that really caught my attention. One facet that you exemplified within your post was that fact that just because we are Christians we can’t abuse the grace of God to do whatever we want to do. I totally agree with this idea. I believe that often times we don’t consider the severity of God’s Grace and how we can abuse it. Grace isn’t just the ability to be forgiven every time we sin over and over again, but is the freedom to choose not to sin. Thus, just like in the book of Ephesian in which Paul explains this idea that as we grow in Christ we must create a new identity in Christ (Longenecker, pg. 246). Therefore, we need to understand to grow effectively in Christ we must know that not abusing the Grace of God through immorality and sinning is apart of this new identity. In our textbook, the authors exhibit this idea by allowing us as readers to see that we should embrace and exhibit a new morality for Christ (Longenecker, pg. 247). By being able to understand that as we live we live by exhibiting the behavior in which pleases God and how he wants us to live. Furthermore, not falling into the lane of being impure through different actions, thoughts and situations that we may encounter in life but more so to be steadfast in faith.

  4. This is certainly a convicting passage. In my mind, one big reason why we are to be pure like how these verses describe is, as Paul explains back in 4:17-24, how we have a new identity in Christ. We are no longer bound by the futility of the unsaved mind but are now created “in the likeness of God” (v.24) and our actions should reflect that. One quote from an old professor that has meant a lot to me is that “what you do should not define who you are. Who you are should define what you do.” Focusing on the last half of the quote, because we have received a new self in Christ and because we children of God, it should not make sense that we would live so contrary to that identity by living immorally or with such unwholesome talk. After all, this is the way that people who have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God live (v.5). Not, of course, that living as Paul says is easy. We naturally want to go as close to the edge as we can, and when the edge is a little blurry it is especially easy to overstep it.

    • This really is a convicting set of verses and we live in a world that goes about life naturally with all these things Paul is telling us. Living the Christian lifestyle is not easy at all and it is something that every day we need to let go of what we want and do what God wants us to do. I am not even close to being there and none of us are but we need to take little steps each day towards it. This life we have may feel like a sprint, but it’s a marathon and we change our ways we live each day.
      We live a life that shows the world we are different and we can still have fun. We know how to laugh and it be clean and glorifying to God. We can’t continue to live a life of sin and think the next morning we will pray about the night before and we are free from that sin. Well I guess we are free from it once we ask for forgiveness, but we can’t continue to repeat that sin knowing it’s wrong. We need to learn and grow from that sin and we do that by having help from others and God. Accountability is how we overcome these trials.

  5. There is so many times that the thought of something I just said convicts me or if I am about to say something I resort to an old saying my mom always told me. “Think before you speak.” This has a tremendous amount of truth behind it in the Christian lifestyle. I so badly have been working on how I talk in front of old friends that know I am on a faith journey, because if I can’t change how I talk, then I miss the chance to show then Christ.
    It is super easy to fall back into the old ways when you get around people that don’t fully understand your new life style. I still wanted to be connected to the world so that I can understand what’s going on in it, but I dont wanted to be connected to a point that it defines my actions. I am only 28 and I still have a really hard time bring glory to God in the way that Paul is talking about in these verses.
    My biggest struggle that I have known about myself for a long time is that I struggle in my walk with purity. My first time I seeing porn was when I was 12 years old and it has haunted me ever since. This has been something I have been working on with God, but the only way things will get fixed is by bring them to light and sharing. I want to shine a light on one of my many issues in hope that God will help me overcome this and that I will also have people praying and supporting me. I know that I serve a mighty and gracious God and I don’t deserve anything he has done for me, but i want to be the best I can be because Paul knows we can be that if we try.

  6. As Professor Long mentioned at the end of this post, it is very easy to say a joke or get caught up in the gossip swelling around campus or your friend groups. But we are called to watch what we say as Christians and to set ourselves apart from those who are nonbelievers.
    In the world today, Christians could find that calling or way of life extremely difficult to accept or live. There is so much today that is accepted that is not fit for the temple of God, and for new Christians the transition from one way of living to another can not only be challenging but tiresome.
    Attending college as a Christian especially would pose a challenge for those who are attending secular colleges. The lifestyle, activities, and way people can talk is very different from the way we are supposed to live as Christians. “Not Even a Hint of Immorality” is a very thought provoking and scary statement. To be immoral at all is considered wrong and detrimental, however many do things they don’t even notice everyday. If I were a person who is new in their faith and I stumbled across the passages mentioned or even this article it would be intimidating and hard to swallow. But like it says in Ephesians 2:20 we are a part of that foundation that is being built. As a believer and someone created by God, we all are molded to fit into this foundation perfectly. This fact alone brings clarity and peace knowing that we belong.

  7. These are some of those verses that you feel like are unnecessary to say because they are so obvious, but on the other hand, you need them in there because how easy it is to gloss over them. there should not even be a hint of sexual immorality, impurity, or greed, because that is not how God’s people are to act (v. 3). Sexual sins and coveting are both apart of the ten commandments, the seventh commandment being do not commit adultery, and the tenth commandment being not to covet anything your neighbor has (Exo 20:14, 17). For two very big sins, we need constant reminders and accountability to keep our temptations in check. We also need not make foul jokes, have course talk, or obscenity, but we should give thanks instead (v. 4). How easy it is for me to tell a border line bad joke in order to get a laugh, when I do not think about how that joke could be offensive, inappropriate, or wrong out of context. Paul is not saying that we need to retire from comedy all together, but we need to be mindful of the things that we are saying to other people. When we do these bad things/become these bad people, there is no gain for us in the Kingdom of God (v. 5). God does not welcome the one who takes his name in vain. God does not welcome the one who worships the devil and goes against the teachings of Jesus. God does welcome the one who seeks after God, who asks for forgiveness when he/she sins. God has a place for those people in heaven, but not for those against him. Do not fall into the trap that the devil sets up for you to fall into, for God’s wrath will come on those people (v. 6-7). People will do what they need to do in order to get their way. Sometimes, I should say most times, that is scary. The things that people will do to get that temporary satisfaction, or to make that extra cash to buy what they want and continue to grow their desire for the material world. Do not give into their trap but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. There are a lot of different things on this world that can easily distract you from God, and the devil will do his best to have his way, but hold tight to the Scriptures, rely on God, and use him for your strength.

  8. Today, who does not what to fit in? I mean is not the whole goal of social media today, to feel accepted and to gain more followers than the people around you. What Dr. Long is saying here is that it is easy to fall into a way of life although that may be accepted to some, is not accepted to what Jesus Christ calls for a Christian to be. Sadly people today, do not have a problem with sex before marriage or porn. I mean there is “no god” and thus I should just make the most of my life while I am in this human form because nothing else really matters right?

    What Paul is saying here is Ephesians 5 is that there is a higher purpose to this life. “Only a false teacher would claim that Christians can lead unrepentant, sinful lives and not suffer any consequences” (ESVSB p. 1572). That is saying that sex before marriage and porn is okay, but we know through our Faith that these practices lead to the wrath of God. Doing these things would be to “betray their new identity” (Longenecker, p. 254) that we find in Christ. We are too reframe from these things and to not conform to the patterns of this world (Romans 12:2), staying true to our Faith and obedience to Jesus Christ our savior. Like Dr. Long said in his blog, that does not mean you cannot have fun with your friends on a Friday night or have sex with your wife, rather to commit your life to be centered around Him, avoiding things that would make you unsure.

  9. Personally speaking, I think it is easy for me to tell myself that I am overall not immoral, or “mostly not immoral”, however to not even have a hint of immorality is definitely a difficult task for us to do, considering our nature- and the world that we live in. I think it can be especially hard considering that many things that are probably unfitting for us like Dr. Long mentioned- are not seem as unfit by the rest of society. Or societal values and our own personal values are not going to be aligned, so it is important for us to understand what things are immoral for us as Christians, and not be like the rest of society around us. I think it can be especially hard when others around who are our fellow Christian peers get caught up in immoral/unfit things, because it makes us feel like it is okay for us to do if another Christian is doing it perhaps. That is why it is also important for us to keep our fellow brothers/sisters in Christ in mind, and help each other follow what Paul and the Bible is telling us to do.

  10. ‘Not even a hint of immorality’ sounds very scary and for many people who are new into faith this statement can be discouraging. I know that as Christian we have to watch what we say and do because we are called to be set apart, but we have to be wise in the way we live this out. In high school I had some friends who stopped bing my friends because they thought that I thought that I was better than them because I didn’t act like them or speak like them. Reality was that I grew up in church and I knew what it meant to live in Christ. There are many Christians out there that actually do believe they are better than everyone else and it is very obvious. This can be harmful in so many ways because it can unmotivated people that are new to faith and push them back to walking in darkness. This is almost the same as when we say, just because they did it doesn’t mean we have to. We have to be wise in how we live our faith and be aware of not pushing people away for acting like we are better.

  11. As the name of Christian expresses, we are to imitaite Christ, to be little Christians. In order to do so, we mush understand the character of Christ. We must understand what he would do and what he would not do. Ephesians 5 expresses some of this and give some clear guidelines on what to immitate and what are improper for God’s people. Listed first among those things improper for God’s people are the rather obvious things, sexual imorality, impurity, and greed. Though impurity is not specifically defined, I think without even knowing the Greek context the blog talks about, it is still fairly obvious that this word is refering to sexual sins. Even in the modern church, when purity is talked about, it is always in relation to staying pure for marriage. Impurity therefore, would refer to being impure in marriage which would mean having sex outside of the marital covenant. Greed, though seemingly slightly out of place among two words referring to sexual impurity, I would still consider obvious, it is considered one of the seven deadly sins. My attention is always caught by the next things Paul lists as out of place among believers: obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking. I always though of obscenity to mean obscene language or cussing, foolish talk to mean things like arguing for the sake of aruging for example, the recent discussions that middle school and high school students like to argue about is wheather a straw has one hole or two, and if water is wet. And I always thought of coarse joking as bullying or sacarsm or anything that might hurt people that is instead passed off as just a joke. The blog explains it is more accurate to think of foolish talk as foolish gossip. These catch my attention specifically because they are so common. As the youngest sibling, the youngest cousin, youngest grandchild, and youngest niece, I got my fair share of teasing and then some. I have been the brunt of many hurtful jokes. I have heard many friends use harsh, even at times inappropriate, or obscene language. And gossip is common among so many, myself included. But yet, these are listed, almost equally with sexual immorality and greed. This just shows that the words we speak can be as bad as the actions we do. This is further talked about in James 3. Our tounges are a world of evil among the parts of the body, that corrupts the whole body, sets the whole body on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. Though we may pass these off as ‘more acceptable’ than sexual sins, they are still just as unfit for God’s people.

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