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.

9 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.

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