The apostle Paul has been instructing the Christians in Ephesus how to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. Once we recognize our identity in Christ, God expects that we will live our lives in a particular way. In Ephesians 4:17 Paul said that we must no longer live the like the world. We cannot act like the people in this society nor speak like them. In Ephesians 5 the apostle Paul sums up what this all means.
Imitate God (5:1)
In summary, the goal is to imitate God. We are to be what God has created us to be in Christ. Remember Ephesians 2:10 where we were told that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. It is natural for children to be like their parents. We are to act as children imitating our father. We want to imitate God the Father because we have experienced extraordinary love as his children. Now obviously we cannot be like God for there are many attributes he possesses that we cannot possess. We cannot be all-powerful or omnipresent or all-knowing. So what attribute in particular are we to imitate? I believe that verse 2 is the answer. Live a life of live. Walk in love. This is the third time that Paul used this word “walk” (4:1,17; 5:2). Consider that this is truly a summary of what Paul has been teaching us in this chapter. Walking in love means that we will express unity in the body of Christ. When we walk in love when we will put off the old self which is corrupted by its deceitful desires. We will put away corrupting talk. We will be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave us. This is why the law could be summed up with two simple commands: love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Paul just summed up those two commands as imitate God by walking in love.
The Example (5:2)
What does it look like to walk in love in our lives? What does it look like to live a life full of love? We are not without an example for us to understand what this walk of love looks like. Notice verse 2. “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Paul says here is what walking in love looks like: “as Christ loved us.” We keep our eyes on the example of Jesus who is the model of what is looks like to walk in love. We are to pattern our lives after his love. Love is to define all that we do and all that we say. Love is a lifestyle, a practice for life.
But here is the challenge to walking in love and looking to Christ as the example. How did Christ love us? Notice that Paul says we are to walk in love as Christ loved us. The example is that Christ gave himself up for us. This is love truly defined. Love is not just giving. Love is the giving of self. Think about this truth. Missing this truth is why marriages and parenting fails. Giving stuff is not love. Giving yourself is love. You do not love your children by giving gifts. You love your children by opening your heart and giving yourself. You do not love your spouse by making money and buying something for each other. You love your spouse by opening your heart and giving yourself. The giving of gifts has meaning because you first gave yourself. Otherwise the gifts given do not have remotely as much meaning. This is what Christ did. Christ did not just give gifts to us. He gave himself. Notice that this act of love was a fragrant offering to God. Christ’s love cost him his life which was pleasing to God. Walking in love means that we will give ourselves to Christ and to one another that gives all of who we are. This is what is pleasing to God. Walk in love as Christ loved us.
As long as we think we are pretty good people who do not really need forgiveness, we will have a very hard time loving and forgiving others. We cannot walk in love as we are commanded because we think we are better than other people. But if we know we are sinners under God’s wrath, then all of that changes. Radical life transformation and true love that gives all of who we are will occur when we appreciate the love of Christ and recognize how totally undeserving we all are. But so long that we maintain some kind of moral superiority in our hearts toward others we will never walk in love and imitate God that Paul is calling us to do. It is some kind of superiority in our hearts that causes us to be so condescending and so unloving to our children, our spouses, our friends, and our brethren. Walk in love. Have a life defined by giving ourselves fully to Christ and to one another.
Avoid Evil (5:3-4)
In verses 3-4 the apostle Paul pictures what is diametrically opposed to the Christian life. Paul focuses first on our conduct. Sexual immorality, all impurity, and covetousness must not even be named among us. All moral impurity needs to get out of our hearts and actions. The Greek word that is translated into English “sexual immorality” refers to all kinds of sexual conduct. It includes prostitution, homosexuality, and sexual contact outside of marriage. It is speaks to any kind of sexual activity outside of a marriage relationship between a husband and a wife. We live in a world today where sex before marriage is expected and living together before marriage is a committed relationship. However, Paul teaches us that these behaviors are sinful. Any sexual contact is to be reserved for marriage alone. The word for “impurity” is even broader than “sexual immorality,” referring to anything that is unclean. Thus Paul says all sexual immorality and all impurity must not even be heard of among us. An outsider should never have an opportunity to name one of these vices as characterizing our lifestyle. To make the point another way: love avoids these behaviors because there is no love be shown in these behaviors. You do not love the soul of your boyfriend or girlfriend or fiancée if you are sleeping together or living together or have sexual contact of any kind.
Covetousness, the drive to have more and more, but also be put away from us. Again, the world teaches us to want more and more. It teaches us that we should be greedy and always desire more. The Christian is content with what one has. We are not motivated by greed. We are not driven by material gain and accumulating possessions. Such behavior must not ever be charged against us.
In verse 4 Paul speaks to our words. There cannot be filthiness in our actions nor in our words. We cannot behavior with filthiness or talk in a filthy way. Foolish talk, crude joking, dirty humor, and the like are not fitting the mouth of a Christian. Listen to what Paul says: these words “are out of place.” They do not belong in our lives. Rather than having flippant speech that dishonors God, we are to voice thanksgiving to God for who is he and what he has done. Instead of filth, let our words be full of thanksgiving. Consider: does filthy talk come from your lips when you are full of gratitude? When you are thankful, does foul language and crudeness come out of your mouth? Not at all. Thanksgiving must be on our lips and by doing so we will be prevented from speaking corrupting words. Remember the test of our words in Ephesians 4:29. Do our words build up the person? Are our words being said at the appropriate time? Do our words give grace to the hearer? Otherwise the words must not be said.
The Reason For Change (5:5)
Paul tells us in verse 5 why we must get rid of these filthy behaviors and words. The reason why we must not be impure or greedy or sexual immoral or speak evil words is because everyone who does these things “has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” Notice the beginning of verse 5. “For you may be sure of this.” This is a certainty. If we are engaged in these kinds of behavior we do not belong to the kingdom. We are not part of the final kingdom of God nor the current kingdom of Christ. We must not do these things because there is another certainty in life. We have a saying that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. Here is a third certainty: no one who practices sexual immorality or impurity or greediness will have any part of Christ now or in the future. We do not belong to him when we choose to do these things. Back in Ephesians 1:14 Paul told us that one of the great identities we have in Christ is that we are heirs with him. Paul says that we are not heirs if we do not put off the old self and do not begin walking worthy of the calling. Heirs of Christ walk in love. I want to zero in on one particular word in verse 5: “idolaters.” He says when we do these things that we are idolaters. When something else becomes the center of your life other than God you are an idolater. This is what idolatry is all about. You place a higher value and priority on something in life and make it your god. We like to think that idolatry does not exist any more. We like to think that we are not idolaters. But anything that we hold in high value that is not Jesus is idolatry. Whatever we desire more and more of that is not Jesus is covetousness which is idolatry. We are to want more and more Jesus. We do not need anything else. More and more Jesus is all we need otherwise we are an idolater. These are hard words but Paul said it to us because we deceive ourselves into thinking that we can desire the world and still be worshipers of God. Paul clears this up for us. Whatever is the center of your life is your god. Jesus must be your everything and be the center otherwise it is idolatry.
Don’t Be Deceived (5:6)
Do not be deceived with empty words because these behaviors and words bring the wrath of God upon them. A person is lying to you if they say otherwise. They speak out of ignorance and darkness (4:17) if someone tells you that sexual behaviors and filthy words are acceptable. They are lying to you if they tell you sex before marriage or sexual touching or contact is okay. God’s wrath comes on these things. There is no inheritance of God’s kingdom but there is the wrath of God falling on us deservedly for doing these things. Adultery is not okay. Homosexuality is not okay. Sex before marriage is not okay. Divorce is not okay. Remarriage is not okay. Impurity is not okay. Greed is not okay. Wanting more and more is not okay. Filthy talk is not okay. Do not let anyone deceive you with empty words. Will we rebel against the authority of God or submit because Christ loved us and gave himself for us?
Be imitators of God. Walk in love. Love Jesus as Jesus loved us. Love others and Jesus loved us. Give yourself as Jesus gave himself.