21 – Ephesians 5:1-15 – Fornication

“As beloved children imitate their father, follow God’s example in everything. Be filled with love, remembering how Christ gave Himself as a fragrant and acceptable sacrifice to God on our behalf. As God’s holy people you should give no one an excuse to accuse you of fornication, impurity, or greed. Let there be no indecency, telling of dirty stories, or coarse jokes – all of which are unbecoming – but instead offer thanks to God. For you can be sure that no one who is sexually impure, obscene, or covetous (who is actually an idolater) will have any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Ephesians 5:1-15, paraphrased)

To be “imitators of God” is the highest standard Paul could set before his readers. People want to be like those they deeply admire. A “follower” (mimetia) tends to mimic the personality of the one he imitates. The phrase indicates a gradual, consistent process. We are to constantly strive to become more like Jesus, Who taught us to aspire to be like our heavenly Father. When Jesus told Matthew to follow Him, it was not just an invitation to “tag along.” He was calling him to a life of discipleship (Mk. 2:14).

To be Christ-like is never portrayed as an easy task:

“Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5:48).
“Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12).
“Receive one another as Christ also received us” (Rom. 15:7).
“Love your wives as Christ also loved the Church” (Eph. 5:25).
“Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in His steps” (I Pet. 2:21).

v. 2

Several times in this letter Paul reminds the Ephesians how they are to conduct themselves. They are to:

1. walk charitably (2:10)
2. walk worthy of their calling (4:1)
3. walk differently than sinners (4:17)
4. walk in love (5:2)
5. walk as children of light (5:8)
6. walk wisely and carefully (5:15)

The paternal love of God and the fraternal love of Jesus are both in view in this verse.  To “walk in love” means that whenever I ask myself how I should treat someone I should ask myself how God is treating me. If God loves His enemies, so must I. If God loves those with imperfections, I must love others who are as imperfect as I am.

Only what took place on Calvary can define the love of God. He wore the crown of thorns that we might wear the crown of life (I Pet. 5:4). Christ loves us and has surrendered Himself for us an offering and sacrifice to God (Jn. 10:11-15).

” Offering” (prosphero) means “to present” and points to the voluntary act of Christ on the cross. “Sacrifice” (thusia) refers to a slain offering and centers on the expiatory character of His death. To bring an offering to the tabernacle to be slain implied the sinner knew he deserved to die for his transgressions.

There are many other terms in the New Testament which help define Jesus’ substitutionary work on the cross:

~ Adoption means “to select and receive into fellowship; to take as one’s own a person who is not so biologically.”
~ Atonement refers to the exchange of the life of one person for another.
~ Justification is the same Greek terms as “righteousness” (dikiosune) and means “to declare guiltless; such as one ought to be; conformable to divine and human law.”
~ Propitiation means “to appease,” for Jesus atonement brings peace.
~ Reconciliation is the restoration to the divine favor of God.
~ Redemption is “releasing through payment of a ransom; deliverance through payment of a price.”
~ Repentance is the human side of salvation; it is what the sinner must do to initiate reconciliation.

Christ is seen as “giving Himself” (paredoken heauton) to death on behalf of others. He did not endure the cross in order to suffer for His own sins, to show how we must suffer for others, or to encourage us to be strong and suffer for our own sins. Jesus came to die that we might live through Him. The ultimate substitutionary act of the Son of God was specifically performed for our salvation.

~ Jesus freely and voluntarily gave Himself for our sins (Gal: 1:4).
~ He loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2:20).
~ The Lord loves His church and gave Himself for it (Eph. 5:25).
~ He gave Himself a ransom for all (I Tim. 2:6).
~ Christ gave Himself for us that He might redeem us (Titus 2:14).

“Sweet-smelling” (euodias) analogizes the pleasant odor of obedience ascending heavenward via expiatory sacrifices that were acceptable to God. (Lev. 1:9 & 4:31). The phrase is used nearly fifty times in the Old Testament. Noah’s offering was “sweet smelling” to God, for He honored the spirit in which it was given (Gen. 8:21). We must love one another with the same sacrificial love that pleases the Father.

Christ’s mediatorship is the very reason we avoid the attitudes and behaviors mentioned in this passage. In the world in which Paul lived, immorality was typically not regarded as wrong. The great heathen temples surrounding the Ephesian converts swarmed with hundreds of prostitutes. In the remainder of this passage, the apostle names specific sins Believers are to avoid at all costs. They are listed below as “A” through “G”.

v. 3

A. Fornication (porneia) refers to illicit sexual intercourse and immorality, including adultery and male prostitution. Due to the epic whoredom in Roman cities, the term is often linked with idolatry (5:5)

B. Uncleanness (akatharsia) means “sensuality; that which is polluted, defiled, or contaminated.” Jesus uses this term when referring to decaying bodies in a tomb (Mt. 23:27).

C. Covetousness (pleonexia) is the desire to acquire more and indicates a definite dissatisfaction with what one already possesses.  Greed springs from selfishness and is inconsistent with the honest toil mentioned earlier (4:28). 

Paul admonishes the Ephesian Believers to not let one of them be accused of such sins. “Saints” (hagiois) means “holy ones” who are dedicated to God and His service. Compromise in any area of morality negates our witness, for such words and actions are inconsistent with “imitating Christ” (5:1).

v. 4

D. Filthiness (aischrotes) refers to the language of fools. It is obscene, shameful, and disgraceful conversation characterized by moral impurity. It means talk filled with flirtation, innuendos, and euphemisms. Jesus warns that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Lk. 6:45).

E. Foolish talking (morologia) is comprised of two Greek words. Moro is the basis for the English term “moron.” Logia means “words.” Pointless conversations do not characterize a vibrant, victorious, pro-active Christian lifestyle. To joke about a sin brings a person one step closer to justifying doing it. We should maintain a cheerful and positive attitude, for we are redeemed to share the joy of the Holy Spirit (I Th. 1:6).

F. Jesting (eutrapelia) is used only here in the New Testament. It is the coarse and vulgar joking that contributes nothing to spiritual growth and maturity. The phrase pictures a person who is easily influenced, adapting himself to any frivolous atmosphere in which he finds himself. The term has its literal roots in the description of the quick movements of apes, comparing them to humans who are prone to “monkey around.” Paul warns such antics have no place in the Church. He tells the Ephesians that the time and energy wasted in pointless levity can be put to better use by verbal expressions of praise and gratitude to God.

v. 5

“You know” means “be assured of this.” The Ephesians have specific knowledge, either through personal experience or Paul’s teaching. They “know assuredly” that the following types of persons are not candidates for heaven.

Paul again refers to the whoremonger (pornos), unclean person (akathartos), and covetous man (pleonektes). These are the same terms he uses in verse three, but here adds an addendum concerning idolaters.

G. Idolatry (eidololatres) is directly linked with greedy persons. Anything that takes the place of God in our lives can blur our spiritual focus. Covetousness is listed with other vices as being equal with them. Because the insatiable craving for financial gain is deceptive, it is harder to define than most other sins. While the glutton makes a god of his belly (Phil. 3:19), the greedy man makes gold his god. This form of idolatry springs from the failure to acknowledge the one true God and express the gratitude due to Him alone. The covetous person neglects personal spiritual growth for the sake of materialism. The self-sacrificial attitude of Christ is opposed to self-indulgence.
Jesus said we cannot serve God and money simultaneously (Mt. 6:24). As a person builds his own kingdom he becomes less interested in God’s. The anxious expectation of an earthly inheritance has caused many to forfeit an eternal one.


Points to Ponder:

1. What will Believers experience one day (I John 3:2)?

2. Throughout his epistles, Paul furnishes his readers with lists of sins to avoid. Look up the following lists, noting the similarities of the transgressions in Ephesians 5:3-5.  In these lists, which sins appear the most often?

~ Romans 1:28-30

~ Galatians 5:19-20

~ Colossians 3:5

~ I Thessalonians 4:3-7

~ I Timothy 1:9-10

~ II Timothy 3:2-4

3. What specific sins preclude people from entering heaven (I Cor. 6:9-10)?

4. What is the Lord’s attitude toward the covetous man (Ps. 10:3)?

5. What does Paul warn Simon about concerning his money (Acts 8:20)?

6. Why are we to live holy lives (Lev. 11:44)?

Maxim of the Moment

Success in marriage isn’t finding the right person: it’s being the right person.