Lesson 33: “The New Morality”
Listen to the words of a writer describing the condition of his nation. He says:
“All things are full of iniquity and vice. More crimes are committed than can be remedied by force. A monstrous contest of wickedness is carried on. Daily the sin of lust increases. Casting away all regard for what is good and honorable, pleasure runs rampant without restraint. Vice no longer hides itself. It stalks forth before all eyes. So prominent has iniquity become, so mightily does it flame up in all hearts, that innocence is no longer rare; it has ceased to exist.”
Does that sound familiar? You may be wondering what city in the U.S. that is describing. But these are the words of Seneca, a Roman historian, as he writes describing the moral condition of the Roman Empire in the latter part of the first century. Now the significance of that is that that was exactly the time and the place in which the original readers of this book we are studying lived! And so, as you can see, when the Apostle Paul writes to these people with God’s instructions for their lives, they are very relevant for our lives and the conditions in which we live.
We come today to a new chapter in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. As you might know, the chapter divisions were placed there after the original letters and books were written, so sometimes they are not exactly in line with the organization of the contents of the book. And this chapter is an example. The subject of chapter 5 is really a continuation of the emphasis of the previous chapter, dealing with how we should walk the Christian life. By way of outline, the chapter falls into three parts. In verses 1 through 14 we find the childlike walk. Then in verses 15 through 21 we have the circumspect walk, and in verses 22 through 32 the cooperative walk, dealing with how we all ought to treat each other.
So let’s begin our study of chapter five by thinking together about the childlike walk which is described in verses 1 through 14. And the first aspect of that section of the chapter is the characterization of the walk as it is given in verses 1 and 2
Therefore be followers of God as dear children (2) and walk in love, as Christ has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma.
Verses 1 and 2 establish the idea of our “walk” as children of God. Apparently this characterization is so important to Paul that he repeats it in verse 8. There are many images of the Christian life in the New Testament. Sometimes it is compared with a new birth. When a person accepts Christ as Savior he is “born again.” “Jesus Himself used this terminology in his conversation with Nicodemus, the Pharisee. Using that illustration, when a person accepts Christ as Savior he comes into the family of God with a family inheritance, a new nature and a new relationship with God.
Sometimes it is described as an “emancipation” – freedom from slavery to sin and bondage to Satan. In chapter four we have been looking at conversion in some detail in terms of “putting off” the old man with his sinful deeds and “putting on the new man” Now today we come to a third image of conversion. And that is the image that is mentioned in verse 2 and again in verse 8. Look at it again.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.
It is important to notice that Paul doesn’t say that they are “in” light; he says that they “are” light.
This is not the only place in scripture where this particular imagery occurs. In First Peter chapter 2, verse 9 Peter speaks of “Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” When Paul gives his testimony in Acts chapter 26, verse 18, he records his conversion experience and the commission that was given to him. And that commission was “to open the eyes of the Gentiles, and to turn them from darkness unto light.”
Now the focus of Ephesians chapter 5 is that since it is true, as verse 8 says, that we were once darkness, but now we are light, and we should walk as children of light. Start living out in the practices of your life what God said repeatedly that you are in His sight.
Now in verses 3 through 7 he is going to carry it a step further and talk about the contrast to the walk of light. Now the reason Paul brings this contrast up is that the life of a Christian who is walking as “light” to the unsaved around him, there is going to be a noticeable difference. All of us live in the “unsaved” world. Some of us are, for various reasons, more involved in the unsaved world than other Christians, but that does not alter the fact that we are light and our calling is to shine that light to those who are living in darkness because they have not yet been brought into the light. As you go about the responsibilities of your employment, remember that you are bringing light into that meeting or that conversation, whatever it might be. Some of you live with people who are in darkness. And as you play your part in the family dynamic, your bring light into that relationship. As you go about your life as a student, your responsibility is to bring light into that class discussion, to that social event, that sports team; or on the other side of the lecture podium you are there to teach, but in the process of that teaching to bring light into the subject matter.
In verses 3 and 4 we have the sins that characterize the darkness. And there is an inherent challenge in these verses that the light of the life of the Christian must be a life that is separated from these practices and attitudes of the world of darkness. Look at these verses:
But fornication and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named among you as is fitting for saints; (4) neither filthiness nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.
Verse 3 gives us the three words that focus in on the more obvious aspects of sexual sin. The first sin he lists is fornication. Then he zeroes in on a word that includes all forms of uncleanness. And then in the third word he brings the focus right down to the heart of these kinds of sin: covetousness. This word is a much more dangerous word that most of us realize. Paul said in the book of Romans that it was this one of the Ten Commandments that stabbed him in the heart and showed him up to be the sinner he had never admitted to being. Here he tells the Ephesians and us that covetousness is at the root of fornication. And fornication is the summary word for every kind of sexual sin. It is enlightening to know that the word “fornication” is the translation of the Greek word “porneia.” You don’t have to think very hard to recognize the word pornography embedded in it. What this means in simple terms is that sexual sin is a result of covetousness. And covetousness is wanting something that is not ours by right. That other person’s body and attentions and intimacy do not belong to us! Here six sins are listed, each one of them directly or indirectly related to sexual immorality. We can summarize them as “Lust,” “Longing” (covetousness) and “Language.”
Isn’t it amazing to know that these very same sins that plague us (and tempt us) were major problems throughout the society of the Roman world two thousand years ago? Mankind has not progressed, it has only gotten worse throughout the years.
Moving along, in verses 5 through 7 we have the cleanliness of heart that is demanded by God
You know for sure that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
Now we have to be careful here, Paul is not saying that people who are guilty of these sins cannot be saved. He is simply detailing the kinds of things that are not a part of the holiness of God, nor the life of Christians who are walking as children of light. In First Corinthians chapter 6 Paul mentions exactly these same kinds of sins, and then he says, “And such were some of you, but you are washed, you are cleansed. In other words they had been saved.
Moving on in our passage, in verses 9 through 14 we find the challenges in the walk in light
And the first challenge is to approve goodness. Look at verses 9 and 10:
For the fruit of the spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth (10) proving what is acceptable to the Lord.
This is he same kind of thing that Paul had written to the Philippians chapter 4, verse 8:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, and whatever things are just, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are pure, and whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue if there is anything praiseworthy, think on these things
But there is another challenge in verses 11 and 12, and that is to expose the works of darkness.
Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them,” (12) for it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.”
Now Paul is not saying that we should never discuss these subjects, because that is what he is doing in this passage. If a part of being light is to expose the works of darkness to the people and actions being taken around us, they must be discussed. He is not saying that it is improper for Christians to talk about immorality, but what he is saying is that these sins should be so far from the life of a Christian that there would not be even a suspicion that a Christian could be related to them. Think what an opportunity you and I as Christians have! To enlighten the lives of people around us with the truth of Salvation. Even as we live and walk among them!