We share our opinions and insights at SBC Voices, but we believe that the Voice that matters most is the one that comes from God’s Word. We present these daily expositional devotions, beginning with a tour of Ephesians called, “Walk Worthy,” in hopes of encouraging our readers to remember to Voice above every voice.
“Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints. Obscene and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks. For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Ephesians 5:1–5, CSB)
Paul starts his sentence with a “therefore,” as he tends to do. That means you need to take a minute and re-read Ephesians 4, especially the paragraph or two at the end. Pay close attention as you reach Ephesians 4:32 where Paul reminds the Ephesians to forgive “just as God also forgave you in Christ.” That’s an important starting point before we go further: Paul is not in the midst of some angry diatribe where he wants everyone, everywhere, doing anything consigned to the outer darkness. He is instructing the church to live with forgiveness as their primary response to life.
However, the “therefore” gives us a turn from the idea, the internal attitude, into the start of practical application of those ideas. And the first command, “Be imitators of God” could fill a thousand sermon DVDs with applications alone.
“Imitators of God” should challenge us as we seek heroes and mentors in the faith. While acknowledging that human help goes a long way, our goal should be our growth in being like God and not like people. Our greatest ambition should be that we are compared to Christ, not compared even to the greatest of the holy people we know. And, as a corollary, the question we should ask of those in church leadership, be it local or universal, is not how they compare to the last person in the job but how much they are like God in their work.
Too often, we make something less our evaluation. And, honestly, if you’re picking a landscape designer or a chef, then perhaps being an imitator of God is not the final decision. But that should be our primary expectation of ourselves and our church leadership.
“Walk in love” is drawn from the Greek verb which refers to general walking around, not just walking to get somewhere. In other words, Paul is putting forward that we need to be showing love to those around us at all times, not just in specific moments. For example, yes, you should be very careful about being demonstrably loving at the Cracker Barrel right after church on Sunday, but when you’re at the Waffle House at 2 AM on Thursday, you should not act any different toward the people there!
That love, further, is like unto the love Christ has for us: self-sacrificial and giving, not self-serving. If your love for others is a means to an end, then it is not love.
Then, we get to the hard part: Paul begins a list of sins that show someone does not have an inheritance in the Kingdom of God. We struggle to balance that idea with the grace of God and that we should not “judge” one another, but you cannot throw away the text simply because it is difficult. Paul is clear here: sexual immorality (the same word that gives its root to pornography), impurity (filth, moral corruption), greed (demanding more than is rightly yours) are all evidence that our hearts are not with Christ. They are evidence that we are idolaters and not servants of the One True God.
So what about us? Greed? Surely we have no good Baptists who are greedy, right? All of us are satisfied with the material wealth and political power that we have, and we would never compromise God’s standards to attain more, correct? Our churches would never trade preaching the Word of God for profitable entertainment, would we?
Impurity? Filth, moral corruption? These are not things we would entertain, because we know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, and so we would follow 1 Corinthians and expel the immoral one from among us, right? (1 Corinthians 5, remember?) And this corruption is not merely the actual practices but those who tolerate or look the other way when it happens.
That’s part of the meaning of sexual immorality here: those who watch it and do nothing.
So, what shall we do? Certainly, we cannot simply joke about it or make foolish, obscene statements that make light of the problems. Instead, we need to purge from our lives those things which drive us to tolerate wickedness. Let us pray about how we can best go about that, first in our own lives and then in our churches. Because, keep in mind, this is a command to churches. We so often try to apply church commands to society, but it’s not society’s job to act Christian.
It’s the Christian calling to draw society to Christ.