Believers do not look or act like the world, not because “we fake it ‘til we make it,” but because we are genuinely different. When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he knew he had to deal with some things that were happening within the church and bring them back to their first love, Jesus Christ. They needed to remember His Passion, the passion He has and the passionate love they had in the beginning that exuded from them in heart, soul, body, and mind. They were not only practicing some things that were shaming their Father’s name, they were aware of people amongst them caught up in these things and were tolerating them. Paul addressed this in today’s verses Ephesians 5:3-21.
Verses 3-6 read,
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
There are people who are not believers in the church and their words and actions are often the evidence that they do not believe. It is one thing to be in church and not have yet come to the Lord, but it is quite another to pretend to be a Christian, to declare salvation, yet live as lost. They can be very convincing and in our love we want to believe the best of all those among us. Sexual immorality is most often practiced in private, in the dark. People don’t tend to broadcast their sexually deviant acts. Immortality is depraved, corrupt, and wicked. It doesn’t refer to a husband and wife enjoying a full sexual life together, this refers to the perversions of the gift sex was meant to be. Though the sexually immoral might say they don’t think their practices are wrong or shameful, they hide them from the church. Why? Because they know there is shame and wrong in it. We are commanded to confess our sins to one another not to keep them secret from each other. Confessing our sins to each other brings great results including healing (James 5:16)
It is so easy to join in with those living sinful lives, to let them continue in foolish talk and so on a path of deceitful ideas that are not Biblical but about improving the self, exalting the self, and finding pleasure in the self. It is easy to join in and share our own dirty joke or share in a practice that demeans instead of edifies. But even keeping our mouths closed against these things means we become cohorts in them. If we don’t confront evil new-age philosophies we are affirming them. If we don’t oppose depreciating talk then we are supporting it. In verses 7-10 Paul wrote,
Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
As children of God bearing His name and filled with His Spirit, we want to please Him not grieve Him. Believer, He is pleased with you, He is delighted with you (Psalm 149:4). And doesn’t that make us want to please Him even more? What pleases Him is our desire to know Him more (Hosea 6:6), our faith, (Hebrews 11:6), and our good deeds and worship(Romans 12:1). Jeremiah 9:23-24 in The Message says it this way,
“Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom.
Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits.
Don’t let the rich brag of their riches.
If you brag, brag of this and this only:
That you understand and know me.
I’m God, and I act in loyal love.
I do what’s right and set things right and fair,
and delight in those who do the same things.
These are my trademarks.”
People acting and speaking the way Paul describes in Ephesians 5 are not pleasing God at all. Though their sex lives, the true focus of their worship, or the skeletons might be kept secret, the fact that they are not believers comes out in other ways. It can come out in the way they talk. Their conversations are foolish, that is ignorance to the Truth of the Gospel. Maybe there is a lot of mumbo jumbo mixed in with what they think the Bible says, self-help, new-age, or other strange ideas. It comes out in crude joking, what we might know as blue humor. After all what is in your heart is revealed in your words and behavior. Jesus said in this way in Matthew 15:18-20
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
In the South we say, “What’s in the well comes up in the bucket.” A person’s true self can only be hidden for so long. If one of our practices is something we want to keep people from knowing, if we protect our thoughts as private and dread someone finding them out, perhaps that is because we know they are wrong and do not align to the image of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit. Verses 11-14 read,
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
To shine the light of Jesus into the darkness is part of what we are supposed to do. This doesn’t mean calling a person out in front of everyone, humiliating him and accusing him. It means that in love, in the desire to glorify Jesus and bring them to know Him we shine His light into their lives and so expose their sinfulness to them. God does that work (Psalm 139:23-24, Job 31:6). We do this in part simply by living truthfully Spirit-filled lives. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). Sometimes, it does mean speaking to the person privately and telling them in a loving manner that their practice is not aligning with Scripture or the Holy Spirit. This is not just calling it love as you accuse a person of being a “sinner.” It is a conversation in which you can love a person with uplifting words and speak about God’s great love and mercy. No one ever came to Jesus because a Christian argued with them. No one ever came to Christ because someone belittled them and accused them of evil acts. It is not the sins that make us sinners, it is the nature of who we are before we made Jesus our Lord. We have all sinned and fallen short of who God created us to be (Romans 3:23). Paul had this to say in Romans 2:1-4,
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
Since Holy Righteous God is so kind and merciful, shouldn’t we too be kind and merciful? There is a procedure Jesus taught us for when a confessing believer hurts us through sin. It too is done in Jesus’ love and with prayer and not in anger, pride, and bitterness. Matthew 18:15-20 in The Message reads,
“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.
18-20 “Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”
Again, we’re not talking about legalism here, we are talking about living as if the Living God indwells you and His Church, and works through the body of Christ. It is about the visible proof of the Holy Spirit in you. Verses 15-21 say it like this.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
These verses show behavior in direct contrast to the previous ones. Sons take after their fathers. Children of God will look and act like Jesus because they are conformed to the image of Christ. Sons of disobedience will be like the father of lies to whom they belong. It is not about following rules to follow rules, it is about being filled with the Holy Spirit and bearing the fruit or evidence of our inheritance.