Our text this morning is found in Ephesians 5:3-6. It says,
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 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. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
In Ephesians 1-3 Paul laid out a theological framework concerning the new life and the new nature that every believer has in Christ. In Ephesians 4-5 the apostle Paul has been developing a theme concerning the unity and purity of the church which has been purchased by Christ’s sacrifice.
Having taught us that we are a new creation in Christ, and having taught us the theology supporting these things and praying for us to understand them, Paul now is teaching these believers the new Christian ethic about how to behave as a result of all of this grace.
Dr. John Stott speaks of the importance of this progression within the context of Ephesians when he says, “What we are governs how we think, and how we think determines how we act. We are God’s new society, a people who have put off the old life and put on the new; that is what he has made us. So we need to recall this by the daily renewal of our minds, remembering how we learned Christ…We must actively cultivate a Christian life. For holiness is not a condition into which we drift. We are not passive spectators of a sanctification God works in us.”
Paul begins by listing six sins that every believer needs to put away. Paul could not be more clear about these sins.
Sexual immorality – (pornea) sex outside of marriage, fornication, encompasses every sexual sin
Impurity – perverted, sensual, degrading and gross sexual sins such as homosexuality and other perversions,
Covetousness – greedy to practice such sins, consumed in the heart and mind toward sinfulness, a deep craving to do anything unclean
Filthiness – Obscene, bile or disgusting in speech or conduct, morally hateful
Foolish talk - filthy, characteristic of fools, frivolous, senseless
Crude joking – vulgar, immoral, flippant. “To joke about such things will eventually degrade them; to thank God for them is the way to presume their worth as a blessing of a loving creator.”
Paul is also clear about the consequences concerning these sins. He says that these sins “must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” He also says in Ephesians 5:5, “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.”
We should expect such clarity concerning these things because it is the apostle Paul who wrote to the Corinthians saying, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2) Paul’s embrace of the Gospel changed the way in which he lived and the way in which he talked.
Oswald Chambers speaks of the importance of Paul’s clear and faithful teaching when he says, “The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives you expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling for utterance.”
When we look throughout our culture, even within the church, we can see so much confusion and compromise concerning sexual sins and the way in which we are to conduct our speech. Therefore, it is encouraging to see that we can find clarity in two ways.
We can look to God’s word for the clear teaching concerning the appropriate way to view sin and godliness; holiness and wickedness; right and wrong; truth and error. It is in the Word of God that we find the Christian ethic taught which is not subject to the changing morals, morays, customs, or the habits of our day. Scripture gives a faithful witness as to what people ought to do.
Secondly, we see that even if there is no one else around who is a good role-model we still have no excuse to compromise. This is because we are to be imitators of God. We see this in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”
We also find in that verse the motivation for our sanctification – we are beloved children. We are not motivated to become children of God through good works.
There is an old story of a bookseller in London who had some books that were written by the Puritan preacher John Flavel. A man entered his store and the owner recommended that he should read one of Flavel’s books which was entitled, ‘Keeping the Heart’. The customer picked up the book and glanced at its pages and exclaimed, “What damnable Fanatic was he who made this book?” However, after speaking with the shop keeper and having been promised that he could return the book if he did not like it after he had read it, he was convinced to purchase it.
About a month later the man returned to the bookstore. His appearance had changed. He said to the owner, “Sir, I most heartily thank you for putting this book into my hands; I bless God that He moved you to do it, it has saved my soul; blessed be God that I came into your shop.” He bought a hundred copies of the book so that he could give them to others.”
I mention this story because it has several parallel thoughts that are also found in our text this morning.
This man did not initially like Flavel or his message
This man was changed by the gospel
This man’s new nature led him to give thanks and to bless and praise the LORD
This man soon desired to see others impacted by the Gospel and to see their souls saved.
#1 This man did not initially like Flavel or his message
If our souls have not been saved, or if our hearts are currently rebelling against the truth of God’s Word, we will not like the words of a faithful minister who comes speaking specifically about what we are to do to reflect holiness. Their words will confront us in such a manner that we will want to rebel against them. We will believe that they do us harm in some way and we may initially want to rebel against the gospel.
John Flavel speaks of this when he wrote another book entitled, ‘Impure Lust’ because he knew that people don’t like it when you confront their cherished sins. In this book Flavel addresses the same topics that is addressed in our text this morning. Paul says in Ephesians 5:3, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints.” Paul goes on to say in our text, “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.” (Ephesians 5:5)
Perhaps there is some part of you that is reacting similarly to the man who was in the bookstore that day. Perhaps there is some part of you that said to yourself as we read these verses,
What damnable Fanatic was he who would have written such a thing?
Does he not know that everyone is doing these things?
Why should this man tell me what I can do or not do in my own private life?
John Flavel begins this book, Impure Lust, by saying, “Let no man be offended that I here give warning of this evil: I intend to asperse (defame, malign, slander, smear) no man’s person, or raise up jealousy (resentment) against any; but would faithfully discharge my duty to all, and that in all things. The complaint can be made that if I speak against the vices of men, someone will object, ‘There he meant me; he hit me’: and so storm and fret. It was not we that speak to you, but your own conscience; we speak to the order, but conscience speaks to the person. I shall use no other apology in this case.”
We ought to be appreciative of men like the Apostle Paul and John Flavel who dared to speak about such things so that men might be saved and so that the church might walk in holiness and truth. We need such men because Paul admits in our text that there are many men who would seek to deceive us in these things. This is what he says in Ephesians 5:6, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
#2 This man was changed by the gospel
The story mentioned earlier reminds us of is that the gospel changes us. We were told that this man returned to the bookstore a changed man. The gospel changes the nature of a person, it creates a new heart with new affections and desires, it begins to heal the person and restore them from all of the things that sin had inflicted upon them. In this story we were told that what happened on the inside of this man had shown up on the outside – even his appearance had changed. We see this so clearly when a person is freed from addictions and their personalities and appearance changes for the better.
How much more does this occur when God changes a person at a heart level. As a result, that person will begin to imitate God. We saw this in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Those who are forgiven (Ephesians 4:32), who are now children of God, and are walking in love towards God and others will look totally different than what they used to be. In many ways, their lives will be totally unrecognizable by those who knew them before.
#3 This man’s new nature led him to give thanks and to bless and praise the LORD
The story above illustrated that this gentleman who was saved immediately began to speak differently. He once said, “What damnable Fanatic was he who wrote this book?” He came into that bookstore and he was seen to be a scoffer and a mocker! At that time he was not receptive to the truth.
However, a month later he came in that same bookstore a changed man. He came in speaking in a totally different manner. He said, “Sir, I most heartily thank you for putting this book into my hands; I bless God that He moved you to do it, it has saved my soul; blessed be God that I came into your shop.”
In Ephesians 5:3-5 Paul lists six different sins and then gives one thing that ought to be done to replace them all – thanksgiving. Paul says, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson asks the question, “Have you ever thought that thanksgiving might be a remedy for an un-sanctified manner of life and thoughts of sexual sin, impurity, covetousness desires and a heart of idolatry behind it?”
Other ministers have made the correlation between sanctification and being thankful. R.C. Sproul said that one of his professors in college taught him about this saying, “The essence of Christian theology is grace; and the essence of Christian ethics is gratitude.”
Recently, my mother-in-law purchased a new car and gave us her old one. To be honest, I was grateful for such a gift but also a little apprehensive about it. Did I deserve such a gift? Was I taking advantage of her in any way by accepting it? As a result of these concerns I found it hard to express the gratitude that I should have to her. But I also know that until I do express my gratitude to her for such a gift, I will not enjoy and treasure the gift as I should.
It is the same in our Christian walk. If we are not full of thanksgiving, praise and blessing for all of the grace that has been freely given to us in Christ, we will be unable to fully enjoy the freedom from sin and the health and maturity that is available to us through the grace of God which comes by a relationship with the LORD. A thankful heart remembers God and His gracious gifts that have been given to us. The man in the story above put it this way, “I bless God that He moved you to do it...”
May we all have mouths that continually acknowledge God who is working in everything pertaining to our lives.
#4 This man soon desired to see others impacted by the Gospel and to see their souls saved.
He said, “Sir, I most heartily thank you for putting this book into my hands; I bless God that He moved you to do it, it has saved my soul.” As a result of this, he bought one hundred of Flavel’s books to give to others.
This man would not have considered the apostle Paul’s words strange when he wrote in Ephesians 5:5-6, “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. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
When Christians understand that living continually in such sins brings upon them the wrath of God, and that to do so denies the gracious gift of eternal life that is being offered, they will be motivated in two ways.
First, they will be motivated to walk in holiness b the grace of God.
Secondly, they will be eager to see others come to Christ.
Let me end this morning bey encouraging each of us to make thankfulness a priority in our life. I will share this story with the permission of the individual.
This week a man came into my office. His heart has been troubled for some time now. Prior to coming to see me he had read Psalm 9 and his heart was even more troubled since he could only identify with God’s judgment against the wicked. For example, this is what Psalm 9:5-6 say, “You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever. The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins; their cities you rooted out; the very memory of them has perished.”
When he read these words his heart was filled with dread believing that this was his destiny. The devil is great at enticing us into temptations and then convincing us that we are then hopelessly lost and that the gospel cannot save us.
Psalm 9, however, was written by David. David was a man who fell into great sin. He broke three of the commandments when he coveted another man’s wife, he committed adultery with her, and he had her husband killed. Yet, through repentance David obtained the mercy of God.
Listen to how David begins Psalm 9: 1-2, “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.” Here, we see that grace and mercy produced in David thanksgiving, gladness, exultation and praise.
This week make a commitment to remember God’s wonderful deeds and then practice thanksgiving, gladness, exultation and praise.
When you are tempted, practice thanksgiving.
When you are tempted to say something filthy, foolish or crude; instead speak of thanksgiving.
If your mind or the devil are trying to convince you that you are lost, begin where David does. Thank God for Christ and the Cross.