The last time we were together and taking a look at Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus we were urged to “imitate God.” If that were the only direction Paul would have given the brothers and sisters in Ephesus, and us, then we would be overwhelmed with the mere thought of imitating God. He is the God who spoke Creation into being (Genesis 1). He is the God who split the Red Sea so His people could cross on dry ground (Exodus 14). He is the God who turned Moses’ staff into a snake and then back into a piece of wood again. (Exodus 4) He is the God who offered His only Son as a sacrifice for you and me and then raised Him back to life in three days. (Matthew 28) I could fill our entire time together this morning with the miraculous acts of God recorded in Scripture. If this aspect of God was what Paul had in mind when he said, “imitate God,” then we would be overwhelmed.
For some of us, when we hear that we are to “imitate God,” we might automatically think of God’s perfect perfection, His absolute purity, and His uncompromising holiness. Would this not also leave us overwhelmed? We read in Scripture that Jesus told the people, “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 NIV) We know that this is the call of God upon our lives, but at the same time we know that Jesus came and died for us because we are far from perfect. We are broken, sinful people.
Paul wrote to the people in Ephesus and began his new sentence with these words, “Be imitators of God…” As he began the sentence he already had in mind the aspect of God’s character that he wanted to highlight, and it was love. Let me read to you the first two verses of Ephesians 5.
1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2 NIV)
“As dearly loved children…live a life of love.” How are we to live? We are to live a life of love. What kind of love is it that we are to live out, that we are to demonstrate to the world around us? The same kind of love that God showed us as Jesus loved us all the way to the cross. Jesus’ love is a forgiving love, it is a sacrificial love, and it is a merciful love filled with grace and longsuffering. It is so important for us to understand this as we move into the next section of Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus. Set against the backdrop of God’s amazingly distinctive love for us Paul will now shine a spotlight on a contorted, twisted, and counterfeit kind of love that was predominant in his day and which is still with us today. Let’s take a look at Ephesians 5:3-14.
3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them. 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:3-14 NIV)
Those who received Paul’s original letter, those followers of Jesus who lived in Ephesus, lived in a city saturated with sexual promiscuity and perversion of every sort, just like we do today. They didn’t have the technology that we have today, but the sexual immorality was just as prevalent. John Stott points out that the temple of Artemis, “Diana of the Ephesians,” was known for its temple prostitutes and sexual orgies. Yet, in a sexually saturated society Paul says that the followers of Jesus are not to participate in these ungodly practices at all.
Just as there is counterfeit currency changing hands in our country so is there counterfeit love. Just as there are cheap versions of Ugg boots, Nike sneakers, and Jimmy Choo shoes, so is there counterfeit love. There is always the authentic which will soon be followed by a cheap replica, a counterfeit. John MacArthur writes,
In contrast to godly, unselfish, forgiving love, the world’s love is lustful and self-indulgent…The world claims to want love, and love is advocated and praised from every corner. Romantic love especially is touted. Songs, novels, movies, and television serials continually exploit emotional, lustful desire as if it were genuine love. Questing for and fantasizing about the ‘perfect love’ is portrayed as the ultimate human experience. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians. pg. 199.)
Paul says that we are to be emulators, imitators, of the love that we see as we read about Jesus’ life. We are to live out the kind of love that we have experienced as a gracious gift from Almighty God. Concerning the kind of love that we see on display in society, Paul says,
3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Ephesians 5:3 NIV)
“…there must not even be a hint…” Paul says that “sexual immorality, any kind of impurity, and greed” have no place in the life of a follower of Jesus. The word that Paul uses for “sexual immorality” is the Greek word, “???????” (porneia). It is the word from which we get our word, “pornography.” Paul didn’t know anything about Playboy magazine, seductive computer images, sexually explicit music, or lewd movies although they certainly come under the warning issued in this section of God’s Word. The word used by Paul is most often translated as “fornication” in older translations of the Bible and it refers to any sexual encounter outside of marriage.
Paul also says that there is not to be “any kind of impurity, or of greed” among the people of God. When Paul makes these statements he still has in mind the sins of the flesh. It is interesting that Paul uses the word “greed” in connection with talking about sexual immorality. We might be tempted to think that “greed” has nothing to do with sexual immorality because when we think of greed we think about money and materialism. Yet, greed at its base is nothing more than the human lust for more. The tenacious tentacles of greed reach into every sphere of life and left unchecked they will consume and destroy the person who can’t get enough. Paul has connected sexual immorality and greed in other letters. In his letter to the church in Colosse, Paul wrote,
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5 NIV)
We are to put to death these practices. Not only are we to totally distance ourselves from the ungodly sexual practices that we see and hear about on a regular basis in our society, but we are to refrain from talking like the rest of society talks about these matters. Take a look at Ephesians 5:4 so you can see what I am talking about.
4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:4 NIV)
“Obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking” are all used by Paul to make reference to disgraceful talk, “gutter” talk, and sexual innuendo. The word Paul uses for “coarse joking” is the Greek word, “??????????” (eutrapelia) and it describes the person who can quickly turn something said that is innocent into something suggestive, sexual, or obscene.
Instead of obscene, crude, sexually suggestive talk the followers of Jesus are to be filled with “thanksgiving.” Just what are we to be thankful for? That’s a great question and there are so many answers aren’t there? We are thankful for God’s love for us which has been demonstrated in the giving of His Son to reconcile us to God. We are thankful for the life He has given us and the opportunities He has provided for us to know Him and learn of His ways. We are thankful for His Word that gives us guidance, encouragement, and correction as we live this life. We are thankful for all of these things and much more, but I think, set in this context, we are to be thankful that God has shared with us the good gift of sexual intimacy and the knowledge of the proper place of the gift in the relationship of a husband and wife. If we will heed God’s counsel and follow His instruction then we will not be destroyed by God’s good gift given to humanity. We are to be filled with thanksgiving.
The kind of talk that Paul has described—crude, obscene, and suggestive talk—just doesn’t fit with the followers of Jesus. The kind of lifestyle that caves in to every sexual urge and seeks to fulfill every greedy sexual desire just doesn’t fit with the followers of Jesus. It’s interesting how our society has painted Christians as Victorian prudes who are uptight and out-of-step with human sexuality. Society says that human sexuality is a natural urge like thirst, breathing, eating, and sleeping. They say that we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of what comes naturally. The difference between society’s view of human sexuality and the teaching of God’s Word is this: The desire for sexual intimacy is more than an urge, it is a gift from God to be experienced as God intended. Sexual intimacy is a wedding gift given by God to husbands and wives—to be shared only in the confines of marriage. There are instructions that come along with God’s good gift and if those instructions aren’t followed then the gift can become a curse and destroy our lives.
The truth of the matter is that any and every natural urge that we experience as people has to be kept in check. Eating is a natural urge, it is a good thing that can be celebrated and enjoyed, but it also has to be controlled. If we give in to every urge to eat anything and everything we want then we will suffer the consequences of that choice. Sleeping is a good thing, we need to rest, but if you sleep your life away then you will suffer the consequences of your choice. And so it is with God’s gift of sexual intimacy. It must be kept in check, experienced within the confines that God has laid out for us or we will suffer the consequences of our choices.
We were once victims of our own desires and our desires led us down a path of destruction. We were fumbling about in the darkness with no direction, no discipline, and no desire other than to fulfill our every urge. When we surrender our lives to Christ everything changes because He makes change possible. We die to self. We live for Him. We are filled, controlled, and empowered by the Spirit of God. We are delivered from the darkness into His glorious light. Paul writes,
7 Therefore do not be partners with them. 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. (Ephesians 5:7-12 NIV)
Not only are we living in the light of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness, not only are we living in the light of the counsel of His Word, but we are to be light in this dark world. How can we be light to those living in darkness if we are living no differently than they live?
I was thinking about this call to be light in this dark world this past week. How do we do that? How can we practice being the light, living out the godly call and standard that is set for us in Scripture? Let me give you something to think about. It’s football season. All week long athletes all across the nation gather on football fields and they go over and over the plays they are going to try to execute when the game arrives. They practice their techniques according to the position they play, their coaches line them up where they need to be in certain sets, and they practice these things over and over again so that when the game comes they will be prepared.
I would suggest that we do the same thing. Our “practice field” is the church—the gathering of God’s people. We are to practice the “game plan,” if you will, that God has given us about how to treat one another, how to speak to one another. Let me give you an example. Here’s a play from the playbook. Turn with me to 1 Timothy 5:1-2. In this Scripture Paul is giving Timothy direction about how he is to interact with the folks in his church. Listen to this.
1 Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2 NIV)
How is Timothy to treat the females in his congregation? He is to treat the older women as mothers and the younger women as sisters…with “absolute purity.” The Greek word that is used for “purity” means “moral purity” or “innocence.” I want us to think about that for a minute. All too often today the Church mirrors society. There is premarital sex and marital infidelity happening in the Church today just like it’s happening in the world today. Those who say they are followers of Jesus engage in what Paul calls “obscene” talk, sexually suggestive talk, and they twist innocent comments into something corrupt, crude, and sexual—just like folks in the world who make no claim to know or love Jesus. We allow our eyes to see things that we should not see nor read. We listen to things that we have no business listening to. The Church has also become a good place to hook up for many people, an alternative to bar hopping.
As believers how do we combat this natural urge that is still in us? I think I have an answer for you and it parallels the practice that athletes engage in every day in preparing for their big game. The Church should be the safest place in the world for men, women, boys, and girls. What if we applied the principle, the counsel that Paul offered to Timothy, in our interaction with one another at Britton Christian Church? What if we men treated all of the women in the church who are older than us like we treat our mothers? What if we showed them absolute respect and honored them in every way? What if we men treated all of the women of the church who are younger than us like we are supposed to treat our sisters? What if we looked out for them, showed genuine concern and love for them, and never treated them as some kind of sexual object to be used to satisfy our self-indulgent desires? You see, I believe with all of my heart that this is exactly what we are to do. We are to practice these behaviors in the Church so that we can then put them to practice in everyday life.
Let me not leave out the ladies among us. This is not just something for the guys to practice. Ladies, what if you treated all of the men who are older than you with absolute respect and honor, just like you would your dad? And ladies, what if you treated all of the men who are younger than you like God calls you to treat your brother—with respect, honor, desiring the best for them?
The church, Britton Christian Church, should be the safest place in the world for you and me. Young girls, you should never have to worry about one of the young men of this church “hitting” on you, saying sexually suggestive things to you, or trying to use you in any way. Guys, God is calling you to show the young girls in this church how the young men in their schools and in their neighborhoods are supposed to treat them. The same is true for you young guys. You should never have the young girls in this church try and seduce you in any way. They should never dress in any way that would take your attention off of Christ. These are not just true for the young among us. There should be no group of men in this world who have the best interest of my wife in mind then the men of Britton Christian Church. Our wives can go to ballgames and restaurants and hear all kinds of language, but this should never be true of the men of God who call Britton Christian Church “home.” Ladies, you should never feel more “safe” and less threatened then when your husband is around the women of Britton Christian Church. This can’t be said about the workplace or the marketplace, but it must be said about the Church, the Body of Christ.
What if, because of our love for one another, and our passion to see spiritual growth in our brothers and sisters, we willingly held each other accountable? I’m not talking about becoming Pharisees or morality police. I’m talking about loving one another enough to encourage each other to seek the things of God rather than the things of the world. I’m talking about loving one another enough to say, “You need to think about what you are doing.” This is exactly what we do with our family members isn’t it?
When I was a kid my mom didn’t necessarily like some of the kids I was hanging out with from time to time. She never hesitated to talk to me about it. She knew she ran the risk of making me mad, but she loved me enough to have those talks. We should love each other enough to have those talks.
We desperately need one another. I desperately need you to remind me of the incredible counsel we find in Ephesians 5. I desperately need you to pray for me, encourage me, model before me, and walk with me so that we might be the people God has called us to be. Jesus didn’t give His life to reconcile us to God so that we would walk down the aisle, make our confession, take a trip to the baptistery, and then walk out the door unchanged. He has great hope for you and me. He has a plan for you and me. He has a purpose for you and me. Jesus said,
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 NIV)
“You are the light of the world. You are the light of the world!” Put away the deeds of darkness, walk in His glorious light, and let His light shine in this dark, dark world. Won’t you surrender your heart to Jesus this morning and let Him begin His great work in you?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114