Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:3c “. . .and all. . .”
“All” covers a lot of territory, encompassing every immoral act, word, thought, and fantasy. Christianity has by far the highest sexual ethic of any world religion, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. Our standard is exalted, advocating not only chastity outside marriage, but also a chaste mind, as Jesus commanded in His Sermon on the Mount (MT 5:28).
Eph. 5:3d “. . .uncleanness,. . .”
“Uncleanness” is a general term which refers to any form of immorality. Paul often had to use general terms when he spoke of sex sins because the moral life of the Greco-Roman world had sunk so low that it would have been impossible to list all the variations of vice current in his day.
Eph. 5:3e “. . .or covetousness,. . .”
In this context, “covetousness” refers to greed for someone else’s body, to vile lust for sensual gratification. “Covetousness” seeks not to serve and help, but to use and exploit, to indulge self, regardless of the harm done to others. Is any greed more vile than one which plots the ruin of an innocent young girl’s life? Is any plan worse than one to break up a home and a family? “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (MT 19:6). Dare we put forth our hand to rip what God has merged?
Procreation is the way God allows creatures made in His image to come as close as we ever can to sharing in His work of creation. Creation is God’s work, and when we approach His sacred domain, enter it only by performing in His prescribed way the act which makes procreation possible. May we never violate His intended order in order to fuel our fleshly greed.
In “covetousness,” self-sacrifice is swallowed up by a never-ending desire for self-indulgence. Sexual craving, left to itself, is insatiable, ever seeking more and more gratification. The libertine never finally has enough to satisfy self. Appetite increases in proportion to indulgence. Partaking of sex sins is like drinking salt water–the more one imbibes, the thirstier one becomes. Sex totally fulfills only when done God’s way. Take salt out of water and it satisfies, ends thirst. Take sin out of sex and it satisfies.
Eph. 5:3f “. . .let it not be once named among you,. . .”
In other words, let it never be said a Christian is guilty of such crimes. Paul obviously believed sex sins should be extremely rare within the fellowship of believers. There should be not even a hint of scandal among us, no suspicion whatsoever of its existence among us.
Paul was not saying that sex should never be discussed. He himself broached the subject often in his epistles. Regarding sex, we must warn, give helpful counsel, and talk about it in normal ways. It is not necessarily good to be like St. Stanislaus who, upon hearing a word which had lewd connotations, fainted. I know of cases where youths were raised in such an austere atmosphere about sex, it being mentioned only in a very negative way, that they were later unable to enjoy normal marital intimacy.
Paul would not have us never discuss sex, but on the other hand, he would at the same time not want us to go to the other extreme. Be not obsessed with sex talk. Speaking of intimate things too often, becoming too common with them, can pollute a mind, and inflame imagination. Hyper-familiarity with sex sins may make us more susceptible to doing them.
Proper discussion of sex is found somewhere between the two extremes of never or always talking about it. Four guidelines might help.
First, do not talk of committing sex sins. David’s sin with Bathsheba began with a look of lust. “From the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon” (2 SM 11:2). Had David repented immediately, and kept his thoughts to himself, the Lord would have forgiven and strengthened him. Instead, David “inquired after the woman” (2 SM 11:3). He talked of her, entered into discussion about her, the result being, “David sent messengers, and took her” (2 SM 11:4).
Second, never talk about sex sins in an approving way. Abhor evil. Do not make the ugly sound pretty and attractive. Sin should be mentioned with detestation, not toleration. In conversation, do not condone sex sins.
Third, some things do not need to be discussed. Some words or acts we do not know the meaning of, and we should not seek to know them. If you run with a crowd which talks of things and does things you are unfamiliar with, run from them. In some things, it is good to be a child always. Regarding evil, retain “the child state and the child heart and the home language and the better grammar–get away from the devil’s prose into God’s celestial poetry” (Parker). The Israelites were forbidden to mention the names of Canaanite gods (EX 23:13). These fertility gods were worshipped by means of unspeakable sexual perversion. Israel was not even to discuss their manner of worship, nor to ask, “How did these nations serve their gods?” for fear someone might say, “Even so will I do likewise” (DT 12:30).
Fourth, do not speak of intimate things in a coarse way, or use nasty language. Use technical and gentle phrases rather than coarse, harsh ones. Some terms may not technically be “curse words” or “profanity,” but are slang words, trigger-words used in a given culture to elicit a lewd reaction. Be careful not to excite sexual passion in the unwary. “Watch your lips, that evil words may not pour their poisoned liquid over your faces” (Parker).
The principle taught in our text by Paul desperately needs to be applied to the life-setting of our day. The bottom line of his intent is obvious. He wanted believers to stop sex sins before they bloom. Pre-empt temptations. Squelch them at the source. This means we must in our day apply the principle taught in our text to much more than only conversation. “The Apostle was writing in an age when they did not have daily newspapers or radio, or films, television and all the rest of it. In those days men were confined to speech in this matter of propagating unworthy ideas, and those ideas which lead to sinful action in practice” (Lloyd-Jones). Now, however, methods of announcement and advertising have much expanded. Whereas speech was in the old days the primary means of corrupt communication, one is now surrounded by incitements to indulge in sex. We are shouted at from every direction. Sex sins are glamorously “named” everywhere we look–magazines, newsstands, TV, radio, movies.
Paul would have us keep temptation from gaining a foothold in the mind. We have to be on guard from dawn to dusk, from morning to evening, every waking moment. I am a country music fan. Unfortunately, some of it is not fit to listen to. To keep myself sensitive to holiness, whenever I hear a lewd word, a curse word, or a sexual innuendo, I either turn the radio off or change stations. When relaxing late at night, and running the channels on cable TV, when a suggestive scene presents itself, I immediately change the channel. I avoid R-rated movies. I realize some PG-rated movies are as bad, but it is merely my way of reminding myself to be careful. Men, do not look at other women in a sensual kind of way. Turn your eyes away. Look another direction. “Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (RM 13:14). If we look upon evil, or feed our passions privately, we should not be surprised if we finally fall publicly.