Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:5a “For this ye know,. . .”
Paul knew his readers, having once lived and labored among them for three years (AC 20:31). The Apostle was not telling them anything new, but rather restating facts which probably he himself had taught them. The truth itself was not new. It merely needed to be reiterated and applied in their given situation. Paul felt it was time to stand up and speak up.
We also live in a day where some old truths need to be emphasized. In these recent messages on sexual purity, I have not been sharing new ideas, but have rather been merely repeating what we have always affirmed, “for this ye know.” We must be reminded, for believers, certain things are beyond dispute, not open to argument and amendment. Let there be no doubt, no confusion with regard to the Biblical, Christian position–it champions absolute sexual purity. On this issue we speak with confidence.
Eph. 5:5b “. . .that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor
covetous man,. . .”
Paul here refers again to the three traits he listed in verse three. “Whoremonger” is literally “fornicator,” one who commits any sex act outside the sanctity of marriage. An “unclean person” is one who indulges in any form of immorality. A “covetous man,” in this context, denotes one who is greedy for someone else’s body, and has a vile lust for sensual gratification.
All three of these life-styles have no place in the Christian economy. Within the kingdom of God, a certain life is to be lived by its citizens, one marked by holiness. The ultimate object of kingdom living is to make us holy, not happy. Earth’s highest form of contentment is certainly a by-product of godliness, but is not to be our central focus or highest ambition.
Eph. 5:5c “. . .who is an idolater,. . .”
Paul deemed a “fornicator” and an “unclean person” as out of place in the kingdom. Paul now adds a phrase to give extra emphasis to the heinous nature of a “covetous man.” Sexual greed reveals ultimate selfishness, a trait totally incompatible with the spirit of self-sacrifice which is the very essence of being a Christian. One who gives the heart to sexual greed, who lusts for another’s body, has allowed inner cravings to take the central place which God alone should have in a human heart. Anything which dethrones God is an idol. Thus, covetous ones are not only selfish or immoral, but idolaters, “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God” (2 TM 3:4).
To a Jew, there was no greater sin than idolatry. It was the ultimate evil, for it amounted to holding someone or something nearer to the heart than God. Idolatry was ultimate rebellion, for it placed substitutes on the throne of the heart in place of God Himself, who has the right to rule there.
Covetous ones worship someone other than the true God–self. This makes their sin even worse, for they know their god is no god. A sexually greedy person makes an idol of, and worships only, self. What does he care if he shatters people’s hearts? What does he care if he wrecks young lives and breaks up homes? The cravings of god-self must be satisfied at all cost.
It is absurd for anyone who worships god-self to think he is a Christian. Idolatry is one thing which is totally and irrevocably intolerable in Christianity. Idols must fall before its advance. Where Christ enters, idols exit. Our Savior climbed Mt. Olympus to prove who was truly “King of the Hill.” He then permeated the Western World, making outward idolatry there a thing of the past. We take this blessed truth for granted, yet need to celebrate it often. Scotland once had a temple to Mars. At York, St. Peter’s occupies a site once crowned by a temple to Bellona. Leicester once had a temple to Janus. In London, St. Paul’s Cathedral stands on a site once occupied by a temple to Diana; and Westminster Abbey, the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, sits on a site once occupied by a temple to Apollo.
The very essence of Christianity is the toppling of idols. Where idols stand, Christianity is not. This is true of temple-sites, and also true of human hearts. The human spirit was created to have God, not self, as the dominant object of love, but sex-sins are idols which stand strong in the hearts of many, often much stronger than the idols erected in honor of the gods who covered Olympus. Many a knee has refused to bend before Jesus for this very reason, the heart has refused to dethrone sexual greed.
According to Paul, the presence of a god-self idol in the heart cannot be, must not be, the case in a believer’s life. Taking extra time to expose the idolatrous nature of sex-sins proves this was a very sensitive issue to Paul. He was a single adult who had left this greed behind. Having forsaken all things of this flesh, he had endured poverty, destitution, exhaustion, pain, hunger, thirst, cold, nakedness (2 C 6:10; 11:27). Paul said, “I buffet my body and make it my slave” (1 C 9:27, NASB). He cast out the fleshly idols, never felt cheated, and had little patience with anyone who let anything of the flesh displace or displease God. Paul stayed clean, expected Ephesian Christians to stay clean, and expected us to stay clean. Through the power of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, we can remain pure, but the greedy idol to forbidden indulgences must be torn down in our hearts.
Eph. 5:5d “. . .hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and
Upon becoming a Christian, one enters a “kingdom,” a King’s domain. This implies society based on rule and order. We enter this kingdom, agreeing from the first to obey God’s laws. God does not force Himself or His law upon unbelievers, but once we accept Him, we agree to be His subjects. By our own confession, He has authority over us, the right to command us.
As believers, we are under the authority “of Christ and of God.” This is a powerful statement on the deity of Christ. The Son, along with the Father, is ruler of the divine kingdom. One can know the Father only through knowing the Son. There is no coming into the kingdom of God but by coming into the kingdom of Christ. In this kingdom, the standard of behavior is high. This kingdom is ruled over by a Son who shed His blood to do away with sin. He cannot receive into His kingdom those who intend to cling to their sins. In addition, the Son has opened to us a kingdom which has a Heavenly Father as its highest expression, its center, its soul. Everyone in the kingdom must reflect the Father’s radiant holiness.
In the kingdom, God’s laws are to be obeyed. His kingdom laws about sex are very straightforward, simple enough for all to grasp. No sex before marriage. No sex outside marriage. Conceive children only in situations where married parents will be responsible for nurture and training.
Anyone habitually guilty of sex sins is not acting like a true subject of the King. This does not mean all who fall into sex sins are excluded from the kingdom. Abram sinned with Hagar (GN 16:4), Judah with Tamar (GN 38:18), David with Bathsheba (2 SM 11:4), Samson with a harlot (JG 16:1). Christians can and do fall into sex sins, but do not persist in them. Paul’s contention is, salvation and habitual immorality are opposites. Some things are incompatible and can never be brought together. As Aristotle said, there is no mean between two opposites. Eternal antithesis exists between citizenship in the kingdom, and ongoing sex sins as a life pattern.
Our text is a thunderbolt to arrest the attention of casual and careless listeners. We must convey the Apostle’s warning. It is wrong to try to convince someone of assurance whose life does not give evidence of it.
With regard to kingdom security, what matters is not what we claim with the lips, but what we live with the life. If we do not live above habitual sex sins while claiming to be in the kingdom of grace, do not expect to see the kingdom of glory. With regard to this aspect of behavior, one does not have to wait till death to know one’s status in the kingdom.
Let me reiterate, sex-sins are not unforgivable. God forgives. We know people often use this as a cop-out, as an excuse for immorality. They can, as Peter says, twist Scripture “unto their own destruction” (2 P 3:16). Anyone who commits a sin due to their belief that God forgives ought to be more concerned about this attitude than about the actual sin committed. Thinking in this way perverts God’s intended order, and reveals one knows essentially nothing about the inner workings of God in a believer’s life. Forgiveness should be thought of only after the sin as a comfort, never before as an excuse. Like any truth of Scripture, the doctrine of forgiveness can be abused, but this does not negate the fact that God truly does forgive.
I once was pastor of a couple whose grandson committed suicide due to guilt. His girl-friend, an unbeliever, had often tried to seduce him into sex sins. He long resisted her advances, but one night yielded. The next morning he wrote a note expressing guilt, and took his life. No! No! Do not enter the King’s presence uninvited. Seek forgiveness instead.
Ours is more than a message of prohibition. We bear news of cleansing. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (IS 1:18). If we offer no hope to sinners, we might as well be quiet. Why talk to them of their sins if we are of no help? To do so would only be taunting them, increasing their misery. We must not give sinners false security, but should preach to them forgiveness and deliverance through Jesus. Proclaim forgiveness based on repentance. “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners, plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains” (Cowper). Proclaim deliverance based on God’s indwelling of us. “He breaks the power of cancelled sin” (Wesley).