Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:3g “. . .as becometh saints;. . .”
“Saints” refers to “holy ones, ones set apart.” Believers are to be set apart, different from the lost. Some things are improper, out of place, unbecoming for “children of the All-Pure” (Moule), no matter how reprehensible and immoral the culture around us becomes. We are never at liberty to use ungodliness around us as an excuse for immorality among us.
Paul wrote Ephesians in a time of moral bankruptcy. Sex sins were a matter of moral indifference. Cicero was saying no Roman in his right mind would keep a young man from consorting with prostitutes. Olympus was filled with gods so vile that had they been human, they would have been sent to prison. Morality received no support from the mythology.
What was true of the Greco-Roman world in general was true of Ephesus in particular. The “saints” at Ephesus lived in a notoriously wicked city. The Ephesians worshipped the multi-breasted goddess, Diana, in a temple funded by ritual prostitution. Archaeologists have unearthed a street sign which pointed to the brothels. In Ephesus one could sin without fear of exposure, with a sense of doing one’s civic duty, with no one seeming to get hurt, and due to medical ignorance, with no fear of sexually transmitted diseases. Ephesus was made to order for sex sins, but Paul nevertheless expected his readers to stay clean. However filthy the culture becomes, the Church can and must remain clean. We do not acknowledge defeat, and give in to the current mores of our society. Our standard is fixed by Jesus, and attainable by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Some things a Christian should never do. Certain acts are inappropriate behavior for us. God implants in believers a noble sense of modesty as a check to sex sins. Ask the Spirit to stir this sense, to make our hearts red with shame just at the consideration of committing a sex sin. Certain acts are utterly and totally incompatible with our life as God’s children. Let us live, even in the most intimate details of life, “as becometh saints.”
Eph. 5:4a “Neither filthiness,. . .”
Paul here continues his list of things which should “not be once named among” believers. “Filthiness,” which refers to “oral filth, dirty language” (Hughes), is a good word for obscenity, for it connotes ugliness and pollution. Profanity spreads filth which infects and corrupts others.
A believer should never be guilty of defiling others by means of speech. We must avoid verbal sleaziness, oral smut, shameless speech, impure talk, plus startling metaphors and terms used for their “shock” value.
Obscenity indicates a vast emptiness within. Every foul-mouthed person I have known was a spiritually shallow person. We know the well is a cesspool if the bucket keeps bringing up slime. Words tell us much about the true condition of one’s heart. Obscenity proves it certainly is not God’s Word one has hid in the heart (PS 119:11). Believers must do better. “Walking in love and talking in lust are incompatible” (Strauss).
Eph. 5:4b “. . .nor foolish talking,. . .”
“Morologia” combines “moros,” Greek word for foolish and root of our term “moron,” and “logos,” which refers to speech. Thus, the compound word refers to moron-speech, fool-talk. A fool, in the Bible, is one who does not give God proper reverence. In the present context, fool-talk would refer to speech which contains no reverence for God’s moral law.
“Foolish talking” entails making light of what is important, downplaying the significance of high standards of behavior. Moron-speech speaks loosely about holy standards, makes light of sin, is insensible to its seriousness, and talks about evil as if it were of no consequence.
Plutarch described “morologia” as the kind of talk which comes from a drunken man, words without profit. Nobler things are expected from lips set apart by the Spirit of God for the purpose of edification.
Eph. 5:4c “. . .nor jesting,. . .”
Paul is not condemning humor. Laughter is a precious, God-given, gift which makes many of life’s distresses tolerable, and adds delight to conversation. Christianity is not harsh. Believers are not to be dull and morbid and uninteresting. Unfortunately, many believers “take themselves too seriously, and clothe all prospects with a somber hue” (Eerdman).
God, creator of the human mind, knew it would need rest and diversion from intense concentration. Thus, His Word states clearly, there is “a time to laugh” (EC 3:4a), and “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (PR 17:22a). God wants us to play as well as work. Clyde Oster, a dear preacher-friend of mine who has a zest for living, says anyone who doubts God has a sense of humor needs to go to the zoo and watch the baboons.
The word “jesting” here must be kept in context. It speaks of dunghill humor, joking whose spice lies in its flavor of impurity. This type of comedy is abundantly illustrated in the USA on late-night TV talk shows.
“Jesting” speaks loudly and decisively against what we call “dirty jokes.” When young, B.H. Carroll and the moderator of his association, Dr. Riddle, made a covenant to never tell a dirty joke and never to let anyone tell them one. Years later, a man started to tell Carroll a vulgar story, but the preacher honored his oath and interrupted the man, “I made a covenant with a man who is now in heaven that I would never allow any one to tell me a smutty anecdote.” As the man yielded to the preacher’s wish, Carroll said, “Now you feel better; you have a better taste in your mouth.”
Henry Ironside told of a household meeting at which he and about fifteen Christian couples had gathered. When the women left the room, one of the men said, “Since the ladies have gone out, there is a story I would like to tell.” One of the men immediately interrupted, “Just a minute, brother; there are no ladies here, but the Holy Ghost is here and is more sensitive than the most fastidious lady. Is your story fit for Him?” Fortunately, the first man accepted the reproof graciously.
Believers are certainly allowed to be jovial, but must also be chaste and wise. “Laughter at the expense of decency is sinful” (Strauss).
Eph. 5:4d “. . .which are not convenient:. . .”
“Convenient” means befitting, seemly, appropriate. “Filthiness,” “foolish talking,” and “jesting” are unsuitable to the mouth of a Christian, for they are not conducive to the main purpose of our lives. “Filthiness” is not right for a tongue meant to speak to and for a holy, clean God.
“Foolish talking” is inappropriate for a tongue which is to be profitable and helpful to others. “Jesting” may amuse our listeners, but does not improve or edify them. Ugly words are beneath our dignity as children of the Most High, and should be displaced with something better. . . .
Eph. 5:4e “. . .but rather giving of thanks.”
Paul, not satisfied to leave us with a negative, presses ahead to give the positive. Selfish attitudes and verbal expressions of sexual gratification are to be displaced by unselfish attitudes and expressions of gratitude.
Believers are not to whine and moan over the Bible’s high standard regarding sexual purity. We should rather be thankful that God took time to point us in the right way. Never reflect negatively on God’s dealings with us. He is kind and good. All His precepts are gracious. Be “thankful because the holy life is the satisfying life” (MacArthur).
Married believers need to see and acknowledge the loveliness in God’s gift of marital intimacy. Unmarried believers need to see and acknowledge the loveliness of God’s gift of abstinence outside the bonds of matrimony.
A profound sense of gratitude within the believer is an extraordinary preservative against inner corruption, but the absence of thanksgiving is dangerous. Thinking properly of God’s abundant kindness to us will refresh and delight our spirits, but being down in the mouth and feeling cheated makes sin much easier to commit. If we are discontent in our Christian life, if there is no underlying joy, beware. We are in danger. This is how Satan tripped Eve. He made her feel cheated (GN 3:5). Also, before Cain committed murder, he was angry and “his countenance fell” (GN 4:5). God tried to convince Cain to change his attitude, but the effort failed, and the result was murder. Once a heart turns sour, actions will soon follow suit.
Thanksgiving is always fit and appropriate in the life of a believer, for it combines in proper balance seriousness and joyfulness. Gratitude is beautiful in and of itself, for it exhibits a noble soberness about life’s meaning, and at the same time shows a joyous buoyancy of spirit.
A grateful person is a contented person, and a contented person is an attractive person. Some believers avoid doing wrong things, but do so in a way which repels others. Some Christians act like they were baptized in vinegar. Give thanks! We have not been cheated one iota. God loves us, is good to us, and in His Word has shown us the most satisfying life-style.
“Rejoice in the Lord always”–not often, not sometimes–“always!” (PH 4:4). Display a spirit which attracts others to Jesus. Lead a life which is clean, pure, and appealing. Live in such a way that people say, “I want to live like that.” Our Lord is lovely, and those who imitate Him will lead a lovely life, one characterized by “giving of thanks.”