Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry.

Ephesians 5:3-7

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. Therefore do not become partners with them;

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Last week’s post examined Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians to renounce walking in the way they had as unregenerated Gentiles, urging them instead to take off the ‘old self’ and put on a ‘new self’.

Careful readers will notice there is no commentary from John MacArthur. Coincidentally, he is at this very time in 2022 giving his sermons on Ephesians.

As such, unfortunate though it is, I will have to finish my exploration of Ephesians without his insight.

That said, I have only two more posts to follow on this letter.

Ephesians 5 continues Paul’s discourse on Christian duties concerning behaviour, which began in the preceding chapter. As we so often say, with privileges come responsibilities, and this is the pattern that Paul followed when writing, not only in this letter but also in his other manuscripts.

People say that Christians are goody two shoes, and this chapter goes some way in explaining why that is.

In the first three chapters, Paul laid out the blessed privileges of becoming a true member of the Church and the promise of eternal glory that comes with the afterlife.

We are to be obedient to God, just as Jesus obeyed Him, even to the horrific and humiliating death on the Cross for our sins and the sins of all mankind — past, present and future.

As saints, we are to refrain from sexual immorality, impurity and covetousness, because those do not befit us as Christians; even discussing them is forbidden (verse 3).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that foul acts emulate the world, which is at enmity with God (emphases mine below):

Filthy lusts must be suppressed, in order to the supporting of holy love. Walk in love, and shun fornication and all uncleanness. Fornication is folly committed between unmarried persons. All uncleanness includes all other sorts of filthy lusts, which were too common among the Gentiles. Or covetousness, which being thus connected, and mentioned as a thing which should not be once named, some understand it, in the chaste style of the scripture, of unnatural lust; while others take it in the more common sense, for an immoderate desire of gain or an insatiable love of riches, which is spiritual adultery; for by this the soul, which was espoused to God, goes astray from him, and embraces the bosom of a stranger, and therefore carnal worldlings are called adulterers: You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Now these sins must be dreaded and detested in the highest degree: Let it not be once named among you, never in a way of approbation nor without abhorrence, as becometh saints, holy persons, who are separated from the world, and dedicated unto God.

Interestingly, we have another bit of serendipity here, because my exegesis on the Epistle reading for Trinity Sunday — June 12, 2022, Lectionary Year C — discusses God’s loathing of sin, so much so that He deeply dislikes those who follow the world instead of Him. This is why Jesus told us to take the Gospel to the unconverted, urging them to repent of their sins and realising that, when they come to Him in faith, God forgives those sins.

We are also to stop joking crudely and talking foolishly, replacing that with thanksgiving to God for our many blessings (verse 4).

There is always a place for wit, but, as Henry explains, it should be amusing for all rather than offensive:

Neither filthiness (Ephesians 5:4; Ephesians 5:4), by which may be understood all wanton and unseemly gestures and behaviour; nor foolish talking, obscene and lewd discourse, or, more generally, such vain discourse as betrays much folly and indiscretion, and is far from edifying the hearers; nor jesting. The Greek word eutrapelia is the same which Aristotle, in his Ethics, makes a virtue: pleasantness of conversation. And there is no doubt an innocent and inoffensive jesting, which we cannot suppose the apostle here forbids. Some understand him of such scurrilous and abusive reflections as tend to expose others and to make them appear ridiculous. This is bad enough: but the context seems to restrain it to such pleasantry of discourse as is filthy and obscene, which he may also design by that corrupt, or putrid and rotten, communication that he speaks of, Ephesians 4:29; Ephesians 4:29. Of these things he says, They are not convenient. Indeed there is more than inconvenience, even a great deal of mischief, in them. They are so far from being profitable that they pollute and poison the hearers. But the meaning is, Those things do not become Christians, and are very unsuitable to their profession and character. Christians are allowed to be cheerful and pleasant; but they must be merry and wise. The apostle adds, But rather giving of thanks: so far let the Christian’s way of mirth be from that of obscene and profane wit, that he may delight his mind, and make himself cheerful, by a grateful remembrance of God’s goodness and mercy to him, and by blessing and praising him on account of these. Note, 1. We should take all occasions to render thanksgivings and praises to God for his kindness and favours to us. 2. A reflection on the grace and goodness of God to us, with a design to excite our thankfulness to him, is proper to refresh and delight the Christian’s mind, and to make him cheerful. Dr. Hammond thinks that eucharistia may signify gracious, pious, religious discourse in general, by way of opposition to what the apostle condemns. Our cheerfulness, instead of breaking out into what is vain and sinful, and a profanation of God’s name, should express itself as becomes Christians, and in what may tend to his glory. If men abounded more in good and pious expressions, they would not be so apt to utter ill and unbecoming words; for shall blessing and cursing, lewdness and thanksgivings, proceed out of the same mouth?

Paul says we may be certain that anyone who is sexually or morally impure or who is covetous — i.e. an idolater, someone who loves the world — cannot inherit the kingdom of Christ and God (verse 5).

Henry tells us:

1. He urges several arguments, As, (1.) Consider that these are sins which shut persons out of heaven: For this you know, &c., Ephesians 5:5; Ephesians 5:5. They knew it, being informed of it by the Christian religion. By a covetous man some understand a lewd lascivious libertine, who indulges himself in those vile lusts which were accounted the certain marks of a heathen and an idolater. Others understand it in the common acceptation of the word; and such a man is an idolater because there is spiritual idolatry in the love of this world. As the epicure makes a god of his belly, so the covetous man makes a god of his money, sets those affectations upon it, and places that hope, confidence, and delight, in worldly good, which should be reserved for God only. He serves mammon instead of God. Of these persons it is said that they have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God; that is, the kingdom of Christ, who is God, or the kingdom which is God’s by nature, and Christ’s as he is Mediator, the kingdom which Christ has purchased and which God bestows. Heaven is here described as a kingdom (as frequently elsewhere) with respect to its eminency and glory, its fulness and sufficiency, c. In this kingdom the saints and servants of God have an inheritance for it is the inheritance of the saints in light. But those who are impenitent, and allow themselves either in the lusts of the flesh or the love of the world, are not Christians indeed, and so belong not to the kingdom of grace, nor shall they ever come to the kingdom of glory. Let us then be excited to be on our guard against those sins which would exclude and shut us out of heaven.

Paul cautions us against accepting flattery — empty words — because these lead to the wrath of God coming on the sons of disobedience (verse 6), i.e. unregenerated Gentiles.

Henry reminds us of the first instance of flattery, when Satan deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden:

(2.) These sins bring the wrath of God upon those who are guilty of them: “Let no man deceive you with vain words, c., Ephesians 5:6; Ephesians 5:6. Let none flatter you, as though such things were tolerable and to be allowed of in Christians, or as though they were not very provoking and offensive unto God, or as though you might indulge yourselves in them and yet escape with impunity. These are vain words.” Observe, Those who flatter themselves and others with hopes of impunity in sin do but put a cheat upon themselves and others. Thus Satan deceived our first parents with vain words when he said to them, You shall not surely die. They are vain words indeed; for those who trust to them will find themselves wretchedly imposed upon, for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. By children of disobedience may be meant the Gentiles, who disbelieved, and refused to comply with, and to submit themselves to, the gospel: or, more generally, all obstinate sinners, who will not be reclaimed, but are given over to disobedience. Disobedience is the very malignity of sin. And it is by a usual Hebraism that such sinners are called children of disobedience; and such indeed they are from their childhood, going astray as soon as they are born. The wrath of God comes upon such because of their sins; sometimes in this world, but more especially in the next. And dare we make light of that which will lay us under the wrath of God? O no.

We are not to enter into close friendships or alliances with such people (verse 7), for fear that we may partake in their sins — and the punishment that lies ahead.

Henry offers this analysis:

“Do not partake with them in their sins, that you may not share in their punishment.” We partake with other men in their sins, not only when we live in the same sinful manner that they do, and consent and comply with their temptations and solicitations to sin, but when we encourage them in their sins, prompt them to sin, and do not prevent and hinder them, as far as it may be in our power to do so. 

Back in 2009, when I first started Forbidden Bible Verses, I used a set of Lectionary readings that the Episcopal Church in the United States stopped using some time later.

Huge portions had been omitted. The Episcopal Church since switched to using the standard Lectionary readings.

However, as I began writing this series before knowing that, I wrote about Ephesians 5:1-21, which explores the chapter further.

As I said when I began writing about the rest of Ephesians a few weeks ago in 2022, most of it is in the three-year Lectionary.

Paul concludes Ephesians 5 with his instructions on married life:

Wives and Husbands

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Paul’s instructions sound old fashioned to us today, but, when he wrote them, they were liberating compared to the way that Romans and Greeks treated their wives, which was sometimes brutal. Women were seen as property and not as full persons in their own right.

Gentile women, therefore, would have found this liberating. Gentile men hearing this for the first time would have had pause for thought. The social and legal framework was very different in those times.

Paul follows this with instructions for children and servants.

Next time — Ephesians 6:1-9