We return to the book of Ephesians today and pick up our study in chapter 5. Paul is emphasizing the ways in which those who believe the gospel live out their gratitude for salvation, reminding us that we cannot adopt the moral code of unbelievers (Eph. 4:17–32). Midway through this exposition, he sums up the sanctified life as a life that imitates the character of God Himself (5:1–2).
Understanding that we need specific guidance in pleasing the Lord, the apostle continues to reveal the specifics of holy living in Ephesians 5:3–5. He focuses on how sexual immorality and greed are wholly anti-Christian. This was a message that a Gentile Christian audience, like the one in Ephesus, could not hear too often in the first century. Although Jews of the same period strictly frowned on sexually immoral behavior, ancient Greeks and Romans tolerated and even approved of sexual deviancy. Those Christians who had a past in such sin were constantly tempted to embrace it again, and they needed continual reminders that God’s standards for human sexuality are absolute (Lev. 18; Rom. 13:13).
We need to hear this word in our own day, even if we have been in the church from our youth. The modern West is obsessed with sex, and the idea that the Lord might put any limits on sexual expression is completely foreign to most people outside of the covenant community. But the word Paul uses for sexual immorality in Ephesians 5:3, porneia, covers all sexual activity that occurs outside the marriage bed. Extramarital sex, homosexuality, incest, and other biblically forbidden acts violate the one-flesh principle of lawful sexual expression, and those who continue in these behaviors impenitently have no part in the kingdom of God (Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:5). Let us always remember this truth lest we be led astray.
Covetousness is probably mentioned alongside sexual immorality (Eph. 5:3) because sexual immorality manifests a love of self, a willingness to take that which does not belong to us. The bodies of men and women belong to their lawful spouses (1 Cor. 7:3–4), so we commit theft if we sleep with one to whom we are not married. Such thievery is the logical end of greed, which also expresses itself in an ungodly lust for material possessions or coveting the blessings of others.
The antidote to covetousness and the sexual immorality it inspires is thanksgiving (Eph. 5:4). When we recognize how greatly the Lord has blessed us and how we do not deserve God’s favor, we are more likely to be content with what our Creator has given us. In turn, contentment kills our natural inclination to think that we do not have enough and that we deserve what God has given to others. Thank the Lord for your blessings this day.