In chapters four and five of his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul has a great deal to say about “walking.” In chapter four he says, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Then he writes, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” Next in chapter five he says in our text, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Then at the end of our text he states, “Walk as children of light.” Finally, later in the chapter he adds, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.”
Now obviously, “walk” is a metaphor that refers to how a person lives. Just by listening to these verses, you can tell that in this section of Ephesians, Paul is providing exhortation and instruction about how Christians are to live. At the same time, our text makes it very clear that this concern for how Christians are to live is grounded in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. For Paul, as for Jesus and the New Testament as a whole, God’s saving work for us in Christ and our lives as Christians can never be separated from one another.
The apostle begins our text by saying, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Paul tells us as Christians to be imitators of God, and to walk in love. Yet the reason we are to do this is because we are God’s beloved children. We have received Christ’s love which has been demonstrated by the fact that he gave himself up as an offering and sacrifice to God. And the “therefore” with which our text begins is based upon what Paul has just said at the end of chapter four: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
There is Gospel all over the place here! The apostle says that God has forgiven you in Christ. The way he did this was an expression of Christ’s love for us, as he gave himself up on the cross as an offering and sacrifice to God. The language of offering and sacrifice expresses the fact that Jesus gave himself in death to make atonement for our sin. Where our sin had been a barrier that separated us from God, Jesus’ sacrificial death for our sins has removed it by giving us forgiveness.
Yet God’s love for us has not only been expressed by Christ’s death. It has also been given to us by Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. In the first chapter Paul referred to “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”
Through faith and baptism you have been joined to Christ – you live as those who are in Christ. Because of this, his saving work of forgiveness and resurrection is yours. For this reason Paul has written in the second chapter, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
God the Father loved us by giving his Son to die for our sins. Christ, the Son of God loved us by giving himself as an offering and sacrifice on the cross. God raised Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit, and now the Holy Spirit has called you to faith. For these reasons, you are indeed God’s beloved children.
The apostle calls us to be imitators of God. Specifically, he says that we are to walk in love. This love seeks the good of others – my spouse, my children, my parents, my friends – even when it means sacrificing for them. Paul says in this letter that we are to bear with one another in love as we are eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This means that we forgive others, because God in Christ has forgiven us. It means that are willing to overlook the weaknesses and annoyances of others, rather than commenting on them and calling attention to them.
Through the love of God, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has won forgiveness and life for us. Christ has given us this forgiveness through baptism. As Paul says in the next chapter, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” Because of Christ we are saints – we are holy in God’s eyes. By the work of the Spirit, we have received regeneration – we are a new creation in Christ.
We also know that we face the continuing struggle against sin. The old Adam clings to us. There is the need to resist sin, and instead walk in God’s ways. We must continue to return in faith to our baptism – the source of the Spirit’s work in our life. Paul says in chapter four that there is the need “to put off your old man, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
And so Paul says in our text: “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.” The apostle addresses a topic that was a pressing concern in the first century Church: the misuse of sexuality. The foolish talk and crude joking to which he refers are sexual in nature.
The Greco-Roman world of Paul’s day assumed that slave owners had sex with their slaves. The use of prostitutes was considered normal, and the Roman government even ran brothels so that the poor would have use of them for sex. Pornographic images were present in many different settings. It was a free for all when it came to sex – the only real limitation being that the wife of another man was off limits.
Into this world the Church proclaimed the Gospel, and shared God’s will that had been established when he made creation. The Church proclaimed how God had created man and woman to be joined as one flesh in marriage. The one flesh union of sexual intercourse was only intended for a husband and wife in marriage. Any other use of sex outside of marriage, or between two people of the same sex, was a violation of God’s will. It was sin. This was a radically different worldview and understanding of life. In particular, it placed limitations on men that Gentiles has never known before.
When you read the epistles of the New Testament, you find that they constantly address this subject. They do because sex is such a powerful force in human lives – one that God intends to be channeled within marriage as it produces children and families. They do, because God’s will was such a completely different understanding of life.
And they do, because the teaching of Scripture is not just a matter of opinion. It is God’s will and has eternal consequences. Paul goes on to say in our text: “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.”
Almost two thousand years have passed since Paul wrote these words. The first century has become the twenty first century. And yet when you look around at the world, it feels like we are in the movie “Groundhog Day.” It is as if we are doing the first century all over when it comes to the way the world views sex.
But, to be honest, we are probably worse. Our world has told women that they should be free to use sex however they want, just like men. But men and women are different, and when women treat sex like men, it’s the men who get all the advantages. And the ancient world wasn’t so stupid as to say that someone who is a man can really be a woman, or vice versa.
The apostle warns us not to be deceived by the empty words of the world. Instead, we need to listen to God’s words of truth. He is the One who created us as man and woman. He instituted marriage and gave us the gift of sex to be used within marriage. His will is the way in which these things are a true blessing to us. And the violation of his will – the use of sex outside of marriage in fornication – brings the wrath of God against sin.
The apostle urges us in twenty first century, just as he did to the Ephesians in the first century, not to listen to the lies of the world. He says in our text, “Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).
Conceived and born as sinners, we were darkness. But through his Spirit, Christ has called us to faith in his death and resurrection. We are therefore light in the Lord. We are beloved children of God, because Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. By God’s grace we are saints – holy in his eyes because of Jesus. In baptism we have received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Because this is so Paul tells us to, “Walk as children of light.” This walk produces the fruit of light – it produces all that is good and right and true.