18. Making Love More Than a Three-Letter Word (Ephesians 5:1-6)
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. 3 But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
The difference between “immorality” and “immortality” is great; the difference in the spelling of these two terms is but one letter, the letter “T.” I have never thought a great deal about the relationship between these two concepts, until recently.
Several years ago there was an article in the newspaper about a beautiful young woman who was dying of cancer. She knew that she had a few years to live, at most. She said that she did not want to be forgotten after her death. And so she posed as the centerfold for Playboy magazine. What a tragic way to be remembered, if indeed she would be remembered.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I noticed another article in the paper. It was a letter to “Dear Abby” from a young teenage girl, about to graduate from high school. She thought she had a serious problem—she was still a virgin. To her, this was a stigma which no high school graduate should have to bear. Her question to Abby concerned how she should select the young man who would remove her stigma.
It is nothing less than amazing to see how far the value system of our culture has slipped in just a few years. Not long ago, the stigma which a young girl feared was that of being immoral. There was the fear of being considered “loose” or, worse yet, of getting pregnant out of wedlock. Now, the fear is being known as a virgin.
A good part of the problem of our culture with morality is that it has equated “love” with “sex.” Our culture has diluted and perverted “love” because it thinks of love only in terms of sex. Our culture is not giving thought to sexual conduct and its relationship to biblical standards. It is not even thinking of sex in relationship to morality. We have morally collapsed, so that the discussion of our day is about aids, and condoms and abortion. Even here, there is not a great deal of thought given to morality, but only to pragmatic considerations.
The Bible speaks with great clarity on the subject of sexual morality. It makes “love” more than a three-letter word. And what may surprise you, my friend, is to learn that holds not only “love” in high esteem, but also “sex.” No one should have a higher view of sex than the Christian. No one should have a greater appreciation for the God-given gift of sex than the Christian.
In this we will seek to explore the relationship of sexuality to spirituality. We will attempt to sharpen our understanding of love and its implications for sexual morality and conduct. We will find that the Bible turns the secular view of love and sex upside-down. Let us listen well, then, to Paul’s words, and let us seek to understand and to apply what God has to say to us about the biblical view of love and sex.
Imitating God by Walking in Love
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
There are differences among commentaries and even of Bible translations as to where and how the text we are studying should be divided. There are even differences concerning how chapters 4 and 5 should be divided. I have chosen to devote this study to Ephesians 5:1-6 because I believe that it describes what it means to walk in love.
Paul has already had much to say about the Christian’s walk. The term “walk” is a figure of speech referring to one’s lifestyle, manner of life, or conduct. In the second verse of chapter 2 Paul reminds the Christian of his former “walk.” In the first verse of chapter 4, Paul exhorts his readers to walk in a manner which is worthy of their calling. In verse 17 of the same chapter, Paul instructs us not to walk as we formerly did (and as the Gentiles continue to do) “in the futility of their mind.” The Christian’s conduct is the manifestation of a transformed mind (see Romans 12:2), the outgrowth of being “renewed in the spirit of our mind” (Ephesians 4:23).
Now, in verse 1 of chapter 5, we are commanded to “walk in love.” In verse 8, Paul continues the imagery of “walking,” but moves on to describe our conduct as “walking in the light.” In verse 15 Paul instructs us to walk as those who are wise. The Christian life is therefore a walk …
… worthy of our calling (4:1-16)
… based upon a renewed mind (4:17-32)
… in love (5:1-6)
… in light (5:7-14)
… in wisdom (5:15–6:9)
In chapters 4 and 5 the Christians conduct is described in terms of walking, and in chapter 6 in terms of warfare (6:10-20).
The imitation of God which Paul calls for in our text is not an entirely new concept. In chapter 4, Paul has already put for God as the “measure of a mature Christian:”
11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ … 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth … And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:11-13, 22-24, 32).
From eternity past, God has not only chosen us for salvation, but has sovereignly purposed that we will be like Christ:
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; (Romans 8:28-29).
While our Christ-likeness is a certainty, a result of God’s doing, it is nevertheless a matter for our diligent effort and disciplined obedience. Both divine sovereignty and human responsibility are involved in our sanctification, while it is all the work of God.
In the first verse of chapter 5, Paul reminds us that we are the children of God. We are not just children, we are the beloved children of God. We, as beloved children of God are to imitate Him. It seems to me that in referring to us as “beloved children” Paul is reminding us of the fact that our sonship is both the motivation and the means for imitating God. He made us beloved sons, and as such we gratefully seek to be like Him. And because we are His sons, we share in His divine nature, and by means of this new nature, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are able to serve Him and to meet His standards (see Romans 8:1-4).
The imitation of God is not a new teaching. It was often taught in the Old Testament, and this was reiterated in the New. Our Lord Himself taught us to imitate God:
2 “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them,’ You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy (Leviticus 19:2).
16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you 45 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? 47 “And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48).
Paul does not instruct us to seek to imitate God in every way, but only in certain ways. Here, Paul teaches us to imitate God by demonstrating the same kind of love which He has shown us. There are certain dimensions of God’s attributes and character which belong only to Him. Theologians call these God’s incommunicable attributes. God’s self-sufficiency, sovereignty, and omnipotence belong only to Him. God’s communicable attributes are those which we can and should imitate. His love, mercy, justice, longsuffering and grace are to be evident in our lives.
Satan wanted to be “like God,” but in a way that was entirely evil:
12 “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! 13 “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High’ (Isaiah 14:12-14).
Satan wanted to be like God. He wanted to do so in his own strength, and for his own self-serving purposes. He did not seek to bring glory and honor to God, but to usurp God’s glory and honor for himself. There are some cults who teach that men may become “gods.” We never find this in the Bible. We are to be like God in that we love as He first loved us, in Christ.
34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another (John 13:34).
12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you (John 15:12).
20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:7-10).
The love which we are to manifest is not to be defined as a three-letter word (sex); it is to be defined as a nine-letter word: sacrifice. Christ’s love for us has been demonstrated on the cross of Calvary. His love motivates our love. His love sets the standard for love. His love defines biblical love.
Christ’s death on the cross of Calvary is a two-fold sacrifice. It is a sacrifice for sinners. In love, Christ died on Calvary for our sins. He sacrificed Himself for us, for our benefit. Second, Christ’s death on Calvary was a sacrifice prompted by love for the Father. His sacrifice was “a fragrant aroma,”89 one that gave the Father pleasure.
Our love is to be sacrificial, not self-serving. Christian love does not seek its own gratification, but the good of another. Christian love seeks to do good to another at its own expense. More than this, Christian love is expressed by acts of sacrifice to God. Christian love not only imitates God, it seeks to please Him by sacrificially serving others. This is why the Apostle Paul speaks of Christian service as the surrender and service of our bodies as a living sacrifice:
1 I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).
It is common to hear love and doctrine spoken of as though they were two opposite and even opposing entities. They think of “doctrine” as cold and irrelevant and unloving. They think of “love” as warm and fuzzy and unrelated to doctrine. It is a conclusion that people may reach by bad experiences, but it is not one that they will ever arrive at from the Scriptures. Elsewhere, Paul has written, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
The goal of the doctrinal instruction which Paul gave was love. From his words in 1 Timothy chapter 1 we can imply that his doctrine was the basis for a “pure heart,” a “good conscience,” and a “sincere faith.” From our text in Ephesians, we can conclude that biblical doctrine defines God and His attributes. We cannot possibly imitate God without knowing God, and without knowing His attributes. Biblical doctrine is our only reliable source of information concerning the God whom we are to imitate. Let us never consider doctrine and love enemies. In the words of the secular song, “You can’t have one without the other.”
Christian Love Abhors Immorality
3 But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
Love is both positive and negative: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Christian love is demonstrated by acts of sacrifice, to God and to men. Christian love never expresses itself in immorality.
The pagan world confuses love with lust and immorality. The Israelites were delivered from Egyptian bondage and given the land of the Canaanites, one of the most morally depraved cultures of all time. Sexual immorality was rampant, so much so that God commanded the Israelites to kill every living Canaanite, and even their children and their cattle.
The world of Paul’s day was little different:
“It has been said that chastity was the one new virtue which Christianity introduced into the world. It is certainly true that the ancient world regarded sexual immorality so lightly that it was no sin at all. It was the expected thing that a man should have a mistress. In places like Corinth the great temples were staffed by hundreds of priestesses who were sacred prostitutes and whose earnings went to the upkeep of the Temple.
“In his speech Pro Caelio Cicero pleads: ‘If there is anyone who thinks that young men should be absolutely forbidden the love of courtesans, he is indeed extremely severe. I am not able to deny the principle that he states. But he is at variance not only with the license of what our own age allows but also with the customs and concessions of our ancestors. When indeed was this not done? When did anyone ever find fault with it? When was such permission denied? When was it that that which is now lawful was not lawful?”90
One should remember that in contrast to the God of the Bible, the “gods” of the heathen were often immoral themselves. And so it was that those who “worshipped” them did so by acts of immorality. To be an imitator of the heathen gods was often to be immoral.
In verse 3, Paul adamantly declares that Christian love and sexual impurity are incompatible. Three words are used to describe sexual immorality in this verse. The first (“immorality”) is the most general, referring to “immorality and sexual perversion of almost every kind.”91 The second (“impurity”) speaks of sexual sins in terms of uncleanness. The third term (“greed”) is somewhat debated among the scholars. Some think the term goes beyond sexual misconduct to material greed. I agree with those who see this as a lust or greed for sexual impurity.
Paul forbids the saints to engage in sexual immorality. They cannot pursue love and lust at the same time. One is of the spirit, the other, of the flesh. But Paul is saying more than this. His words in verse 3 imply that while individual saints are to avoid immorality, they are also corporately responsible to see to it that such sins are not committed by the saints.
We are our “brother’s keeper,” and so we are commanded not to allow sexual sins to even be named among us. I take it that Paul means that the church should be characterized by such purity in sexual matters that no accusation or allegation of sexual misconduct can even be raised. He may even be going further than this. Paul may be saying that sexual immorality is not a fit subject for conversation among the saints.
There are certain subjects that are simply not edifying. Sexual immorality is one of them in my opinion. This subject matter simply does not fit into the curriculum of that which edifies others in their faith and Christian walk. It falls short of the divine standard:
29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).
8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things (Philippians 4:8).
Some time ago I visited the campus of a Christian college. It happened to be “human sexuality emphasis week.” You can imagine how carefully I listened to the expert who spoke to the student body. He railed against the church for its conspiracy of silence concerning sex. He referred to but one biblical text in his entire message, and that text was misused. He never mentioned the biblical texts in Ephesians chapter 5 (verses 3-4, 12) which indicate that some subjects of not to be discussed among believers. He urged his audience to “find someone to talk with” about their sexual traumas of the past, without so much as a word regarding whom they should talk to or how. I fear that many unwholesome conversations may have resulted from this man’s misguided words.
When I read Paul’s words of warning concerning our conversations about sexual matters, I think of the endless parade of television talk shows, where every kind of sexual sin is paraded and probed in public. And many Christians, curious to learn what the unbelieving world is doing, listen, without recognizing the damage that is done. We had best consider these strong words of warning which God spoke to the Israelites, forbidding them to satisfy their curiosity concerning the evil practices of their predecessors in the land of Canaan, the Canaanites:
29 “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?’ 31 “You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods (Deuteronomy 12:29-31).
Ignorance is bliss when it comes to sin. Adam and Eve refused to believe this in the Garden of Eden, and ever since their sons and daughters have sought the forbidden knowledge, which does not edify, but only destroys.
Unfortunately, those sins which we think we would never commit are those which we will openly discuss. In verse 4 Paul moves from immoral conduct to immoral speech. He forbids us to joke about those things which are immoral. The first term, “filthiness,” is the more general term for impure conversation. The second term, “silly talk,” refers to the crude, even stupid, jokes which are often told to one another. The third term, “coarse jesting” is unfortunately translated in a way that obscures its meaning. Coarse jesting is that which has been referred to above as “silly talk.” The jesting referred to by the third term is that which is clever, which is witty, which precariously presses the ragged edge of decency. This is high class dirty talk. It is joking so clever that many may laugh in spite of themselves.
Paul tells us that jesting about immorality is not “fitting” for saints. Why? What’s wrong with humor that deals with immorality? First, it doesn’t take sin seriously enough.92 That is a deadly error. Second, it enables us to talk about things we would not dare to discuss seriously. Humor allows us to press the line of appropriateness further than we could seriously. If we venture too far, we simply say, “Just kidding.” Third, joking about immorality often is but the first step we take toward immorality.93 I wonder how many people “fell” into immorality after joking about it.
There is yet another reason why we must not joke about what is immoral. From the text, it seems as though this may be Paul’s primary reason for forbidding it. Joking about sex demeans it. Think about it for a moment. What do we joke about? Aggies? Pollocks? Newfies (Newfounlanders)? Mothers-in-law? Wives? Husbands? Joking makes “light” of something. How would you feel about someone joking about your mother, or your home town, or your country? We wouldn’t like it, because we know that such humor is mocking or demeaning what we hold dear.
Sex is a gracious gift from God. We dare not make light of God’s gifts. We mock them in so doing. We dare not suggest or imply that lust or impurity or temptation comes from God. Only good things come from God:
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow (James 1:13-17).
Instead of belittling God’s gracious gifts, Paul tells us, we are to “give thanks.” Thanksgiving is the appropriate response to the good gifts of God. If sin depreciates, love appreciates, all that is holy, righteous, and good.
Just how seriously does God take immorality? Does He wink at this kind of sin? Listen to Paul’s words, to hear how deadly and destructive sexual immorality is: “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5).
It could hardly be more clear than this. Those who practice sexual immorality aren’t going to heaven. God saved us to deliver us from such sin, not to allow men and women to persist in this sin with impunity:
10 And straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 And she said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11).
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2).94
In verse 6, Paul presses the point he has made in verse 5 even further. Not only is it true that the sexual immoral don’t go to heaven; it is also a fact that such sinners suffer the wrath of God. God hates sin, all sin, including the sin of immorality. And so it is that those who practice such sin find that God’s wrath awaits them:
4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge (Hebrews 13:4).
7 “He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:7-8).
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying (Revelation 22:14-15).
Those who profess faith in Christ and yet practice sexual sin as a lifestyle have little reason to be assured of their salvation. They are not behaving as “beloved children” (5:1), but as “sons of disobedience” (5:6).
Paul’s words in verse 6 warn the Christian concerning those who would deceive them with “empty words.” In spite of the fact that the Bible speaks clearly, repeatedly, and emphatically on the subject of sexual morality, there are those who would seek to obscure its teaching. They speak “empty words,” and they seek to appeal to the flesh. They urge us to follow our urges. They tell us that God “wants us to be happy and fulfilled.” They assure us that there will be no judgment on such sin. They Bible often warns of such false teachers. And they do not all come from outside the church, either:
1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (2 Peter 2:1-3).
18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 20 For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:18-22).95
It is appalling to see that much of the professing church has succumbed to the values of a fallen and depraved culture, rather than to hold fast to the values of the Scriptures. Now many mainline denominations not only refuse to call sexual immorality and perversion sin, they even ordain those who openly practice such sin. And, worse still, they not only practice sin, they openly promote it: “… and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32). The final straw, as it were, is when immorality is not only tolerated in and by the church, it is done with a certain pride, and often justified in the name of love:
1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. 2 And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst (1 Corinthians 5:1-2).
Christian love refuses not only to practice sexual immorality, but also to permit it. That “love” which seeks to express itself by practicing sexual impurity and by embracing those who live immorally is not love at all. Christian love roots out every trace of impurity, dreading every form of it as we do the deadly cancer cells which would destroy our physical bodies.
If our society has taught us that immorality is “making love,” the Bible exposes this as a lie. Immorality is never the expression of love; it is the expression of lust. Immorality is not the work of the Spirit, but the fruit of the flesh. Immorality is not to be practiced by the saints, and it is not to be tolerated among the saints, either. Love is defined in terms of sacrifice, and is to emulate the love which our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated in His sacrifice for sinners at Calvary.
It may be that these words of Scripture have pricked your heart, and that you now look back upon previous immorality with remorse. Take heart, the cross of Christ is the solution for sin, all sin. Jesus forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery. Paul speaks of those who were once immoral, but who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. That forgiveness is available to you in Christ:
3 And the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” 6 And they were saying this, testing Him, in order that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground. 7 But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 9 And when they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the midst. 10 And straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 And she said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more” (John 8:3-11).
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Do you notice that in our text sexual morality is not advocated because it is the cure for aids and other sexually transmitted diseases.96 While sexual purity does protect one from some of the physical consequences of sin, this is not the motive which Paul seeks to promote. We are to avoid immorality because we are “beloved children” of God, and because we seek to imitate Him in our conduct. We avoid immorality because it is not love, and because it satisfies our physical desires at the expense of others. In the final analysis, sexual immorality is to be shunned because we love God and seek to bring glory to His name.
Christians are sometimes accused of being “puritanical” and thus are wrongly charged with failing to hold sexual intimacy in high esteem. It is the unbelieving, immoral, world which does not value sex highly enough. It is only the Christian who can rightly appraise the greatness of this gift from God. The pagan fails to regard sex highly enough, and thus they almost indiscriminately engage in sex with a host of partners. Christians value sex, and thus they restrict its pleasures to one mate, within the context of marriage.
Those tools in my garage which I value most are those whose use I most restrict. I don’t loan my valuable tools to those who fail to appreciate them, or who will not use them carefully and skillfully. I will loan a crescent wrench to nearly anyone. So it is with sexual intimacy. If we value it highly, we will restrict its use. And this we do to the glory of God.
Let us leave this text with a clearer grasp of what Christian love is all about. It is not about self-gratification, but about self-sacrifice and the glory of God. May God make the goal of this instruction love, to His glory and for our good.
91 Francis Foulkes, The Epistle of Paul to The Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 141. Foulkes goes on to say, “ … it involves all that works against the life-long union of one man and one woman within the sanctity of the marriage bond” (page 141).