2013-06-30 Keep the Fire in the Fireplace | Ephesians 5:3-5
Holy-Living and Thanks-Giving: Keeping the Fire in the Fireplace
Intro to sermon text
Paul has in the first 3 chapters reminded the Ephesians who they were before Christ and who they are now by faith in Christ. In chapters 4-6 he reminds them how they should live in the light of their calling and in the light of what God in Christ has done for them.
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.
4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
5 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.
Intro to sermon
Beth and I have been called are here, I believe, to love and to serve you, and in turn, to become loved, in time, by you, so that, together, we might glorify God and build up the body of Christ. All of us who are in Christ, love, and are learning to love one another and the world around us because God in Christ first loved us.
I believe this passage is about the love of God in Christ – how God loves us into holy-living and thanks-giving even while we are virtually engulfed by the dangers of sin from without us and within us. In love, he teaches us and enables us to keep the fire of desire in the fireplace so that we and others will not get burned. He shows us how to replace dangerous actions and words with safe substitutes and warns us away from danger so that we may live up to our high calling in Christ and give glory to God.
- Love Pinpoints the danger
This passage tells us five ways that we are loved by God in Christ in spite of our own sinful nature, and in spite of our living in the midst of a perverse generation. The first is that God’s love pinpoints (or points out) the danger to us.
There are two kinds of danger here, dangerous actions and dangerous words. First, we are told about dangerous actions, how sinful actions result from improper desires. We see this in verse 3. 3 “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you…” Wise and loving parents point out potential dangers to their children. For example, in the southern states, parents tell their children not to turn over larger rocks or old pieces of lumber in the backyard because there may be poisonous snakes or spiders hidden underneath. Likewise, here God through Paul points out several dangerous actions that result from the sinful perversion of two naturally God-given desires. Sexual immorality and impurity are the perversion of the God-given desire for sexual fulfillment. Greed or covetousness is the sinful perversion of the God-given desire for material possessions. Neither sexual fulfillment nor material possessions are sinful their proper place. Sexual fulfillment between a husband and a wife within the bond of marriage was God’s design in the first place and he hasn’t changed his mind about it. He even uses it to illustrate the relationship between Christ and his church. Material possessions are also part of God’s created order. He created the garden, placed Adam and Eve in it and commanded them to keep and tend and rule over it. The Bible teaches that God created and thus owns all material things, and that we are appointed as his stewards over them. As long as the fire of our desire for sexual fulfillment and material possessions is kept in the fireplace, all is well. However, when the fire of desire is pulled out of the fireplace – when God-given desires are perverted by sin – people and things get burned and hurt. There are both temporal and eternal consequences that flow out of God’s condemnation of these practices.
“Immorality” refers here and several other places in the NT (1 Corinthians 7:2, Matthew 15:19, 1 Corinthians 6:9 John 8:41) to sex before marriage, also called fornication in other translations. “Impurity” refers here and other places (Romans 1:24; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 4:19; Colossians 3:5) to various practices including homosexuality, lesbianism, adultery, pornography, bestiality and other sexual sins. These practices are all clearly condemned repeatedly in Scripture. “Covetousness” or greed here and other places (cf. Hebrews 13:5; 1 Timothy 6:8) refer to desiring what is not your own, desiring more than God has granted. The perversion of both sex and possessions results from desiring something other than what God has granted us in his goodness. In our own sinfulness – though we are redeemed from sin, yet we are not perfected in this life – and in the sinfulness of the world around us, and by the devil’s many and various temptations, we desire more than God has granted us. We are tempted to pull the fire out of the fireplace and play with it in the room where we and others may get burned. So God, in his love, points out the dangers of doing so. Here we are told not only to avoid these sins, but that they should not even “be named” among us, or in another translation, “there must not even be a hint” of these among us. This is similar to what we find in 1 Thess.5:22 KJV “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” In other words, we should stay as far away as we can from these dangerous actions, lest we and others be harmed by them. “But,” you may ask, “how can we do so, when we are surrounded without and within with them?”
Well, we are offered some help in the next verse. God’s love warns us not only about dangerous actions, but also about dangerous words, how sin progresses from smaller to greater. We see this in verse 4. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place…“Filthiness” and “crude joking” refer here to dirty language and dirty jokes. Some people seem to view everything crudely and thus out of the heart their mouth speaks – crudely all the time. Our sons, when we first moved to FL for seminary, experienced this for the first time at a nearby playground. When they returned home they told us they had heard more cuss words from the neighborhood kids in a half hour than they had heard previously in their whole lives. Likewise, it seems some professional comedians make their living by coming up with one dirty joke after another. Some people do it for free!
“Foolish talk” here makes light of serious matters. Piper quotes Spurgeon who says, “We must conquer our tendency to levity. A great distinction exists between holy cheerfulness, which is a virtue, and general levity, which is a vice. There is a levity which has not enough heart to laugh, but trifles with everything; it is flippant, hollow, unreal.” (Lectures to My Students, p. 212) In other words, to some, everything’s a cynical joke. They manage to make light of and joke about something as serious as the 911 attacks or even the recent school shootings. The point made here, I believe, is that crude and flippant words lead inevitably to perverted actions. It is a slippery slope. Once we begin to slide, it is nearly impossible to stop until we find ourselves at the bottom. We begin with words, or music, or TV or movies or clothing that seems relatively tame but which in fact pushes the boundary more and more so that before we know it, we have convinced ourselves and one another, that just about anything is ok. When we push the boundaries of safety in our words or some of these other areas, we should not be surprised when we get burned. It is similar to the person who keeps a wild animal in his home and is later malled or killed by it. What appears to be relatively tame is in fact wild and can become dangerous with only a little provocation. Calvin, in a sermon on these verses writes, “…when there is talking about all kinds of ungodliness and leave is given to use loose speech, every man will give himself to it, so that custom will go for law, and men will take [sexual immorality and greed] to be lawful.” “Thus are snares laid to us with which to catch us…” “Pleasant tales that are told to make the world laugh…but also to cause them to accept it as a permitted thing, so that there may be common talk about it, and that it may become table talk… and an ordinary communication in the streets and everywhere else…to harden men’s hearts that they may think to themselves, ‘Every man is involved in this.’ And if only vices can once be made common, then it seems that they possess the field.” Calvin says further that participating in such talk is like cutting a trench to convey a river of sin to yourself instead of cutting a trench to convey the rivers of sin around yourself. You will be overcome by it! “But,” you may say, “I’m surrounded by people who think these things are no big deal, they’re telling me everyone’s doing it, it’s normal, just a little bit won’t hurt you. Not only that, I actually want to do some of this stuff myself. Well, not like I used to. Actually, now I want to do the right thing, but yeah, I struggle with my desires. I want to do the right thing, but I also want to do things like these that I know now are wrong. How do I deal with all this?”
- Love Provides an alternative
This leads us to the second point. God’s love not only pinpoints the danger, God’s love provides an alternative to these dangerous sins. In place of sinful actions, God provides holy-living. Instead of sinful words, God provides thanks-giving. These are found in verses 3 and 4. (3 as is proper among saints…4 but instead let there be thanksgiving.) Just as wise and loving parents provide a safe alternative to turning over rocks and lumber in the backyard by purchasing or building playground equipment or other toys for their children, so our wise and loving God in Christ provides safe alternatives to the dangers of sin for us. Because Christ has cleansed us from sin with his blood, he calls us “saints” or “holy ones” who are empowered for holy-living. In Christ, we are made holy; we are set apart for God and his purposes for our lives. Because we are made holy in Christ, avoiding sinful actions is “proper” or “fitting” or appropriate among us as his saints. Instead of entertaining sinful desires for what God has not provided, we are empowered to find contentment with what God has provided in both sexual relations and material possessions. We are reminded of 1 Co.10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Not only does God, by his grace, provide holy-living as an alternative to sinful actions, He also provides thanks-giving as an alternative to coarse or flippant words. In Christ, we are encouraged and empowered to express our contentment with our words. We give thanks to God for things as they really are – serious, joyful or sad – as it fits the occasion. And we thank God for enabling us to be content with his gifts as they are – whether of abstinence or marriage or material possessions. As Isaiah 26:3 says, You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
- Love APpeals to our calling
Not only does God’s love in Christ pinpoint the dangers and provide alternatives to sin. Third, God’s love appeals to our calling. We see this in verse 3. By calling us “saints” he first warns us gently by reminding us of our high calling. He says in effect, “You have been redeemed by the blood of the Son of God; will you return to slavery? You have been adopted as a child of the King, will you return to wallow with the pigs? You have been raised from the dead; will you return to the tomb? Like loving parents gently appeal to their children’s sense of family or goodness or rightness, God gently appeals to us to warn us away from the dangers of sin. As our former Pastor’s grandmother used to say to him whenever he went out with his friends as a teenager, “If sinners entice thee, consent thee not.” God begins with a gentle appeal calling us “saints – holy ones.” But if we will not listen, he has a backup plan.
- Love Portends the consequences
Fourth, God’s love portends (or threatens) the consequences of continued and persistent disobedience. This is found in verse 5. 5 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.
If God doesn’t get our attention with a gentle appeal to our high calling, he threatens a more severe and serious loss of our inheritance in the kingdom. Like a frustrated and angry parent having tried gentler measures threatens to make the child move out of the house or disinheritance of the family estate, so God warns those who would persist in their disobedience. When our sons were old enough, at times, we used this kind of measure saying, “If you can’t obey the rules of this household, then you’ll have to move out and make it on your own.” Unlike human parents, God may become angry, but he never loses control. His love for us includes calculated controlled anger and threats in order to persuade us to repentance and restoration. He reminds us that there are those who have resisted him to the point of losing everything. Don’t you be among them!!!
- Love Perseveres to the end
Finally, God’s love in Christ perseveres to the end. What verse 5 is not saying is that all who have committed such sins are rejected by God. None of us can say we are innocent of all the sins listed here! He means that those who persist in these sins, who continue to take pleasure in them, and are hardened by them so that there is no longer any fear of God in them to restrain them will never participate in the inheritance of the saints. In 1 Cor 6:8-11 Paul includes a similar list of vices and a similar threat to those who persist in their disobedience, but he concludes with “and such were some of you.” We were all born in sin and have participated in some of these same sins, but by the gift of God we have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. Your desire to serve God, to live holy lives and lives of thanksgiving are evidence that God has drawn you, that you have not come of your own will. You have come by the call of God, by the new birth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit through the shed blood of Christ. God’s gracious love will preserve you – in spite of your sin, and the sin around you, and the temptations of the devil – to the end. So fight the good fight of faith with the strength that Christ provides. Thank God that though sin still dwells in you, it no longer reigns over you. We have a new king reigning in you and over you – King Jesus. Help one another to keep the fire in the fireplace. Utilize the alternatives of holy-living and thanks-giving that God provides. Receive and heed God’s gentle warnings – or if you are more stubborn – heed God’s not-so-subtle threats. All discipline is for our good, to bring us to repentance and restoration, whether gentle or strong. It is the sure evidence of God’s love for us. And remember God’s promise to see us through to the end come what may. Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude1:24-25)