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.
Ephesians 5:3-6 ESV
After beginning chapter five with two powerful commands (“be imitators of God” and “walk in love”), which were grounded in immeasurably great realities (we are “beloved children” and Christ has “loved us and gave himself up for us”), the Apostle Paul proceeds onward to present the opposite of walking in love and in imitation of God. In fact, these four verses act as a kind of chiastic mirror to verses 1-2. Verses 3-4 give us the “put off” version of verse 2’s “put on” nature, and verses 5-6 give us a warning which very much parallels verse 1. These two divisions, therefore, will also divide this sermon, as we are first warned to put off sinful practices and then reminded of the eternal consequences of failing to do so.
WHICH ARE OUT OF PLACE // VERSES 3-4
Verse 3 begins with the word but, which is a significant conjunction. But means that something is being contrasted, that a difference between two things is being highlighted. The frontside of this conjunction is verse 2’s command to “walk in love,” which is now being contrasted to verse 3, sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. The first two (sexual immorality and all impurity) appear to be closely linked together, as if sexual immorality is a particular form of impurity that Paul wishes to make mention of specifically. Yet the third covetousness is connected to the others by the word or, almost like they are exclusive to one another. We know, however, that covetousness is the root of much impurity, including sexual immorality. Instead, I believe that Paul is using sexual immorality and all impurity to typify committed sins, whereas covetousness is representative of sins of desire. Of course, the only difference between sins desired and actually committed are the earthly consequences. Covetousness concludes the Ten Commandments and, as we will see in a moment, is merely another term for idolatry. Damnation awaits both sins in action and in dream.
Ultimately, these sins are contradictory to walking in love. Last week, we mentioned the LGBT movement’s darkened use of “Love Wins,” yet we should take care that we do not limit sexual immorality to only mean homosexuality. The word porneia, which Paul uses, is the origin of our word pornography, and it encompasses every sexually deviant behavior. In fact, the word deviant is perfectly applied because anything that deviates from God’s design for sex is porneia, sexual immorality.
By departing from the design of the God who is love, sexual immorality is also opposed to walking in love. For instance, take cohabitation. What is the harm with living together unmarried, some argue? Marriage is just a piece of paper and a ceremony, right? Wrong. Marriage is a covenant, a commitment, a pledge. Life together without such a commitment can only created an unsteady foundation. To refuse such a promise of faithfulness is an unloving act of self-preservation that refuses to grant security to the other person. And the wobbliness of it all only compounds if children are placed on top of the real-life Jenga tower.
In the same way, no one can walk in love toward another person if they are simultaneously coveting their life or possessions. I am unable to genuinely rejoice in my brother’s happiness, while also coveting his home. Covetousness is an easily overlooked seed that, when growing, strangles love at its roots. Also, as we noted when discussing the Tenth Commandment, we must also be wary of the subtle desire to inspire covetousness with the heart of our neighbor, which is tempting a brother or sister into sin. Such behavior is antithetical to love.
Paul, therefore, concludes that such sins must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Is the apostle advocating a head-in-the-sand form of Christianity, where we are naïve to the sins of the world around us? Not at all. Next week, Paul will command us to expose “the unfruitful works of darkness,” which by necessity means bringing them to light and making them known. If anything, because we know the cause and depth of our world’s brokenness, we should have a clearer view of sinful depravity than anyone. Yet Paul says that these things must not even be named among you to highlight our conduct in this world. Although we must be “wise as serpents,” we must also be “innocent as doves” because we are “sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). We should take great care never to become comfortable with even the mention of sin because we are now saints, the holy ones of God. Recall that God chose us in Christ “that we should be holy and blameless before him” (1:4). It is improper, therefore, for us to lose sight of the hideous nature of sin.
Another application of this phrase that became apparent to me throughout this week is that this refusal to even name such sins encourages us to set our eyes upon God Himself rather than the brokenness of the world. In the Parable of the Sower, some of the seeds grow yet become unfruitful because they are strangled by “the cares of the world” (Matthew 13:22). I have always thought of “the cares of the world” as meaning the lesser pleasures of the world which suffocate the supreme joy of the LORD. Yet could not an obsession with the world’s brokenness also strangle us away from the Remedy. We should rightly stand against injustice. We should be givers of mercy as receivers of God’s vast mercy. However, we must remember that this world cannot be made right. The poor will always be with us (Matthew 26:11) until this earth and the heavens are “set on fire and dissolved” (2 Peter 3:12). We must not allow our hearts to be consumed with temporal things, for if unchecked they will turn us away from the Eternal One. Again, Paul’s call is not for us to be naïve of the sin around us, but we must never give it the dignity of holding our thoughts and meditations.
Verse 4, likewise, gives us a set of three sins from which to flee, but this time they are pertain particularly to our speech. Remember that Paul has already commanded our speech to be gracious for building up one another rather than corrupting and a grief to the Holy Spirit. Now he commands let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. John Calvin describes the meaning of these three items as:
By filthiness I understand all that is indecent or inconsistent with the modesty of the godly. By foolish talking I understand conversations that are either unprofitably or wickedly foolish; and as it frequently happens that idle talk is concealed under the garb of jesting or wit, he expressly mentions pleasantry, — which is so agreeable as to seem worthy of commendation, — and condemns it as a part of foolish talking The Greek word εὐτραπελία is often used by heathen writers, in a good sense, for that ready and ingenious pleasantry in which able and intelligent men may properly indulge. But as it is exceedingly difficult to be witty without becoming satirical, and as jesting itself carries in it a portion of conceit not at all in keeping with the character of a godly man, Paul very properly dissuades from this practice.
The phrase which are out of place brings to my mind two hypothetical images. First, a person berating a deceased person and his or her family at a funeral, and second, a man shoving the groom aside at the first kiss of a wedding to kiss the groom’s bride instead. Both scenarios are so squeamish to imagine because something out of place is happened. They are departures from what is proper during two very solemn ceremonies, and we rightly cringe. Similarly, filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking are out of place among the saints because we are holy. We belong exclusively to God, and we are now imitators of Him. A very sure test, therefore, to see where a particular choice of speech is befitting among the saints is simply to answer this question: Could I say it before the throne of God? If not, then such speech is also out of place among God’s people who are imitating Him, being “created after the likeness of God” (4:24), and “a holy temple in the Lord” (2:21). Such speech is not made in love.
Instead, Paul says that our speech should be marked by thanksgiving. John Chrysostom makes a poignant point regarding this command:
You are not to indulge in that form of silly talk that is not befitting to this community. Better to offer thanksgiving than to spew out such talk. What good is it if you make an unbefitting witticism? All you have done is raise a laugh. Tell me, does the shoemaker use any instrument that does not benefit his trade? Would he purchase a tool that does not contribute to his craft? Of course not. Similarly, that which is of no use to our purpose is nothing to us.
We must, therefore, turn away from worthless speech because we are children of the One who is supremely worthy of all praise and all glory. Constant thanksgiving is our proper response as beloved children of the Almighty, not frivolity, which by its very nature takes the good gifts of our loving Father for granted.
YOU MAY BE SURE OF THIS // VERSES 5-6
Now that we have seen what we are to avoid, the apostle moves on to supply us with a proper motivation for killing these sins of deed, desire, and speech. Verse 5 parallels verse 3, repeating the same three sins again, 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. Verse 6 then parallels verse 4 by emphasizing speech, let no one deceive you with empty words, which is a fitting summary of all that filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking amount to.
Each of these items is a festering, rotting caricature of the bountiful feast of God’s kingdom. Sexual immorality asserts freedom over the God-designed bounds for sex, yet can you feel the heaviness of the chains that our society is upon itself. Like all idols, a deified sex becomes both everything and nothing. Sex is first declared to be utterly common and unremarkable, while in the same breath being attached to a person’s very identity. If it is no big deal yet it also defines who you are, then what does that make you? Sexual immorality makes us the center of the universe, but in doing so, it collapses the universe in upon us. It makes us into gods, but only by redefining the definition of god into looking an awful lot like ourselves.
The same is true of the other sins as well. They pretend to give us happiness, but it is only a bait and switch. Impurity only separates us from the Pure One. Covetousness only has us chasing after wind and pouring water into leaking cisterns. Empty words only turn us away from the Word that was made flesh to dwell among us and die for us. Indeed, Tozer writes that “To commit sin, a man must for the moment believe that things are different from what they really are. He must confound values—he must see the moral universe out of focus.” For this reason, the persistently and unrepentant sinner cannot be a beloved child but only a child of disobedience. They do not walk in love as Christ loved us; therefore, they have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. These verses are the inverse of Paul’s declaration regarding believers in verses 1-2.
Let us return again to how Paul began verses 5 and 6 by driving the security of this thought home: for you may be sure of this and let no one deceive you. Mark this down, the apostle says, as absolute fact: the sinner has no inheritance in the kingdom but will only meet the wrath of God as a child of disobedience. Indeed, these two descriptions paint a portrait of the same reality. To be outside the kingdom is to be under the wrath of God. The author of Hebrews tells us this by declaring that God will soon shake all things, except all who belong to His unshakable kingdom.
Although we may wrestle perpetually with grasping the heaviness of the doctrine of Hell, the testament of Scripture is steadfast, clear, and firm. All who reject Christ in favor of their sins will find themselves handed over to their fruit of their sins for all eternity. No earthly king permits his enemies into his kingdom, and even within our own homes, we will use a variety of methods to keep pests such as ants, roaches, and mice away. Sin is the great enemy and the cosmic pest that continues to plague us. The King cannot permit the cancer upon creation to enter the bliss of His kingdom.
There are only two choices that every, single person on this planet must make. We can set our gaze firmly upon Christ, crucifying our sins daily until our salvation is complete and the last of sinful desires perishes alongside our earthly bodies, or we can look upon literally anything else, yielding to sin until, at last, we become so united to our sin that there is no longer any real difference between it and us. The first is growing from life to being ever more alive; the second is a death decaying into perpetual dying.
Joe Rigney attempts to describe this banishment from the kingdom into the Lake of Fire:
Just as heaven is an everlasting journey further up and further in to unending joy and being and reality, hell is an everlasting fall further down and farther out to eternal misery and nonbeing and unreality… Perhaps the damned exist (we dare not call it living) in that endlessly recurring moment when the cutting locust, the gnawing emptiness, the inhuman brute that bears our own likeness begins to devour us. As the Scripture says, the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:48). The fire consumes; it is ever-consuming, but nothing is ever finally consumed. Endless death, as Augustine said, is endless dying. The horror is real and everlasting.
Yet the terror of Hell must be met with the splendor of Heaven, of being for all eternity in the presence of the One who gives “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). In fact, it pleases the Father to give us such joy. As Jesus told His disciples, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). The King of kings does not welcome us into His kingdom grudgingly; rather, He slaughtered our sin through His Son’s own death and adopted us as His children through that precious blood.
As beloved children, ours is the kingdom of God and of Christ. May we, therefore, cast away all sins of word, deed, and desire, things which are out of place among God’s redeemed saints.
 For what it’s worth, I believe that the wide acceptance of homosexuality in our society is merely the fruit of decades of deviant sexual thinking and practice. The slippery slope argument is often brought up regarding what kinds of behavior that acceptance of homosexuality might lead to; however, the slope has been societal water slide since at least the 60s. The hesitancy of the church to denounce no-fault divorce and cohabitation paved the way for homosexuality’s prominence today.
 John Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians, 5:4.
 John Chrysostom, ACCS: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 184.
 A. W. Tozer, Tozer Speaks Vol 1, 94.
 Joe Rigney, C. S. Lewis on the Christian Life, 261.