As you know, I’ve lost a lot of weight in the past months. Every week I hear from different ones of you talking about how I’ve changed outwardly. It’s funny, but you never really know the extent to which you’ve gained weight until after you’ve lost it; nor the degree to which people saw you as overweight. You kind of get used to the picture of yourself in the mirror. It wasn’t until after I didn’t have that identity anymore that I realized how much being obese defined my life, both to me and to you.
Our passage today asks us all to examine our own identities, what defines us. How do you do that? Your identity is found in what you love. For me, my love, and thus my identity, was my own comfort, and was expressed in eating food.
Now, we all fight this fight of loving ourselves too much, don’t we. For me, it was expressed in a misdirected desire for comfort as was evidenced in my being obese. For you, it may be that you express a misdirected desire to be accepted by looking like a cover model, as is evidenced in your eating next to nothing and spending lots of money on clothes. Or, as in our passage today, it could be that you express your love for yourself in having a misdirected desire for improper sexual relations as is expressed in your actions, desires, and words.
What’s amazing is that this exhortation by Paul is found right after he places the Church’s identity in the very household of God. Remember that in vs. 1-2, Paul tells us to “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.” This is to be our identity. We are God’s children! We are therefore to do what He does and speak as He does and think as He does! And what does that look like? Look to our elder brother, Jesus! He had a rightfully directed desire to love God and others, as was expressed in His giving Himself up in His life and ultimate death on the cross for us as an offering and sacrifice to God.
So, where do you find your identity? In the love that Christ has given us as an example? Self-sacrificial, for the sake of others? Or is your identity found in love of yourself. Self-indulgent, for the sake of you?
Keep these questions in mind as we examine vs. 3-6 by seeing what it is that we are to Put Off - Actions, Desires, and Speech that Don’t Belong; what we are to Put On - Thanksgiving That Points to God’s Good Provision; and finally the Motivation for the putting off and on - the Joy and Wrath of the Kingdom of Christ and God.
Before we jump into our vs. 3, I want to bring out that there are dangers with a passage like this one. One danger is presumption. You see the truth that those who have been given new life by the Holy Spirit have been redeemed - their sins have been borne by Christ on the cross, and they are given the righteousness of Christ so that they are seen as being like Him before God, the righteous judge. And this is true! But when we come to a passage like this one, sometimes we can miss the point that Paul is trying to make - if you, as one who claims to have his or her identity in Christ, but yet you are still having sexual immorality, impurity and greediness being named among you (and more than that you talk about it in lascivious ways), then you are acting in ways that are not “fitting” as those who are imitators of God in Christ. The one who does these things “has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” and is numbered with “the sons of disobedience.”
But there is another danger - doubt. In reading a passage like this, we become so overcome with what might disqualify us for the kingdom that we miss the grace that God has showed in our lives, maybe even doubting His power to rightly direct our misdirected desires. But notice Paul telling us that “sexual immorality and all impurity or greediness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” The good news here is that none of us are saints - apart from the atoning work of Christ on our behalf! Without Christ as our substitute both with regards to righteousness and wrath, we would not be saints! And Paul exhorts us here not to have these sins named among us because it doesn’t fit with the identity that we have in Christ!
What you and I need to understand, and past understanding to have fed into our every tissue and DNA strand, is that we live as sinful-saints until Christ brings to completion the work that He inaugurated two millennia ago. Until then, we struggle with finding ourselves grounded either in the identity of imitators of God, or that of imitating the world. So, my goal in preaching this text cannot be to downplay or up-play either of these two dangers. Both are possible. What Paul is exhorting us to do is to examine our desires. Examine your heart. Are you a child of God? If so, then see what it is that Paul is calling you to put off. If you aren’t finding your hope in Christ’s cross-work, then see how Paul is lovingly warning you of the consequences of your sin apart from Christ.
We are to put off what does not “fit” those who have their identity with Christ in God. Its like seeing Steak ‘n Shake setting up a booth at a Vegan convention. They don’t go together! Now, what doesn’t fit with those who have been made holy by the life and death of Jesus? Well, we could fill in the blank with many things, as Paul has been doing since 4:17- you were taught to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires...therefore having put away falsehood...Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil...Let the thief no longer steal...let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths...do not grieve the HS of God...Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” But Paul here is specific again in another area of life that we are to be continually putting off, not even having it named among us - and that area revolves around misdirected desires that are expressed in improper sexual conduct and speech.
He writes that “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness/greediness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints, nor filthiness nor foolish talk nor vulgar talk, which does not belong...” Now, the parallel passage to this one in Colossians was preached a few weeks ago on Sunday evening, but I want to briefly examine again what Paul is telling us to put away from us here.
1. Improper Actions
Sexual immorality is a two word interpretation of the one greek word porneia. Its meaning here is any sexual encounter that happens wrongly - that being, outside of the covenant of marriage. God gave mankind sex as a gracious act that images forth the love that Christ has for His bride, the Church. And when we take that image, and use it outside of the marital covenant, we give a skewed picture of the covenant that Christ has made with His Church. We get an image instead of a harlot whoring herself and bringing disgrace on her husband. This was what the nation of Israel did in the OT each time she submitted to worship the Baals and Ashteroth, thus we have the book of Hosea. He purposefully married a prostitute to be a physical imaging-forth of Israel’s sin and the heart-breaking covenant-rending they were committing. When we see sexual immorality, whether its adultery, prostitution, child abuse, or rape, we know that it is wrong! It is a skewed society that accepts this behavior among its citizens! And Paul is reminding us that as those who have their identity in Christ, it is not fitting at all for us to have sexual immorality in our midst, either as a church or as a disciple of Christ.
Paul speaks next of “all impurity.” He’s already pointed to the fact that the Gentiles, in the futility of their minds because of their hardness of heart have “become calloused and were greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (4:19). Paul retorts, “But that is not the way you learned Christ!” (4:20). We may think Paul here is simply using a different word for “sexual immorality” (of which we may think we are immune from doing), but notice the little word he adds just before impurity - all. We are to put off “all impurity.” This expands Paul’s focus on sexual encounters outside the marriage covenant and shines the light of the Word on all impurity, in context, having to do with sex.
And we need this clarity in our day, don’t we. Look at all of the ways that sex has inculcated our lives! The advertisements urge us to buy things based on our sexual desire for models and actors and actresses. In our own hidden little worlds we can have full access to all kinds of impure materials online, and even carry on impure relationships with others through social media. Young men and women see no problem having open conversations with each other, enticing each other even with pictures from their phones. But these impure flirtations with sexual immorality are not consistent with one whose identity is found as God’s children. If you are “imitators of God as beloved children,” and “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us,” then “all impurity” does not fit in your life. Put it away.
2. The Root - Improper Desires
And this sexually immoral and impure life is actually a form of self-love. Paul says, “Sexual immorality and all impurity, or greediness, must not even be named among you.” Paul explains the root of the outward fruit of sexual immorality and impurity is the root of greediness or covetousness. It is the inward desire that leads to the more outward impurity and all out sexual immorality. There is no sexual immorality or impurity that doesn’t begin with the inward desire of covetousness, a desire for what you don’t have. Remember Jesus’s words, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23).
You may be married, but feel that you are not being served well by your spouse physically. So, you begin to covet. You may be a single adult, and you more than anything want to be married and enjoy the physical expression of love that God has given to man. But you, for one reason or another, are not yet married, and in your anger and resentfulness, you covet. You may be a teenager who is nowhere near getting married, and you want what the world around you is telling you is rightfully yours. But instead of seeing God’s purpose for you in this time of your life, you become greedy. Hear Paul’s words to those who find their identity in Christ - these must not be named among you because they do not “fit” among those who’ve been united to Christ.
3. Improper Speech
And greediness, while possibly coming out of us in the form of sexual immorality and impurity, possibly won’t show itself in that way. You may be sitting here and honestly say that you’ve never committed sexual immorality, that you are pure sexually, that you aren’t greedy for sex. Paul recognized that as a possibility, but he was quick, and just as strong, to point out that talking about such things improperly is just as out of place in the person who gains their identity from Christ as the acts themselves. It could be that our desire for impurity shows itself in sinful speech. Filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking. Paul says these “don’t belong.” Why don’t they belong? Because you’re saints! Speaking of sex in ways that play down the beauty and significance that the act holds when done “fittingly” does not belong in the speech of those who are “walking in a way that is worthy of the calling with which they’ve been called” (4:1).
Over against all of these vices, sexual immorality and all impurity, summarized by greediness, which is wrongly spoken of by filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking, Paul now balances them with what we are to put on in their place. And we are surprised by it. Shouldn’t we, in the place of crude joking, put on uplifting speech? Shouldn’t we, in the place of impurity, put on good works that edify all who see? Paul doesn’t tell us to do these good things here. Instead, he points to the truth that we might miss if we quickly read over this passage, that the reason we have been sexually immoral, impure people, the reason we have been covetous, the reason that our mouths are dirty is this - we are not thankful. And you say, huh?
Now, this is important to see. What defiles us? That which comes from within, not that which comes from outside us. In the case or our passage, sexual immorality and all impurity, begins inside us, with our heart being greedy or covetous of something we don’t have. Paul sees that the reason we venture into sexual sin and speech is that we at root are not content with the provision of the Lord, therefore we covet, which leads to these sins and more. So, Paul is telling us to redirect our discontentedness and be thankful for where God has us. In a sense, thankfulness is the Christian life!
When we consider the good gift of sex to all mankind, we can do nothing but be thankful to our Creator! We are here because of this gift! We are not as close to any person as we are to those with whom we experience this gift, thus it is the kind gift of God to those who have chosen to covenant with each other, again, imaging forth the picture of Christ’s union with His Bride - the Church. We should be thankful for this grace gift!
And it may be that you are not married, and you therefore can’t have sex that glorifies God yet, and maybe you’re angry about it. Paul’s word to you here is the same as to the rest of us - thanksgiving. Understand that the Lord is just as much sovereignly reigning over your life circumstance as He is the family here with many children. So instead of coveting, be thankful for the station of life the Lord has you now, and find ways to bring Him glory, much the way our Lord Jesus did while on earth.
So we see that we are to put off covetousness that shows itself in sexual immorality and impurity, as well as the sinful speech that may spring up, and we see that we are to put on thanksgiving because of the bountiful grace that God has shown us, but what is the motivation Paul gives us for doing this? It is twofold:
And to those who find their identity in being children of God, we have a good motivation to put off the old self of sexual impurity, and to put on the new self of thanksgiving - An inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God, given to us as a gift. We should be shown wrath along with the “sons of disobedience,” but we are shown grace. Apart from the atonement that Christ has secured, we are not different with regards to our works, thus Paul is telling us to put them off that we may follow Christ well.
But because the Gentiles in Ephesus who were coming out of a culture of rampant sexual immorality, outrageous in speech denigrating the gracious act that God had given to celebrate the marriage covenant, and because we today are surrounded by cultures that do the same, Paul through the inspiration of the HS, gives a stern warning regarding what will happen to those who find their identity in these sins.
And again, let me warn you that you may be blind to the fact that you are living here in these sins. You may not see it. So let me encourage you to examine Paul’s warning here and take a hard look at your desires and actions and speech. Are you showing a heart of thankfulness for God’s provision? Or are you shortcutting God’s plan and trying to find other ways to fill your life? If so, see what then awaits you...
Paul repeats the kinds of people of which he is speaking: the sexually immoral, impure, covetousness, which he pinpoints is idolatry. When we have the inward desire of coveting sex, even when we are not married to the person with which we desire it, we are showing we are not happy with God’s provision for us, and we begin to seek what we want apart from God. That is idolatry - setting up something else as being more worthy of thought and action than God. It may be that the idol we are worshiping is someone else, but ultimately, as with all sin, we are seeking to worship ourselves when we do this.
And when we seek this kind of life, that of immorality and impurity and covetousness, we know, Paul says, that we do not have an inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God. It is just that evident. We show that we have never been transferred into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son from the domain of darkness, because we still identify with the darkness. Paul warns us not to be deceived with empty words. And I know you’ve heard these words, whispering from people you know, from the radio, from the television and movies, from all other forms of media we consume. You hear the empty words that try to deceive you from the truth that continual partakers in sexual immorality and impurity and covetousness have no inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God. Why don’t those who practice such things have an inheritance in the Kingdom? Paul says that “because of these things the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience.” They are following the prince of the power of the air, Satan (2:2)
The warning is real. God’s wrath is coming for those who practice these things, whose identity is found in them. But it need not be your story. Paul said to the Corinthians under similar circumstances, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). Paul is urging us to put on our identity as children of God, to put away these misdirected loves that we may see our inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God and that we might not experience the wrath coming on the sons of disobedience. Put away the sexual immorality, impurity and covetousness that is in your life! Seek your joy and fulfillment, your identity, in the one who can only really complete your desires! Show your joy in being a child of God by being thankful to your Father who has provided all you need for life and godliness!
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