Ephesians 5 – Paul Goes Commando

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Today’s Passage: Ephesians 5

All the Paul! Not just some of the Paul! Not just a select portion of the Paul! All of it!

Paul is heavy on the commands in this chapter. Continuing his exhortations to moral behavior from the last chapter, he uses fifteen imperative verbs in the space of thirty-three verses, and if we expand the category to include implied commands and participial phrases used to convey normative behavior, we get something like twenty-five instances. Bottom line: that’s a lot you gotta do.

But the majority of the chapter–at least as I read it–is just Paul filling in the details. The big-picture command comes at the very start of the chapter: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (1). How do children get socialized, learn what’s acceptable behavior, and find their place in the world? They begin by imitating their parents. If you want to be perfect, look to God in Jesus Christ as your example. Jesus Christ didn’t waste time goofing around with pointless jokes (4). He didn’t buy into the lies of deceivers (6); on the flip side, he called sin for what it is and refused to participate in it (11), even while he worked to redeem the people perpetuating evil. He didn’t get drunk, he got filled with the Spirit (18). Jesus Christ is the bar to reach for.

The second half of the chapter, though, is about how husbands and wives are supposed to treat each other. And insofar as Jesus Christ never married, you can’t really look to him for an example on that. Okay, look, growing in Christlikeness will improve your marriage, but you know what I mean, Mr. Semantics Police.

Amidst all this instruction, though, is a statement that seems inimical to grace. Paul declares: “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” (5). Isn’t grace about God making up for our moral inadequacy? And here’s Paul offering grounds for disqualification. Covet something, or commit sexual immorality, and you forfeit your inheritance. Where’s the grace in that?

Well, I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying with that statement. The fact is, when God completely establishes his kingdom, nobody is going to be bowing down before gold statues of fish dudes or lusting after his neighbor’s Maserati. So if you are a person who puts his faith in Christ yet find yourself still doing stuff like that, rest assured that God won’t leave you a Maserati-luster or gold-fish-statue-worshipper. He’s going to change you. He’s going to get you ready to inherit the kingdom. You’re like some five-year-old prince, not yet ready to assume the responsibilities of full adulthood, and Dad God’s gonna grow you up.

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