Things to Avoid

“But sexual immorality and all impurity… must not even be named among you…” (Ephesians 5:3)

Bible Reading: Ephesians 5:3-5

There is a marked change in the tone of this next section of Paul’s letter. It is no longer simple encouragement and exhortation; his words have an edge of urgency and warning about them. The apostle stresses things (especially behaviour patterns) that Christians are to avoid.

The first of these is “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness” (Ephesians 5:3). These things, he says, must “not even be named among you, as is proper of saints.”

As I read these words I am reminded of the strong terms God uses to describe the practices of the nations that surrounded Israel. He refers to their “abominations” (Leviticus 18:26-29). That word captures the severity of God’s hatred of them – practices such as ritual prostitution, child sacrifice and the like. In God’s eyes, these were abhorrent, activities that provoked his loathing, disgust and outrage. Little wonder that his people were warned against participating in them, or in any associations (such as marriage to foreigners) that might lead to them.

Paul’s warnings here are a precise counterpart to this. The sexual immorality, impurity and covetousness of the ancient Greco-Roman world were simply current versions of the same evils. And correspondingly, God’s people, as “saints” or his chosen holy ones, were to have nothing to do with them. Practices so hateful to God could never be condoned or even mentioned by his people.

Not so openly vile, perhaps, speech patterns belonging to the same moral category were also to be avoided. Paul lists “filthiness… foolish talk… and crude joking” as forms of talking to be avoided (v. 4). Such things, he insists, are “out of place” for Christians. Instead, their speech is to major on “thanksgiving.”

Paul often mentions this element of conversation. For example, in writing to the Colossians he says, “Whatever you do in word or deed do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). Earlier in the same letter, he had urged the believers in Colossae to continue walking in Christ, “rooted and built up in him, established in the faith… abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossian 2:6, 7). These are but two of many examples from his letters.

The Christian life is to be a life so filled with God himself that it spontaneously overflows in words of thanksgiving. It is this rather than sordid jokes, off-colour stories, and hurtful slander that is to occupy our conversations. 

It hardly needs to be said how relevant these words are to us today. We not only live in a culture where these practices and ways of speaking are common, but modern technology brings them into our homes and private spaces. Consequently, the possibility of being affected by the abominations of the world is ever-present, perhaps more forcefully so in our day than ever before.

 Christians need to draw clear lines here. Bombarded as we are by words and images belonging to forbidden practices, we cannot be too careful about what we see and hear.

Closing Thoughts:

  • Is Paul simply being prudish in these instructions?
  • Is avoidance the best way to guard against being affected by the evils of modern culture?

– Andrew Young