Ephesians 5:1-5, NRSV:
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us[a] and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints.4 Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. 5 Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
So I’m reading this again and again tonight, wondering what to say… And not a lot is coming to me except maybe this: Paul is doing a vice list here, laying out specific behaviors to avoid. He lists them twice, using the same terms, in v3 and v5, with a little caveat on obscene talk in v4.
Paul says we’re not to be:
– involved in “fornication,” which tends to mean adultery but is also used as a sort-of generic term for sexual sin. Greek here is Πορνεία, “porneia,” which is the same root word as prostitute and from which we derive “pornography,” which is perhaps literally translated “prostitution in writing.”
-impure– Greek ἀκαθαρσία, “a-catharsia” which denote uncleanliness, lewdness, and impurity, many times with a sexual connotation.
-Greedy, which he equates with idolatry.
In the midst of this, he says “obscene, silly, and vulgar talk” has no place among God’s people who are growing up.
The image I have in my mind is of a high school varsity (or perhaps college or pro-level) locker room. Lots of fornication, impurity, greediness talk. Lots of silly vulgar talk.
Now, I know not every person involved in high level sports or something is engaged in this garbage, and that athletes exist all over the place who try to embody a Christian ethic in a difficult spot… But I think the typical locker room stuff is a decent picture of what Paul is talking about here. And it’s the kind of stuff our society tends to promote: the womanizing, rich, carefree sports jock or rock star life.
Paul says such a life is not a Kingdom life. Instead, love (and that’s agape for those of you playing at home, not eros) must rule all… love that lays its life down for others. Love that holds its tongue and speaks εὐχαριστία (eucharistia) “thanksgiving” instead. (Yes, that is the same root from which our “Eucharist” or Holy Communion comes…)
I guess what this passage is saying to me is it’s time for the high school jock or rock star wanna be in all of us to grow up. The Kingdom life leads us elsewhere.