By Simon Presland
I admire my senior minister more than any other person I know. He is one of the godliest men I’ve ever met. He exudes grace; his words are full of wisdom; he is gentle when dealing with people; and he is always looking for an opportunity to share Christ with the lost.
One evening, while I was in his office going over some upcoming events with him, he made a comment that has stuck with me for years. He said, “If you really love God with all of your heart, you won’t do anything to hurt him.” These words can knock on my heart when I am tempted to say or do something wrong. I don’t always heed their wisdom, but on many occasions they have been the deciding factor in my conversations and actions.
The apostle Paul lived out the concept my minister described. In Ephesians 5:1 Paul tells us to “follow God’s example.” From verses 2 through 20, he goes on to explain how we can do this. Paul is saying that when we love God, we’ll live as he does, and our lives will reflect his character and nature. When we live this way, we’ll never hurt him. But what example is God giving us to follow?
Whenever we see the word therefore it means “because of, in view of, or for this reason/these reasons.” Paul uses therefore in Ephesians 5:1. He is telling us that we must consider everything he said previously.
In chapter 1 he describes the blessings God has given us. In chapter 2 he speaks of our relationship to God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. In chapter 3 Paul recounts his position as a prisoner for Jesus Christ and the call on his life to share the gospel. In chapter 4 Paul explains the importance of being part of the body of Christ, the giving of leadership gifts for the building up of the body, and how we should act toward one another. In view of all of this, in chapter 5 Paul details ways in which we can reflect God’s character and likeness.
Conduct Toward Christians
Paul’s first concern is that we “walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). Love and sacrifice are hallmarks of Christ’s character. We are aware that God loved us enough to sacrifice his own son, Jesus Christ, for us (John 3:16). We should be equally aware that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, italics mine). Think about that: while you and I were away from God and steeped in our worldly ways, Jesus gave his life for us. If we fully comprehended this fact, we would realize the love the Godhead has for us, and that love would compel us to constantly look for ways to love each other (2 Corinthians 5:14).
In Ephesians 5:3, 4, Paul lists actions that do not reflect Christ’s character and nature: sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking. Why does Paul list these? One reason is that they are worldly actions; they diminish our testimony, and they are the antithesis of love.
Instead, Paul exhorts us to live a life of thanksgiving. Why thanksgiving? When we have thankful hearts, our minds are focused on God, not ourselves. Thanksgiving helps us to rise above the actions Paul previously listed (see also Acts 16:25). Being thankful is also a powerful witness to unbelievers that our hope and joy come from God, not from the situations we find ourselves in.
A Sober Warning
Paul’s next words of counsel carry a sober warning. In Ephesians 5:5 he says, “No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” In verses 6 and 7, Paul explains that there are people who act in these ways and they think they are going to Heaven. In our society, some think that if they have been baptized, they have their names on a church membership list, or they attend church periodically, they can live how they want and still make it to Heaven—because they consider themselves to be good people.
In Paul’s day, spreading throughout the early church was a heresy called gnosticism. Gnostics believed that everything material was evil, and the physical world was not created by God—only the spiritual was pure; our physical bodies were full of evil. They also taught that Jesus did not come in the flesh; he was simply a divine apparition. Only the spirit realm mattered, so people could do what they wanted in the natural and still go to Heaven. They could commit sexual sins; they could be greedy and lustful; they could do anything they wanted because nothing done in the flesh would be held against them. Paul had to sternly come against such false teachings, as did the other apostles in their writings (2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1-6).
Consistent with Paul’s teachings are the reminders he offers in Ephesians 5:8-11. While Christians must identify false doctrines and not associate with those who teach them (v. 7), we must also guard against judgmental and pious attitudes.
Paul points out that “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” We are to “find out what pleases the Lord” in doctrine, in conduct, in attitude. Living in the light of God’s love and mercy causes us to “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.” Rather, we “expose them” by living Christlike and Christ-pleasing lives (vv. 8-11). It is Christ in us “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) who brings conviction. It is his light shining through us that exposes the darkness around us.
In Ephesians 5:15-20, Paul lays out our personal responsibilities before the Lord. He exhorts us to “be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” What opportunities is Paul talking about? Every day we have opportunities to share the gospel. If we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit, he will give us an encouraging word to share; he will open someone’s heart to hear the gospel; he will prompt us to pray for someone. Every opportunity that comes our way gives us a chance to do kingdom work.
However, sometimes we get too busy to hear the Holy Spirit. We get so caught up in taking care of ourselves and our families and doing the things we need to do that we completely miss the still, small voice of the Lord. It takes a conscious effort on our part to look with spiritual eyes, to hear with spiritual ears, and to have a heart that understands what God wants us to do. We must remain clear and sober-minded so that we can “understand what the will of the Lord is.”
At first glance, it seems strange that Paul would contrast being filled with the Spirit to getting drunk on wine. Getting drunk on wine (or any alcohol) can cause some to become mean, some to be overly friendly and outgoing, and others to lose control of themselves and their actions—none of which is honoring to the Lord. But when we are filled with the Spirit, our minds and hearts are fixed on God. We can then speak “to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit enables us to “sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” The Holy Spirit fills us with gratitude toward God so that we are “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul’s words are both encouraging and sobering; they cause us to check our hearts and our actions. They are also given to him from the very heart of God. And that is reason enough for us to put them into action.
Simon Presland is a freelance writer in Clinton Township, Michigan.
Moving Toward Holiness
None of us would say we want to hurt God, and yet our lives aren’t consistent with the truth we know about God. If we take an honest look at our lives, we’ll easily see that we aren’t always true imitators of God in the way we:
• treat other Christians
• maintain morality
• react to false teachings
• consider our responsibilities
• praise God
Don’t shut down or give in to guilt when you see that you don’t measure up—lean into God’s grace and his Word.
1. Thank God that his grace overcomes even your deepest inadequacy. Ask for his strength as you seek to reflect his holiness.
2. Pick one of the listed areas to focus on.
3. Often we can trace our shortcomings to having a shallow understanding of God’s truth—we say we believe it, but it hasn’t sunk deep enough to change our lives. Looking at the topic you chose from the list, develop a plan involving prayer, Scripture study, and accountability to help you grow in your understanding of how God wants you to behave in this area.
4. Give your life more deeply to the transformative work of Christ.