The walk suitable to the children of light: no fellowship with sins of the flesh.
The fearful prevalence of sensual vice at Ephesus naturally led the apostle to dwell on it emphatically as one of the worst rags of the old man, a rag to be wholly and forever cast away. But, indeed, there are few heathen communities where sensual vice does not flourish when men have it in their power to indulge in it. It is singular how universal sin is in connection with the irregular and disorderly indulgence of the bodily appetites. It would seem as if God made this a special matter of probation, for when these appetites get the upper hand, they lead into terrible excesses, and, by bringing disease on both mind and body, avenge the sin to which they have impelled. First, they tempt men to sin, and then, as if in heartless mockery, they scourge them for having sinned. We find here—
I. SINS OF THE FLESH DENOUNCED , with a corresponding sin of the spirit—covetousness ( Ephesians 5:3 , Ephesians 5:4 ).
II. REASONS WHY SUCH SINS SHOULD BE RENOUNCED BY CHRISTIANS .
1. NO such person has any inheritance in the kingdom of God ( Ephesians 5:5 ).
2. The wrath of God cometh—is present and visible—for such things on very evil men (Sodom and Gomorrah, Canaanites, etc.) ( Ephesians 5:6 ).
3. They belong to the world of darkness, and Christians are children of light ( Ephesians 5:8 ).
4. Christians, as living in the Spirit, should bring forth the fruit of the Spirit ( Ephesians 5:9 ).
5. They should ascertain and follow only what is pleasing to Christ ( Ephesians 5:10 ).
III. REASONS WHY SUCH SINS SHOULD BE REPROVED BY CHRISTIANS .
1. They are so evil that it is a sin even to speak of them ( Ephesians 5:12 ).
2. The true character of such sins is seen by light let in on them ( Ephesians 5:13 ).
3. The light has a tendency to transform ( Ephesians 5:13 ), and by letting in the light that shows the odiousness of the sin you may be the means of changing the sinner; while you reprove you may also improve him.
4. It is for this purpose the Church has got the light—when the light is brought to her, her Lord calls on her to awake and shine ( Ephesians 5:15 ). Such precepts and considerations have a wider bearing than Ephesus and its groves. Sins of the flesh flourish even in Christian lands. Young men! lay these things to heart; fear God and keep his commandments, and be not misled by any of the sophistry to which you listen; for they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts.
"Followers of God."
This is the high destiny of God's children.
I. THE DUTY HERE COMMANDED . "Be ye imitators of me." It is to do
The special point of imitation here is the duty of showing a forgiving spirit to one another.
II. WHY WE SHOULD IMITATE GOD .
1. Because we are his " dear children ." Whom should children imitate but their father? Believers have had experience of their Father's wisdom, love, and power, and it is only an instinct of filial love to imitate such a Father.
2. Because we were originally made in his image ( Genesis 1:26 ), and though that image has been marred by sin, it is to be renewed in the process of a Christian experience ( Ephesians 4:23 ).
3. Holiness consists in the imitation of God . "Because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy" ( 1 Peter 1:16 ).
4. The prospect of perfect likeness to God in the day of our Lord ' s appearing . ( 1 John 3:2 .)
III. MEANS TOWARDS THE FULFILMENT OF THIS DUTY .
1. Pray without ceasing , especially for fuller measures of his grace, for larger disclosures of his love, for a deeper insight into his truth.
2. Live continually as being under his eye . ( Psalms 139:6 , Psalms 139:7 .)
3. Consider how others have followed him . ( 1 Corinthians 11:1 .)—T.C.
The love and the wrath of God enforcing morality.
Paul is still working for the unity of the Church and calling for that watchful and pure walk on the part of the Ephesians which can alone promote it. He consequently brings to bear upon them the allied motives of the love and the wrath of God. And here we may remark, in passing, that the moralities which have tried to work themselves without the aid of Divine sanctions have proved practically powerless. No "independent morality" has as yet rendered any appreciable service to the world. We still need to be overshadowed by the Divine. Paul, moreover, begins with love, and then passes on to the fact of the Divine wrath. And—
I. THE LOVE OF GOD PATERNAL AND FRATERNAL SHOULD MOVE US TO MUTUAL LOVE .
(Verses 1, 2.) The Ephesians are exhorted to follow their Divine Father as dear children. The constant love of the heavenly Father lights all the children on their way and rebukes their want of love. The first motive in this section is, therefore, paternal love a call to children of God to be loving like their Father in heaven. But the second motive is from the fraternal love of Christ, which led him out of consideration for us to "give himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell" (Revised Version). The self-sacrifice of Christ, we are here taught, was a very precious offering in the Father's sight. In the cross the Father for the first time saw perfect obedience carried up to the point and in the article of death. While in one aspect Jesus realized the Father's wrath on the cross, because the Substitute for sinners, in another aspect he was contemplated by the Father with the utmost complacency. Self-sacrifice is fully appreciated by our Father in heaven. Now, if God regarded with infinite delight the self-sacrifice of the only begotten Son for the sake of his brethren, there is no way in which we can delight our Father so much as by following in the Elder Brother's footsteps and being ready to sacrifice ourselves out of love to the brethren. What a spirit this would infuse into our Church life! Harless notices that in this passage Christ is really represented as both Priest and Victim. In the same way we may delight the mind of God in being victims and priests in our loving relations to the brethren.
II. THE WRATH OF GOD IS A REALITY TOWARDS THE COVETOUS AND UNCLEAN .
(Verses 3-7.) The idea that God will not be angry with wicked men must be dismissed from all minds, Righteous indignation against certain forms of evil is an experience of a most imperative and holy character. We should lose our reverence for a God who did not become angry with sinners. It was the more needful to affirm this truth at Ephesus, since the deities of heathenism were supposed to be addicted to such crimes as uncleanness and covetousness. Olympus was filled, by the impure imaginations of men, with a set of men and women who were for the most part fit for penitentiaries and state prisons. Morality received no backing from the mythology. But the thought that a God so loving as our heavenly Father is wrathful with the covetous and the unclean, and allows his wrath to burn against them, is surely calculated to wean men from such sins. There seems to have been insinuations in Paul's time that the Divine wrath against impurity and covetousness was mythical, just as such insinuation prevails at present. But surely the frightful punishment which these sins entail in the order of nature speak to the spirit of man about the reality of the Divine wrath. Not all the ameliorations of science can bring it about that men can so sin with impunity; the unclean are cursed in the very nature of things with a grievous curse, and the covetous suffer of necessity in their pinched and miserly souls. God is an angry God against those who love sin, and our only course is to forsake it. Hapless and Olshausen believe the word here rendered "covetousness" to mean in this connection "intemperance," the desire, not for gold, but for fleshly gratification—the making a god of the belly, and so an idolatry. Of course, if this sense be taken of πλεονεξία , it agrees better with the context and makes more emphatic Paul's appeal for purity. Do we make as much in these days of the Divine wrath as we should? As the love-pain of God, as one writer has called it, it is surely well fitted to enforce morality.
III. PAUL FURTHER SHOWS THAT THE DEEDS OF DARKNESS ARE UNFRUITFUL . (Verses 8-11.) He tells the Ephesians they were once in darkness, and did these deeds of darkness. But they have come into the light which is shed upon our path by our radiant Lord. They must walk, consequently as children of the light, remembering that the fruit of the light (so Revised Version) is in all goodness and righteousness and truth. Thus they would prove what is well-pleasing unto the Lord. In so doing they would have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but would rather reprove them. Now, in arguing that the works of darkness are "unfruitful," Paul is advocating morality on the ground of expediency. He has already applied the Divine sanctions, but he does not hesitate to back these up by showing that what God wills is good. Natural law endorses the Divine precepts. But this is quite distinct from the position that the natural law can secure obedience when it stands alone. All experience disproves this. Utilitarianism is not a sufficiently broad basis for a sound morality. But the expediency of moral rectitude is an important argument in its favor. Sooner or later a man who commits deeds of darkness finds he has made a mistake.
IV. BUT IT IS A PURE LIFE WHICH WILL REALLY REPROVE THEM .
(Verses 12-14.) It is thought sometimes by superficial people that accurate descriptions of the deeds of darkness will do something to disgust people with them. But this is Satan advising man again to become wiser by eating forbidden fruit. Paul's opinion is that it is a shame to speak and therefore to think of what is done by the sinful in secret. All the prurient curiosity which feasts itself like flies on foul corruption is of the devil The true plan, therefore, is not to mention such matters. Let them be buried in oblivion, but let Christians awake from all lethargic slumber, and arise from the corruption of spiritual death, and in the light of Christ live purely. Thus shall the deeds of darkness be reproved. All that we have to do then is to carry in the light, and the darkness and its deeds will stand convicted before us. The Ephesians are to indulge in no scandalous conversation under the pretence of defeating the doers of the dark deeds; but they are to walk in the light of Christ and be pure, and lo! the sinners shall hide themselves before them.
V. TIME MAY BE REDEEMED BY HOLY LIVING .
(Verses 15, 16.) There has been some discussion as to the exact meaning of "time" in this passage. Hapless is clearly of opinion—in which, as in most matters, he is followed by his French disciple, M. Monod—that "opportunity" ( der rechte Zeitpunkt ) best expresses τὸν καιρόν . Paul is consequently anxious that in evil days, such as those upon which the Ephesians have fallen, they should be watchful and wise enough to "buy up eagerly their opportunity," and do the best they can for their age. This is by holy living. There is no other way of understanding the times and fulfilling our course in them. It will thus be seen that Paul appeals to the Ephesians, by both the love and wrath of God, by the expediency and power of a pure life, to walk worthy of their high calling. In this way he expects to enlist them in the great army of united and brotherly souls who are gathering round Jesus our King and Head. May we all respond to his appeal! £ —R.M.E.
What to imitate and to avoid.
I. THE IMITATION OF GOD AND CHRIST .
1. The imitation of God . "Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children." The force of example is abundantly acknowledged. How much do most of us suffer from the low standard of opinion and practice with which we are surrounded? On the other hand, we have all felt what it is to come into Contact with one who is raised above the common standard. By his strength of principle and generous sentiments and noble endeavors be kindles our aspiration. We should like to be what he is. The wonderful thing here is that God places us (which is of far greater consequence) under the influence of his own example. This is the only place in which we are distinctly called to imitate God. But the same truth is given expression to by Christ when he says, "That ye may be the sons of your Father which is in heaven, for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Paul has just exhorted us to imitate God in his forgivingness. This imitation of God proceeds on what was referred to before—our being made after the Divine image. It proceeds on what is referred to here—God being our Father, and as such communicating a kindred nature to us. But for this kindred nature with God we should have no more conception of him than the brutes have. "The idea of God, sublime and awful as it is, is the idea of our own spiritual nature purified and enlarged to infinity. The infinite Light would be forever hidden from us, did not kindred rays dawn and brighten within us." It belongs to the dignity of our nature (our being partakers of the Divine nature) that there can be proposed to us as our end likeness to God . It is designed that there should be a perpetual unfolding and enlarging of our spiritual powers and excellences. All our desires, hopes, efforts, are to be toward this. We are to be filled with the Divine thoughts, replenished with the Divine energy, wanned with the Divine love. As a child catches the very tone of his father, so are we to catch the tone of our heavenly Father. There is a reason given for our being eager to imitate God . We are his beloved children. Oh, the love bestowed on us! Sonship forfeited and then restored. What a contradiction, to be children peculiarly loved and not to seek likeness to God! But this leads on to the other thought.
2. The imitation of God is also the imitation of Christ . "And walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell." Christ is presented for imitation in his love . We are not to understand that love was an attribute more distinctive of Christ than of God. For love is the greatest attribute of God. But we are to understand that Christ was especially the manifestation of the love of God. In Christ's love we see what God's love is. And to imitate Christ in his love is the best way to imitate God. And how does love manifest itself? Selfishness manifests itself in isolation . Love, on the other hand, manifests itself in approachableness . And this was the form which Christ's love took. He loved us so much as to come within human conditions—to become one of ourselves. And that (wonderful as it is) was not the extent of his approach to us. For, coming into our nature, he next threw himself into our position, he became our Representative. And he presented before God for us the offering of a perfect life. He especially, in his death, presented the sacrifice which had full atoning virtue for our sin. And this presentation of himself as an offering and a sacrifice to God (with the love that prompted it) was for an odor of a sweet smell. More grateful than to the sense of smell was the incense that the High Priest took with him into the holy of holies was to the heart of God the incense from his life and sacrifice which Christ took with him into heaven. It is an incense which continually rises before God with acceptance. The love which prompted to this and carried it out to completion is here proposed for our imitation. But how need we think of copying such a pattern? As well set down a child to copy a masterpiece of a Raphael or an Angelo? But let us take these things into consideration.
"When truth, embodied in a tale,
Did enter in at lowly doors."
II. THINGS TO BE CONDEMNED .
1. The things that are not to be named . "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints." The apostle points here to a fact which is sometimes forgotten, that there is a sphere of that which is not to be named . There are, for instance, books written, in which blasphemous things are said against the Savior. There is this reason for not reading these books or not repeating blasphemous expressions contained in them, that they stick to and pollute the imagination. So the apostle teaches that saints are to be so cultivated in their sensibilities, to have such a delicacy of feeling, that they will not talk about or hint at things connected with fornication and uncleanness. To take to them in conversation indicates a coarseness of mind, a polluted state of the imagination. That is the proper circle, whether family, or Church, or neighborhood, from which the very name of such things is banished. We are surprised that covetousness is classed as it is here among the things which are not to be named. It is a sin about which strange things are said in the New Testament. It is said that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil . The apostle teaches here that saints are to have such sensitiveness as to be repelled from the very mention of covetousness, as that which would pollute their lips. Think of a community educated up to that state of refinement.
2. The things which are not befitting. "Nor filthiness nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are not befitting: but rather giving of thanks." There are things, the apostle teaches, which are to be condemned on the lower ground of their being improper, or conducing to no good end. By the first mentioned we are to understand, especially, that which is foul in speech. If we distinguish foolish talking from other faults of speech which are mentioned in this Epistle, we must limit it to what is senseless in speech. Fools have a way of talking in wanton disregard of what is rational, as though their rational powers were given them to be played with. The word translated "jesting" is sometimes used in a good sense. And Barrow has shown that there is a wit which is not to be condemned, but which is fitted to minister harmless delight to conversation, to expose things base and vile to due contempt, to reprove some vices and reclaim some persons, to confute errors that do not deserve solid confutation, to repel unjust reproach and obloquy, and to counterbalance the improper use of it. "It is bad objects or bad adjuncts, which do spoil its indifference and innocence: it is the abuse thereof to which (as all pleasant things are dangerous, and apt to degenerate into baits of intemperance and excess) it is very liable, that corrupteth it, and seemeth to be the ground why in so general terms it is prohibited by the apostle." "All profane jesting, all speaking loosely and wantonly about holy things, making such things the matter of sport and mockery, playing and trifling with them, is certainly prohibited as an intolerably vain and wicked practice." "All injurious, abusive, scurrilous jesting, which causeth or needlessly tendeth to the disgrace, damage, vexation, or prejudice in any kind of our neighbor, is also prohibited." "There are some times and circumstances of things wherein it concerneth and becometh men to be serious in mind, grave in demeanor, and plain in discourse." To what the apostle condemns as not befitting he opposes giving of thanks . There is a fitness in thanksgiving at all times ("giving thanks always," as it is said in the twentieth verse); but we are to understand that there is a singular fitness in the present connection. Thanks- giving is speech put to the best use (implying both seriousness and joyfulness). Let there be that, the apostle would say, and it will rectify and hallow all speech.
3. The things which are not safe . "For this ye know of a surety, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, which is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." The apostle is confident, as declaring what was attested by their own consciousness or practical acquaintance with the kingdom. It is the kingdom, not only of God, but of Christ and God , that is to say, a kingdom peculiarly associated with the cross of Christ, in which God shows his deep detestation of sin by punishing it in his Son. A kingdom that is ruled over by One who shed his blood that sin might be done away, cannot receive into it those who sin and do not mean to give up their sins. By their very antagonism to the whole spirit, law, ends, of the kingdom, they shut the door against themselves. We are surprised again that the covetous man appears in such company, and further here that he is singled out for special remark. "Nor covetous man, which is an idolater." There is idolatry in the other sins, that is, sensual pleasure is put in the place of God. And that may be the light in which the apostle views the devotees of pleasure as shut out from inheritance in the kingdom. But the covetous man is put forward as being an idolater by pre-eminence . Christ had already said, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." The covetous man is not he who values money and seeks to serve God therewith. But, according to the thought here, he is one who idolizes money, values it in itself and not for God's ends, sets his affections on it, trusts in it; and, such being his relation to it, then it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for him to enter into the kingdom of God. It is true of the covetous man, as it is not true of the others, that he can go on in his sin without incurring the opprobrium of men, and (partly from the difficulty of drawing the exact line between the right and the wrong love of gain) without suspecting himself that it is getting a hold upon him, and thus (without such checks as the others have) getting hardened in his sin, we can understand how he should be called by pre-eminence the idolater. Warning . "Let no man deceive you with empty words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them." It would seem that there were apologists for vice, who, by their representations, tried to entice the Ephesian Christians back to Gentile ways. One of their representations was that, besides being pleasant, it was safe to do these things. So apologists for vice are ready to say this and many other things still. But "let no man deceive you with empty words ." Such words have not as their contents eternal truth. "For because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience." The sons of disobedience are those who (in their love for sin) disobey the gospel of Christ, by which alone there is deliverance from wrath. Refusing God's mercy, how can they escape God's wrath? They are not only lying under ordinary judgments or condemnation now, but they have yet to be dealt with for these very sins. "After their hardness and impenitent hearts they are treasuring up for themselves wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." It is for those, then, who regard their safety (to bring in no higher consideration), whatever apologists may say, to refuse to be partakers with the disobedient.
4. The things that are dark .
(a) It is a call to the child of darkness . He is described as sleeping and dead, that is, in sin. He is insensible to the infinite importance of spiritual and eternal things.
(b) It is a call to awake and arise . "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead." He does not let the child of the night alone. He comes to the sleeper and bids him awake, to the dead and bids him arise. And in his very summons there is an awakening, quickening power.
(c) It is a call to which a promise is attached . "And Christ shall shine upon thee." As if it were said, "The sun is already up, and will pour his enlightening rays upon thee." So while we are sleeping and dead in our sin, it is true that the Sun of righteousness is up shining upon this world of ours, and we must up and catch his rays. Other men are up and doing their work under the light of this Sun; why should we be asleep and dead in sin?—R.F.
"Imitators of God."
I. HOW IT IS POSSIBLE FOR US TO BE IMITATORS OF GOD . It is vain to try to imitate God if all resemblance to God is beyond our reach. But this is not the case. While speculative theology is fatally successful in magnifying the distance between man and God, practical revelation is ever bringing us nearer to God.
1. We are like God by nature . God is spirit, and we are spiritual beings. As Channing taught, all spirits are of one family. God made us in his own image. It is our work to revive that image where it has been obscured and to carry it up to higher resemblances.
2. We can imitate God in very small ways . Because he is infinite and we are finite we are not to infer that all common likeness is impossible. The smallest pool may bear a perfect image of the sun.
3. We are susceptible of indefinite growth and improvement . Because we are sadly unlike God now it does not follow that we may never resemble him. "It is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him" ( 1 John 3:2 ). God has revealed himself to us. We cannot imitate what we do not know. Mysteries of the Divine nature must ever lie beyond our sight. Nevertheless, something real about God we do know. For we have seen Christ, and he who sees Christ sees God ( John 14:9 ).
II. IN WHAT RESPECTS WE ARE TO BECOME IMITATORS OF GOD . We cannot attain to his almighty energy nor to his unfathomable wisdom. Yet we may imitate the method of these Divine attributes in the exercise of corresponding human qualities. But the resemblance to God that is both most important and most attainable is moral and spiritual likeness in character and conduct. Consider especially in what points we most need to be like God.
1. Purity .
2. Truth .
3. Generous giving . There are men who are always grasping for themselves, and others who distribute abroad. The latter are like God, who is ever raying out blessings.
4. Forbearance . In nothing do we more need to imitate God than in his gentleness with sinners, his long-suffering patience, and his forgiving mercy.
5. Love . This is nearest to the heart and very being of God, for God is love. He who loves his kind most widely and warmly is likest God (see Ephesians 5:2 ).
III. WHY WE SHOULD BE IMITATORS OF GOD .
1. It is our natural duty . Nothing short of this will satisfy the claims of right. It is not enough that we follow the best men and conform with the utmost propriety to the pious fashions of the times, nor even that we obey our own consciences. We have to make our conduct agree with God's conscience. Duty is infinite—a ceaseless climbing to higher and yet higher regions of holiness. We cannot reach the pinnacle of perfection at once, and we are not guilty for not doing what lies beyond our present powers. But we are blameworthy if we aim at less than perfection and if we ever rest contented with any lower stage of progress. "Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" ( Matthew 5:48 ).
2. We are under obligations of gratitude to become imitators of God. The word" therefore" calls our attention to these obligations. It points back to the previous words, wherein we are exhorted to forgive one another, even as God also in Christ forgave us.
3. Our highest blessedness will be found in our resemblance to God. He is ever blessed. Everything ungodlike must be ultimately a source of pain and death. Though the imitation of God begins in toil and sacrifice, it grows into the deepest peace and the richest gladness.
IV. BY WHAT MEANS WE MAY BECOME IMITATORS OF GOD .
1. Worship . Heathen gods are objective representations, and even monstrous exaggerations, of the natures of their devotees. Such gods can have no good moral influence. But God, as he is revealed in Christ, is infinitely above us, and full of wonderful beauty and attraction. As we gaze upon his glory in rapt devotion we are changed into his likeness. We all imitate, consciously or unconsciously, what we admire. When we see a great picture we wish to paint; when we enjoy good music we desire to produce it; when we see noble deeds we are fired to emulate them.
2. Meditation . As St. Francis is said to have received the wounds of Christ on his own person by intense meditation on them, we may receive the spiritual likeness of our Lord—a more profitable resemblance—by contemplating and dwelling in the spirit of his life. Then also we shall have the likeness of God. He who is nearest to God in prayer and communion grows likest God.
3. Obedient action . We must do Divine deeds of holiness and charity if we would have the character that a habit of such deeds begets. All this God will supplement and vivify by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit breathing his own life and likeness into us.
V. IN WHAT SPIRIT WE ARE TO BECOME IMITATORS OF GOD . "As beloved children." Thus loved children venerate and imitate their parents. Here is no room for spiritual pride. For when we lose the childlike spirit we fall away from the imitation of God. They who imitate God most truly are most simple and childlike, and that spirit of trust in a loving parent which is the highest educational influence in the child, must be in us if we would be good imitators of God.—W.F.A.
Be ye therefore imitators of God, as children beloved. These words are closely connected with the preceding. In Ephesians 4:32 he had urged the example of God in one very momentous matter; he now urges it in a more general sense and on another ground. We ought to forgive men because God has forgiven us—all admit that; but moreover, we ought to imitate our Father in his forgiveness and in his loving spirit, be-because beloved children should always imitate, and will always strive to imitate, what is good in a beloved father. Forgiving love is one of the great glories of our Father; it has been made peculiarly attractive in our eyes, because it has been exercised by him towards us; every consideration, therefore, ought to induce us to show the same spirit.