Read the Passage: Ephesians 5:1-14
Earlier, at Eph. 4:1, Paul exhorted his readers to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.” In the rest of Ephesians 4 Paul wrote generally about the worthy walk, as he explained how such a walk is aided by spiritual gifts (cf. Eph. 4:7–16) and made possible via regeneration (cf. Eph. 4:17–24). Furthermore, in Eph. 4:25–32 Paul described the worthy walk in broad terms noting that an unworthy walk will “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30; cf. Isa. 63:10). Then, beginning in Eph. 5:1 Paul moves toward explaining what the worthy walk looks like in regard to a number of specific issues, including marriage (cf. Eph. 5:22–33), parenting (cf. Eph. 6:1–4), vocation (cf. Eph. 6:5–9), and spiritual warfare (cf. Eph. 6:10–20). In moving toward these important topics, Paul exhorts his readers to walk in love (cf. Eph. 5:1–7), to walk in light (cf. Eph. 5:8–14), and to walk in wisdom (Eph. 5:15–21). Love, light, and wisdom are essential components of Christian maturity.
In Eph. 5:1, Paul writes, “Therefore, be imitators of God as dear children.” It is significant that with this exhortation Paul defines the worthy walk as becoming like Christ. Indeed, throughout the New Testament, Christians are encouraged to duplicate and to conform their lives to the character of Christ. For instance, at Matt. 5:48 Jesus taught, “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Similarly, Peter admonished the church, “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:15–16). Note three ways that believers can imitate God: (1) believers can follow Jesus’ example as revealed in the Gospel narratives; (2) believers can keep the moral law of God, which reflects His character; and (3) believers can follow others who are like Christ—namely mature spiritual leaders (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 2 Thess. 3:7; Heb. 13:7).
It is logical that Paul would define imitating God in Eph. 5:2 as walking in love, for God is love (cf. 1 John 4:8). Then, in Eph. 5:3–5 Paul further exhorts believers toward Christ-likeness by instructing his readers in what they ought not to do. In this admonition, Paul warns Christians about six activities to avoid, including: fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, and course jesting. Each of these actions is patently unloving (cf. 1 Cor. 13:1–8) and therefore characterizes one who is not like God. While all Christians will fall into some of these sins from time-to-time, one cannot be a believer and have a life characterized by these activities. As Paul had earlier written to the church in Corinth, “Such were some of you” (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9–11). At Eph. 5:5 Paul tells the Ephesian church that those whose lives are characterized by these sins have no divine inheritance.
Paul continues his warning, writing, “Let no one deceive you with empty words” (Eph. 5:6). With this warning it is possible that Paul had in mind the false teachers in the early church. In several of his other epistles Paul confronted those who were formally teaching all variety of heresies. Contextually, however, in this passage Paul likely had in mind individuals who were casually teaching that one’s life can be characterized by the sins mentioned in Eph. 5:3–5, and yet still be a true Christian. Such ideas, writes Paul, are merely “empty words’ that ultimately engender “the wrath of God” (Eph. 5:6). While some Christians are called and equipped to engage with false teachers, Paul’s advice to the Ephesian Christians is simply, “Do not be partakers with them” (Eph. 5:7). Note Paul’s similar exhortation at 1 Tim. 5:22, “Do not . . . share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure” (cf. Prov. 9:7).
While he had explained what it means to walk in love in Eph. 5:1–7, beginning in Eph. 5:8–14, Paul writes about walking in light. In Scripture, light and darkness are used to illustrate truth and sin in both the moral and the intellectual realms. In 1 John 1:5–6 we read, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Here in Eph. 5:8–14 Paul gives a similar teaching, as he encourages his readers to walk in the light, to have no fellowship with darkness, and to not “even . . . speak of those things” (Eph. 5:12) that are done by lovers of darkness. Observe Paul’s repeated emphasis on the importance of holy speech, as he earlier had warned against “foolish talking [and] course jesting” (Eph. 5:4). The idea here is that “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7; cf. Matt. 15:18).
- As you’ve matured in your Christian faith, how have your thoughts, words, actions, desires, values, and relationships changed?
- In what practical ways does your new life in Christ differ from your old life? How, if at all, have you been surprised by the effects of the gospel?
- Would you feel comfortable, as Paul writes elsewhere, to encourage other believers to imitate your own walk with Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1)?
- How can we tell the difference between a true Christian who is backsliding, and an unbeliever whose life is characterized by sin (cf. Matt. 7:15–23)?
- When is it best to engage and to debate false teachers, and when is it best to ignore and to avoid false teachers (cf. Matt. 7:6; 15:14)?