Sunday: “Instead, Let There Be Thanksgiving”

In what sense does Paul intend believers to be “imitators of God”? See Ephesians 5:1-2, NKJV.

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Paul urges the believers in Ephesus to walk in love, a call important to this section (see Ephesians 5:8Ephesians 5:15). This “walking in love” (see Ephesians 5:2) is to be modeled after Christ’s own love for us (compare Ephesians 4:32), expressed in His atoning sacrifice. Paul affirms four things about that sacrifice: 1. It is motivated by both the love of God the Father (Ephesians 5:1) and of Christ Himself (Ephesians 5:2); 2. It is substitutionary, with Christ dying in our place. Christ is no passive victim, but gave Himself up for us; 3. Under the imagery of the Old Testament sanctuary service, Christ’s death is also a sacrifice, which is made to God; 4. The sacrifice is accepted by God since it is “a fragrant offering” (Ephesians 5:2, ESV; compare Exodus 29:18Leviticus 2:9Philippians 4:18).

Ephesians 5:3-5 then introduces a section expressing concern for sexual ethics. The young converts in Ephesus are in danger of reversing their Christian calling and being drawn back into sexual behavior that would negate their Christian witness (compare 1 Corinthians 5:1-111 Corinthians 6:12-202 Corinthians 12:21).

On the one hand, the Greco-Roman world of the first century exhibited the moral corruption and debauchery described elsewhere in the New Testament (see 1 Corinthians 6:9Galatians 5:19Ephesians 4:17-19Colossians 3:5). For example, banquets of the wealthy regularly featured the behaviors Paul decries in Ephesians 5:3-14: drunkenness, ribald speech, risqué entertainment, and immoral acts. In addition, urban centers provided anonymity and permissiveness that fostered immoral sexual practices. On the other hand, many in that society lived virtuous lives and served as advocates for strict morality. When the New Testament provides vice-or-virtue lists and household codes (e.g., Ephesians 5:21-6:9Colossians 3:18-4:1), its authors mirror themes in the wider Greco-Roman world. This world, at once debauched and virtuous, helps explain Paul’s exhortations to avoid the immoral behavior practiced by the Gentiles while wishing for believers to be circumspect in their behavior and so to earn good standing among outsiders.

In what ways are Paul’s words about sexual behavior applicable to your culture, wherever you live?

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