The Lord’s Day
June 4, 2006
Immorality, Coarse Talk, Thanksgiving, and the Glory of God”
Dr. J. Ligon
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Ephesians, chapter five. We’ll be looking at verses 3 and 4 today.
Before we read this passage together — a passage
that deals with the issue of sexual immorality, and contains Paul’s exhortation
to the Ephesians and to us as believers to be different from the world, to be
distinct from the world in this whole arena of sexual immorality, both in terms
of what we do, what we think about, what we view, and how we speak — I want to
remind you of a couple of things.
First of all, I want to remind you again that the
Apostle Paul in this passage is not saying ‘Do these six things, and you, too,
can become a Christian. Do these six things and you can be justified.’ Nor is he
saying, ‘Trust in Jesus Christ and do these six things and you’ll be counted
righteous before God.’ If he’s saying that, friends, you understand that
we’re all going to hell, because these things that he’s talking about are
standing problems in the Christian church; and real Christians, true Christians,
Christians that love the Lord Jesus Christ struggle in these areas.
Remember the practical areas he’s dealt with.
If you allow your eyes to scan back to chapter 4, verse 25, first he starts
talking about the area of truth-telling. In contrast to a culture characterized
by denial, by euphemism, by evading problems and failing to address truthfully
reality, we’re going to be truth-tellers, he says.
And then he begins to talk to us in the next verses
about anger and the way we’re going to handle anger in a righteous way, as
opposed to being characterized as people who express anger sinfully, or who are
He also deals in this passage with honesty, with
wholesome talk, with talk that edifies, and he deals with the standing problem
Now, those issues, all five of them, and the one
we’re going to look at today are issues that real Christians, good Christians,
true Christians, have in different measures and different proportions struggled
with for 2,000 years. And so the Apostle Paul, if he is saying to us ‘Trust
in Jesus Christ and do these six things and you can be justified before God,’
then we’re all in trouble. That’s not what Paul is saying. Paul is not speaking
here about how one is made right with God. He is speaking about how those who
have been made right with God by grace are to live out that grace, and he is
especially speaking about how those who have been made new creations by the
sovereign grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit are to live out
consistently the reality of who they are.
Friends, that is so important for you to get — that
the Apostle Paul is not giving this list of behaviors and saying, ‘Now, look,
Buck-o, you better pretend like you live this way, or else you’ll get kicked out
of the club.’ If you think that’s what the Apostle Paul is saying, you will
resent him and you’ll become a hypocrite.
The Apostle Paul is saying, no, look…the true
believer longs to live this way because God is like this. God is a truth-teller,
Christ is a truth-teller, the Holy Spirit is a truth-teller. We want to be like
our loving God who has saved us. And so the Apostle Paul in this passage is
talking about conforming our desires to the reality of who we are in Jesus
Christ, and that is a life-long fight and battle. It’s so important for us to
understand that, so that’s the first thing that I want to emphasize.
The second thing is this: The very fact that the
Apostle Paul is addressing these things is evidence that they are standing
problems. You don’t call your son or daughter in for a ‘little talk’ about a
subject that isn’t an issue with them. You call them in to have a ‘little talk’
about things that are standing issues in their lives. That’s the same way the
Bible is. The writers of the New Testament don’t write to you about virtue or
vice, about righteousness or sin, just because they decided to talk about some
sort of airy-fairy abstraction that doesn’t have anything to do with daily life.
They are writing to us because these are standing issues in the Christian life,
so be encouraged if you’re struggling in any of these areas, because that’s why
Paul’s writing about them. He’s not expecting Christians to be justified and
entirely sanctified instantaneously and simultaneously. He knows that growth in
the Christian life, growth in grace, growth in holiness, growth in
sanctification, is a fight. And it’s a process. And it’s not easy.
And so, yes, he wants us to be different from the
world, and he’ll use the strongest language in this passage to emphasize the
difference between us and the world, but he is also dead realistic about the
Christian life. So hear me loud and clear: Paul is not saying do these six
things and you can be made right with God. The only way you can be made right
with God is by righteousness inside of you…because, you know, the godliest
Christian who ever lived didn’t do these six things perfectly. That’s why I love
what Augustus Toplady titled his hymn that we sing all the time, Rock of
Ages, Cleft for Me. You know what his title for that hymn was? The Prayer
of the Holiest Christian That Ever Lived. Now think about the words to
Rock of Ages:
“Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.”
You see, it’s a confession that when we stand before
God, if we’re not hidden in the righteousness of Christ we don’t stand a chance.
Now, that’s the prayer of the most sanctified Christian, the holiest Christian
that ever lived. So the Apostle Paul knows that. He’s not saying do these six
things perfectly, or else; do these six things perfectly, and you can be
justified. He’s saying ‘Look, you’ve been made a new creation in Christ. You
will increasingly desire to live out this reality, to live out this way of life.
And it’s vitally important that you do, and so I want to stress these areas.’
And, secondly, if you’re struggling in these
areas, be encouraged. Two thousand years ago, under the inspiration of the
Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul knew that you would be struggling with these
areas, and that’s why he wrote about them.
Now — let’s pray.
Lord, thank You for Your word. Help us to
understand it and bring it home to us, we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
”But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as
is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or
coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Parents, let me apologize at the outset. This is
a PG-13 sermon! I’m going to try and do it in G, but it is a PG-13 sermon. But
let me not apologize, because this is the word of God, and this is the
Apostle Paul speaking to us about a subject of great importance.
Let me outline the passage for you and then make one more
set of introductory remarks.
The Apostle Paul is here in the very first part of verse 3 going to
explicitly address the issue of sexual immorality;
In the first part of verse 4, he’s going to address the issue of coarse
talk, or filthy and vulgar language regarding sexuality;
In the last part of verse 3 and in the middle part of verse 4, he is
going to introduce the category of what is fitting for a Christian and what is
not fitting for a Christian, and he is going to ask us always to have in mind
that question when we’re making decisions: “Is this fitting for a Christian to
do or say, or is this not fitting for a Christian to do or say?” And very
interestingly, he does not pause and give us a chapter on all that that entails.
He assumes that we are going to have an inherent sense of what is fitting and
not fitting for a Christian to do or say;
At the end of verse 4, he is going to contrast vulgar language and sexual
immorality with a gospel thankfulness for the sacred gift of sexual relations
within the context of a committed, permanent, monogamous, heterosexual
But before we look at those four things, let me just…Fair
warning: I got through with “Point 1” with three minutes to go in the first
service! Fair advertisement….
Before we do that, let me just give you one more
bit of background about the passage. Have you noticed throughout these six
life applications that Paul gives that over and over again he draws us back from
self-centeredness, self-focus, self-preoccupation, concern for
self-gratification, concern for ‘What’s in it for me? What am I going to gain
out of this?’ to be instead God-centered, church-centered, and other-focused.
Let me explain that.
First of all, over against asking ‘What am I
going to get out of this?’ or not even asking that, just doing things that
instinctively gratify us or enhance us or give us pleasure, or simply serve our
own interests, the Apostle Paul says no, we want to be God-centered in the way
And notice how he does that: He points to each
person in the Trinity, and in verse 1 of chapter 5, he says–what are you
supposed to do? Copy God. Be like God the Father, he says.
In verse 2, and also in verses 25 down to verse 32
in chapter 4, he says learn Christ; in verse 30 of chapter 4, he says don’t
grieve the Holy Spirit. So that in our living he wants us to be God-centered in
our agenda, that it is a conscious agenda on our part, and it becomes so much a
part of our focus and purpose in life that it becomes an unconscious agenda that
we are always seeking to glorify God in everything that we do; that we’re
God-centered, that our behavior and our talk has been so reoriented that the
first question is not ‘What’s in it for me?’ or ‘How am I going to be gratified
by this?’ or ‘How am I going to be bettered by this?’ but ‘How is God going to
Secondly, notice he says that we’re not to be
self-centered, self-preoccupied, self-gratifying, but we are to be
church-centered; that is, that we are to recognize that in all of our behavior,
it has consequences and ramifications for the church. In this passage Paul
has been concerned that we would be different from the world in these specific
areas so that–what?–the church would be enhanced in its experience of the unity
of the body of Christ.
The Apostle Paul says one of the marvelous things
about God’s grace is that it has brought together people who are really, really,
different into one body, one fellowship, one family–the church–and they love one
another and they express unity, even though they’re really different, because
they are united to Jesus Christ, because they’re seeking the same kingdom,
because they are saved by the same gospel, because the same Spirit, the same
God, the same grace, is at work in them.
And the Apostle Paul says not doing the
things which he calls us not to do in this passage is important for us to
experience the unity that God wants us to experience; and doing the
things he calls us to do in this passage are important for experiencing the
unity we’re supposed to experience in the family of God. And so in our ethics,
in our behavior, in our speech, in our thoughts, we are to recognize that there
is always a consequence, always a ramification for the whole body. What I do as
an individual has a consequence for the church, and therefore my individual
behavior must have at least as a component of it a question in my mind, a
motivation in my purposes: Is this serving the best interest of the body of
Christ? Is this edifying to the body of Christ?
And then finally, Paul says we’re not only to be
God-centered, we’re not only to be church-centered, but we’re to be
other-focused in this sense: not that we get our approbation from others; not
that we are ultimately judged by others (we’re ultimately judged by God); but
that in our motivation we have a desire to be a blessing to others, so that
when I speak and when I act, one of the motivations that’s always at hand,
always in mind, is ‘Is what I am about to do going to serve well this other
person? Is it going to contribute to his or her well-being? Is it going to
contribute to their wholeness? Or, is what I’m about to do or say going to
detract from them, rob them of their dignity as a man or a woman created in the
image of God? Or is it going to cultivate their wellness, their wholeness?’
And this particular subject of sexual immorality is
just one of six expressions of that same principle that is to be working out.
Isn’t it interesting? He goes right from living a life of sacrifice in imitation
of Jesus Christ to the issue of self-indulgence in the area of sexual
immorality. What a bold contrast of a life that is lived for God, for the
church, and for others, and a self-indulgent, self-focused, self-gratifying,
self-preoccupied life…a perfect example of what Paul is talking about in the
Well, let’s look at the
passage together in the time that we have today.
The first thing that Paul wants to say to us is
simply this: Christian behavior is not to be characterized by sexual immorality,
impurity, and coveting. Listen to what he says: “But immorality or any
impurity or greed must not even be named among you.”
The Ephesians lived in a very immorally sexualized
society. I say “immorally sexualized society” because the two alternatives
before us are not immoral sexuality or no sexuality. The two alternatives held
out before us in the Scripture are a godly view and practice of sex and an
ungodly immoral view and practice of sex.
And the Apostle Paul in this passage is not going to
say ‘Sex is bad. We shouldn’t think about it or talk about it. And, when we do
it in the context of marriage, we ought to feel guilty about it.’ That’s not
what the Apostle Paul says. But he is very concerned about immoral sexuality,
and the Ephesians lived in a culture that was exceedingly immoral. The goddess
who was the favorite of the Ephesians was Diana. Ephesus was the center of Diana
(or Artemis) worship, and it very often involved ritual sexual activity…just
like when Moses and the prophets spoke to the children of Israel about the Baal
worshipers around them, that their very worship involved sexual immorality with
temple prostitutes. And the Apostle Paul knows that the Ephesian Christians,
having grown up in this environment of sexual immorality, may be tempted to it.
Well, let me tell you something, friends: If the
Ephesian Christians could be here today in Jackson, Mississippi…if the
Ephesian pagans could be here today in Jackson, Mississippi…they would
blush. Because society is immorally sexualized in a way and with a pervasiveness
that outstrips anything in human history.
I was telling some friends this morning that when I
was 15, you had to go looking for trouble in this area; now trouble comes
looking for you, and it comes looking for you before you turn 15.
Now let me zero in on just a few things. I need a
month to do this adequately, but let me just zero in on a few things.
Obviously, the first thing that Paul is saying is
that there should not be infidelity, adultery, and fornication in the Christian
church. That’s not what we’re called to live like. And that’s a standing
problem for us. The very first couple of months that I was here as your pastor
at First Presbyterian Church, almost ten years now…it doesn’t seem like that
long to me, maybe it seems longer to you! But just ten years ago I had a
wonderful (and I really mean that)…a wonderful couple, two true believers in
the Lord Jesus Christ, come to my office because a husband had had an affair:
some business travel, and he had been unfaithful. In God’s mercy that couple is
together today. They’re not in this congregation, they’ve moved away. They love
one another, they love the Lord, but I cannot tell you the pain that that
infidelity cost the both of them.
That is not just a problem that men face.
Increasingly that is a problem for women in our culture: infidelity. And the
Apostle Paul is saying our behavior is not to be characterized like that in the
Christian church, and our behavior as individuals in that area has ramifications
for the whole church. You can’t do that — not only without harming your marriage
or your future marriage, but without harming the whole congregation. So it’s our
business when any part of the body is unfaithful in that area. So I want to urge
you, my friends: husband and wives, become allies in that area. If there has
been infidelity in that area, you must become allies in the fight for holiness
and joy in that area, and you need to seek out whatever help you need. If you
need to come to the pastors, we are ready, willing, and able to help, and to
point you in other directions where you can get help. But this is a fight that
must be fought.
The second area that I want to address is the
area of other sexual immoralities. It’s interesting that Paul uses the term
sexual immorality here, which especially addresses adultery and
fornication and other physical acts of sin; but he also uses the terminology
impurity. That is the Old Testament word uncleanness. Moses used it
all the time, and it is a general category term that covers all manner of sexual
impurity, and in that context we have to address the issue of internet
pornography, because it is a huge battle in our culture today.
I’m about to quote from an article by our friend Al
Mohler, and he says:
“The statistics are truly frightening. According to industry
studies, 70% percent of 18-24 year old men visit pornographic sites in a typical
month. These young men represent something like one-fourth of all visitors to
pornographic sites on the internet. The next largest group of users are young
men in their 20’s and 30’s, 66% of whom report being regular users of
pornography. The appeal of pornography to teenage boys and young men is clear:
highly interested in sex, young males find their way into patterns of sexual
excitement and arousal by being introduced to what, for most boys, are soft-core
pornographic images — at least at first. Before long, pornography becomes a
sexual whirlpool, pulling users deeper and deeper into habits and more and more
extreme versions of pornography. The pornography industry understands that
pornographic images desensitize viewers over time, and therefore regular users
of pornography, especially on the internet, fuel their patterns of arousal and
sexual excitement by expanding their menu of pornographic subjects and images.
“Today the average teenage boy is likely to have seen thousands of
explicit sexual images, ranging across the spectrum of sexualities and
perversions. Many of these boys and young men are driven by sexual fantasies
that previous generations of young men would not have even known existed. In the
language of contemporary academic jargon, the transgressive has become the
normative. [You know, you look for a boundary and you try and transgress it, to
shock, to titillate. Well, that’s become normal now.] Every bizarre, perverted
behavior known to man is now depicted in these forms. The economic incentives
are a big part of the pornography industry. Today Americans rent more than 800
million pornographic videos and DVD’s every year. About 20% of all video rentals
are pornographic. At least 11,000 pornographic videos are produced annually,
amounting to revenue for the adult film industry estimated at between 5 and 10
billion dollars a year [and that estimate is three years old].”
Seventy percent…all you have to do is look around
the room. All you have to do is look around the room…and let’s assume that
we’re far more holy than the culture around us (a dangerous assumption in this
area) and you see men and women that are struggling in this area. And the
Apostle Paul is saying ‘Christians, immorality and impurity [and in this
context, greed, I think probably refers to sexual covetousness or the
sort that’s spoken about in the Tenth Commandment: “Don’t covet your neighbor’s
wife”] should not even be named among you.’
Now, the answer to this, my friends, is not to
say ‘Oh, no! I’m not supposed to be doing this, so I’d better pretend like I
don’t have a problem in this area.’ That is not what Paul is after. What
Paul is after is allies in the fight for joy, the fight for godliness, the fight
for holiness, who will help one another. And that means, women, you need to
help us men first in the area of modesty.
Secondly, it means, wives, you need to help your
husbands in this area. You do not need to be the judge, jury and executioner.
You don’t need to be the prosecuting attorney. You need to be an ally with your
husband in this area.
Husbands, it means there have got to be internet
filters. That’s a non-negotiable. Secondly, it means that there’s no computer
that your wife doesn’t have access to and all the passwords to; three, that the
histories are never erased, and that you teach your wife how she can go back and
look at the history of where you’ve been; four, that you confess to her your
struggles, and you seek for her to be your ally; and it also means, dear
Christian wives, that the area of sexual relations and the area of your
husband’s temptations in sexual relations has got to be an issue of your
emphasis. You can’t ask your husband to climb Mt. Everest to get any kind of
reaction from you in the area of either his dealing with challenges and
temptations or of the appropriate expression of sexual life within the context
of a Christian marriage. You have got to become an ally.
And, young people, sexual activity is younger than
ever before. We know that. The statistics tell it to us. You know, we see it in
the way you dress and in the way you talk. You may think we don’t see it, but we
see it in the way you dress and in the way you talk. All you have to do is look
on Facebook or MySpace and find what maybe our young people don’t even realize
is sexualized language and attitudes and pictures and conduct. And it’s
happening younger and younger — sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade. We
know about this, young people! This is not something that we’re blind to. And
we’re on your side, but you’ve got to get in the fight with us.
And this means that husbands need to talk with
wives, and wives need to talk to husbands, and beg one another to be allies in
this. And parents need to talk to children, and children to parents, and beg one
another to be allies in this, because Paul is deadly serious about this. He
knows that sexual immorality always does three things:
One, it destroys the joy that God intends for the
fullness of enjoyment in the context of marital sexual relations.
Look, every type of sexual expression
outside the context of a committed, monogamous, heterosexual, marriage detracts
from the joy and the intimacy that can be enjoyed, and only enjoyed, there.
Every kind! So what you’re doing before you’re married or outside the bonds of
marriage will rob you of joy and bring you much pain.
You see, it’s one of the glorious things,
isn’t it, that God’s glory is intimately and inseparably connected to our
well-being, and so when the Apostle Paul says to you “I don’t want this to even
be named among you” he’s not being a prude: he’s in a fight for joy with you. He
does not want God’s glory to be robbed; he doesn’t want your joy to be robbed.
And he knows that this is one of the areas where it can happen.
So that’s the first thing: that Paul is in a
fight for joy. He’s not got some sort of prudish, Victorian view of sexual
relations. (He proves that, by the way, at the end of verse 4. We’ll come
back to that in the last thirty seconds of the message.)
Secondly, it means that we have got to commit
ourselves, young people, to purity in this area.
This is serious business. I did not see a
piece of pornography until I was 15. I can still tell you where I was when I saw
it. I was sitting in a chair in May Pickett’s Boarding House, six blocks from
the Capitol of the United States of America in Washington, D.C. And a friend
had gone to Mr. T’s (which was a combination quick-stop and greasy spoon) and
picked up copies of Playboy magazine. It was two years later before I saw
pornography again, this time at the place where I worked, because my bosses were
womanizers and perverts, and they had it everywhere.
But the point is I was 15 years old before I
had seen it, and it was two years later before I saw it again. And in neither
case had I gone looking for it. Today it comes to you. You can see it on your
Blackberry, or your TriO, you can see it on your laptop, you can listen to it on
the phone, you can store it on your computer. You don’t have to go anywhere; it
comes to you. We’ve got to deal with that particular reality, and recognize that
one thing that pornography does is it makes us to view women (men, I’m speaking
to you especially) as objects for our gratification rather than sisters in
Christ, human beings created in the image of God.
A dear and godly pastor in this town said to me 14
years ago when he first came to town that he had covenanted in his heart that he
would love his sisters in Christ, but he would take no pleasure in them. Now, by
that he didn’t mean he didn’t enjoy fellowship with them, that he didn’t enjoy
godly conversation with them, that he didn’t have great esteem and affection and
love for his sisters in Christ. He loved to talk to them and edify them in the
faith. He meant this: that he was not going to use women as objects to gratify
himself with regard to pleasure. But pornography encourages men to think about
women that way.
If you’re locked in that habit, just ask yourself
‘What if that were my daughter…would I want my daughter to be treated that
Pornography also robs us of moral fiber, because
we carry around guilt, and therefore we are not ready to stand up strong when
God’s standards are being challenged in our homes, our churches, and in the
world. It robs us of moral fiber and backbone, because we’re carrying around
in ourselves this word from Satan: ‘You hypocrite! You are consumed with
immorality! How dare you call anything else immorality out there?’
I wish I could go on, my friends. The Apostle Paul
knows what he’s talking about. (This time I didn’t even get to three minutes
before the end of the sermon with Point 1.)
But now this, secondly: He goes on to say that
this applies to our area of conversation. Christian conversation is not to be
vulgar. “There must be no filthiness or silly talk or coarse jesting.” The
Apostle Paul says even in the way we talk, we’re not to make light of sex or
make it something dirty and vulgar. No, we’re to have a view that sex is a
glorious, sacred gift of God! It’s to be celebrated! God’s to be thanked for it!
It’s not something that’s tawdry and petty and filthy. And so our language is
not to be vulgar.
Indeed, he says in verses 3 and 4 that in our
conversation and in our behavior we’re always to be asking the question ‘Is this
fitting for a Christian? What I’m about to do, is it fitting for a Christian?’
When you’re in a car with a young woman, or you’re
at a party with a young woman or a young man, are you asking yourself ‘Is this
fitting for a Christian, or is this not fitting for a Christian?’
Ann’s pastor in Columbia, South Carolina, Glen Kencht,
used to send all of his daughters on dates with these final words to the young
man: “Now, just remember that wherever you go, Jesus will be right there between
the two of you!” Whoo! Is it fitting or not fitting, what you’re about to do,
or what you’re about to say?
And then finally, notice what Paul wants to
cultivate in us in this area of sexuality: Christians, instead of being sexually
immoral and vulgar, and to instead —to not think about sex? To think that sex is
bad, a necessary evil? — no, that’s not what he says. What does Paul say? End of
verse 4: “But rather giving of thanks.”
The Apostle Paul says this gift of God is too good
to be sullied by immorality and vulgarity. No, you ought to be down on your
knees giving thanks to God for this gift! It ought to be something that’s
celebrated — by the way, Christian women, that’s so important for you to
ingrain. You know, if you’ve been fighting against the culture and you’ve been
saying all along ‘No, I’m not going to do that, I’m not going to do that, I’m
not going to do that…” it can sometimes become hard to embrace the beauty and
the glory of the fullness of uninhibited pure sexual expression in marriage that
ought to be there. That’s why the Apostle Paul is saying we ought to give thanks
for this. This is a gift of God. When sexual relationship is expressed within
context of a committed, monogamous, heterosexual marriage, it glorifies God! God
And so the Apostle Paul says we are to be different.
I don’t know of any sin today in which there is a
greater challenge to be different than in the whole arena of sexual immorality,
because of the kind of culture that we live in. But the Apostle Paul, under the
inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says ‘Christians, we are to be different in this
area. Radically different!” And that means, young men and young women, husbands
and wives, grandparents…all of us need to band together and be allies for the
glory of God in this area.
If you’re struggling with this, you need to confess
your sins, and you need to come to someone who is ready to help: the pastors —
we’re here. When you come to us wrestling with this, we’re not going to look at
you like you have three heads and a tail. We’re men, too. Your elders aren’t
going to look at you like you’re crazy. They’re men, too. We’re here to
encourage you in this fight for joy with the Apostle Paul.
Our Lord and our God,
we thank You for Your word. We ask that You would help us. We ask that You would
help us to glorify You even in the way we talk about and express this sacred
gift of sex, and we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Let’s sing the first stanza of May the Mind of Christ,
My Savior and listen closely to the words as you sing them.
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