One thing we should keep in mind here when approaching this text is that St. Paul was writing to Saints (3). The issues he touches upon were issues within the Church. If they had not been issues within the Church he would have had no need to touch upon them. It is interesting that he brings this subject matter up not only for the Ephesian Church but also for the Church in Colosse.
3 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to [c] immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come [e]upon the sons of disobedience, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.
To the Saints in Corinth St. Paul could write,
1 Cor.6:18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. 1 Cor.6:19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 1 Cor.6:20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
And so it is to the Saints that these injunctions are made and they are consistently made in light of the fact that the people of God have been translated from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of God’s dear Son.
In the Ephesians passage the Saints have just been reminded that Christ gave Himself for the Church. The injunction to walk in this new morality is connected to the new reality established by the fact that Christ gave Himself for us. In the Colossians passages the Saints were reminded that they were raised with Christ. This being raised with Christ is connected elsewhere with being raised to newness of life. In the Corinthians passage the Saints are called to purity in light of the fact that they have been purchased by God. The thought being, having been purchased by God we now have a responsibility to walk in light of His ownership.
So, these moral injunctions are not given absent of the objective realities of the Gospel of Christ for sinners. These moral injunctions are given in light of both these objective realities of what Christ has accomplished for us — outside of us — and the effect of the Gospel in the lives of Believers. Before the negative prohibitions are stated the positive is set forth. The positive is that we are a freely Redeemed people. We have been won and wooed by Christ. All of our acting, thinking, and living is now done in light of He who hath freely reconciled us with the Father. This is no moralism for the sake of moralism that the inspired Apostle is pursuing. This is morality in light of the fact that we are a people set free from the dead traditions of those who have the Devil as their Father.
But we circle back to the idea that these words were written to saints. Saints have a need to be reminded of these things for Saints are sinners also. The Church is a hospital and the Christian message, in the broadest sense of that idea, provides the elixir and the therapy whereby we go from renewal unto renewal. And so St. Paul reminds these Saints that because of who they have been declared to be in Christ Jesus they now have the mission of increasingly becoming. And this means that certain behavioral sins (Fornication, etc.) are not to be even named among the Saints.
That St. Paul would had to have written the several Churches about these matters is not surprising given the backdrop of the 1st century world.
The Greco-Roman culture in the 1st Century was devoid of the kind of moral standards that once characterized nations that had been leavened with the Christian faith. The moral life of the Graeco-Roman world had sunk so low that, while protests against the prevailing corruption were never entirely wanting, fornication had long come to be regarded as a matter of indifference, and was indulged in w/o shame or scruple, not only by the mass, but by philosophers and men of distinction who in other respects led exemplary lives.
As one example, in Corinth, the Chambers of Commerce maintained regularly around 2000 prostitutes for all visiting businessmen. Corinth was a manufacturing town and so had numbers of visiting businessmen and nobody thought that there was anything immoral with men having relations with prostitutes. This was all taken for granted. So, in the Gentile Churches the moral standard could be pretty low.
Everett Ferguson, whose scholarly work deserves high regard, writes:
“All kinds of immoralities were associated with the [Greco-Roman] gods. Not only was prostitution a recognized institution, but through the influence of the fertility cults of Asia Minor, Syria, and Phoenicia it became a part of the religious rites at certain temples. Thus there were one thousand “sacred prostitutes” at the temple of Aphrodite at Corinth.”
This first matter that is not even be named among the Saints is “porneia.”
The term “porneia” (fornication) is to be taken in its proper sense and is not to be restricted to any one particular form — the license practiced at heathen festivals, concubinage, marriage within prohibited degrees, serial intimate relationships, unnatural physical affections or the like. Porneia thus while inclusive of adultery, and uncleanness, might be considered broader in significance so as to include what has been mentioned.
Fornication then, like adultery, is an attack upon Biblical marriage and Family.
Where you find a culture characterized by porneia you will find the family on the rocks. But understand that porneia is a symptom and not a cause. Porneia and the disintegration it brings to the family is caused by a turning from the God of the Bible so that we should say that the cure to porneia will only come secondarily by laws legislating against it. There will no laws that can successfully legislate against the flood of porneia we see in our own times without a return to the Christian faith. Laws in general, and laws against porneia specifically arise and are successful only when men are affected by the Gospel.
And so we who are affected by the Gospel must live lives such as that which is called for by God. Among us porneia should not even be named. We should flee from it. If this becomes increasingly true in our assemblies then one of two consequences will arise.
1.) Either those outside of Christ will be attracted to the Gospel that makes for porneia free living
The Christian life is the abundant life. Our lives are set free from all the real dark drama that accompanies those caught in the net of porneia. Imagine how attractive Christianity might be to someone living with the consequences of porneia to witness a healthy Christian family. As our unbelieving culture spins further and further into dark night and old chaos the ability to function well as a Family unit based upon Christian truth will serve as salt and light for those wanting out of the darkness created, in part, by porneia.
2.) or those outside of Christ will attack us for the standing rebuke we are to their ongoing dissipation.
Harvard Sociological expert Carle Zimmerman could say,
“When familism is distinctly weak in a society, all the cultural elements take on anti-family tinge.”
And I would add that as familism can only be produced by Christianity the anti-family tinge will also be a anti-Christian tinge.
As porneia comes more and more out of the closet the expectation will be that those who are chaste will have to go into the closet.
When St. Paul reminds them that porneia is not even to be named among them we are reminded that to allow porneia to be named among our assemblies is to turn our assemblies into synagogues of Satan. When we turn a blind eye to unrepentant and indifferent unchasteness in our membership we do our Lord Christ, our congregations, our denominations and those persons a grave disservice.
The Heidelberg Catechism reinforces what we are teaching when it teaches
Question 109. Does God forbid in the 7th commandment, only adultery, and such like gross sins?
Answer: Since both our body and soul are temples of the holy Ghost, he commands us to preserve them pure and holy: therefore he forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, (a) thoughts, desires, (b) and whatever can entice men thereto.
And here we pause to consider those last 6 words. This 7th commandment forbids whatever can entice men to the violation of the 7th commandment.
These are difficult words in our information age that so easily conveys the sensual. In our information age it seems as if it is almost impossible to escape the enticing. Listen to the radio. Watch the television. Go to the movies or plays. Drive down the highway being exposed to the billboards. Listen to music. Read a magazine or a novel. Surf the web. Attend your sex education class. Is it really possible to escape whatever can entice men to uncleanness?
Still, we must seek to cut out as much as we can in order to be innocent regarding evil.
Of course all of this will work to make us a peculiar people. This not naming porneia among us will distinguish us and make us different.
When we turn to Ephesians 5 again we notice this list of sins that are not to be named among us and I would like to suggest that this list is not random.
The prohibition to porneia, which by the Greek language construction is a prohibition expressed in the strongest of terms, suggests to me that the other sins listed are somehow connected to the prohibition against porneia. The connection between Uncleanness and porneia is rather more obvious but the idea of covetousness might not be. Porneia is pursued by people who want something that is not their’s to have. Behind porneia is a covetous disposition seeking to seize what is not rightfully to be had. And so, after forbidding porneia God can forbid that which drives porneia and that is illicit desire …. covetousness. So here we see a natural connection between the 7th commandment and the 10th commandment so that we might say that it is impossible to break the 7th without also breaking the 10th.
Further, I would suggest the foolish talking or coarse jesting is likewise related to porneia. That is to say that the speaking that is being forbidden here is connected to illicit intimacy. We sometimes call this “Potty talk,” or “Locker room humor.”
And finally the Apostle connects the 7th word and the 10th word with the 1st word. The Apostle says that the kind of man he is describing is an Idolater. Of course this fits. The porneia man who is driven by his illicit covetous desires is a man who is prioritizing himself above God. Depending on how one looks at it the porneia man has made a god above God out of whatever it is he is wrongly desiring or he has made himself, with his unnatural desires, his own God.
Well, then can we understand why the Apostle would say that such a thing is not to be named among God’s people. Should those who serve false gods be named among those who serve the true God?
As we end we are reminded that the reason we take seriously the 7th word is because of the love of the Father we have and the gratitude for all that He has freely given to us in Christ. We take the 7th word seriously because we can’t help but to take it seriously since we have been given the Spirit so that we might walk in the newness of life with God’s law as the standard of what that life looks like.