A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 5:5-7. 1). The certainty of judgment.
Many reasons are given in the New Testament why Christian people should abstain from immorality. There is, for example, the trinitarian theology of the human body as created by God, belonging to Christ and indwelt by the Spirit, which Paul develops in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Then there is the intrinsic inappropriateness of unholy practices in the holy people of God; in other words, sexual licence is simply ‘not fitting among saints’ (verses 3-4). And now there is the fear of judgment. Most immoral people get away with their immorality on earth, but they will not escape detection, conviction and sentence for ever. For *be sure of this*, Paul warns, since there is no uncertainty about it, *that no fornicator or impure man* (‘person’ would be better, for the words though masculine are not intended to limit the reference to men)…*has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God*. We note in passing the remarkable bracketing of Christ and God in this expression. Since the definite article is not repeated, the kingdom is said to belong to him who is both ‘Christ’ and ‘God’. And this divine kingdom is a righteous kingdom, from which all unrighteousness will be excluded (cf. 1 Cor.6:9, 10; Gal.5:21).
We must be cautious, however, in our application of this severe statement. It should not be understood as teaching that even a single immoral thought, word or deed is enough to disqualify us from heaven; otherwise, which of us would ever qualify for admission? No; for those who fall into such sins through weakness, but afterwards repent in shame and humility, there is forgiveness. The immoral or impure person envisaged here is one who has given himself up without shame or penitence to this way of life, *one who is covetous* in the sense already defined, namely sexually greedy (4:19;5:3), *that is*, Paul adds in parenthesis, *an idolater*. Such people, whose lust has become an idolatrous obsession, will have no share in the perfect kingdom of God.
*Let no one deceive you*, the apostle continues. He has himself urged them to acknowledge the truth of divine judgment (*be sure of this*); now he warns them of the *empty words* of false teachers who would persuade them otherwise. In his day Agnostics were arguing that bodily sins could be committed without damage to the soul, and with impunity. In our day there are many deceivers in the world, and even in the church. They teach that God is too kind to condemn everybody, and that everybody will get to heaven in the end, irrespective of their behaviour on earth. But their words are empty and their teaching deceitful. Universalism (i.e. universal final salvation) is a lie. The truth is that *because of these things* (these evil, immoral, greedy, idolatrous practices) *the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience*. The last phrase is a Hebraism already encountered in 2:2; it means simply ‘the disobedient’, those who know God’s law and wilfully disobey it. God’s wrath falls on such, beginning now, and culminating in the day of judgment (cf. Rom 1:18ff; Eph.4:17-19).
*Therefore*, Paul concludes, because God’s kingdom is righteous and God’s wrath will overtake the unrighteous, *do not associate with them*. The RSV rendering in unfortunate. Paul is not prohibiting all contact or association with such people. Otherwise we could not bring them the good news or seek to restrain them from their evil ways. And we would need to go out of the world altogether, which Christ has forbidden (Jn.17:15; 1 Cor.5:9-10). The Greek word *summetochoi* refers to participation, not just association, and the prohibition means ‘do not be partners with them’ (NIV). For if we share in their practices, as Lot was warned in Sodom, we run the risk of sharing in their doom.
It would be easy for Christians to speed read a paragraph like this, without pausing for reflection, on the assumption that it applies to unbelievers, not to us. Has not Paul assured us in the earlier part of his letter of our heavenly inheritance, taught us that the Holy Spirit within us is God’s guarantee, even foretaste and first instalment, of it ‘until we acquire possession of it’ (1:13-14), and prayed that our eyes might be opened to see ‘the riches of the glory of the inheritance’ which will one day be ours? (1:18). Yes, indeed he has. At the same time he also addresses to us this warning about the danger of forfeiting our inheritance in God’s kingdom. How can we reconcile these things? Only by recalling that assurance of salvation is neither a synonym nor an excuse for presumption. And if we should fall into a life of greedy immorality, we would be supplying clear evidence that we are after all idolaters, not worshippers of God, disobedient people instead of obedient, and so the heirs not of heaven but of hell. The apostle gives us a solemn warning; we shall be wise to heed it.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 5:8-14. 2). The fruit of light.