By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Ephesians 5.3-4a
Note to the Reader – I encourage the reader to invest additional time reading the letter of Ephesians in conjunction with this article.
Living the True Life – Part II
Again, welcome to our study of Ephesians. Our journey is almost over, we have this lesson and the next and we will have completed our brief look at this rich book. You may recall that our lesson from last week spoke about Living the True Life. You may further recall that it was stated that within these three chapters of Ephesians we can find “thirty-five directives [speaking] of believers’ responsibility”1 and that those 35 might be dependent on each reader. Like chapter 4, Ephesians 5 has Paul discussing the manner in which the disciple is to live the true life. The last article mentioned that chapter 4 had 11 “directives” interestingly enough, chapter 5 appears to contain that same number. The eleven I found:
- 5.1 – Follow God
- 5.2 – Demonstrate Love
- 5.3-4a – Purify Conduct
- 5.4b – Give Thanks
- 5.5-7 – Remain Persuaded
- 5.8-14 – Wake-up Spriritually
- 5.15-17 – Act Wisely
- 5.18-19 – Speak Spiritually
- 5.20 – Speak Gratefully
- 5.21 – Yield Reciprocally
- 5.22-33 – Nurture Matrimony
Again, because of the nature of articles, we cannot examine all eleven so we will have to limit our study to only one. Knowing this, we will look at Ephesians 5.3-4a.
In this short statement (Ephesians 5.3-4a) Paul mentions six things that are poor character traits for those who call themselves disciples. Three specific behaviors that no disciple (or assembly of disciples) should be known for are:
- Fornication (any kind of sexual immorality),
- All Uncleanness (impurity of any kind – emotionally, morally, intellectually, physically), or
- Covetousness (the insatiable need for more material wealth).
But Paul mentions also three behaviors that are not convenient (out of place or not fitting):
- Filthiness (obscenities/lewdness of actions, thoughts, expressions, and/or words)
- Foolish Talking (speech that is ill-considered, unwise, or has lack of forethought or caution)
- Jesting (coarse/vulgar/crude jokes, pranks, remarks)
It seems that Paul is reminding disciples of God’s high demand for those who call themselves disciples. While each of these six has merit, today we are forced to focus even more narrowly and we will only spotlight jesting.
Most, if not all of us joke around. Some jocularity is fun and rewarding; however, there is wittiness that is most harmful. It is this harm that Paul says a Christian should not do, after all God gives good and perfect gifts, not hurtful and injurious gifts. When we consider this topic, we are forced to really examine our conduct in regard to our humor. With this comment about jesting, Paul is not limiting the purging to off-color jokes about something stereotypical; instead this “directive” goes much further.
This “directive” may seem ridiculous and too demanding, but when we are finished, it is my hope that we can see that much of our jocularity is truly “out of place” among the saints. Hopefully, each Christian understands that giving audience to and retelling of off-colored jokes is “out of place”; but have we considered that practical jokes played on unsuspecting targets, sharp stinging jokes aimed at the listeners, insulting comments cloaked in humor, and possibly others, all fall within this jesting?
There will always be someone who is an “easy target” to serve as the object of wit, ridicule, or sarcasm of jokes for the amusement of others, but this is simply “out of place” among saints. Sure, we have seen these things take place at school, at the office, in the market place, in entertainment media, but for a child of God to perpetrate these actions on another soul, simply is demonstrating neither one’s love for God, nor one’s love for humanity. We could simply refer to the Golden Rule (Matthew 7.12), but sometimes it seems that it is not enough to influence change. Here, in Ephesians we are told to purify our conduct.
While God has given us a sense of humor, it appears that innocent jokes and humor that involves open knowledge on all parties (possibly other forms of humor not mentioned) are the only types that should be enjoyed. Any humor that injures someone emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, or physically is absolutely uncalled for by those who call themselves disciples. Instead of insulting jabs that tear down, we should be doing the task of Ephesians 4.16b and that is doing things and speaking things that edify (build up) each other and the congregation. May we seek to always improve our conduct and purify ourselves to the glory of God and the benefit of each other.
1 Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts, Ephesians, p. 406, ISBN 0-7852-1154-3.