TRANSLATION OF THE LETTER TO EPHESIANS WITH COMMENT
EPHESIANS 5: Ff
As dear children, then, become imitators of God! Walk in love, just as Messiah loved us and handed himself over on our behalf, “a sacrifice offered to God, with a pleasing smell,” as the psalm says. But sexual promiscuity and all kinds of unclean behaviour, or unchecked greed, should not even be named amongst you, as is right for holy people. No filthy or salacious talk, no scurrilous jokes, should be customary with you, but rather a culture of gratitude. Know this for sure, that no promiscuous or unclean person, nor anyone greedy for gain (for that is worshipping an idol) will have a share in the kingdom of Messiah and of God. Do not let anyone deceive you with specious arguments: these are the reason God’s fury has come upon persistently disobedient people. So do not associate with them.
For once you were darkness but now you are light in the master; so walk as children of light -the fruit of light is in everything good and just and true – as you discern what is pleasing to the master. Have no share in unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For the secret things that take place among some people are shameful even to mention. But everything that is exposed by the light is shown openly, and everything that is shown openly is light. That is why we say,
Awake you sleeper
Arise from the dead
And Messiah will shine upon you.
The Locker Room
There is something relentlessly positive in this theology: even darkness can become light! But it is pretty definite about the behaviour of “the holy ones,” – sexual and economic greed are singled out and condemned as forms of idolatry, opposed to the self-sacrificing love of Jesus. I have some concern that the judicial torture and murder of Jesus should be characterised as a sweet-smelling sacrifice. Of course we can believe that Jesus offered his life to God, but it should never simply be described in ritual terms that cover up the actuality of crucifixion. The paradox is beautifully caught by the poet George Herbert, who wrote:
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine
Which my God feels as blood,
But I as wine.
The bringing together of promiscuity and greed is interesting, especially in a culture where casual sex is taken for granted, in the conviction that if two people want something it must be ok for them to have it. Another poet, Robert Graves has memorably demolished this view: “Theft is theft and raid is raid /Though reciprocally made.” The author of Ephesians would have agreed with Graves, because he saw promiscuous behaviour as acquisitive, the opposite of the grateful, generous culture he wished to promote.
A certain kind of sexual humour, which degrades both women and men, is also forbidden. As a man whose conversation has often been indecorous, I have to ask myself if I have been guilty of “filthy and salacious talk”. I have to admit I may occasionally have strayed in that direction, but in fact “locker room” chat often leaves me offended.
Light and darkness were then as now symbols commonly used in moral and religious writing. The New Testament tends to see darkness as a symbol of concealment and light as a symbol of truth and reality. We come to the light of Jesus so that our hidden sins may be revealed, confessed and forgiven. When we walk in the light we are not instantly made perfect, but the unsparing light of God’s goodness, focused upon us, is a serious deterrent to our worst selves. The words quoted by the author are from an unknown source, probably a hymn used in worship. It expresses the conviction that the taken-for-granted standards of life are a spiritual death from which the risen Messiah can awaken believers. Those who think that “greed is good” have to reckon with the criticism of Jesus and his followers.