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Mar 27, 2011

Code of Conduct, Pt. 2

Passage: Ephesians 5:3-20

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Ephesians 4-6: Invading Enemy Territory

Category: Ephesians

Keywords: code, conduct, immorality, holy spirit, thanksgiving


It's easy to forget in a world of relativism that we are people called to the highest code of conduct in the world. This sermon looks at the specific sins we're called to avoid, the means God gives for doing that and the role of the Holy Spirit in it all.


Code of Conduct—Ephesians 5:3-18

Ephesians Series:  Invading Enemy Territory

March 27, 2011

Connection Question:  If you could only contribute ONE requirement or rule to a church “code of conduct,” what would it be?

INTRO:  It seems like the news is rife with people getting caught doing things that are either illegal or against the code of conduct of whatever club, team or organization they are a part of.

  • Last week, DeAngelo Casto, a kid who used to attend the same youth group our 3 older kids were a part of prior to Mosaic, was suspended from WSU’s championship basketball team for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.  (Interestingly, he was reinstated the next day (Wednesday), the day of WSU’s big game against Northwestern that they barely won in overtime.) 
  • Then there is the other “Cougar” basketball team:  BYU. In the first week of March, Brigham Young University suspended double-digit scorer and leading rebounder Brandon Davies for violating the BYU honor code.  His offense?  Having sex with his girlfriend. They lost their next game against New Mexico as a result. 
  • And there is the 5-member team of American soldiers who took to killing young Afghan men as sport and were exposed recently in photos of them posing with the dead bodies of their victims.  All 5 are facing court martial and long prison terms.  Their barbaric acts have shocked the world and left a terrible blot on the overwhelmingly professional efforts of our military.

Almost every school, every business, every organization has some sort of “code of conduct” that it expects its members to adhere to.  Those codes vary drastically depending upon whether you are talking about the Cougar Basketball team or the Russian Mafia.  But every organization has some code of conduct that is usually designed to reflect their core values and to preserve the integrity and survival of the group. 

The church of Jesus Christ is no exception.  In fact, I think that we can all agree that God’s family has THE highest code of conduct standards of any group of people anywhere.  The problem doesn’t seem to be with the code; it seems to be with US, the code-breakers. 

We’re in Ephesians 5 today, a passage that actually has a lot to say about a Christ-follower’s code of conduct.  If you remember back to two weeks ago, you’ll remember that I tried to lay the foundation for this passage in the first two verses of chapter 5.  Those verses deal with the fact that we are called to a morality of LOVE.  Not any kind of love but God’s love itself. 

      The key to being able to live that kind of life out towards others is that we, as God’s kids, have and can be experiencing for the rest of life and eternity what it is to BE LOVED that way by God himself. 

  • We are the “dearly loved (agapeta) children” of God. 
  • We, of all people in this world and culture, can know what self-sacrificing agape love is all about. 
  • We can experience it every day of our lives. 
  • We can drink it in, float in it any moment, find hope and refuge in it in every crisis. 

Everything that Paul is going to call us to in the following code of conduct is nothing more than living up to that ONE foundational code of love:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you mind and with all your strength…and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love God and love people with godly love and you won’t have to worry whether you’re “living the code” or not.  You will be.

But most of us need a little more specific clarity about what that code should look like when we relate to other people, right?  Especially in a world where we are told that relativism reigns supreme, we need a few reinforcements every now and then, don’t we?  For many of the commands of God, most people’s consciences are all we really need to know when we’re stepping over the line and when we’re staying in the realm of genuine love. 

ILL:  This past week, David was talking to me about his World History class.  They’ve been looking at some of the more evil European regimes like Hitler’s and Stalin’s and how they used propaganda to get the masses to at least initially support them in their despotic rise to power. 

      David went on to tell me about a documentary video his class had watched on the horrific actions of Stalin that starved to death millions of people on purpose, produced nearly daily death lists that Stalin personally signed, and resulted in anywhere from 20-60 million people being killed.  David commented on how everyone left class that day quiet, sober, sad and shocked. 

      Now isn’t that interesting?  Young people who have been told by their pop culture, their teachers, the media and the prevailing culture that “right and wrong is situational and relative,” KNOW in their hearts when they see evil.  Without being told, the law that God has written upon their hearts rises up and shouts, “This is WRONG!  It is WRONG to murder people.  It is WRONG to starve people!  It is WRONG to practice genocide!  It is WRONG to abuse power and trample people!” 

But ask those same students, “Is premarital sex wrong?”, and you will get hems and haws or outright “No’s”.  Ask them, “Is speaking obscenities wrong?”, and you will get laughter…and obscenities.  Ask them if greed is wrong, and they will probably tell you, “That depends.  Is it yours…or mine?”  J 

That’s why Paul takes time out here, in the midst of talking about how we are to live day to day as God’s kids, to get specific about just a handful of things that tend to trip up the people of God.  It is SO EASY to engage in “code of conduct DRIFT” that Paul God decided to remind his kids that there are daily, practical sins that warrant His judgment that we may look at as “not that big of a deal” if we’re not careful.  God isn’t advocating a return to a law that makes us a slave to sin.  He’s advocating a stepping up to love that enables us to enjoy God every day.

He starts by mentioning 6 things in verses 3-4 that we need to eliminate from our lives as God’s kids.  Read it along with me.

Ephesians 5:3-4

3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Let’s look at these 6 behaviors for a moment, not as a test of our vocabulary, but as a measure of our love for Christ and each other.

1.)     “Sexual Immorality” (vs. 3)

This is a broad term for sexual sin in the New Testament that seems to focus on any kind of sexual intercourse before or outside of the marriage bond.  The Greek word is porneia from which we get the term “pornography” in the English language. 

  • Jesus used the term to talk about sexual immorality other than adultery in Mt. 15:19 when he said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, (porneia) sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” 
  • Paul calls the Corinthian church in I Cor. 5 & 6 (5:1; 6:13, 18) to deal with the sexual immorality in the church.  The underlying reason he gives is because the believer’s body is now the temple of God himself.  Uniting it with another person outside of marriage is like taking the Temple of God and mixing worship of the true God with worldly religions. 

      How would you feel about our worship today if, when you arrived here this morning, we had prayer rugs on the floor and were reciting Islamic prayers facing towards Mecca?  What if I asked you to assume a posture of eastern meditation and think about Buddah today?  What if we had Hindu statues all over here today and I asked you to chant Hindu prayers today? 

But uniting our bodies with others outside of the marriage bond is every much as detestable to God as if you and I were to engage in false worship of false gods this morning.  Our bodies belong to God just as surely as our souls do.  That is one reason why sexual immorality is never to be the experience of God’s people. 

Verse 5 gives another reason why sexual immorality is not to be a part of God’s people:  “For of this you can be sure:  No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”  Now, to be sure, Paul is not talking about a believer who is fighting to overcome sexual temptations and may occasionally fall and fail. He’s talking about the person whose lifestyle is one of loving sex or money or filthy speech more than God.  Sexual immorality always runs the danger of idolatry. 

      And here is really the root of every one of these sins that Paul is mentioning in this passage.  Every sin has power to become our God.  When we choose to live for what our unredeemed flesh loves to do apart from God, then we are effectively saying that we would rather worship another god at that moment than our Heavenly Father.  We’re saying that the pleasure we get…or the medicating of our pain in life…or the sense of power or satisfaction that comes with that ungodly behavior…is more important to us than the pleasure, the encouragement, the love, the companionship and everything else God wants to be to us.  We’re trading the True God for a false one.

      As anyone who is involved in sexual immorality will tell you, that god of sex leaves you emptier afterwards than you were before.  That’s the way false gods are.  It promises intimacy with another human being (something our souls were hard-wired to want) but leaves us more isolated than ever. It provides a temporary sense of excitement and pleasure but leaves you with a gaping hole of guilt, shame and distrust. 

      There a boatload of reasons why sex outside of marriage is damaging to every one of us as well as the other person.  Failure to learn to discipline our sexual drives and keep their fire within the safety of the fireplace of marriage leads to all kinds of unintended problems. 

CHALLENGE:  That’s one reason why the church needs to be a place where we are free to talk openly about this.  We’re not doing each other a favor by not talking about what we’ve learned from our past failures.  For example, our teens and young adults need to be hearing from those of us who may not have guarded our virginity in our youth as to what problems that leads to.  They need to hear us talk about the regrets, the ensuing relational and physical problems, and the baggage it brings into a marriage. 

      They are certainly not going to hear that in the sex-ed class at school or the locker room or the dorm at college.  God didn’t include all the reasons WHY sex outside of marriage is wrong in his word; he left that up to his Family (the church) to talk about among ourselves so we are constantly reminded of the goodness and healthiness of sexual boundaries. Doing that allows us to redeem and make useful to God’s kingdom a period or experience in our past that Satan would just love to use to shame us into silence and defeat on. 

NOTE:  this is part of the important process of bringing every part of our lives “into the light.”  Look at what Paul says in 5:8-11.

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.

      Here, truly, is an extraordinary miracle!  The very “deeds of darkness” that render us completely fruitless in life, when exposed to the light of God’s transforming life of the Holy Spirit, actually “become a light.”  They become the tools God can use to help illuminate for us and others the truth. 

ILL:  Nadine Woodward’s testimony about having an abortion as a young woman before she met Christ.  She shared that story one evening at a Life Services dinner I attended downtown several years ago.  She was crying, snot running all over her face, and passion about the pain and shame she had felt for years pouring out of her soul.  She shared what that abortion had done to her for years, how it had bound her up, shamed her, kept her from telling her parents the truth (who were, that night, in the audience), loaded her with guilt and a host of other things.  But AS she shared her experience with people, that which had been “darkness” in her life became a light for others that, I am sure, kept some of them from going down that same dark road.  Through public confession and admission, she was able to point countless women (and men) to abortion recovery groups and to healing. 

      This is why public confession is so important.  It brings our sins into the light of God, into the loving light of His family, destroying the power it has had over us and actually discovering a totally new power to now help others as well as strengthen us against continued hiding in that darkness and the likelihood of repeating that and other sins. 

      This is why most of us need continual involvement in recovery groups.  This is why all of us benefit from accountability and fellowship groups where we actually experience being loved in the middle of our sins and struggles.  This is also why so many people in the church will never go farther than Sunday involvement:  they have never experienced the power of the Holy Spirit that comes into your life when past darkness is exposed and light overpowers that darkness and actually transforms failure into a better future. 

APP:  Every one of us needs to be in that kind of relationship with others in the body of Christ.  To fail to be is usually simply arrogance and pride—thinking that “I can handle this without the resources of friends and spiritual family God says I need.”  “I can beat this problem, this addiction, this weakness, this disease without humbling myself before God and people.”  “I can manage it…I can control it…I can DO it without the pain OR the healing of confession, repentance and renewal in Christ’s Body, the church.” 

We’ve all got addictive issues and sinful behaviors that keep us in darkness to varying degrees.  But we’ve all also got the freedom and opportunity to grab onto those issues, those sins, those dysfunctions and drag them into the light, day after day, week after week, year after year, where they lose their power. 

  • Ready to humble yourself and admit you have issues that need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the “light” of God’s presence and family?
  • Ready to not rest until you find a group that can help you with that? 
  • Ready to spend as many meetings and years as possible to develop strength in those areas of personal weakness by sticking with redemptive relationships?

DREAM:  to see a redemption ministry downtown that helps every church and every person in this community actually walk a path out of darkness into light. 

  • We’ve got plenty of ministries downtown that give people food and shelter and clothing and toiletries.  We have a very limited network of redemption ministries that month-by-month walk people through and out of the darkness of sinful behaviors into the light of right living in Christ. 
  • I’ve been praying for months now about what God might want his church, his people, to DO downtown here to take the Gospel and holy living to the next step.  I’ve been talking and praying with other pastors about that.  Something is stirring. 
  • How about WE get ready for the hard word and harvest that will come when we are ready?

Let’s move on. 

2.)     The next thing Paul mentions is “any kind of IMPURITY” or uncleanness (vs. 3).

This is a word Paul uses a half-dozen times in relation to sexual sin (Romans 1:24; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 4:19; Colossians 3:5). The word is probably added to “sexual immorality” to emphasize the kind of degradation common in Ephesus, Seattle and Spokane. According to Romans 1:24-27, that specifically includes sexual activity like homosexuality.

Paul is talking about the kinds of things that come into a culture when it exchanges worship of God for adoration of the creature. He says that people start exchanging the natural for the unnatural.

Verse 24—Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Even though our own culture may be returning to the sexual immorality and impurity of the first century near-Eastern paganism, those who have been called by Jesus Christ into his kingdom and glory are called to abandon fornication, adultery and homosexuality so they can walk in the glorious light of Christ’s life.

3.)     Next Paul lists “GREED”.

Greed generally refers to a driving, dominating hunger for money.  But it is much broader than that too. It means the strong, inordinate, dominating craving; an inability to be content and satisfied with what you currently have in life (cf. Hebrews 13:5; 1 Timothy 6:8). It may be a craving for money, OR it may be a craving for sex, as it seems to be here.

The same word was used back in 4:19 in this same sense. Paul refers to unbelievers in that culture as people who, “Having lost all sensitivity,…have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.”   

      Covetousness—wanting more of something than is rightfully ours and wanting it from an illegitimate source—is what drives the pursuit of so much that is sin in our culture. Those cravings are intended to be conquered by a new and more powerful affection—the affection of our hearts for the chief Love of our lives:  GOD!  Sin is always about what is the “love of our life,” right?

Paul now lumps sins 4-6 together in vs. 4:  “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”

Paul seems to be concerned mainly about two related errors: treating things as gross AND treating things as trivial; filthiness and flippancy.

      There are people who are so dirty inside that they can hardly refer to a tree or a cloud or a fish hook or a brake pedal without treating it as filthy: they may do it with some gross language or simply with a despising attitude and demeanor. And there are people whose vision of the world is so superficial that they trivialize everything.

      But God has made everything right, good and proper in its right time and place.  Sex is good…and it can be very funny…in the right time and place.  It should be discussed, talked about and  laughed over between a husband and wife, in families and even, yes, you heard it here, among God’s people. 

      We all know the difference between honoring sexuality and sex in speech and dishonoring it.  Our culture has uniformly dishonored it by…

  • speaking of it non-stop.
  • referring to it as a god that can satisfy our deepest longings.
  • showing it as public entertainment.
  • debasing it by making it vulgar.
  • cheapening it by making it casual.

But I sometimes wonder if God’s people don’t do the same thing by not talking about it at all…in the right way…with proper honor and joy. 

And now we come to the REPLACEMENT for all these vices of sexual immorality and immoral speech.  Like he did in chapter 4, Paul is calling us to put off these sins while putting on different behavior.  What is that?  Vs. 4--“Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”

      How many of you would have guessed that was the antidote to sexual immorality, perversion and obscene speech?  Not in a million years, right?

      If sex-out-of-bounds is driven by covetousness, and covetousness is a deep discontented craving that dominates your life and even leads you to go against the will of God, then it is clear that the opposite experience would be thanksgiving. If you are overflowing with thanksgiving to God, then you are not dominated and driven by discontentment at what you have been denied.

  • Gratitude is what you feel when you believe God is FOR you and not against you.
  • It's what you feel when you believe that he gives you only what is good for you and withholds no good thing (single or married!).
  • It's what you feel when you trust him, that the tragedies of your life are not evidences of his meanness or his incompetence; but rather that they are the positive discipline of a loving Father who values your holiness above your fleeting worldly happiness. That's why verse 20 goes so far as to say that we should be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So you can see how thanksgiving is the alternative to a life driven by cravings for what you don't have (whether sex or money or anything else in life). Thanksgiving says, “In God I have all that is good for me, and I will not be driven to dishonor the worth of his name just to get a few physical sensations or a few new toys.”

And you can see easily how thanksgiving is also the opposite of treating God's gifts as filthy or as trivial. When you are truly grateful for something, you don't despise it and you don't trivialize it.

Just test yourself: when your heart is overflowing with gratitude to God, do you use filthy language or make light of things? No. Gratitude is what you feel when you have been given eyes to see that all of life is the work of a sovereign and gracious God. It is not for trifling and it's not for defiling. [John Piper, The Enthronement of Desire, Oct. 26, 1986.]

Notice one final thing Paul ties thanksgiving to in our experience.  Eph. 5:18-20-- 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Last weekend at the Alpha retreat, we had one session on what it means to “be filled with the Holy Spirit” and what are some signs of that filling.  In preparing for that session, I was surprised once again how often “being filled with the Spirit” is a corporate experience. 

  • Acts 2—The coming of the H.S. at Pentecost was very much a “church-wide” experience that day.  They spilled out into the streets where people from a wide variety of countries heard them proclaiming the wonders of God in their own language.
  • In Acts 4, Peter and John had gone back to the church in Jerusalem after being interrogated by the Sanhedrin.  So in response to being threatened, they didn’t go to court like we would probably do today in America to demand our rights.  Instead they had another prayer meeting as a church.  Luke records that they praised God and then put their petition for continued miracles and boldness before God.  Acts 4:31 says this:  “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
  • In Acts. 13:52 we have the last direct mention in Acts of people being filled with the Spirit.  Paul and Barnabas had been run out of Pisidian Antioch after a very effective evangelistic ministry to the Gentiles there.  Acts 13:52 simply says, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”  That in spite of being run out of town! 
  • The other 4 incidents where Acts records people being “filled with the Holy Spirit” are all about individuals—Peter, Saul or Paul, and Acts 6 where you have Stephen and the other men chosen to take care of the widows in the church. 

But what’s really interesting in the command we have in Ephesians 5:18 to “be filled with the Spirit” is that it is a command made in the plural (“you all be filled”).  Rather than letting ourselves be controlled by alcoholic drink (another one of those improper uses of our bodies as God’s temple), we’re told to be filled with the Holy Spirit. 

      In the process of that command, Paul tells us HOW that filling is to look.   Every one of the things mentioned involves engaging in activities WITH others in the Body of Christ: 

  • “speaking to yourselves” (vs. 19)
  • “singing”
  • “psalming with your heart to the Lord”
  • “giving thanks always for all things…” (vs. 20)

I don’t know about you, but I tend to think of being filled with the Holy Spirit as something I’m personally and totally responsible for.  But when a full half of the clear mentions in Acts about people being filled with the Holy Spirit have to do with an all-church experience, I think I need to revise my theology.  God is encouraging us to remember that there are some spiritual experiences in this life…in fact, some of the more emotional and memorable ones…that cannot be experienced in isolation from other followers of Jesus.  Whether it’s a prayer meeting (which several of the situations in Acts were) or whether it’s a worship time together with a handful  of brothers and sisters, God chooses to “fill us up” with his remarkable presence frequently in gatherings with other believers where we are seeking God. 

ILL:  Anybody suffering sticker shock at the pump these days?  Just filling up your tank requires a second mortgage on the house! 

      With gas prices on the rise virtually daily, I’m finding that I’m checking for the best prices in town when I’m out and about and need to fill up.  This past week I discovered a new gas station back in some little hole-in-the-wall industrial part of town off Freya.  I never knew it existed, but I rearranged my route to and from work in order to find the best price I could. 

God is inviting us to rearrange our lives so that he can give us THE best fill-up in the universe—fullness in the Holy Spirit.  He’s calling to us every day to use our mouths, our minds and even our sexual drives in ways that enthrone Christ in our lives and dethrone old-nature desires from controlling us and spoiling holiness. 


1.)    What is God asking you to “dethrone” in your life?   What are the “idols” in your life that, by your constant engagement in certain behaviors, you are looking to for fulfillment?  Certain sexual practices?  Certain speech issues?  Some addictive behaviors, emotions or substances? You’ve got to name it before you can dethrone it.  What is it?  How about letting the Spirit of God whisper into your heart right now what he thinks.

2.)    What “light” are you going to expose it to?  WHO are you going to confess it to whenever you’ve failed and chosen it instead of God’s power and work in your life?  Who are you going to humble yourself before and ask help from?

3.)    How are you going to rearrange your life so that you put yourself in those experiences where God’s Spirit will fill you?  Some small group of believers who really get down to business with God?  A prayer retreat with a few of God’s people?  Making worship with others a priority? 

4.)  Thankfulness for what God is and what we already have from and in him is the antidote to every one of these sins and more.  How can we cultivate thankfulness in every area of life that will lead us to contentment in Christ and a hatred of sin?  What specific thankfulness do you need to engage in regarding your area of greatest dissatisfaction with what God has already blessed you with?