Message: The Satisfaction of the Cross | Scripture: Ephesians 5:3-6| Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: Blessed Assurance; Worthy is the Lamb; Saviour, Like a Shepherd Lead Us; Jesus, Thank You
- Why does Paul focus on sexual sins/sins of a sensual pleasure in this passage?
- Why is Paul’s command not to let these sins be named among his readers?
- Is it okay to pursue happiness? What makes the pursuit of happiness a sin?
- What is the difference between the satisfaction of the unrepentant sinner and the satisfaction of a Christian?
- Why won’t worldly pleasures truly satisfy us? Do they provide any form of pleasure? If so, why doesn’t it (the pleasure) last?
- What is the right way to find lasting satisfaction? What is it (lasting satisfaction) grounded upon?
- What do those who persist in sin-indulgent sin miss out on? What do they gain instead? What does this mean for Christians?
- In Pauline Epistles, how do warnings work? What is Paul’s mind towards his Ephesian readers as he gives them these terrible warnings?
- Are there sins in your life that you need to confess that are saturated in worldly self-indulgence? What stops you from confessing those sins? Do you have someone in your life to confess them to?
- What has this sermon taught you about God and your relationship with him, and how have you been applying it/how would you like to apply it to your life?
- What is one thing we can be praying about for you/a praise item that you want to share so that we can give praise with you?
- Take some time to pray together.
I recently had a dramatic and life-changing experience. As you all know, my parents were just here visiting, and on their very first Saturday, we decided to take them into the City to see the sights. In fact, prior to my parents’ coming, we’ve only gone into to San Francisco once, and even then, we only got to see a limited number of things because Micah’s schedule was really strict, and it made traveling difficult. So, now that my parents were here, and Micah was more able to take on the changes of environment and nap in different places, we decided to be more adventurous, and our first stop was the Ferry Building. Now, you all know that Saturdays are Farmers’ Market days, and we’ve been to our fair share of Farmers’ Markets. There’s a famous one in Toronto that we had both, my wife and I, grown up going to. So, we sort of knew what to expect. We know that at these events there’s usually some pretty good food, and we asked Deborah for some recommendations. Everything we ate was spectacular. I mean Candace had blue bottle coffee, which she says is the best coffee she’s ever had, we tried bi-rite ice cream, we bought special cheese, we had artisan drinks. These things alone made our first trip to the Ferry Building a wild success. But then, we lined up for the porketta sandwich. A line-up that was 40 minutes long, and we almost decided not to do it, but we ended up giving in—I mean, if people are willing to line-up for that long, we’ve got to at least try it. 40 minutes later, we sat down on a bench, I opened up my bag to take out the sandwich, I took my half—I was sharing with Candace—and I bit into it. And I’m almost not exaggerating when I say that I almost keeled over in delight. It was nothing I expected it to be, and everything a sandwich ought to be all at the same time. Perfectly cooked, bread just soft and crunchy enough, the right sauces, the right veggies, the proper amount of oil dripping—all of it was there. Then, I had the oil drip homefries, and I might have shaved off a year or two from the number of arteries I clogged, but if that’s the last sandwich I eat, and if those are the last homefries I taste, then I shall die a happy man. Since then, I’ve had that sandwich 3 more times—all three times, I was too busy to go into the City myself, but my parents loved going in, and I asked them each time to bring one back for me, even if it was cold. I didn’t care. My life had been changed. I had found the sandwich that satisfies all sandwich cravings, and I was going to eat as much of it as I could.
This morning, we want to discuss what satisfies us in such a way that we can’t go back to how things were before. What does it mean be Christian in a world full of unsatisfied people, and how to prevent ourselves from going back to being like that? These are the questions Paul asks here in Ephesians 5:3-6. So, let’s read this together now. TWoL.
But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things, the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
We’ve just spent the last couple of weeks talking about what Paul meant when he commanded us, as Christians, to lay aside the old self and put on the new self of God’s likeness as his imitators. We’re to act like God because Christ loves God and gave himself up for us so that we might also love God. Ephesians 5:1 is the top of Paul’s Mount Everest, and it’s easy for us Christians to think, we’ve made it to the top! The grace has been received.
What our mistake is often as Christians is that we grow accustomed to climbing the mountain and fixing our eyes on God as we go up, but as we start to descend back to earth and back to the daily grind of life, we forget and turn our backs to all that’s come before, and Paul knows this! He knows that we’re human, and that we’ve got to descend the hill at some point, and he wants to give us instruction so that we might not only descend, but so that we might descend well.
And how do we do this? Paul’s answer is to be satisfied. It’s our satisfaction, our happiness, our joy that will sustain us, and it’s not just satisfaction in anything. No, it’s satisfaction in God himself as you stood up upon that peak, and Paul wants to remind us that Being Satisfied in God through Christ Means Staying Satisfied in God through Christ. We can’t at one time be satisfied in God and then turn around and say that we’re not satisfied anymore. That’s not how it works. No, the difference between a true professing Christian and a falsely professing Christian is in what or in whom they place their supreme satisfaction. This is what Paul wants to deal with as we descend the peak. He wants to warn us against what we often reinterpret or reimagine as our satisfaction. Then, he wants us to recall what true satisfaction is. Finally, he wants us to know that true satisfaction is coming. Satisfaction will be rendered, and he asks us, “are we ready for it? Will we be able to handle it?” And it is my hope today is that we’ll say, “yes, we’re ready. Yes, we’re satisfied.” So, let’s look at our first point this morning:
1) Satisfaction Reinterpreted/Reimagined
I’ll be going through these verses in a somewhat unorthodox way to help you see the logic of the text, and the first thing I want to point you towards are the three imperatives. In verse 3, Paul says, “immorality or any impurity or greed must not be named among you.” Then, in verse 4, he says, “there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting.” Lastly in verse 6, he writes, “let no one deceive you with empty words.” I want to walk you through each of these, but in order to do that we have to remember the context of Paul’s writing.
He’s writing to Christians, first and foremost. But he’s also writing to people who once hated each other—Jews and Gentiles. God has saved them. He has brought them into one community under one Christ—he has torn down the dividing wall. He has created a new humanity as God’s people. And he calls them to live in unity as God is united, how? By speaking the truth and walking in love (Eph 4:15; 5:2), by becoming increasingly mature as one body in sacrificial giving and service (Eph 4:16), by adopting new, holy and righteous desires as a new man (Eph 4:24), by looking like and imitating God himself (Eph 5:1).
In other words, Paul wants the Ephesians to look different than they looked before. He doesn’t want them influenced by Ephesian culture, nor does he want them influenced by their historical animosity. No, the Ephesians are to look like something that is outside of themselves because it is what is external to them that brings their salvation, and it is what’s external to them that now forms their appearance.
The thing is, when we’re at the top of the mountain, all of these things are easy to acknowledge. When we’re feeling particularly spiritual, when we’re surrounded by Christians it’s easy for us to say and do the right things. It’s easy, in those circumstances, to be and look like a Christian. Why? Because in that moment, it’s what we want to be.
But then, we descend the hill. We start with all of this zeal, but before you know it that zeal has fizzled out because we’ve not only physically turned our backs to God, we’ve figuratively and spiritually done so as well. So, here, Paul is asking how he can convince Christians to stay Christians. How might one maintain his authentically Christian life through the difficulties of life? Well, let’s first look at people who are non-Christian. What is it that they do? In Ephesus, they were deeply immoral and sinfully unclean. Their motivation was to find their happiness in the world.
The words here for immorality and impurity are of a sexual nature. They were, literally, trying to gratify the sensual pleasures of the flesh. In other words, as Paul puts it, they were driven by their greed—namely, their sexual greed. Greed, here, is distinguished from immorality and impurity with the word “or.” I know the NASB uses or between all three nouns in verse 3 (immorality or impurity or greed), but the Greek reads it as sexual immorality AND all uncleanness OR greed. And what Paul is doing is summing up the sins—sexual immorality and uncleanness, their issue is greed (we see this more clearly in Col 3:5), and it’s an issue that flows from the heart. The heart attitude, the desires that drive people to pursuits of sexual immorality and all forms of uncleanness is greed. Greed to put ourselves above others.
Again, remember the context. Ephesians 5:1-2 has just told us that to imitate God, we are to walk in love. And what does it mean to walk in love? It means to walk as Christ loved us when he gave himself up for us. So, the defining feature of a Christian’s life is that he or she loves as Christ loved—love sacrificially. But as we descend the mountain, we forget Christ’s sacrifice, and we become greedy for our own desires.
The gospel is about humble self-sacrifice, but the world is all about greedy self-indulgence. And one who lives in this second way, Paul says—the one who is sexually immoral and unclean—he or she doesn’t belong to God. Why? Because God is not self-indulgent. God is self-sacrificing. To act in a way that is contrary to the character of God is to act against God himself.
Still, Paul doesn’t only want to draw your attention to acts of the body but acts of the mouth as well. He says avoid all obscenity or filthiness and silly talk or sexual jokes. In writing this, Paul is in agreement with other New Testament authors like Matthew, Luke, and James who talk about the mouth as a spokesman for the meditations of the heart. Why does Paul make such a big deal about what we say, when it’s obvious that what we do with our body sinfully is already bad enough? It’s because “how great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” The body affects a limited number of people at most, but the tongue—its effect is limitless.
This is also why in verse 6 Paul tells us not to let anyone deceive us with empty words. The admonition works two ways: don’t fill people’s heads with empty, unsatisfying things, and don’t go about getting your heads filled with empty, unsatisfying things because just as you are to be a beacon of light to your Ephesian neighbours, they will seek to drag you into the dark. They will want to tell you things that they think you need to hear, and you’ll want to believe them. Don’t believe them! Don’t let them reinterpret your supreme satisfaction. Don’t let them reorient your affections. Don’t let them turn your eyes inward and off the gospel because greed will come rushing in, and it will consume you. This is what these three imperatives are concerned with—don’t forsake your joy by going back to sinful ways.
But before I move on, let me say something brief about the verbs in these three verses. In verses 3 and 4, the verb is not to let these things be named among you. Then in verse 6, the verb is not to let anyone deceive you. I believe both verbs can be interpreted similarly—he’s saying don’t give these things the time of day among you. Don’t tolerate them. Don’t let them affect your hearts. Mortify the sin. Cling to righteousness.
Yet, I have to ask, why does Paul use these verbs, particularly the one in verse 3? Don’t let sexual immorality, uncleanness, greed, obscenity, moronic words, and crude joking be named among you. Why didn’t Paul simply say, “don’t take part in these things?” And the reason why is a mixture of both Jewish history and Ephesian culture. Both have a history of idol worship. And the thing about idols is that names are very important. The names of different gods in Egypt, when the Israelites were captive slaves, and in the Gentile world would signify what the god did, what his or her power was, where their temple was, how high in authority they were in comparison to other gods, etc.
Paul is equating these sins to gods that can rule our lives and misplace the source of our true satisfaction—by naming them, by pondering what they are, you are giving that thing its power over you. I’m not overexaggerating this, because I believe Paul’s thinking back, particularly, to the incident in Exodus 3 with the burning bush. There, he commissions Moses to go to his people in Egypt, and Moses responds, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘the God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘what is his name? what shall I say to them?” Then, God says to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”
Without getting into too much of the details, God’s use of the word “I am” here is a wordplay—the word is אהיה, which sounds like יהוה, and Moses is to use this word “אהיה” because יהוה was unspeakable among the Jews—they would know that Moses spoke of יהוה by the similarity of sound when he said אהיה. For context, wordplay in the Old Testament wasn’t for humour, it was to signal that judgment was coming. In other words, God gives Israel this as his name, “I AM” to rebuke Israel against their idolatry and prostitution to other gods. It’s also a philosophical statement that God is the “I AM.” He is self-existent. He is the only God. There are no other gods. There are no other names to try and comprehend because God is the “I AM.”
Paul is drawing on this tradition of the importance of names for Christians both from an Israelite and Gentile perspective because the only name that matters is God’s, and his name is “I AM.” Thus, you’re not to name these things, you’re not to give them your attention because not only is it an offence to God—not only is Paul saying, “how dare you?” He is also saying, “don’t you dare.” Don’t you dare find satisfaction in these other gods. Don’t you dare turn your back to me and name these other things as your source of happiness. Don’t you dare let these things deceive you with their emptiness BECAUSE they are nothing. BUT I, “I AM” everything. Being satisfied in God through Christ means staying satisfied in God through Christ because God through the work of Christ is the only name that is worthy of recognition and attention. He is the I AM, and he, alone, must be our supreme happiness.
2) Satisfaction Recalled
So, we’ve observed that true happiness doesn’t come from within. It comes from without. It doesn’t come with being self-indulgent because God is not self-indulgent. It comes with being self-sacrificing because God sacrifices everything for us. This is what Paul means in verse 3 when he says, “as is proper among saints,” and in verse 4 when he implies that there is a “fitting” way to speak. What is proper and fitting for Christians isn’t to live immoral, greedy lives, nor is it to speak immorally, nor is it to allow ourselves to be deceived. No, we are to live, and we are to speak in ways, verse 4, that give thanks.
This is where I came up with our theme for this morning: our satisfaction and happiness depend upon the object in which we place our greatest gratitude. You see, it’s not wrong to want to be happy and pursue it to its fullest extent. The only thing that makes it wrong is when that pursuit is for something or someone other than God. John Piper puts it this way, “When I desire happiness, I mean, “I want to be happy.” But when I say, I desire a biscuit, I do not mean, “I want to be a biscuit.” Happiness is not an object to be desired. It is the experience of the object.” What sexual immorality is. What all forms of uncleanliness are. What greed is. All of it is based upon a desire to be happy, but it’s a desire to be happy in the wrong thing.
We weren’t made to be satisfied by our self-indulgence of this world. We weren’t made to be grateful for things that we do for ourselves. We weren’t made to be self-sufficient. No, our sufficiency is supposed to come outside of us. The human experience is a life of desiring what is outside of us because we, alone, are not enough. It is a life that longs to be happy in something sufficiently satisfying in itself.
When I was 17, I remember having a number of arguments with my parents, and I remember sitting in my room so fed up with being under their roof and not being able to do what I wanted to do. I remember this vividly because it’s what drove me to apply for universities that would take me away from home. Once I got into them, I chose one pretty far by our standards, and I thought, “finally, now I’ll be happy. I can eat what I want. I can sleep when I want. I can study when I want. I can do what I want, when I want.” Then, I actually got to university, and on the very first night, I remember calling my mother and father and telling them that I wanted to come home.
This is what happens when we look inward and seek our own self-indulgence, we forget what’s good for us, and we turn our back on the things that were truly satisfying for us. What I really wanted wasn’t to be farther from my parents but to be closer to them. What I wanted wasn’t my freedom, it was their love and care, and in those first years of university, although I ended up staying where I was, I learned to cherish and be thankful for the summers and weekends when I got to go back home, and I’d look forward to the next time I’d be able to do it.
To live as a Christian—to live in a way that is proper and fitting for the calling that we’ve been given—is to recall and remember the satisfaction we’ve received in our God through our Saviour. This is Paul’s warning and encouragement for us this morning. Stay the course! Don’t give those worldly pleasures any power over your lives because Christ loved you and gave himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God. Let your lives be defined not by a pursuit for self-indulgence. Let your lives be defined by what is of eternal value. Find your supreme happiness in a God who is supremely happy. The reason we’re not to pursue our greed isn’t because it fails to provide some sort of pleasure. It does provide a kind of pleasure. The problem with greed is that it doesn’t provide enough pleasure. It doesn’t provide enough satisfaction. It enslaves you because it is ultimately insufficient.
Being satisfied in God through Christ means staying satisfied in God through Christ because all the other things, all the worldly pursuits, they’re not good enough. They’re not God himself. Sexual immorality, pornography, sexual acts outside of marriage, sexual language and jokes, and other carnal pleasures, these don’t satisfy, why? Because our desires can only be satisfied by something that is, in itself, satisfied. See, sex is a created, dependent thing. It is not something that ought to have authority over us. There is no sex apart from humans! We’re to control it. But sin reverses what the created order should be. So, instead of God standing over man and man over the rest of God’s creation, things stand over man and man stands over God. What God seeks to restore, and what we’re to be thankful for is our reorientation back to the created order—he’s put things back in their place so that what we now want isn’t temporary or created. What we now want is the Creator himself.
But, as humans, Paul knows we will try to mess things up. We’ll look to become satisfied in ourselves. All it takes is that one look or that one comment, and we think it’s not that bad. God still loves me; I can still show him that I’m faithful. And it may be true in part. It may be the fact that you don’t go back to looking at that website, or you don’t go back to making those terrible jokes, but that’s not the point. What sin wants to do is to put you in the place where the security of your salvation accords with your works. It wants your satisfaction to be rooted in the idea that you’ve either done nothing wrong or that your wrong isn’t as bad as it could have been and that you can prove that you deserve God’s grace.
These are the lies sin feeds us. These are the lies we feed ourselves to turn our minds against the truth. But remember, the command from Paul isn’t for you to show that you’re a good person or to win your salvation. It’s not even a command to avoid sin. Those would all be commands for works-based salvation. No, the command is to live as one who gives thanks. Grace has already come. Your sin has already been redeemed by the blood poured out upon the cross! Stop trying to avoid sin and start living as someone who’s been saved.
How do we prevent giving a name to sexual immorality, all uncleanness, greed, obscene and foolish talk, crude joking, and passive deception? By standing upon the name of Jesus Christ who came to live the life we could not live and die the death we ought to have died. In him the depth, guilt, condemnation, and wrath of our sin was satisfied so that through him, we might be satisfied in God. He pursued us to death so that we might pursue him unto eternal life.
We keep the truth of the cross before us, as much as we possibly can, how? Not by working for grace, but by living in grace and by being thankful for the salvation we didn’t deserve. Works-righteousness will leave you exhausted and without defence when temptation comes. Gentiles are constantly fleeing to their flesh because it’s hard saying no when we are our own source of hope. But thankfulness, as a Christian, recognizes the work’s been done, and the hope rests in someone far greater and more worthy than me. I don’t need more. I am satisfied in who and what I have. I am satisfied in the cross that Christ bore for me.
3) Satisfaction Rendered
Paul finishes our passage in verses 5 and 6 with two warnings, and he starts verse 5 with “For this you know with certainty.” It’s not something we, as Christians, have to guess about. In the Greek, what’s happening is that you have two words that mean the same thing side-by-side. It says, “for you know that you know this.” You know-know this. You don’t guess it. You know this with every certainty: that the person who does not place their pleasure in God through Christ does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ.
Notice that this is present tense, active voice – it’s not talking about some future event! It doesn’t say you will not have an inheritance. No, it says you do not have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. It’s talking about right now! If you are in pursuit of these things, if your satisfaction is not in God now, if you are pursuing that website, if you’re watching those God-forsaken TV shows, if you are indulging in your flesh, if your speech is like the non-believing Gentiles, the kingdom of Christ and the coming kingdom of God is not something you possess in this moment. It doesn’t belong to you as long as you reject it for the kingdom of the devil! You cannot have both! You cannot try to earn your salvation and be thankful for it at the same time. You are either resting in your self-indulgent merit, or you are resting in God’s grace.
For those who are resting in their merit—for those who think that they can have their sin and salvation too, what awaits those who place their satisfaction in the temporary things of the world isn’t just the denial of a heavenly inheritance, it’s the reception of something far worse. Verse 6 tells us that all that awaits those who pursue something other than God is his wrath—for those who do not find their satisfaction in God, God shall render his satisfaction in their condemnation.
The passage says, “for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” The “these things” refers to all the vices listed in verses 3-6—all of them are summed up in verse 5 as idolatry. Because some have found their supreme satisfaction in something other than God, the wrath of God comes upon these sons of disobedience. Who are the sons of disobedience? Those who refuse to imitate God, those who are deceived and led away in the passions of the world, those who seek to find their satisfaction in their own self-indulgence instead of loving others sacrificially, as Christ loved us.
Paul wants to make sure—he says in Ephesians 4:1—that you walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, and he gives us here a warning of what happens if you don’t walk in this manner. But praise be to God, this is why we preach the gospel. Paul has no thought here to say that his audience belongs to those who do not have a heavenly inheritance and those who shall suffer God’s wrath, just as I have no thought that any of you here belong to that disbelieving, disobedient group. And yet, this is why Paul gives it as a warning, and why I preach it to you with gravity—make sure of your calling. Being satisfied in God through Christ means staying satisfied in God through Christ. Paul’s warnings are to give us assurance—assurance that we know the gospel and believe in it, assurance that we are a part of those who are called, assurance that we live lives of thankfulness, assurance that we love God as he has loved us in Christ. Paul wants to ensure our satisfaction in God, and it is imperative that you are because if you aren’t, the consequences are severe. Don’t forget the gospel. Don’t forget what it means to thank God not only for eternal life but for the entirety of your happiness. Flee the sins of a greedy heart by finding satisfaction is someone far greater and sweeter. Jesus is yours. His love was displayed upon a cross for you, and as you live your life, respond to his work in worship. Give him the glory he deserves. Give him the thanks that he is due.