Ephesians 5:3-14, Holy Living in a Dark World:

  • Following immediately on the heels of 5:2, 5:3 plunges us into the depths of human sinfulness. In fact, it introduces a discussion of the depravity of the world and counsel on how we as “God’s holy people” are to live in such a world. That’s the first section going down to verse 7.
  • The second section, 5:8–14, continues the same theme but now uses the imagery of darkness and light. We are to “live as children of light” (5:8), not by removing ourselves from the darkness but rather by shining into the darkness so as to make visible the things of darkness. The aim is that through us, those who live in darkness might be drawn to the light, even being raised from death to life, just as we have been through God’s grace.


  • Our outline then is:
  • 1) Living in holiness (v3-7)
  • 2) Living as the light (v8-14)


  1. Living in holiness: (3-7)
  • In agreement with imitating God; sexual immorality, impurity, and greed must not “be named” among God’s people. In other words, they should not exist in the church.
  • Now what are these? “Sexual immorality” translates porneia, the Greek word used by early Christians for sinful sexual activity, that is, sexual intercourse outside of marriage. And for our application, we are to avoid “any kind of impurity,” which includes but is not limited to sexual corruption as this in opposition to holy living.


  • Next we have greed. The use of “greed” in this context could be aimed at materialism, but may also be referring to sexual craving in particular, perhaps a desire of lustful intention. In either case, “greed” indicates excessive desire.


  • But one might be tempted to think that only our physical actions are must be checked. Yet, verse 4 reveals that our speech must be too. Now foolish talk includes, but may not be limited to, speech that is shameful before others. Where “coarse joking” can mean “lively wit” but it has a negative connotation here.
  • This doesn’t mean Christians are to avoid all humor. But it does mean that anything shameful, no matter how funny, is to be avoided. Instead of using words in silly and demeaning ways, we should offer “thanksgiving.” So put off foolish talk and put on praise & thanksgiving!


  • This is how God’s people are to exhibit holy living! And verse 5 shows us why. The “inheritance in the kingdom,” is not for idolaters. We could read 5:5 as a threat: “If you are a Christian and you engage in any sexual immorality, impurity, or greed, then you will be excluded from heaven.”
  • But this excludes the earlier teaching of Ephesians that salvation is by grace not works (see 2:8). When we receive God’s grace through faith, we are saved and newly created in Christ (2:8–10). If after this time we sin, we do not thereby become excluded from the inheritance that is ours in Christ because this inheritance has come by grace.
  • A better way to read 5:5 is to see it as a promise: “No immoral, impure or greedy person … has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” So if we do have an inheritance in the kingdom, and if we know that we have this inheritance because of the Spirit, then it must mean that we are not essentially immoral people, impure people, or greedy people. Yes, we may sometimes engage in immoral, impure, or greedy behavior, but we are not defined by these actions. Rather, our essential identity comes from God and his grace in Christ. `


  • However, if our lives continue to be characterized by immorality, impurity, and greed even after we have responded positively to the gospel, then we need to ask whether our response to grace is what God intends. Are we living in the good works God has assigned to us (2:10)? Are we walking worthy of the calling we have received (4:1)? As genuine grace received by faith leads to transformation, which will become complete when we receive our kingdom inheritance.
  • This would also be in tune with verse 6 which offers offers a general warning against those who would deceive us with “empty words.” Why would Paul add this idea? Well, if we as God’s people life in holiness, we would have His truth before constantly. But, if we are not anchored in His truths, in order to justify our sinfulness, we’ll lend our ears to everyone.


  • What do we do with “God’s wrath” that “comes on those who are disobedient” (5:6)? Paul mentions God’s wrath to remind us that God doesn’t compassionately overlook immorality, impurity, or greed. He does not minimize the evil of sin. Rather, God detests it and judges it.



  • Therefore, to avoid the implication, Paul says “do not be partners with them” (5:7). The word translated here as “partners” can mean being a joint owner of something with another person. Paul does not say we should never have anything to do with the disobedient. So not cutting ourselves off from them, as we’ll see in the next section.
  • But to refrain from joining with them in their shameless behavior. And with regard to the question of how we as God’s holy people are to live in an unholy world, Paul’s answer is clear: we are not to engage in immoral behavior. But we also shouldn’t withdraw from the world in order to make this easy. We need to remain engaged with those who are caught in immorality and darkness.
  • And next week we’ll look at the explanation of why we should engage with people of the world.