Purity is a hot topic in youth groups and at men’s retreats. We often associate purity with the conversation about sexuality. “How far is too far“, the youth ask, and we set up accountability to stay off pornography and faithful to our wives at men’s retreats. Sexual purity is indeed an important topic and God cares about it greatly. It is the only sin, in fact, by which a person sins “against his own body”:
“Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”
– 1 Cor 6.18
Being free from sexual sin, however, is not the standard by which God measures our purity. It is only one small facet, in fact, and we do ourselves a great disservice to not consider the full picture. Paul gives us a much broader consideration:
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. 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.”
– Eph 5.1-5
In short, we are commanded to be imitators of God. We do that by walking in love the same way that Jesus walked in love. How did Jesus walk in love? By dying for sinners and giving Himself as a sacrifice to God. The application of that example is difficult. How do I love sinners and offer myself fully to God in my daily grind? Going to work, cooking meals, meeting with friends and colleagues, serving Church or enjoying my hobbies? Thankfully he boils it down a bit more for us.
“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.”
The word Paul uses for immorality here is the same word he uses elsewhere to refer to premarital sex and fornication (fooling around and/or causing sexual desires to be engaged). Impurity is the same word that he uses elsewhere to refer to other types of sexual sin like homosexuality (Rom 1.24) and adultery. So here Paul does draw in sexuality to refer to our overall purity, but he goes much further to bring up greed and also filthiness, silly talk and course jesting. Do you consider your greed to tainting of your purity? Because in the next verse Paul lumps the one who utilizes “filthiness, silly talk and course jesting” as impure. And how often do we consider those innocent jokes (and dirty ones) to be things by which we are disqualified from eternity in Heaven?
“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.”
Striking, isn’t it? No silly talk. But what does Paul say to do or be instead? We should replace our sexual sin, our greed and our joking around with thanksgiving. Say what? It seems pretty natural to recognize the opposite of greed as thankfulness for what we already have, but sexual sin and flippancy? Consider this: sexual sin is lust at the core – longing for something that we should not have sexually. Sexual drive for our spouse is God-given and good, but to lust after someone to whom we are not married or to partake in perverse or forbidden sexual acts is to give in to ungodly desires that replace God on the throne. So yes, if we are thankful for our spouse and partake in Godly sexuality then we are pure. If we are unmarried and are thankful for our sexual drive and pursue purity in chastity then we are pure. So thankfulness is the appropriate replacement.
Silly talk, jesting and filthiness are also removing God from His throne and placing worldly entertainment (either overtly wicked or not) above God. It is a form of idolatry, a form of self-pleasure that can be dethroned with thankfulness. When we turn our attention to God and praise Him for our salvation, for the mighty works He is doing in the world and in our lives, when we focus on Him instead of frivolity and silliness, then those jokes just fade away. That silliness and worldliness never enters our mind. When was the last time you sought meaningless pleasure when you were overwhelmed with gratitude?
Notice also that Paul does not bring up commandments to push us on, but he does bring up eternity. Our primary method of fighting these sins should be to focus on God and replacing them with thankfulness, not duty. God wants our hearts. He wants us to love Him and to be driven to love Him by thankfulness, not duty. He does, however, allow us to be warned by future consequences – like any good father does.
So today, let us remember to be “of sober spirit” and turning to God in thankfulness for everything He is and everything He has done (1 Peter 5.8). Let us put off the big sins of sexual misconduct – fornication, pornography, adultery – but let us also put off those creeping sins of greed, filthiness, silliness and distraction. Let us remember that our purity is not simply sexual but of our whole mind and body. And it is not simply refraining from sin but turning to God. And most importantly, let us remember that our eternity is at stake!