‘Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is’ (Ephesians 5.17)
Paul is not messing around when he speaks to the Ephesians. They are to know that ‘the days are evil’; in other words, time is short. Once they realize that, there is only one appropriate response: Figure out what really matters.
That’s why Paul says, ‘Understand what the will of the Lord is.’ Because, really, there’s not a lot of time to mess around with things that don’t matter.
But can we talk about ‘the will of the Lord’ for a minute? Because typically in North American evangelical contexts, we refer to ‘the will of God’ like it’s some existential, mystical path for our lives that we need to discover. It’s behind door number three… or two… whichever I choose, I just hope I get to ‘live in God’s will.’
We think it has something to do with what job we take, where we buy a house, whom we marry; this determines if we’re ‘in God’s will.’ Sometimes we talk about it like it’s a secret for unlocking the good life where there is nothing but ease and blessing, as if it’s some kind of fortune-cookie sweet-spot with the Divine.
But do you know what Paul is getting at by the phrase ‘the will of the Lord’ here? He’s talked about it earlier in the letter. In the working of his plan to forgive sinners, through the redemption of Christ, he has made ‘known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth‘ (Ephesians 1:9-10).
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no 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. (Ephesians 5:3-6 ESV)
This past Sunday I had the privilege of opening up Ephesians 5.1-21 at Grace Fellowship Church. In the verses above, Paul warns the Ephesians that they ought not to joke about sexual sins.
Why would he do that? Does God not have a sense of humour? Are we just supposed to be a bunch of prudes with out-dated morals?
I suggest that from the text, there are at least three reasons why you should not be making or laughing at sexually immoral jokes.
1. You cannot repent of something you find funny
The essence and grounds of repentance is hatred of sin. How can you hate it if you’re laughing at it?
Crude joking can be active or passive. That is, jokes can be something you speak or something you hear. You pick this up in the TV shows and movies that you watch, and the conversations you engage in at your workplace.
We cannot find sin both humorous and repulsive at the same time; either we laugh at it or run from it, but we cannot do both. How can you be serious about walking away from these sins if you’re laughing at them?