Key text: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Lesson objective: To understand that the Christian community is called upon to follow the ethical example of God’s love in Christ to a fallen world; there exists a vast difference between light and darkness, and between wisdom and folly.
Introduction: All of us set goals for ourselves whether they are short-range ones or long-range ones. Of course, this is not always done consciously or even planned out in detail, but nevertheless we are headed somewhere.
However, rarely do people set goals for their ethical behavior. People are usually molded morally by what is deemed acceptable behavior within their own particular culture. This explains the variety of ethical behaviors in different lands. This is not to say that all is relative, because it certainly is not. All societies, no matter how different, still retain some basic moral codes that are similar, even though they may be administered differently. And in some cases a culture can become so depraved that only a faint shadowremains, but these perverted cultures always prove to be self-destructive. The world at large gropes in the darkness of their own understanding to find ways of justifying their actions even against the most basic moral prohibitions in the name of civil authority, religion or a particular cause.
Believers don’t have to live with a foggy notion of what is right and wrong. The Christian love-ethic goes far beyond universal basic moral prohibitions against such behaviors as stealing, adultery and murder. The Christian community has been blessed with the light of revelation in the written Word and by example (vv. 1-7)! This is why the apostle Paul reminds believers not to be conformed to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2). There is a difference between good and evil like that of light and darkness (Ephesians 5:8-14), just as there is a marked difference between living spiritually and living carnally — or as Paul describes it, between wisdom and foolishness (vv. 15-20).
For all these reasons, Paul calls faithful Christians to become imitators of God (v. 1). Now, that is one tall order! How can we mortals, who have never seen God, imitate him? We may have never seen God in all his glory, but we have seen him in the person of Christ, who is God in the flesh (John 14:8-9). Paul points to Christ’s example as the one to follow (Eph. 5:2). In this way, all Christians have a example par excellence of what God planned humans to be. God’s divine purpose is to restore and unite all things in Christ, and this includes our ethical walk. We might not reach the ethical heights of Christ in this life, but that is where we are headed! Paul beckons us to get a good start in the here and now!
In the days of Paul, the Jerusalem Temple was still standing. Paul was fully aware of the significance the Temple had for the Jews. The Temple was their place of worship, where lambs were still being brought for sacrifices. The old covenant had required such sacrifices not only as guilt offerings but also as offerings of thanksgiving. The smoke and aroma of the sacrifice filled the air and was described as a fragrance pleasing to God.
But with the coming of the Messiah, things had dramatically changed! Everything the Temple once stood for was a mere shadow compared to the reality of the God-man Jesus Christ. The ultimate place of worship and sacrifice is now invested in Christ Jesus alone under a new and better covenant. Christ is now the only fragrance of redemption acceptable to the Father. Christ’s motive for providing such a complete redemption was his love for us. Paul urges the church to live a life motivated by Christ’s example of love, an ethical fragrance pleasing to God.
Questions for Bible study
Read the following verses and respond to the questions:
1. Ephesians 5:1-7
a. What does the apostle Paul propose? v. 1a. What does he mean by “imitators”? v. 1b. How well do your own children imitate you? Give examples of habits (good or bad) picked up by children.
b. What kind of life are we to live? v. 2a. What supreme example does Paul commend? v. 2b. Why? What old covenant analogy does Paul use to get across his point? Consult the Introduction (last paragraph). Also compare with Romans 12:1-2.
c. What three vices are mentioned here? v. 3a. Why are they mentioned? v. 3b.
d. What three other examples of lewd conduct are mentioned? v. 4a- b. Why are these mentioned? v. 4c. What attitude should Christians reflect? v. 4d.
e. What admonition does Paul give regarding immoral behavior? v. 5. What warning about such practices is given? Compare with 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
f. What if a person remains in a defiant state of unbelief? v. 6. Explain. See John 3:36.
g. What is Paul’s conclusion on the matter? v. 7. Why?
2. Ephesians 5:8-14
a. What were they before knowing the Lord? v. 8a. Explain what Paul means by “darkness.” What are they after knowing the Lord? v. 8b. See Matthew 5:14-16.
b. What does the fruit/light image represent? v. 9. Compare with Galatians 5:22-23. Do you know through personal experience if this pleases the Lord? v. 10.
c. What does the fruitless/darkness image represent? vv. 11-13. Compare with John 3:19-21.
d. What makes everything visible? v. 14a. What does Paul quote to prove his point? v. 14b. See Romans 6:3-4. Note: Many expositors believe that Paul is quoting an early baptismal hymn used by the congregation as they greeted new converts emerging from the baptismal waters.
3. Ephesians 5:15-20
a. What caution does Paul give to believers? v. 15. Why? v. 16a. Compare with Colossians 4:5-6.
b. What does Paul mean by: “because the days are evil”? v. 16b. See Galatians 1:4; Philippians 2:14-15.
c. What contrast does Paul make in this verse? v. 17. Why?
d. What vivid illustration of living foolishly vs. living wisely does Paul make in this verse? v. 18. See Proverbs 23:31-35; Luke 15:13; 2 Timothy 1:7-10; 1 Peter 4:1-5.
e. What kind of celebration do believers practice as opposed to those involved in carnal living? vv. 19-20. See Colossians 3:15-17.
Respond to the following questions:
1. As a believer in Christ, how often do you seriously reflect on your behavior in all spheres of life as becoming of your Christian calling?
2. Do you routinely analyze the moral behavior of our society at large, or do you just go along with the flow? Why or why not?
3. As a believer, are you conscious of the fact that your Christian moral behavior is an example and witness of Christ’s love for the world?
4. What kind of reputation do you have 1) at home, 2) in the church, 3) among your neighbors, 4) with your co-workers or schoolmates? Are you considered loving and friendly, or a complainer and hard to get along with?
It is never easy being a Christian, but when we look at our calling as a vocation of ethical-discipline via the Holy Spirit, then matters can and do improve. May we study our Lord’s example so as to live out who we are: faithful believers in Christ!