1. This is a letter of admonition, instructing Christians,
according to the plan underlying Paul's epistles, not to become sluggish
and careless, but by their deeds to evince their faith, and honor and proclaim
the Word he has taught them; for the sake of the gentiles and unbelievers,
that these may not take offense at the doctrine of Christ.
2. To begin with, having shown that we were made children of God through
Christ, he admonishes us to be followers, or imitators, of the Father,
as beloved children. He employs the most endearing of terms--"beloved children"--to
persuade us by the Father's love to love even as we are loved. But what
manner of love has God manifested toward us? It was not simply that love
manifest in the fact that he gives temporal support to us unworthy beings
in common with all the wicked on earth; that he permits his sun to rise
on the just and on the unjust and sends rain on the grateful and on the
ungrateful, as Christ mentions (Mt 5, 45) in connection with his command
to be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect. Not only thus did
God love us, but in a special way: he has given his Son for us. In addition
to showering upon us both temporal and eternal blessings he has given his
own self; he has completely poured out himself for us, with all he is,
with all he has, with all he does,--and we were nothing but sinners, unworthy
creatures, enemies and servants of the devil. More than this would be beyond
even his grace and power.
He who despises such glow of love, which fills all heaven and earth
and is beyond all power to comprehend it; who does not permit this love
to kindle and incite in him love for his neighbor whether enemy or friend--such
a one is not likely ever to become godly or loving by such measures as
laws or commandments, instruction, constraint or compulsion.
3. "Walk in love," counsels the apostle. He would have our external
life all love. But not the world's love is to be our pattern, which seeks
only its own advantage, and loves only so long as it is the gainer thereby;
we must love even as Christ loved, who sought neither pleasure nor gain
from us but gave himself for us, not to mention the other blessings he
bestows daily-- gave himself as a sacrifice and offering to reconcile God
unto ourselves, so that he should be our God and we his children.
Thus likewise should we give, thus should we lend, or even surrender
our goods, no matter whether friends claim them or enemies. Nor are we
to stop there; we must be ready to give our lives for both friends and
enemies, and must be occupied with no other thought than how we can serve
others, and how both our life and property can be
made to minister to them in this life, and this because we know that
Christ is ours and has given us all things.
"To God for an odor of a sweet smell [for a sweet-smelling savor]."
4. This expression Paul takes from the Old Testament. There the temporal
sacrifices are described as being "a sweet-smelling savor" unto God: that
is, they were acceptable and well- pleasing to him; but not, as the Jews
imagined, because of the value of the work or of the sacrifices in themselves.
For such thoughts they were chastised by the prophets often enough. They
were acceptable on the ground of the true sacrifice which they foreshadowed
and encircled. Paul's thought is this: The sacrifices of the Old Testament
have passed. Now all sacrifices are powerless but that of Christ himself;
he is the sweet-smelling savor. This sacrifice is pleasing to God. He gladly
accepts it and would have us be confident it is an acceptable offering
in our stead. Moreover, there is no other sacrifice the Christian Church
can offer for us. The once-offered Christ alone avails. Although, following
his example, we present our bodies a sacrifice, as taught in Romans 12,
1, yet we do not do so in behalf of ourselves or others; that is the function
of the one sacrifice alone-Christ. Therefore, all sacrifices offered in
the mistaken notion that they avail for us, or even secure forgiveness
of sin, are wicked and unsavory. But more of this elsewhere.
SINS NOT TO BE NAMED AMONG CHRISTIANS.
"But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not
even be named among you, as becometh saints."
5. In naming uncleanness in addition to fornication, the reference is
to all sensual affections in distinction from wedded love. They are too
unsavory for him to mention by name, though in Romans 1, 24 he finds it
expedient to speak of them without disguise. However, also wedded love
must be characterized by moderation among Christians. While there is a
conjugal duty to be required by necessity, it is for the very purpose of
avoiding unchastity and uncleanness. The ideal and perfect condition, it
is true, would be cohabitation with a sole view to procreation; however,
that is too high for attainment by all.
6. Paul declares that the sin he indicates should not be named of the
Ephesians. Unquestionably, among Christians there will always be some infirm
one to fall; but we must labor diligently, correcting, amending and restraining.
We must not suffer the offense to go unchallenged, but curtail and remedy
it, lest, as remarked in the preceding lesson, the heathen stumble, saying:
"Christians tolerate such vices themselves; their conduct is not different
from our own." An occasional fall among Christians must be borne with so
long as right prevails in general, and such things are neither tolerated
nor taught, but reproved and amended. Paul gives the counsel (Gal 6, 1)
that the brethren restore the fallen in a spirit of meekness; and he blames
the Corinthians for not reproving them who sin. I Cor 5, 2. A sin, once
punished, is as if the sin did not exist; it is no longer a matter of reproach.
7. Likewise with covetousness: we are to understand it is not to be
named of Christians. That is, should one be covetous, should one defraud
another or contend with him about temporal advantage, as evidently was
true of the Corinthians (I Cor 6, 1), the offense must not be suffered
to go unreproved and uncorrected. The Gospel must be carefully upheld and
preserved among the multitude, "that our ministration be not blamed." 2
Cor 6, 3.
I make this point for the sake of those who, so soon as they observe
that all Christians are not perfectly holy, but will occasionally stumble
and fall, imagine there is no such thing as a Christian and the Gospel
is impotent and fruit-less. Just as if to be a Christian meant the mountain
already climbed and complete, triumphant victory over sin! The fact is,
it is rather a contest, a battle. Wherever there is a contest, or a battle,
some of the combatants will flee, some will be wounded, some will fall
and some even be slain. For warfare is not unaccompanied by disaster if
it be real warfare.
8. The writer of the epistle goes on to assign the reason why it does
not sound well to hear such things concerning Christians--because they
are saints and it behooves saints to be chaste and moderate, and to practice
and teach these virtues. Note, he calls Christians "saints," notwithstanding
that in this life they are clothed with sinful flesh and blood. Doubtless
the term is not applied in consequence of their good works, but because
of the holy blood of Christ. For Paul says (1 Cor 6, 11): "But ye were
washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified in the name of the
Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God." Being holy, we should
manifest our holiness by our deeds. Though we are still weak, yet we ought
duly to strive to become chaste and free from covetousness, to the glory
and honor of God and the edifying of unbelievers.
"Nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are not befitting."
9. "Filthiness"---scandalous talk--is unchaste language suggestive of
fornication, uncleanness and carnal sins. It is common in taverns and generally
found as accompaniment of gluttony, drunkenness and gambling. Especially
were the Greeks frivolous and adepts in this respect, as their poets and
other writers attest. What Paul refers to in particular is the lewd conversation
uttered in public without fear and self-restraint. This will excite wicked
thoughts and give rise to serious offenses, especially with the young.
As he states elsewhere (I Cor 15, 33), "Evil companionships [communications]
corrupt good morals." Should there be any Christians forgetful enough to
so transgress, the offense must be reproved; otherwise it will become general
and give the congregation an ill repute, as if Christians taught and tolerated
it the same as the heathen.
FOOLISH TALKING AND JESTING.
10. By "foolish talking" is indicated the fables and tales and other
lore in which the Greeks particularly abound--a people who possess a special
faculty for fiction of this sort. Similar are the tales commonly related
by our women and maidens while spinning at the distaff, also those which
knaves are fond of relating. Here belong also worldly songs which either
relate lewd matters or turn upon slippery, frivolous themes. Such are "The
Priest of Kalenburg," "Dietrich of Berne" and innumerable others.
11. Particularly unchristian is every kind of such buffoonery in the
church when men are gathered to hear and learn the Word of God. But the
practice is common where many come together. Even where at first things
of a serious nature are discussed, men soon pass to frivolous, wanton,
foolish talk, resulting in a waste of time and the neglect of better things.
For instance, on the festival of Easter, foolish, ridiculous stories have
been introduced into the sermon to arouse the drowsy. And at the Christmas
services, the absurd pantomime of rocking a babe, and silly declamations
in rhyme, have found vogue. Similarly the festivals commemorating the three
holy kings, the passion of Christ, Dorothy and other saints were characterized.
12. In this category should also be classed the legends of the saints
and the confused mass of lies concerning miracles, pilgrimages, masses,
worship of saints, indulgences, and so on, which once dominated the pulpit.
Yet these falsehoods are too gross to be called merely foolish. They are
not just frivolous lies merely destructive of good morals, such as Paul
refers to here, but they completely overthrow faith and the Word of God,
making sainthood impossible. Such kind of jesting is altogether too serious.
Those, however, who have seen into them treat them as lies of the same
frivolous and abominable character as the fables or old women's tales mentioned
by Paul 1 Tim 4, 7. But while the latter are mere human tales which nobody
believes, which no one will place reliance on, serving as mere occasion
of merriment, without becoming a source of general moral corruption, an
obstacle to improvement and a cause of cold, indolent Christianity, the
falsehoods of the pulpit are diabolical tales held as truth in all seriousness,
but a comedy for the devil and his angels.
13. "Jesting" has reference to those conversational expedients which
pander to gaiety in the form of scandal; they are called among us banter
and badinage. Laughter, mirth and gaiety is their purpose, and we meet
with them generally in society and high life. Among the heathen, jesting
was counted a virtue, and therefore received the title "eutrapelia" by
Aristotle. But Paul calls it a vice among Christians, who certainly may
find conversational expedients of a different kind, such as will inspire
a cheerful and joyous spirit in Christ. True, Christians are not all so
pure but that some may err in this matter; but the Christian Church does
not command jesting, nor suffer any member to abandon himself to the practice.
It reproves and prohibits it, particularly in religious assemblies, and
in teaching and preaching. For Christ says (Mt 12, 36) that at the last
day men must give account of every idle, unprofitable word they have spoken.
Christians should be a very firm, though courteous, people. Courtesy should
be coupled with seriousness, and seriousness with courtesy, according to
the pattern of the life of Christ supplied in the Gospel.
"Which are not befitting."
14. Paul apparently would include in the catalog all unprofitable language
of whatever name. I would call those words unprofitable which serve not
to further the faith nor to supply the wants of the body and preserve it.
We have enough else to talk about during this short lifetime, if we desire
to speak, enough that is profitable and pleasant, if we talk only of Christ,
of love and of other essential things. The apostle mentions the giving
of thanks. It should be our daily and constant employment to praise and
thank God, privately and publicly, for the great and inexpressible treasures
he has given us in Christ. But it appears that what is needful is relegated
to the rear, while objects of indifference are brought to the fore.
Now, mark you, if Paul will not tolerate banter and suggestive conversation
among Christians, what would he say of the shameful backbiting which is
heard whenever people meet, though but two individuals? Yes, what would
be his judgment of those who in public preaching clinch and claw, attack
and calumniate each other?
FRUITLESS CHRISTIANS ARE HEATHEN.
"For this ye know of a surety, that no fornicator, nor unclean person,
nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom
of Christ and God."
15. Hereby he declares in dry words that the man who does not exhibit
the fruits of faith is a heathen under the name of a Christian. Here is
absolute condemnation in a word. The whoremonger is a denier of the faith;
the unclean person is a denier of the faith; the covetous individual is
a denier of the faith: all are rebellious, perjured and faithless toward
God. Paul tells Timothy (I Tim 5, 8): "But if any provideth not for his
own, and specially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is
worse than an unbeliever." How could he utter anything more severe, more
He begins, "For this ye know." In other words: Doubt not; do not find
vain comfort in the thought that this is a jest or an aspersion. A Christian
name, and association with Christians, will count for nothing. It will
profit you as little as it profits the Jews to be Abraham's seed and disciples
of Moses. Christ's words (Mt 7, 21) concern every man: "Not every one that
saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." There
must be performance; faith must be manifested by works.
16. If the great fire of divine love which he uses as his first argument
will not draw us, then may the terrible threat of hell fire prove a sufficient
incentive. In other words, if men follow not God, walking in love and showing
their faith by their deeds, let them know they are not God's children,
not heirs in his kingdom, and therefore are unquestionably heirs of the
evil one in hell. He who is unmoved by the threats of hell fire must truly
be a stick or a stone; indeed, he must have a heart like an anvil, as Job
17. The writer of the epistle passes unusually severe sentence upon
the covetous man, for he calls him an idolater, or a worshiper of a false
God. Plainly, Paul entertained special enmity against the covetous, for
in Colossians 3, 5 he defines this sin in a similar manner. His reasoning,
I judge, is this: All other sinners turn to use what they have and make
it subservient to their lusts. Fornicators and the unclean make their bodies
serve their pleasure. The haughty employ property, art, reputation and
men to secure honor to themselves. The unhappy idolater alone is servant
to his possessions; his sin is to save, guard and preserve property. He
dare not make use of it either for himself or for others, but worships
it as his god. Rather than touch his money, he would suffer both the kingdom
of God and of the world to perish. He will not give a farthing to the support
of a preacher or a schoolmaster for the sake of advancing God's kingdom.
Because he places his confidence, his trust, in his money rather than in
the living God, whose promises concerning ample support are abundant, his
real God is his money, and to call him an idolater is entirely just. And,
in addition, he must renounce heaven! A shameful vice, indeed! 0 contemptible
Unbelief! what a dangerous vice art thou!
DECEPTION BY EMPTY WORDS.
"Let no man deceive you with empty words."
18. This applies to those who gloss their unchastity over, as if it
were but a trivial sin. And some have been even such vulgar teachers as
to consider no unchastity evil except adultery, and to accept it as a normal
function, like eating and drinking. The Greek philosophers and poets were
of this class. And Terence says, "It is neither a sin nor a shame for a
youth to commit fornication." To obey such doctrine would be to know nothing
of God and to live in the lust of concupiscence, like the gentiles who
know not God, of whom we heard in the preceding lesson. All arguments of
this character are vain words; they may fascinate the reason after a fashion;
yet they are vain and futile, unable to profit their authors.
Covetousness likewise has much false show and glitter. When one defrauds
another or seeks his own advantage to the injury of others, his act is
not at all called sin, but cleverness, economy and sagacity, though meanwhile
the poor must suffer want and even die of hunger. Such arguments are merely
the specious and blind utterances of heathen, contrary to Christian love.
19. But we have additional light upon this subject, showing that because
of such practices the wrath of God comes upon the unbelieving. In First
Corinthians 10, 8 are cited numerous examples of punishment for the sin
of fornication. See also Num 25. Again, because of wantonness, covetousness
and unchastity, the entire world was destroyed by the flood. This is a
severe utterance but true and indubitable.
"For because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons
"Sons of disobedience"--in other words, they who have fallen from the
faith. Thus we see that he who does not show his faith by his deeds, is
accounted practically an infidel. In fact, he is worse than an infidel;
he is an apostate Christian, or an apostate from the faith. Therefore comes
the wrath of God upon such, even here on earth. This is why we Germans
must suffer so much famine, pestilence, war and bloodshed to come upon
20. Among these idle chatterers and misleading teachers the sluggards
and drones should beware of being classified, who, with better light than
the heathen, know full well that covetousness and unchastity are sin. While
they teach nothing to controvert this, they notwithstanding trust for salvation
in a faith barren of works, on the ground that works cannot effect salvation.
They know full well that a faith barren of works is nothing, is a false
faith; that fruit and good works must follow a genuine faith of necessity.
Nevertheless they go on in carnal security, without fear of the wrath and
judgment of God, who wants the old Adam to be crucified, and to find good
fruit on good trees.
It is possible that St. Paul does not refer in this passage to those
who, like the heathen, teach and maintain by specious arguments that unchastity
is no sin; nevertheless there is reason to apprehend that the reward of
the heathen will be meted out to them likewise; for they live like the
heathen, being strangers to both chastity and kindness. And our apprehension
is so much more justified because they have a better knowledge of the wrong
they commit. This is Paul's standpoint when he asks (Rom 2, 3): "And reckonest
thou this, 0 man, who judgest them that practice such things, and doest
the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?" "After thy hardness
and impenitent heart," he adds, thou "treasurest up for thyself wrath."
"Be not ye therefore partakers with them; for ye were once darkness,
but are now light in the Lord."
21. Peter similarly counsels (I Pet 4, 3) to let the time past of our
lives suffice us to have wrought the will of the gentiles, and no longer
be partakers with them, but live the rest of our time to the will of God.
While we were gentiles we knew not that all those things were sin, because
of the darkness of unbelief, which prevented our knowing God. But now we
have become a light in the Lord. That is, we have been so amply enlightened
through Christ that we not only know God and what he desires, and understand
what sin and wrong are, but we are also able to light others, to teach
them what we know. Paul commends the Philippians for being a light in the
world, among an evil and untoward generation. Phil. 2, 15. And, similarly,
when we were gentiles we not only were darkened, not only were ignorant
and went astray, but we were darkness itself, leading others into the same
condition by our words and deeds. We have reason, then, to be thankful
unto him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (I
Pet 2, 9), and to "walk as children of light."
"For the fruit of the light [Spirit] is in all goodness and righteousness
22. Since Paul is speaking of light, it would have been more to the
point had he said "fruit of the light," in accordance with the Latin version,
than "fruit of the Spirit," the Greek rendering. And who knows but it may,
in the Greek, have been altered to harmonize with Galatians 5, 22, where
Paul speaks of the "fruit of the Spirit"? It matters little, however; evidently
"Spirit" and "light" are synonymous in this place.
"Goodness" is the fruit of light, or of the Spirit, as opposed to covetousness.
The Christian is to be good; that is, useful, gladly working his neighbor's
good. "Righteousness," as fruit of the Spirit among men--for the Spirit
also "is righteous before God--is opposed to covetousness. The Christian
must not take another's possessions by force, trickery or fraud, but must
give to each his due, his own, even to the heathen authorities. See Rom
13, 1. "Truth" is the fruit of the Spirit as opposed to hypocrisy and lies.
A Christian is not only to be truthful in word, but honest in life. He
should not bear the name without the works; he cannot be a Christian and
yet live a heathenish life, a life of unchastity, covetousness and other