By Olen Holderby
Ephesians chapter five seems to be an appropriate basis for what we shall have to say in this article. Paul is, of course, writing “to the saints who are in Ephesus;” and he reflects upon several themes, one of which was the prevailing immorality.
Most gospel preachers, no doubt, have prepared lessons making use of the corruption found in and about Sodom and Gomorrah of Abraham’s time (Gen. 19). However, we need not reach that far into the past for examples of such debauchery. William Barclay says, “The sexual life of the Graeco-Roman World in NT times was a lawless chaos” (Flesh and Spirit, p. 24). Further, he notes, “When Greek laxity invaded Rome, it was sadly coarsened. Hiberina says Juvenal, will no more be satisfied with one man than she would be with one eye (Juvenal, Satires 6:55). Roman women, says Seneca, were married to be divorced and were divorced to be married. . . `Chastity is simply a proof of ugliness’ (Seneca, On Benefits, 3:16.1-3). Innocence, says Seneca, is not rare, it is non-existent (On Anger, 2.8)” (Ibid, p. 25). Many ancient writers speak of homosexuality, mistresses, legal prostitution and state brothels, concubines, and incest. J.J. Dollinger refers to homosexuality as “The great national disease of Greece” (The Gentile and the Jew, II, p. 239 as quoted by Barclay, ibid., p. 26). Of particular interest is the fact that most of these writers are not Christians, but pagans who were disgusted with themselves. Fornication, in the name of religion, appears to have been an accepted standard for that ancient society. Even as late as the second century, the age was referred to as “an age when shame seems to have vanished from the earth” (J.J. Chapman as quoted by Barclay, ibid., p. 24). Thus, we can understand that Christianity was born into a Graeco-Roman world when sexual immorality was established custom and practice. Not many thought of it as being immoral.
The Apostle Paul deals very pointedly with sexual immorality in much of his writings. The man in 1 Corinthians 5:1ff must cease from incest. There was some in Corinth who had not repented of their fornication and Paul said that they must (2 Cor. 12:21). Such sins must be put to death (Col. 3:5). Christians must abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:3). The body is not for sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:13). The Christian must flee fornication (1 Cor. 6:18). According to these and other Scriptures, chastity appears to have been a new virtue which Christianity and its preachers introduced into the pagan world, but introduce it they did!
What gospel preacher has not used such corruption to show why the Roman Empire fell? It is, indeed, the truth! And, this fact has been used to warn of corrupt practices of our present society in America. This is as it should be, especially so for those who claim to be Christians. Just today (Feb. 23, 1993) I received a letter from a fellow-Christian; this good sister was complaining that the people around her thought “nothing of gambling, drinking, or adultery.” She was absolutely amazed at those “who go to some religious service faithfully” and yet, are not offended by such things. It is obvious that our age, in and out of religion, offers striking similarities with that Graeco-Roman culture that existed during the earlier days of Christianity.
Back to Ephesians 5
Fornication was one of three evils of which Paul said, “Let is not even be named among you” (v. 3). “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (v. 5). Now do not permit anyone to deceive you, “For because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (v. 6). Do not be partakers with such (v. 7). You once walked in darkness, but now, “Walk as children of light” (v. 8). While walking as the children of light, they would be proving what was acceptable to the Lord (vv. 9,10). Not only were they not to participate in such conduct, but also they were to expose it (v. 11). Such conduct was a shameful reflection upon all involved (v. 12); and, the guilty needed to be exposed for all to see (v. 13). “Therefore he says: Awake you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (v. 14).
Of the word “awake,” Vine says, it is used “metaphorically, of awaking from a state of moral sloth.” It is suggested that literally it would read, “Arouse thee!” a phrase used to stir men to activity. Obviously, Paul is trying to stir the Ephesians to active opposition to the immorality of their day, and especially that immorality that was in their midst. They were to arouse from their state of slumber and false security. This writer is persuaded that the Ephesians had no greater need to be aroused than do we today. Commenting on Ephesians 5:14 Albert Barnes said, “In sleep we are, though living, insensible to any danger that may be near.” Brethren, is this our condition today? Have we looked upon immorality so long, and in our midst, that we have come to accept it as if it were proper con-duct for a Christian? This writer has received letters and calls, sometimes feeling that he was showered with them, from people who were seeking a solution (or justification) for immoral practices, especially sexual immorality. These people were wanting out of (or into) a marriage relationship. God forbid that I should fail to assist my fellow-Christian in resolving any situation that brings unhappiness or ungodliness. However, brethren, that is not the real problem; the real problem is that so many of our number are seeking to justify ungodly con-duct or relationships, the presence of which identifies us with the world and not separation from it (Rom. 12:2).
With Paul I say, “It is high time to awake out of sleep” (Rom. 13:11). Preacher! Elders! Teachers! Let us be aroused from our sleep, whether self-imposed or unconscious, and without compromise preach God’s truth; and, let us do that until we have cleansed our ranks of those things that best identify us with the world. Hopefully, this can be done by bringing the guilty to repentance; but if not, then we must deny them our fellowship and expose them (Eph. 5:11). No excuse can justify any other route.
The thoughts and conclusions expressed above were further confirmed recently. During the month of January, 1993, brother Ron Halbrook visited California in a series of seven short meetings. This writer was one of those who urged brother Halbrook to make such a trip and to preach on “Trends” leading to an apostasy. Unsolicited reports and personal observation convince us that much good was accomplished. Brother Halbrook did an excellent job in presenting the truth and in handling the question periods which followed his lessons in each of these seven places. I did not hear a single point made with which I did not wholly agree. In spite of all this, there were some present in most of these places who strongly disagreed; and, they were permitted to say so if they wished. This effort with brother Halbrook pointed up at least two things: (1) There are still those around who love the truth and wish the truth preached on all subjects. (2) There is an urgent need for more such preaching.
I have preached in California in all but two of the last forty years; and, it is obvious to me that we have more than “our share” of immorality. The only remedy known to this writer is to be found in accepting the challenge of Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-2 to preach the word, in season and out of season. Until we let the world know that the world has no place in the church, the church will continue to be plagued by the “world within.” Brethren, surely you agree that we need an arousing, an arousing to active opposition to the immorality in our midst. We believe that we are up to that task; but we have to make up our minds to begin and to consistently stay on the job. It is not enough to agree; we must be active in our defense of the truth (Phil. 1:17).
Some Closing Remarks
We go back to Ephesians chapter five for some brief remarks and closing thoughts. After trying to arouse the Ephesians to active opposition to the immorality in their midst, Paul urges them to not be fools but to walk circumspectly (v. 15). Because souls are at stake, he would have them make urgent and proper use of their time, for their days were evil. Do not waste your opportunities (v. 16). Paul warned, do not be unwise and foolish; but, find out what the Lord’s will is and do it now (v. 17). Brethren, prayerfully I urge you to consider, we do need an arousing! May God help us all to so be!
“Brethren, surely you agree that we need an arousing,
an arousing to active opposition to the immorality in
our midst. We believe that we are up to that task; but
we have to make up our minds to being and to
consistently stay on the job.”
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 10, p. 10-11
May 20, 1993