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Ephesians 5 starts with:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (v1-2, ESV)

Ephesians 5:22-6:9 clearly connects to these statements in v1-2. Why does Paul first start out with v3-5?

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 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. (ESV)

Is Paul saying that sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness are the primary reasons a person does not love like Christ? Note Paul included "no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking" in the negative categories, while the positive is thanksgiving (εὐχαριστία).

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To understand Paul’s outline in Ephesians 5:1 – 6:9 one needs to observe Paul’s style that is the clearest in Romans 1:18 – 8:39. Paul used the prophetic style of starting with the Gentiles, then moving to closer neighbors until ending with his recipients. In Romans 1:18 – 8:39 Paul starts with the Gentiles, then goes to the Jews and finally Christians. This style starts with things his recipients easily agree with, then each step moves closer to home.

In Ephesians 5:3 Paul starts with sexual immorality and all impurity. Things Jews and Christians would condemn, but was a part of life for pagan Gentiles. Covetousness is more difficult to avoid (Romans 7:7). Then, in Ephesians 5:4 Paul moves away from sexual acts to talking and joking about them, moving closer to home. Paul specifically addresses Christians in Ephesians 5:15 – 6:9. Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (ESV)” clearly points back to 5:1-2.

However, the subject matter in Ephesians 5:1 – 6:9 is all related. The sins in the beginning of the passage do interfere with fulfilling Paul’s admonitions in the end. For example covetousness (interpreting the Greek word πλεονεξία meaning greed) interferes with a master treating his servant properly. Sexual sins interfere with marriage relationships.

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In answering your specific question:

Is Paul saying that sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness are the primary reasons a person does not love like Christ?

…it’s just not those specific behaviors that impact others but everything done via the old man.

In Chapter 3, Paul introduces the concept of the love of Christ as it relates to the Ephesians relationship with Jesus.

Ephesians 3 (KJV)

16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

Then in chapter 4, Paul then extends the concept of the love of Christ to others. He tells the Ephesians not to act in accordance with the old man but to be renewed in their minds, to live after the new man. His instructions in verses 25 to 31 demonstrate how to act toward your neighbor. Note all the different types of behavior. In verse 32, he mentions their relationship with Christ and by example shows the Ephesians to forgive one another as they have been forgiven by Christ.

Ephesians 4 (KJV)

22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; 23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. 25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. 26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil. 28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. 29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. 30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.

With all that as a background, Paul then states in Chapter 5:1-2:

Ephesians 5:

Be ye therefore (note this) followers of God, as dear children; 2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour.

Here, Paul’s encouragement is to be selfless like Christ as Jesus denied Himeself and His will to do the Father’s will and became an offering for all of us.

In verses 3 and onward, Paul just continues the same theme of controlling your own behavior (all types) because it has a direct effect on other people. Building on verse 2, he encourages the Ephesians to use Christ as an example:

21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

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  • My answer also answers my initial question as no, not primary.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 20 '18 at 22:03
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Reflecting on this passage, I had the same question. In keeping with the contrast that Paul is making between the Gentiles, the world, the flesh and those sons of disobedience who are following the prince of this world, Paul is pressing the redemptive work of God that graces accomplishes in the soul. The old man will be self-centered and self-serving. The new man will have an other-centered sacrificing love. And this plays out anger, lust and greed

In Ephesians 5, we see the difference in imitating the love of God, the self-sacrificing love of Christ, and how the influence of the Holy Spirit's filling - restores the soul and gives us a new orientation to love. Why does he begin with the sexual lust and avarice? Perhaps he wanted to start with the dark felt realities the Gentile folks. Previously separated from the Lord, they had an insatiable hunger that led to the damaging trauma to the soul, leaving self-centered souls locked in the damaging darkness and hidden shame. This is compared to the forgiven soul that can speak to the issues of the heart and bring those shameful things that destroy us into the light. I think Paul wanted the believers to see the difference between having the old man on the throne and the new man filled with the Spirit on the throne. The contrast is clear. One is a sexually controlled spirit, and the other is a spiritually controlled sexuality, which is visible, liberated from shame and grateful for genuine other-centered love that comes from Jesus. What a difference grace makes!

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  • Compare this to Romans 1-8.
    – Perry Webb
    Jan 7 '19 at 9:53
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Ephesians 5:1 is not the beginning of a topic. The entire letter flows with instructions aimed at increasing unity in the church community at Ephesus.

The subject matter in question also began in the previous chapter. After uniting the 'uncircumcised' and 'the circumcised' as one citizenship in Christ (Ephesians 2: 11-22), Paul then charges the people to work on becoming united as one body in Christ:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4: 2-3)

Paul concentrates on two ways they should do this. From 5:21 to 6:9 Paul explores relationships with uneven power distribution (husband/wife, parent/child, master/slave). Here he calls for humility and forbearance from the powerless, loving care from those in authority, before urging them all to unite in the battle for Christ.

But before this, Paul firstly calls on the Ephesians to distance themselves from their old way of living - to put off their old self and put on the new self:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4: 17-24)

Paul then contrasts this old and new self from 4:25 through to 5:20, specifically in words and deeds - how we relate to others. He contrasts falsehood with speaking truthfully, and anger with love, expanding this out to look specifically at the 'old' tendencies to 'sin' in anger, but also to 'sin' in love.

In Ephesians 4:28-32, Paul contrasts the 'old' behaviour and talk in relating to those who provoke our anger with more loving options.

"In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

In Ephesians 5:1-7, he warns against the 'old' behaviour and talk in relating to those we love that is not in fact loving. He also suggests that we disassociate with those who behave (5) or speak (6) in this way, because they invite God's wrath (7).

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

Paul then rounds out this section by returning to the image of darkness from 4:18, contrasting the old 'fruitless deeds' with the 'fruit of light', and the foolishness of getting 'drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery' with being 'filled with the Spirit', which leads to making music and singing songs to the Lord.

Conclusion

The beginning of Ephesians 5 is part way through Paul's efforts to contrast the old self of the Gentiles with the new self as 'created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness', one of two main ways he suggests to enhance the unity of the church community in Ephesus. By portraying the community as united against outside forces - namely the old ways of the Gentiles and 'against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms' (Ephesians 6:11) - he attempts to steer the focus away from their various internal conflicts.

After contrasting the Gentiles' behaviour and talk with more loving options in situations of anger, Paul then categorised ways that the Gentiles also corrupted their love for each other: in their actions with sexual immorality, impurity and greed, and in their words with obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking. He warns that this is not how to 'walk in the way of love'.

As for the question of 'primary reasons', these are not reasons, but categories of 'deceitful desires' in supposedly 'loving' relationships. Greed, for instance, would likely include possessiveness, jealousy, polygamy, rape, etc.

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I love the word "Therefore" in Paul's writings. He connects one verse to the ones not only after but also before creating a continuing message. The Hebrew way of writing is often one disjointed though process separated and considered on its own but not in Paul's letters who can swallow up volumes of pages to get a thing said. Paul really was known for this. Remember the man who fell asleep, causing him to fall down from the roof to his death listening to Paul speak into the night. In his letters Paul has given many positive and many negative examples of Christian living and already begun a theme in the previous chapters. So to select out just these verses as being the primary behaviors would dismiss not only Paul's over all message but teachings from people including Jesus.

In essence even the smallest sin can condemn. That becomes clearer when we consider statements like all men have sinned. People can say, I have lived a good life, I haven't done this or that. The smallest thing, under the Old Testament covenant would have deemed many of us worthy of hellfire if not atoned by sacrifice. Under Jesus we tend to try and say, well, that was a small sin or that was really bad sin. The truth is that the Old Testament appraisal of sin, which is death, is still valid. This is why we need Jesus. Paul is simply encouraging that we live as "Christ Ones". Listing a few positives and negatives to paint a picture of good and evil, that we should be good and not evil, because after all is considered we are children of God and should live accordingly.

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