Black and White Morality in a Gray Culture (Ephesians 5.15–21)



Ephesians 5.15–21


The Bible portrays morality in black and white, but our culture sees morality in shades of gray.

Take sex, for example. In the Bible, sex outside of marriage is immoral (Hebrews 13.4). But in our culture, it is routine, even among Christians. We know what the Bible teaches, but we prefer to ignore its teaching and/or generate rationalizations for our disobedience. (Someone has said that to rationalize means to offer “rational lies.” How true!)

Or take anger. Jesus clearly teaches that anger is a form of murder deserving judgment and that it should be replaced by reconciliation (Matthew 5.21–26). But how many of us offer rationalizations for our anger, insults, and mean-spirited actions? Too many, I fear.

Or finally, take alcohol. Paul writes: “do not get drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5.18). And yet, how many of us turn to drink at the end of a long, hard day at the office? (Or to drugs, legal or illegal, or to some other substance or activity?) We offer reasons: “I need to steady my nerves,” “I need to forget my troubles,” “I need a little pick-me-up.” But those reasons quickly become rationalizations for excess and addiction.

We human beings are excuse-making factories, you see. Rational lies pour out of our brains like water rushing through a broken levee. To plug the hole, we need to constantly remind ourselves of the Bible’s simple (though never simplistic) moral teaching. Consider Ephesians 5.15–21:

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Paul teaches us three things in this passage:

  1. The Christian life requires a choice between black and white. Notice the polarity in his words. He starkly contrasts being “wise” and “unwise” (or “foolish”). He offers a clear alternative between being “drunk with wine” or “filled with the Spirit.”
  2. The Christian life replaces bad with good. Following Christ entails being against certain actions, behaviors, and forms of speech. But Christians are also in favor of other actions, behaviors, and forms of speech. It is not enough to stand against sin, in other words. We must walk in Christ’s stead.
  3. The Christian life results in positive regard for God and others. What does it mean to be “filled with the Spirit”? Paul answers with four verbs: addressing, singing, giving thanks, and submitting. Through our words, attitudes, and actions, we are supposed to love God wholeheartedly and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22.37–40).

How much better would our lives be if we lived according to these simple principles?

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