Ephesians 5:1-10 Bible Study - Lovely and not so lovely aromas!

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Bible Study Series: Ephesians - The Third Heaven Epistle

Ephesians 5:1-10 Bible Study - Lovely and not so lovely aromas!

by I Gordon

We are going to look at some things that give a lovely aroma today... and a few things that don't. You could say that some will well and truly pass the smell test and others won't come close. But don't fear. While they tried 'Smell-o-vision' once back in the 60's where they injected 30 different odors into the movie theatre seats and triggered them at different times depending on what was happening in the movie, I'm pretty sure it hasn't come to the internet yet. So you should be safe... hopefully.  

So we will be in Ephesians 5:1-10 today. We'll start with the lovely aroma of walking in love, finish with the lovely aroma of walking in the light, and in the middle have a few bad smells that were prominent in the region of Ephesus in the first century and have well and truly returned in our day. Hopefully that hasn't put you off already. Let's go!  

Walking in love... a lovely aroma!

Eph 5:1-2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; (2) and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

So we start with the instruction to be imitators of God. Well, that should be easy... right? Just imitate God. Simple. Hmm. How are we going to do that? Firstly it says that we are to do it as 'beloved children' so we see straight away it comes through our relationship with our heavenly Father. Children are natural imitators and often want to be like their mother and father. In my case I didn't really have an earthly Father I could imitate so I remember Mum telling me pretty early on to find some Dad that you admire and copy him. Can't say I did really... but that all changed when I became a Christian and found I suddenly have the perfect Father! So in what way are we to imitate God? And how is that even possible? You'll note that the verse starts with a 'therefore' so what's that there for? It's obviously linked to the proceeding verse which is:

Eph 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

The verse after Eph 5:1 tells us to walk in love, just as Christ also loved you. So I think you see the pattern!  In our dealings with others around us, we are called to imitate our Father in forgiveness and love, based on what we have experienced already from God. This is one of those passages that again remind us how important it is to have a true understanding of God's grace. Why? Because you will end up treating others in the same way that you think God has treated you! 

"If we are imitators of God, as dear children, they (unbelievers) will be compelled to recollect that there is a God, for they will see his character reflected in ours. I have heard of an atheist who said he could get over every argument except the example of his godly mother: he could never answer that."
Charles Spurgeon

Now in 'imitating God' never forget that this is not done without God Himself! God has not left us as sin-filled broken humanity, asking us to do something that we, in our own fallen nature, can't possibly do! No, He has not left us as orphans but has given us His Spirit whose very fruit is love, peace, kindness, gentleness... Never forget this. God is always the source of His own demands. That is why Paul has just spoken about the importance of not grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30) and will go on to talk about the importance of being filled with His Spirit (Eph 5:17-18). Without Him we can do nothing.

Now Eph 5:2 ends with something being a 'fragrant aroma' before God. What was it that pleased the Father and smelt so wonderful to Him? It was the perfect life of the One who loved you enough to offer Himself up as a sacrifice for you - Jesus. Paul is drawing his imagery from the Levitical offerings which the Israelites would give. Can you remember how many main types of offerings there were? No? That's ok. It is five, the number of grace. Three of these were said to be 'a sweet savor' before the Lord. Two were not. Yet all speak of Christ in one way or another. Let's drill down into this thought a little.  

Jesus - The Sweet Aroma

The five offerings given in the book of Leviticus were the burnt, meal, peace, sin and trespass offerings.  The first three smelt good to the Lord as they spoke of the perfection of Jesus' life and willingness to offer Himself as a sacrifice. The last two, representing Jesus becoming sin, are not said to be a pleasing aroma and were burnt outside the camp. I'll make some points for all but focus on the sweet smelling offerings as mentioned in Eph 5:2.

The sweet smelling offerings - made on the brazen altar - gives the perfection of Christ as a living sacrifice, in qualifying to be our representative on the cross

  1. The burnt offering (Lev 1) - And offering for atonement representing the work of the Lord Jesus
    • Bullock or ox - Shows Jesus as the Lord's perfect servant. He served both God and man in totally perfection. (Mark 10:45)
    • Sheep/lamb or goat - Shows the extent of Jesus' desire to do God's will, willing even to take the sin of the world (John 1:29, Isa 53:7)
    • Turtle-dove or Pidgeon - Associated with poverty (Lev 5:7) it pictures the Lord becoming poor for our sakes (2 Cor 8:9), laying aside his position with the Father and humbling Himself to become as we are (Phil 2:6-8). Incidentally this was the offering Joseph and Mary gave when presenting Jesus to God at the temple (Luke 2:22-24)
  2. The meal (grain) offering (Lev 2) - a bloodless offering representing the very character of the Lord Jesus
    • Fine flour - Perfect humanity lived in complete righteousness
    • Oil - The oil (picturing the Holy Spirit) was mixed with the flour (humanity of Christ) as it was for Jesus at the incarnation (Luke 1:35)
    • Frankincense - The sweet smell of His character in which the Father was so pleased
    • No leaven - Jesus had no sin, no hypocrisy, no deviation from the truth (Mark 8:15 , Luke 12:1, 1 Cor. 5:6-8, Gal.5:9)
  3. The peace offering (Lev 3,7) - represents the outcome of Jesus' life and death - peace between God and man.
    • Also known as the 'fellowship offering' (Lev 3:1) because it celebrates peace between God and man. Jesus made peace (Col 1:20), proclaimed peace (Eph 2:17) and is our peace (Eph 2:14). 
    • Based on the offering of a herd animal without blemish (picturing Christ)
    • Expressed through a thanksgiving, vow, or freewill offering - each expressing gratitude for God's blessing
    • Was the only offering where the one offering it could feed upon it as did the Priests (Lev 7:15-16, 31-34) just as we have communion with our Lord.

The sin (non - sweet smelling) offerings - made outside the camp - shows Christ's death as a sacrifice for sin, becoming sin for our sake

  1. The sin offering (Lev 4) - For forgiveness of unintentional sins. Portrays Christ becoming sin for us in contrast to the sweet smelling offerings which focused on the perfection of His character and the result of His work. 
    • The entire bullock was burnt outside the camp just as Jesus died outside the camp (Heb 13:12)
  2. The trespass offering (Lev 5) - Focuses in the injury caused by sin.
    • Deals with trespasses against God and man and the restitution that is required. Pictures the restoring work of Christ on the cross - Psa 69:4 Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head... What I did not steal, I then have to restore.

So it could be said that God made him who had no sin (the sweet smelling burnt and meal offerings) to be sin for us (the sin and trespass offering), so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (the sweet smelling peace offering). (2Co 5:21) Or, as Major Ian Thomas wrote 'The life Christ lived (represented by the the sweet smelling offerings) qualified Him for the death He died (the non-sweet smelling offerings)

How do we respond?

Our response1 can be seen in the peace offering where the person could come, give a thanksgiving, vow or freewill offering, and eat and fellowship, having peace with the Lord. When you look at the New Testament, there are a couple of verses that pick up on this theme of a sweet or fragrant aroma in relation to the believer:

1. In our service, witness and ministry for Christ: 

2Co 2:14-16 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. (15) For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. (16) To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?

2. In our gifts and help of the saints:

Php 4:18 I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.

That which doesn't smell at all good

Eph 5:3-5 But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; (4) and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (5) For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Having looked at the perfection of Christ and what true love looks like, Paul now focuses on the counterfeit 'love' mostly in the forms of sexual sin. 

"It is interesting that he (Paul) puts at the top of an unloving thing, fornication. We see how Satan has so deceived and distorted things, because the world equates fornication with love. In fact, they use the term "let's make love" when they are referring to the act of fornication quite often, calling it love making. But here in the scripture it is the prime example of something that is lacking in love. That is, lacking in true love. A person who entices someone else into the act of fornication is not really considering the other person, but only considering themselves and their own desire for some kind of fulfillment, emotional, sexual or otherwise."
Pastor Chuck Smith

It will be useful, as a background on why Paul writes about these sexual sins, to focus on what Ephesus was like in that day. You may remember that Ephesus had the temple of Diana whom the people worshipped as a goddess (Acts 19:27-28, 34-35). This was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. John MacArthur writes: 

Ephesus - In the first century

"Diana, or Artemis, was the most sacred goddess in the civilized ancient Greco-Roman world, and the temple to Diana was one of the Seven Wonders. There was the Pharos Lighthouse in Alexandria; Egypt, there were the Pyramids; the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; the Tomb of King Mausolus; the Colossus of Rhodes; the Statue of Zeus on Mount Olympus; and the Temple of Artemis, or Diana, in Ephesus, made of glittering Persian marble. It was 425 feet long, one-and-a-half city blocks, 260 wide. Columns stood 60 feet high: 130 columns – 37 embellished with gold and jewels. And all of it was the gift of kings. The altar, beautiful beyond words, was carved by the Greek sculptor Praxiteles. It was a museum, and that temple was a sanctuary for criminals. The worst criminals in the world found safety in Ephesus, which only led to the debauchery of the city.

...Historians say there were scores of eunuchs; thousands of priestesses, prostitutes; unnumbered herald singers, flutists, dancers. The worship was a kind of hysteria: a debauchery, drunkenness, sexual deviation, frenzies of shameless mutilation. Heraclitus wrote that the morals of the temple were worse than the morals of animals. “The people – ” he said, “ – who engaged in that were fit only to be drowned.”2 

So you get an idea of what was going on in Ephesus and why Paul warns against these things. He speaks of:

  • Fornication or immorality: (from the Greek 'porneia' - the English word pornography is related to this Greek word ).  Used here as a general word to describe sexual sin such as sex outside of marriage.
  • Uncleanness: General immoral behavior, often in a sexual sense and could include what people look at and think about, as well as actions.
  • Filthiness / Coarse jesting: Dirty stories, inappropriate or suggestive sexual humor3

I often read what some of the beloved Christian teachers of yesteryear wrote and often wonder what they would think if they lived today! For example, H.A Ironside wrote his commentary on Ephesians in 1937. In it he writes: "The city of Ephesus swarmed with iniquity of the vilest kind. It was therefore of great importance that the early Christians should be warned of the danger of following the ways of those still in their sins. And it is just as necessary today. The human heart is unchanged and with all our veneer of civilization, unmentionable depravity is seen throughout our land. The wickedness of the world is enough to cause every Christian heart to shudder and realize the importance of living very close to the Lord Jesus Christ that we may be kept from these evil things." That was in the 1930's where Ironside said that 'unmentionable depravity is seen throughout our land'. Can you imagine what he would say if we teleported him into today's world? Sex outside of marriage is the norm and seen as healthy today. Homosexuality, and all the other additional alphabet letters, is something to be proud of and constantly promoted.4 Ladies toilets and changing rooms can now have biological males in them who 'identify' as female. The innocence of our young children is taken so early sexual instruction and teaching from drag-queens. We have parents that won't even say what gender their new-born child is because it will be up to them to decide! 

What a mixed up world we live in! The end-goal in the West at least is really to do away with marriage and any Judeo-Christian norms that are now seen as restrictive and repressive. So note Ironside's instruction from nearly 90 years ago once more because it is more relevant than ever today:

"The wickedness of the world is enough to cause every Christian heart to shudder and realize the importance of living very close to the Lord Jesus Christ that we may be kept from these evil things."     

We so need to guard our hearts and minds in this day! Oh be careful little eyes what you see! Be careful little feet where you go! Now note that Paul says that we should realize that 'no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.' We often think of 'coveting' in terms of money and wealth but remember that it is a general term for desiring more of something that others have. In this context of sexual immorality it is probably speaking of 'thou shall not covet thy neighbor's wife'. Paul writes that those that live like this have no inheritance in the kingdom of God. He is saying that a lifestyle that is categorized with such sin is proof that the person is still in their sins and does not have salvation.5 

Prodigal sons and prodigal pigs

We always need to remember that there are prodigal sons and prodigal pigs. Prodigal sons are true sons of God that may slip, like King David did, but come in repentance back to their Father. Prodigal pigs are the opposite. They may come inside the Church, make some type of confession, clean up their ways for a while, but still having the nature of a pig their heart is for the muck and before long they are back there, wallowing in the mud. Sometimes it is very difficult for us to know the difference between prodigal sons and pigs. But Heaven knows those who are truly the Lords. And from our view, we should be able to see some evidence of the new life in a person if they are truly a born-again believer. That is why scripture says:

2Ti 2:16-22 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, (17) and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, (18) men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. (19) Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness." (20) Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. (21) Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. (22) Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

Sober up... The wrath of God

Eph 5:6-7 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (7) Therefore do not be partakers with them; 

Please note the deception in this. 'Let no one deceive you with empty words' Paul writes. As I have mentioned before, sin is deceptive for it promises to give, but only robs. I recently had a lady from Africa (that's not making it too specific!) write in who is a believer but was led away into sexual sin by a man promising all the right things. While she was keeping herself for marriage, she gave in to the temptation and his smooth words and now (at the time of her writing at least) is left empty and guilty not at all sure of his intentions for the future. One thing that stood out in her email was her admission that she 'didn't know how weak she was.' A second thing was that the brief 'moment of pleasure' was followed by a lot of guilt and uncertainty over the future. Never forget that sin deceives and so do men!

Now Paul says the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. We live in a mixed up world ripe for judgement. It is continually trying to redefine what is light and what is darkness, what is right and what is wrong. We live in the day where Isaiah's 'woe' is being lived out:

Isa 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

I'd like you to note one thing from this verse and that is the order. It uses three examples and each starts with first calling that which is evil, good, and then proceeds to calling that which is good, evil. And that is how it has played out in our day. They first make wickedness normal and even something to celebrate. Then they take that which is good, like the Christian faith, and demonize it. So you get to the stage where all acts of perversion can be paraded openly on the streets and this is meant to be 'good' and 'liberating'. But try go on those same streets and give the good news of the Gospel and this is 'hate speech'. Such twisting of what is right is truly from the pit of hell.   

So Paul reminds us that the 'wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.' While not so popular to talk about anymore, never forget that God's wrath is as perfect as His love and grace. God's judgment is called His 'strange work' but it is just and perfect in every regard.  

The Wrath of God Brief Overview

The Greek word used here in Eph 5:6 is 'orge' meaning 'anger, indignation, vengeance, wrath'. Let me give you a quick overview from the New Testament on this word.

  • First mention - John the Baptist to the crowds - 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?' (Luke 3:7)6
  • Is spoken of the current state of all who reject Christ - 'but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him' (John 3:36)
  • Jesus saved us from the wrath - 'Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!'
  • It is Jesus' return for His bride that will save us from the future wrath to be poured out on this world - '...wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath' (1 Thes 1:10, 5:9)
  • God will pour out His wrath at the end of the age (Rev 6:17) and Jesus 'treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty' (Rev 19:15) as His second coming.

Like I said... sobering stuff! But there is also a present day 'wrath' of God against wickedness that needs to be pointed out. It is where God 'gives them over' to the folly, wickedness and consequences of their ways.

Rom 1:18-19,24 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, (19) because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them...Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts...

We are to recognize the signs of someone having been 'given over' by God to their sins and the consequences and this includes:

  • Those that are actively trying to suppress the truth of God (such as the evidence for God in creation) (Rom 1:18)
  • Those that have turned to worshipping creation and nature instead of God (Rom 1:22-23, 25)
  • Those that have gone into sexual sin including homosexuality (Rom 1:24, 26-27) 
  • Those that have a depraved mind filled with wickedness, strife, envy, deceit etc (Rom 1: 28-31)
  • Those that give 'hearty approval' to those who practice what God hates (Rom 1:32)

Walking in the light

Eph 5:8-9 ...for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (9) (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth)

Having spoken about the prevalent sins of the day and God's justified wrath, let's breath deeply once again from that which has a pleasant aroma. And that is a life lived in the light and ways of the Lord. Paul reminds believers that we are now Light in the Lord. So walk in the light! This is the opposite to that above and... 

  • Comes only from Jesus who is the true light and gives light to all that desire Him (Joh 1:9)
  • Is walking in truth, following Jesus and the direction of God's word (Joh 8:12)
  • Is walking in honesty and openness before God and men, leading to fellowship & forgiveness (1Jn 1:7)
  • Will result in good works evident for others to see (Mat 5:16)

There is a saying that you never ask a Texan if he is a Texan. If he is a Texan, he'll let you know it without your asking. If he is not a Texan, you wouldn't want to embarrass him! My friend, a Christian ought to walk in such a way that you know he is a child of God without asking him. We all need to look carefully how we walk.
J. Vernon McGee

Our passage says that walking in the light results in all goodness, righteousness and truth! In other words, a glimpse of the Lord Himself, living through us! I mentioned earlier a quote from Major Ian Thomas who said 'The life Christ lived qualified Him for the death He died'... which is true so true as we have seen in the sweet and non-sweet offerings in Leviticus. But it's not the full quote. The full quote is: 

'The life Christ lived qualified Him for the death He died. And the death He died qualified you for the life He lived!' 

That is the gracious provision for the believer today where the Lord has given us His life to shine through us as lights in this dark world. And as we walk in that light, in honesty, openness and dependence, exposing all that we are to all that He is, the sweet aroma of Christ can be smelt once again. How amazing this plan is of God is!

Conclusion - Pleasing to the Lord

Eph 5:10 ...trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

So we started off by speaking about the aroma of Jesus' perfect live and how, in all things that He did, He was pleasing to the Father. 'This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased' was the testimony that came from Heaven! In like manner, we too are to learn what pleases the Lord. Having lived a perfect life, the Lord Jesus was able to offer Himself up as a sacrifice for sins. What about us? You aren't called to offer yourself as a sacrifice for sins... thankfully. Unfortunately you wouldn't even be able to pay for your own sins let alone everyone else's! Yet the Bible doesn't leave us in the dark concerning the sacrifices that we can make today which please His heart. I mentioned it in the footnotes but, as we close, consider this important verse once again:  

Heb 13:15-16 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (16) And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

It tells us to do something continually... and what is that? Offer up praise to God. That is a sacrifice of praise. Give thanks to His name. Do good and share with others. All of these are said to be 'sacrifices' today that God is pleased with. So as we close this message, all I can say is stay close to the Lord. We've seen the difficulty of the day in which we live were good is called evil and evil called good. Distractions, temptations and traps abound. But walk in the light believer. You can only remain strong as you walk closely with Him.    

  1. Some additional relevant verses:

    Of Jesus:

    Heb 10:5-7 Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. (6) In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. (7) Then I said, 'Behold, I have come-- In the volume of the book it is written of Me-- To do Your will, O God.' " [38]

    Of Believers:

    Rom 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

    1Pe 2:5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

    Heb 13:15-16 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (16) And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

  2. https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/90-472/the-lords-word-to-his-church-ephesus

  3. "Really, he is referring here to dirty jokes. It should never, never be done by a child of God, the passing on of a dirty story, because what you are doing is planting filth in that other person's mind, filth that they will not be able to get rid of. It is tragic, but I can remember dirty jokes that were told me when I was just a little kid. That filth was planted into my mind and I cannot get rid of it. It still lingers there. Oh, I don't think on it all of the time, thank God, but you know how the dumb mind works. Every once in a while one of those dirty little ditties that I learned as a kid, some kind of a sight, sound, word will trigger a DNA molecule and it will pop that thing out of the file, flash it across my brain. And I think, "Oh God help me, that filth is still there."  
    Pastor Chuck Smith

  4. The world has an international day of friendship. That should be celebrated one day a year. We also have the international day of families. One day for them. We have Fathers day to celebrate them and Mothers day (oh so sorry, that should be 'Birthing people' day right?) Then we have an entire month to promote and celebrate different sexual orientations. But apparently a month isn't long enough according to the Canadian government who have announced that it is 'Pride season' now from June to September. It shows you where the world's focus and priorities are!

  5. "When Paul says that such persons have no inheritance in the kingdom, he means precisely that. People whose lives are characterized by these sins are lost, are in their sins, and are on the way to hell. They are not in the invisible kingdom at the present time; they will not be in the kingdom when Christ returns to reign; and they will be forever shut out from the everlasting kingdom in heaven. The apostle is not saying these are people who, though they are in the kingdom, will suffer loss at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The subject is salvation, not rewards. They may profess to be Christians, but they prove by their lives that they were never saved. They can be saved, of course, by repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. But if they are genuinely converted, they will no longer practice these sins."
    William MacDonald

  6. I have a feeling this comment about 'brood of vipers' must have been in John's early ministry before he read Dale Carnegie's book 'How to win friends and influence people.' Or maybe he never read it and just went with what the Lord wanted him to say? Hard to know : )