Summary: Addresses sexual immorality and crudeness.
We all have limits as to what we will and will not wear. Even if we are not fashion conscious, there are boundaries we will not cross. For that matter, there are dress habits we will not give up. Battles are fought in homes over what we will and will not wear.
Back in Ephesians 4:20-24, the Apostle Paul presented a dress code for Christians. We are to put off the old self, which belongs to our former manner of life, and we are to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Beginning in 4:25, he then brings off the dress rack, examples of such dress. We are to put off falsehood and put on speaking the truth. We are to put off uncontrolled anger and put on self-control. We are to put off stealing and put on honest labor. We are to put off corrupting talk and put on talk that builds others up. In each case, Paul adds mind renewal thoughts to help in our understanding of why we are to make these changes. He picks back up the series in our passage. I am going to take verse 4 first, only because verses 3 and 5 flow so well together.
4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
In 4:29, Paul already spoke of corrupting talk. Here he is breaking down such talk into different categories. “Filthiness” is obscenity, profanity. James Boice identifies “foolish talk” with the “one who makes light of high standards of behavior, thinking that it is somehow funny or sophisticated to tear down anything that is high or praiseworthy or ennobling.” “Crude joking” is similar to foolish talk, only the emphasis is on vulgarity.
The mind renewal thought is that such things “are out of place.” Out of place with what? With being saints, as noted in verse 3. What does being a saint mean? James Boice explains:
Every Christian is a saint, and every saint is a Christian. Moreover, every true Christian is in some sense separated from the world. It does not mean that we are taken out of the world. That is not the way God operates. But it does mean that we are removed from it in the sense of not really belonging to the world any longer. If we are truly Christ’s, we have a new nature, a new set of loyalties, and a new agenda. We belong to a different kingdom.
The old ways of talking and behaving don’t fit anymore, or at least they should not. What then should characterize our speech and behavior? What is the new dress for us to put on? Thanksgiving. “Let there be thanksgiving.”
That is an interesting contrast set up. One would think that coarse speech would be contrasted with modest speech. “Instead let your speech be modest” or, what Paul said earlier in 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Why thanksgiving? Let’s think about the “filthiness,” “foolish talk,” and “crude joking.” Such behavior and talk comes from the mind that is cynical, that delights in seeing and supposedly exposing the seamier side of life. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote: whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (4:8). To the crude mind, such things do not exist. There is nothing of true value to give thanks for. Everything is a joke, so that even God the Maker becomes a joke as his name is turned into a swear word.
The thankful mind, on the other hand, turns the ordinary into treasure. And the thankful mind that is consciously giving thanks to God, glorifies God the Maker. Do you understand this matter of putting on new dress? The Christian life – the life of the saint – cannot be reduced to what we put off, what we no longer do. It is to be identified more by what we put on, what we do for the glory of God. And so, it is not enough to control our tongue; rather, we need to use our tongue positively in thanksgiving and building up.
Let’s back up now to verse 3 and consider it with verse 5.
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 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.