Over the past few years, I take the Sunday before Thanksgiving and focus in on a statement in God’s word about being thankful and grateful.
One year we looked at 1 Thessalonians 1:2, “We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vs. 2-3, NLT).
Another year we examined Colossians 2:6, “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness” (vs. 6-7, NLT).
On another year we focused on 1 Corinthians 15 which says, “Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (vs. 54-58, NLT).
Today, we are going to examine Ephesians 5:4. So, here we go.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. 3 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. (Ephesians 5:1-4, NLT)
We are going to focus on verse 4. In that statement God tells what should not flow out of our mouth and what should. We are going to take a look at three things that should not be a part of your language and then we are going to take a look at how those three things are impacted by having a thankful heart.
First on the list, telling obscene stories is not for you, as a follower of Jesus. This phrase obscene stories (aischrotes) can also be translated as “filthiness” (ASV, AMP, ESV, NASB), “obscene” (CSB), “obscenity” (AMPC, NIV), or “dirty” (CEV). It comes from a Greek word that refers to obscene stories or dirty language. It is language or stories that would be considered degrading or disgraceful.
God’s Word tells us in Colossians 3:8, “But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language” (NLT). Dirty language is language that is unnecessarily offensive and obscene. Dirty language is that language that you don’t want your children saying. If they should be using that kind of language, neither should you. It’s time you got rid of that language.
God’s Word also says in Ephesians 4:29, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (NLT).
Here’s the deal. God does not want His people using the F-word, S-word, or using various parts of our bodies to describe someone. These are not for you. Let your language reflect who you really are. You are a child of God, a citizen of heaven, a representative of Jesus, and a soldier of Christ. Let what you say be good, helpful, and encouraging.
Second on the list, foolish talk is not for you, as a follower of Jesus. The phrase foolish talk (morologia) can be translated as “silly talk” (AMP), “corrupt talk” (AMPC), “stupid talk” (CJB), or “flippant” talk (ISV). Most translations describe this as foolish talk. But what does it mean?
Foolish talk is taking something that is shameful, and you make it appear acceptable by the humor that you put into it. According to the Bible, a fool is someone who believes that God does not exist (Psalm 14:1), and foolish talk is talking like God does not exist and what God says does not matter. In the Bible a fool can be very smart and very intellectual, but he denies the reality of God and talks like there is no God.
Foolish talk would advise someone to be happy without considering God or His Word. Foolish talk can also be seen in someone who turns serious things into a joke or a pun. They are flippant about serious matters. It’s difficult or near impossible to have a serious conversation with this person.
Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There’s no God’” (CSB). A fool is not a dumb person. A fool is someone who does not believe there is a God that exist. If there is no God, then there is no standard. If there is no standard, then there are no true morals. If there are no true morals, then truth and morality is left up to the individual to determine what is right or wrong. In this case God has no say in the matter. This is why some people don’t see what they are doing as sin or wrong. A fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” In addition, all the decisions he makes, the advice he gives, the reason why he exists, and what happens after death is based on himself which is the ultimate form of idol worship. The fool says in his heart there is no God.
Proverbs 15:2 says, “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness” (NLT). When you are around a fool you will hear all kinds of foolishness. Some of the foolishness is well thought out and some not. This foolishness can be heard when they talk about how we all got here, where life came from, and the meaning of life. You will also hear this foolishness when they start talking about marriage, sex, sexual orientation, money, career, when life begins, identity issues, church, God’s Word, and the like. Since God and His truth is not a part of their thinking, they will belch out foolishness.
Remember, when a foolish talker speaks, they will make fun of Jesus, mock God in a humorous way, and belittle God’s Word or a subject that God wants us to take serious in a joking way. They will try to use humor to discredit God, His people, and His Word in some way. They will belch out foolishness.
As a follower of Jesus, this is not for you. When you talk about God you are going to talk about Him with honor and respect. When you talk about God’s Word, you are going to give it authority over your life and all the subjects that come up. You are going to bring wisdom, compassion, understanding, patience, knowledge, and insight into the conversation.
and coarse jokes
Third on the list, coarse jokes are not for you, as a follower of Jesus. The phrase coarse jokes (eutrapelia) can be translated as “jesting” (KJ21, ASV), “crude joking” (CSB, ESV), “vulgar jokes” (CEB, NASB), or “obscene jokes” (GW).
What does this mean? First of all, do not think of a standup comedian telling jokes. That is not the primary meaning of this word. The Greek word refers to someone who turns the subject or conversation easily and makes light of it in a witty way. This is the person who takes an innocent statement or word and turns it into something dirty or vulgar or inappropriate. They can twist words into double entendres in order to make something innocent seem suggestive, sensual, or immoral.
This person will take a person’s name (like Dick) and use it inappropriately. They will take words like ball (from golf ball) or breast (from chicken breast) and make some crude remark. This person enjoys taking just about any phrase or word turning it into something coarse, vulgar, crude, or smutty.
These coarse jokes take what is innocent and tries to pervert it in some way. Proverbs 8:13 says, “All who fear the Lord will hate evil. Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech” (NLT).
This coarse language is not for you. You are above this. You are more mature than that. You got more important things to say than that.
these are not for you
After God’s Word mentions obscene, foolish, and coarse language it says, these are not for you. The phrase these are not for you refers to something that is not appropriate for believers. This phrase has several meanings, but they all relate.[i]
Sometimes its translated as “not fitting.” Have you ever seen anyone where clothes that’s obviously the wrong size. The pants are several sizes too big or the shirt is several sizes to small. It looks ridiculous. That doesn’t fit. As a believer, when you tell obscene stories, participate in foolish talk, and use course jokes you sound ridiculous. That does not fit you and it never will. That’s not who you are.
Sometimes its translated as “not becoming.” This means that this kind of talk is not appropriate for your position in life. As a believer, you are a child of God, a representative of Christ, an ambassador of God’s kingdom, and a soldier of Jesus. That is your position in life. These dirty and obscene words are not for you. They do not match your position.
Sometimes its translated as “out of place.” When we were potty training our dog it made a few mistakes. One day I came into the living room and their on the carpet was a gift from our dog that was brown and horrible smelling. That brown gift was out of place. It didn’t belong there. As a believer, when your words are obscene, foolish, or crude they are out of place. They don’t belong in your mouth.
Why would a believer use this kind of language? There are several reasons.
- Some use this language because they are spiritually immature. It’s left over garbage from before they were saved.
- Some use this language to be accepted by the world. They don’t want to appear uncool or to weird.
Before we move on, let me clarify something. Don’t take this to mean that you, as a follower of Jesus, should never be funny or laugh. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (NLT) and in Ecclesiastes 3:4 we are told there is “a time to laugh” (NLT). There is nothing wrong with having a healthy sense of humor. Some things are just funny.
This brings us to the end of verse 4. Instead of talking out of who you used to be rather than who you truly are what are you to do?
Instead, let there be thankfulness to God.
We are told, Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. When God’s Word says instead (alla mallon) it is using a strong term of contrast. This is a 180-turn statement. God is telling us that the opposite of obscene stories, the opposite of foolish talk, and the opposite of coarse joking is an attitude and words of thankfulness to God. The word instead means in its place, as an alternative, as a substitute, or as a replacement let your words be filtered through thankfulness to God.
This means, your spiritual weapon against things like this is thankfulness to God. Thankfulness to God impacts and affects everything about you. It affects how you speak, how you react, and how you feel about what you have and don’t have.
When we are thankful (eucharistia) to God what are we doing? To be thankful for someone or something is to recognize the worth or significance of the person or situation. When you give thanks to God for someone in your life you are saying, “God, I recognize the worth and significance of this person in my life.” This doesn’t mean that the person or situation is making it easy for you to be thankful. The person may be difficult, and the situation may be troubling, but you are recognizing the worth of this person or the situation. The person may be difficult, but you are seeing how God is using them to help you grow spiritually and deal with some of your own selfishness and impatience. You see this as an opportunity to bless your enemy, so you are thankful.
So, how does thankfulness to God oppose or counter act against obscene, foolish, and dirty language?
- When you are telling an obscene story about someone it is an act of selfishness on your part because you don’t see them as worthy of respect.
- When you participate in foolish talk and speak like there is no God or that God does not matter that is being selfish, you think you don’t need God and He is not worth your attention.
- When you are involved in coarse joking you are twisting the meaning of someone else’s words to make light of what they say or belittle them in some way. This communicates that you don’t value them, you don’t value what they are saying, or value what they are trying to say. All that comes from a selfish heart.
However, when you are thankful to God you have gratitude for the things you have and appreciate the people in your life. You value them. When you do that you are demonstrating an unselfish heart. That’s why God sees these two things are opposites. Instead of being selfish, you are unselfish. Instead of being rude, you are kind. Instead of being disrespectful, you show honor. Thankfulness to God changes how you see and speak to people. It changes your attitude. Thankfulness produces a deeper and more mature you.
Before we wrap all this up, let me give you some quick observations about thankfulness to God.
Number one, thankfulness to God is not generic thankfulness. There are some people who are generally and genuinely thankful. They are thankful for their job, their family, and their health. However, they are not thankful to God for those blessings. There is a big difference between being thankful and being thankful to God. Being thankful to God gives God the credit for the blessings. Being thankful to God identifies the source of those blessings. Being thankful to God puts the focus on God, and not the blessing.
Number two, thankfulness to God produces kindness to others. I have already mentioned this, but it needs to be highlighted. When you are thankful you will not want to coarsely joke with someone at their expense. You will not want to make light of what God takes seriously. You will speak to and about others with dignity, value, love, and compassion. You will be kind. Thankfulness to God produces kindness.
Number three, thankfulness to God is evidence that you belong to God. In Romans 1 we are told about some people who decided to suppress the truth about God. They decided to live life as though there was no God, even though they knew He existed. As a result they began to worship all kinds of strange things. Then in Romans 1:21 we are told “they wouldn’t worship [God] or even give him thanks” (NLT). When you are thankful to God you are demonstrating that you believe God exist, that He is the source of all your blessings, and you want to give Him create and glory for all that He has done, is doing, and will do.
Number four, thankfulness to God is supernatural. It is a spiritual attitude. It requires the Holy Spirit to renew your mind on how you think and view everything in your life. In Ephesians 4:21 Paul says, “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (NLT). Then Paul goes into a long list of things where he says get rid of this from your life and add this to your life. This list continues all the way to Ephesians 5:4 where he says stop the dirty, filthy, obscene language and start talking like a thankful person who loves God. For this to happen, a supernatural event will need to take place. First, you will need to become born again and the Spirit of God will need to renew your thoughts and attitudes. When you are thankful to God you are demonstrating that something supernatural and spiritual has happen in your life.
Number five, thankfulness to God is not based on circumstances. As a follower of Jesus, you should be known as a thankful person. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (NLT). Whatever “circumstance” you find yourself in, let God show you what you can be thankful for in it. Your circumstance maybe one of being a single parent, going through a divorce, dealing with an serious illness, loss of a job, being misunderstood, being in a job you don’t like, financial loss, dealing with family who are making unwise decisions, and so on. Regardless, God’s Word says, “be thankful in all circumstances.” Why? Because you “belong to Christ Jesus.”
- Thankfulness is what you feel when you believe God is for you and not against you.
- It’s what you feel when you believe that He gives you good things and will work all the hard things out for good in your life.
- It’s what you feel when you trust Him, that the tragedies of your life are not evidences of his meanness or his incompetence but are an opportunity for Him to display His goodness and grace.
- Thankfulness is what you feel when you have been given eyes to see that all of life is the work of a sovereign and gracious God.
Thankfulness to God says, “I have everything God wants me to have. I am exactly where I need to be. God has blessed me, is blessing me, and will continue to bless me. My Heavenly Father loves me and will lead me, guide me, and get me through whatever comes my way. I am thankful to God for all He has provided in my life. I am thankful for Him making me who I am and for who I will be. It doesn’t matter if I have a lot or a little, I’m thankful. It doesn’t matter if life is easy or hard, I’m thankful. I’m grateful to God. I appreciate all that He has done. Because of this I refuse to whine and complain. I resist the temptation to devalue others, God, or myself by using obscene, foolish, or dirty language. My thankfulness to God causes me to rise above that. I choose today to be a thankful person who loves God and loves others.”
[i] In addition to the one’s mentioned above the phrase “these are not for you” is also translated: Not appropriate (AMP), Not convenient (BRG), Not suitable (CSB), Not acceptable (CEB), No purpose (DRA), Not right for you (EXB), Doesn’t fit our style (MSG), and Out of character (NET)