At the root of many of this world’s horrendous problems is the simple principle of a lack of thankfulness. The believer has so many, many things for which he should give thanks but there is a danger that he, too, may be caught up in the discontented, grasping spirit of the times in which we live. Brother Carter over fifty years ago identified this principle in his exposition on the letter to the Ephesians in dealing with the sins enumerated in chapters 4 and 5. His comments provide material for sober reflection.

The appalling condition of open sin in Paul’s day is seen from the following statement: “The moral life of the Graeco-Roman world had sunk so low that, while protests against the prevailing corruption were never entirely wanting, fornication had long come to be regarded as a matter of moral indifference, and was indulged in without shame or scruple not only by the mass, but by philosophers and men of distinction who in other respects led exemplary lives.”

Under such conditions Paul may well prohibit the discussion of it. He himself “names” it only to condemn it. But saints are separated from the world, and it becomes them not to let the mind dwell on the sins of the world. The mind insensibly is affected by the stream of thought passing through it, and it is desirable to have the stream as pure as possible. A mind familiarized by pictures of evil is not strongly fortified if sin should assail.

“Covetousness” or greediness, in this connection, must not be limited to the insatiate grasp for wealth. It denotes the greedy pursuit of the fleshly gratification named in the context. So also the filthiness and foolish talking and jesting which are not befitting must be interpreted by the context. Filthiness describes the vulgar talk of obscene things. Foolish talking is the utterance of the fool who makes a mock of sin, and who freely indulges in unblushing speech, that disregards all sense of decency. The jesting is the more refined avoidance of the coarser form of speech, but which shows that behind the veneer of politeness there is no purer mind. Borderline talk which suggests rather than describes the ‘smutty’ remark, the innuendo of the more educated which reveals more wit but not more purity—these are embraced in the jesting which Paul says is not befitting the saint. Let humour be clean, and without the suggestiveness pertaining to it that so delights the natural man. Thus, and only thus, do men and women honour the household of God of which they form a part.

Instead of tainted speech, Paul counsels “but rather giving of thanks”. This is a wholesome corrective of both the disorders shown by the Ephesians and the Colossians. As we have before seen, from the same wrong starting point concerning the origin of evil, the Ephesians were in danger of running to licence, while the Colossians sought to overcome evil by the hair-shirt method of asceticism. “Give thanks”, both are exhorted. The spirit of thankfulness guides the actions into the channels for which thanks can be given, helps in the avoidance of the course of life that produces shame, and encourages an appreciation of God’s gifts. It helped the Colossians to value the good gifts bestowed for right uses and to develop the balanced life instead of the morbidly introspective and insecure attitude which they were adopting. Thankfulness to God humbles and ennobles. Therefore, “abound in thanksgiving”; “be ye thankful”; and “continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Col 2:7; 3:15; 4:2). Giving of thanks restrained the Ephesians from doing those things which produced no sense of gratefulness in the mind, but one of shame and disgust.

Paul adds a warning. He recalls to their minds what they had already acknowledged. To follow the practices of the old life would exclude them from the kingdom of God. “For this ye know of a surety, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, which is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (verse 5). For the inheritance in the kingdom there must be a degree of fitness. It is true that none can obtain eternal life in his own right. But that truth should not make us lose sight of the other truth, that there must have been an honest endeavour to form that character which is fitted to survive.

Christ and the apostles have all told us that admission to the kingdom will depend upon effort put forth to qualify for entrance. “Strive [agonize] to enter in at the strait gate” (Luke 13:24). “Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man which built his house upon a rock… And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand” (Matt 7:24, 26). Paul says that if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his (Rom 8:9). “Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal 6:7, 8). And Peter tells us that if we do “these things” —on our part supplying diligence, faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and love—“thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5–11). “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie” (Rev 22:14, 15).

It is a gladsome truth that God forgives. If He should mark iniquity none would stand. “But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared” (Psa 130:4). None will more gratefully recognize than the redeemed, that it is by grace and not by works, through sins forgiven and not through perfect personal holiness, that they are gathered to Christ. But they are there with him because they first washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, and then like Christ, though in differing degree, have overcome. “To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in His throne” (Rev 3:21).