5 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 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. 6 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 become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.
This has been used against me in the past and in the present that I am not being Christlike because of the jokes I tell. This centers around verse 4 as “foolish talk” and “crude joking”. It is merely assumed the things I joke about are the things the Ephesian pagan unbeliever’s joked about. The issue is that they need to historically prove that and not assert it. Some commentators think “foolish talk” is unnecessary talk. The issue then arises about what qualifies unnecessary conversation and what contextual reason exists to think that? It is ambiguous and could fit lots of things into that category. Is satire necessary? Even if the same Paul the Apostle used satire (2 Cor. 11:16-21)? Are stereotypes necessary? Even when the same Paul the Apostle used them (Titus 1:12-13)? I don’t think that this is the best way to think about Ephesians 5. I think a more contextual, less ambiguous, and we must have a historical interpretation that fits. We shouldn’t read ourselves into the text but read the principle applicable for us from the text.
4 The warning of v. 3 about avoiding sexual sins is here continued in the triad of terms that refer to sinful speech: obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking about sex are to be avoided as entirely inappropriate among those who are saints. Over against these and the preceding vices of v. 3, however, stands thanksgiving, the fundamental Christian response of gratitude, expressed by those who have experienced God’s grace in Christ (cf. 1:3-1.4). Each of the words used for sinful speech, obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking, appears only here in the New Testament. The first is best understood concretely in the present context as signifying disgraceful speech, and in the light of the preceding sexual sins is rendered obscenity. The second term means ‘foolish or silly talk’. The third word in the triad was used in classical Greek in the good sense of ‘wittiness’ or that sense of wit which was regarded as essential to good social converse. Even in early times, however, the term could have negative connotations, perhaps ‘buffoonery or some kind of inhumane or degrading jesting’. P. W. van der Horst thinks that the context of Ephesians 5:4 suggests the meaning of coarse joking that has suggestive overtones and double entendres. All three terms refer to a dirty mind expressing itself in vulgar conversation. This kind of language must be avoided as utterly inappropriate among those whom God has set apart as holy. In striking contrast to all forms of sexual immorality and obscene language, thanksgiving, the distinctive mark of Christian speech, is enjoined on the readers. Some writers have suggested that noble talk or truthful speaking would have been a more appropriate antithesis here. But thanksgiving stands over against the six preceding vices of vv. 3 and 4, not simply the vulgarity and obscene speech of v. 4, and it indicates a fundamentally different attitude: ‘Whereas sexual impurity and covetousness both express self-centred acquisitiveness, thanksgiving is the exact opposite, and so the antidote required; it is the recognition of God’s generosity’. Thanksgiving is almost a synonym for the Christian life. It is the response of gratitude to God’s saving activity in creation and redemption, and thus a recognition that he is the ultimate source of every blessing. All people, as God’s creatures, ought to render thanksgiving and glory to him, but fail to do so (Rom. 1:21; cf. the ‘ungrateful’ of 2 Tim. 3:2, which describes humanity in the last days). Christians, because of the grace given to them in Christ Jesus (cf. 1:3-14, 15-23), are to live out their lives with joyful thanksgiving. It should be the accompaniment of every activity, being the appropriate response of those who have been filled by God’s Spirit (Eph. 5:18-20). Here in v. 4 thanksgiving reflects a Christian attitude to sex that is antithetical to a pagan attitude with its immorality and vulgarity.
O’Brien, Peter T.. The Letter to the Ephesians (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 6661-6684). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.
Verse 4 goes beyond immorality to vulgarity. For filthiness means obscenity, and both silly talk and levity are probably an allusion to coarse jesting, which is the cheapest form of wit. All three refer to a dirty mind expressing itself in dirty conversation. But these things are not fitting.
Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God’s new society: the message of Ephesians (p. 192). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.