Watch Out for Empty Words, Part 1Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.
As I considered Ephesians 5:6, I was struck by the phrase "empty words." This seems like such an apt phrase in our world today. Yet, obviously, empty words were a matter of concern to the Apostle Paul as he wrote two millennia ago.
We don't know with any precision whom Paul had in mind when he wrote "Let no one deceive you with empty words." The context suggests that these deceivers might have claimed that immorality, impurity, and greed were really not such a big deal. Perhaps they were Christians who misconstrued God's grace as an opportunity for ample sinning without consequences. Perhaps they were pagans who objected to the "narrow-mindedness" and "over-reactions" of Christians who rejected activities that were common in the Greco-Roman world.
No matter whom Paul was thinking of when he wrote, he characterized their claims as "empty words." Why?
The Greek word translated here as "empty" (kenos) could mean "empty" in a literal sense. In one of Jesus' parables, for example, a servant goes on behalf of his master to fetch the harvest from some tenant farmers, but they beat the servant "and sent him away empty-handed [kenon, a form of kenos]" (Mark 12:3). In Ephesians 5:6, kenos is used metaphorically. Empty words are those that lack substance, wisdom, and truth. They are words not filled with reality or matched with action. The famed fourth-century preacher, John Chrysostom, said when preaching on this verse from Ephesians, "There are always people among us who want to diminish the force of words. . . . Empty words are words that are for a moment attractive but in no way are proved by deeds" (Homily on Ephesians 18.5.5-6.1).
Paul was concerned that the recipients of his letter might be enticed by purveyors of empty words to reject a Christ-shaped perspective on life, especially when it comes to sexuality and greed. We have no shortage of such empty words today. In multiple ways, the empty wordsmiths of our world convince us that life is best when filled with sexual exploits and lots of stuff. We can begin to be persuaded that Christian morality is outdated, irrelevant, and oppressive. Thus, Paul's injunction to the Ephesians deserves a new hearing today: Let no one deceive you with empty words.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When you think of "empty words," what comes to mind? Do you find yourself tempted to accept the counsel of those who use "empty words"? When? Why?
PRAYER: Gracious God, we have no shortage of "empty words" today. It seems like now, more than ever, people celebrate with empty words a life filled with immorality, impurity, and greed. We can easily get caught up in the emptiness, losing track of the truly full life you have for us. Help us, Lord, to reject the "empty words" in favor of the words of life that come from you. Guide us in your ways by your truth. Amen.
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