From the Darkness to the Light
[Ephesians chapter 5, verses 1-14]
Last week we finished chapter four, where we found the apostle Paul giving a healthy dose of tough love to the early church at Ephesus. Taking up where we left off, if we want to be real Christians having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ instead of mere sect worshipers who think their denominational affiliation will get them into heaven, we can start by watching our language. We can only assume that there must have been a problem with this issue within that particular congregation for one reason or another, the details of which have been lost to history and the passage of time. But what Paul was writing back then is just as applicable today, and probably even more so due to the saturation of mass media. All we have to do is watch a movie on cable TV, and we find dialogues often filled with profanity. I had my own cable TV turned off 4 years ago, and I haven’t missed it at all. There is so much good Christian stuff to watch on the Web that’s free anyway! The apostle John wrote that we are to be “in the world but not of it”, and having your cable TV disconnected is one good way to do exactly that.
Today as we study the first half of chapter five, we find the apostle Paul continuing his commentary as he changes his tone from one of chastisement to one of encouragement and exhortation, a pattern that is noticeable throughout Paul’s writings. But he also warns the Ephesian church to steer clear of distasteful behavior and of wicked people, and to be ever mindful of who they represent. We are to be representatives of Jesus Christ and full time ambassadors for him, and we should live our lives accordingly. Paul charges us all with that very responsibility, beginning at verse one of chapter five.
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure, or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.” (Ephesians 5, verses 1-7, NIV)
We are to be acting as God’s dearly beloved children because that’s exactly what we are. As Christ gave himself up as an offering, so are we to emulate Christ by living our lives as a “fragrant” offering unto Him. We can do this by willfully living lives that are free of evil and devoid of any form of impurity or immorality. We must also not harbor any greed (none!), which is contrary to the Spirit. In a world that is driven by greed, that can be difficult to accomplish sometimes. Success has been mistaken for financial gain in our world of today, and it is wrongfully defined by the acquisition of assets and material goods, the overwhelming majority of which people don’t need anyway. The reason for this is that we are bombarded on a daily basis with advertising of all kinds, some of it truthful and some false. It is the equivalent of having a door-to-door salesperson coming to your door every 3 to 5 minutes for your entire life, that’s how out-of-control this problem has become. Is it any wonder that so many people are literally programmed like robots to buy, buy, and buy some more whether the customer can afford it or not? It is up to us to willfully resist this media barrage of BS pitchmen. If I do watch TV, I mute the commercials. It’s cheaper than buying a ‘TeVo’.
Make a conscious choice to become a non-materialistic person. You can save a whole lot of money simply by refusing to buy any more than one absolutely needs (although I admit it would be nice to sell more books than I do, it’s not critical to me). Those desiring to live for Christ and to devote their lives to him can use this single issue as a good starting point. Drive used cars instead of new, buy at least half your clothes at thrift stores, and buy the house brands at the grocery store. Live modestly and simply, and be as self-sufficient as you can. I’ve been doing this successfully for many years, and I encourage all of you to do the same using whatever methods work best for you.
Also, please note that the apostle Paul compared greed with idol-worship, as he did impurity and immorality. Any time we put anything in our lives ahead of God, that is the very definition of idolatry. This can be other things, other people, or it can be when we insert ourselves into situations involving unsavory, devious people. It can also be idolatry when it comes to money, the hoarding of wealth, and the pursuit of material gain (“he/she who dies with the most toys wins”). “Do not”, Paul wrote, “be partners with them”. In 21st century lingo, that saying goes far beyond the bedroom. Do not be partners in marriage, nor in business, nor in those you associate with either in or out of the workplace, and absolutely never in illicit affairs of an intimate nature. If you do and yet still are a believer in Christ, that would be the very definition of an impure life. In that case, just because you “believe” will be an insufficient reason for you to be spared from hell unless you stop all that other stuff you are doing. As I wrote last week, it’s time for us to clean up our act. This is very serious subject matter that I am writing about. The guilty individuals know who they are. As we keep that in mind while maintaining our great reverence for the Lord (or “fear of the Lord”, as the Old King James incorrectly translates), let’s continue now starting at verse eight.
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the life consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. That is why it is said: ‘Wake up, oh sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” (Ephesians 5, verses 8-14, NIV)
Being the “light in the Lord”, as Paul wrote, is a clear reference to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as he defined it in his letters to the Roman and Corinthian churches which we have already studied. It is also a reminder of the beloved Sermon on the Mount as it is written in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of Matthew’s gospel. I quote from chapter 5, verses 14-16. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” The apostle John wrote of Jesus in chapter one of his gospel, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1, verses 4-5, NIV)
Are we living our lives as “children of light”? That’s the first step in receiving Holy Spirit baptism. Also, if you have been seeking it or praying for it to happen and it has not yet happened in your life, do not be concerned! It doesn’t necessarily mean God isn’t listening to your prayers, it just means God is waiting for exactly the right moment to baptize you in the Spirit and to give you the desires of your heart. Just remember what Paul wrote in another epistle, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“Find out what pleases the Lord.” Then, simply do it. Sometimes having a really great walk with Christ through your life can be as simple as that. As you begin doing this you will notice that you no longer have time for all the stuff that used to bug you to death, such as problematic people. What happens in this case is that all of the negative and unwanted stuff in our lives gets replaced and supplanted by the positive power of the Holy Spirit. Finally, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” If your neighbor’s home gets burglarized and you find out who did it, turn the perpetrators in. By the same token, this doesn’t necessarily mean we should become serial tattletales and vicious snitches either. Remember, we will be judged in the same way we judge others, so watch out for that. In the meantime, simply seek and find out what you can do in your life that is pleasing to the Lord. Then do it, but remain in a constant state of communication with God. Seeking dialogue is one sure way of pleasing God. It’s also the best way to find out what he wants you to do next in life. Jesus said, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you”. You will be pleasantly surprised at how well this works when you apply it to real life. And that’s when you know that you are truly living for Christ.