Ephesians 5:8-20 (click to display NIV text)
Sept. 30, 2012
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.”
What does it mean to live “in Christ?” What do you do to know God better and to be rooted and established in love? If you have lived in darkness, how do you live in the light? These are the questions that Paul deals with in the second half of Ephesians. Klyne Snodgrass writes that “people take on the character of the sphere in which they live.” Paul describes behaviors or spheres of living that he labels “darkness” and “light.”
Let me give you a picture of the sphere of darkness. You may have heard that last Monday night there was a football game between the Packers and the Seahawks, which came down to the final play and the ref made a mistake on it, maybe not the only mistake he made that night. It was reported that because of that one mistake in judgment, $300 million in gambling money changed hands. That is a type of darkness in itself.
On that evening, my brother was at a meeting in downtown Seattle, a meeting that had nothing to do with football. So as he was coming out to the sidewalk, he noticed that fans from the game were walking by. So he innocently approached some Green Bay fans and inquired how the game went. The answer was a mixture of complaint, lament, “disgruntlement” and perhaps obscenity. But just then a carload of what he described as “drunken Seahawks fans” zoomed by, with the passengers hanging out the window in celebration and revelry. In that one moment my brother saw the two components of what Paul describes as “darkness.”
The life of darkness is on the one hand characterized by drunkenness, greed and sexual immorality. On the other hand it is characterized by complaining, obscenity and foolish talk. Drunkenness is a behavior that promises much but leads nowhere. Drunkenness is wasteful living, the loss of direction in life. It carries with it the power to enslave and dominate a life.
Greed is the human desire to always have more. It is a form of idolatry, an unwillingness to be content with the life God provides. In the Jewish view of that day, greed motivates all sins and encompasses all sin. It was seen as the highest act of revolt against God. Snodgrass writes, “Greed takes the place of God, for it, rather than He, determines life.”
Sexual immorality translates the word “porneia” which covers any sexual sin. These three behaviors — drunkenness, greed and sexual immorality — lead to wasted lives, to addictions and to the destruction of relationships. But what Paul says about them here is that they are deeds that are useless in producing what God desires. You will never accomplish the will of God through drunkenness, greed or sexual sin.
The other side of darkness is just as destructive, sins of the tongue. One can avoid drunkenness and greed but still live a life of complaint. You can avoid sexual sin, but still become addicted to speaking words that harm others: gossip, name calling, and criticism. If you think you live in the light, be careful of the shadows. The words you use and the complaints you express may also make it impossible for you to do God’s will. Paul calls us not just to do what feels normal, but to find out what pleases the Lord.
Paul challenges us to think about our personal moral standards not so much in terms of self-fulfillment, but rather in terms of enabling us to do God’s will. Living in the light frees us to do God’s will. So he says, “Find out what pleases the Lord.” The word means “discern” or “examine.” Live in a way that allows you to hear the voice of God in your life and obey it. Your personal moral standards should lead you to love mercy and do justice. Morality leads you to understand your life in relationship to the call of God.
Paul describes this movement from darkness to light as a “walk.” Verse 8 reads, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light and find out what pleases the Lord.”
Jerry Junas told me I should watch the film “The Way.” So we did. It is the story of a man who goes on pilgrimage in France and Spain, a path of several hundred miles called “El Camino.” It is not exactly an action movie. It is a movie about walking. Along the way he meets some people, people he does not at first like or want to relate to, but they become his companions. On the way there is wisdom spoken by villagers as they pass through towns. On the way there are places for prayer. On the way something happens in his soul, a healing that is largely unseen.
Paul is talking about a walk, not a pilgrimage, but a life that moves from darkness to light and there is a healing of the soul. He says that the deeds of darkness should be exposed. The word can also mean “convince.” So Snodgrass writes, “The person who is exposed and convinced by the light is transformed.”
So Paul says one is to move from drunkenness to being filled with the Spirit; from singing drinking songs to singing Psalms; from complaining to giving thanks; and from grasping for dominance to submitting to one another. Notice that it is not enough to give up drunkenness, complaining and grasping. We are to walk, to move with Christ out of those behaviors to being filled with the Spirit, singing Psalms and giving thanks and submitting.
If you say someone is filled with grief, then you mean that the grief dominates their whole being and even shapes what they look like. In the same way, if you are filled with the Spirit, the Spirit is visible in you and the Spirit controls and guides your life.
That is why this walk cannot be manufactured by your own will. This walk must be found in Jesus and with Jesus. In John chapter 6, Jesus says he is the bread of life. He says “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.” He says “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Life that is lived in the light is always through grace, it comes as a gift from the Lord. It is also lived in the power of Jesus. The bread of life truly nourishes and strengthens us. If wine leads to drunkenness and debauchery, the bread of life leads to empowered service, to doing God’s will, to witness for Christ and to doing justice and acts of mercy. This walking in the light is allowing Jesus to be the example and always listening to what he says. It is a life of believing, of trusting Jesus. It is a life that looks to the cross. In the death and resurrection of Jesus we are forgiven and set free. The behaviors of darkness are always in some way enslaving. They tear down and destroy. The cross sets free, it builds up. The light is the resurrection. So in all our living we must begin with the Savior. Our commitment is to be and remain his forever.
“I with you would begin, O my Savior so dear, on the way that I still must pursue;
I with you would begin every day granted here, as my earnest resolve I renew:
To be and remain yours forever.”