I want to ask you all an important question as an opening illustration for our text this morning: What did you have for breakfast? For breakfast this morning, I had oatmeal with some turbinado sugar. How did my breakfast affect the world? Did it at all? Before you quickly say no and turn me off, think through the massive repercussions that a simple thing like eating breakfast can have.
I go to Kroger and buy a container of Old-fashioned Oats and this 2-pound box of raw sugar. I pay Kroger for those oats and sugar. Some of the $5 that I pay goes into the check of every person who works at that Kroger, even up the chain into the pockets of executives in Cincinnati. Some of that money then has already been paid out to Quaker Oats and Sugar in the Raw, so that their ad-executives and salespeople, not to mention the people who work in the factory get pay checks. The cane that is made into the sugar, it is grown and cut exclusively in the tropics, so my purchase for breakfast this morning is going to support a family in Costa Rica, as well as the airplane pilot or ship captain (and the crewmen) that transported them to the states. And the truckers who drove them to the local Kroger warehouse. Oh, and the forklift operators at that warehouse. And the accountant who keeps up with all of that money going in and out. And the plumber who keeps having to come fix the leaky toilet at the warehouse. And the gas station owner who the plumber stopped to buy gas from on the way to fix it.
Do you see that my decision to eat Oatmeal this morning for breakfast has massive effects the world over? Now, why pontificate about the world’s economies as an introduction to Ephesians 5:7-14? Because I want us to see this morning that the day-to-day life that we take for granted, the actions and reactions that we think of as simply unimportant experiences, these things we do can have great effects on those who are around us and around the world from us.
And Paul, in this passage, takes care to encourage the Ephesian Church to see the importance of how they live their “everyday lives” because they are affecting those around them. And this passage through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is speaking to us this morning, and is pushing us to see that we either are affecting the world or are being affected by the world. He does this by first giving us an Analogy of the Life of a Disciple, and then by giving us the Effect of the Life of a Disciple.
We begin our passage in vs. 7, which is continuation of the line of thinking Paul started in vs. 1. “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Paul goes on to bring up things with which those who walk in love as Christ loved cannot be associated, such as sexual immorality, impurity and covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking and crude joking. He warns that for the person whose life is identified by these actions and motivations, that person has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (vs. 6).
If you remember our last time in Ephesians, this promise of judgment was a stark wakeup call for those who were in the church, but not of the Church. They could talk the talk, but didn’t walk the walk. They were still in the world, taking their cues from the world, getting their desires from the world. They were worldly. And one of Paul’s goals in this passage is to wake up those in the Ephesian Church, as well as our own, to the fact that if you are in Christ, you cannot be of the world! And he gives us two reasons as to why not:
1. Because we will be judged
Paul begins vs. 7 with, “Therefore, do not become partakers/partners with them.” By using “therefore” at the beginning of this verse, he is pointing back to the previous argument he was making, and saying that we should not be partakers/partners with the “sons of disobedience” because “because of these things [i.e. covetousness, sexual sins, etc.] the wrath of God is coming” on them. So, why should we not partake with those in the world? Because they will be judged for these sins, and if we are partaking in these sins with them, we show that we have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God because we are not His children.
2. Because you are not of them
But notice that Paul gives a second reason for not being partakers of these sins of the world, and he grounds his command not to be partakers with them in this: you are not what you once were. In 2:1-3, you remember the description Paul gives of our life before Christ: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind...” This is what we were like before Christ, Paul says. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when were were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus...”
Paul really likes this contrast, looking at what every person is apart from Christ, and then juxtaposing that with what believers are now, not by virtue of our own worked-up virtue, but by Christ’s virtue in us. This is what Paul gives as another reason not to be partakers with the world - you by nature are no longer of the world!
He puts it like this in vs. 8 – “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” I love this image here, but we need to pay attention to what Paul is saying.
Notice that he doesn’t say “you were once in darkness, but now you are in the light of the Lord.” The one doctrine that I hope you see everywhere after being in Ephesians for SO long is the doctrine of the believer’s Union with Christ. This teaching, replete through the New Testament, but brought out especially in this letter to the Ephesians, is that through faith, the one who trusts in Christ is actually joined with Christ, so that whatever is true of Christ is true of the believer (righteousness, sonship, seated in the heavenlies, new life), and whatever was belonging to the believer before being in Christ (sin, punishment, death), has been transferred to Christ on the cross.
Here in Ephesians 5, Paul looks at our root-being before we were “in Christ” (a phrase that speaks of our Union with Him), and what was our nature then? Darkness. Devoid of light. Not just affected by being “in the darkness,” but being darkness ourselves. In Ch. 2, he imaged it as being “dead in trespasses and sins.” Here, he uses this analogy to describe all who do not have Christ’s righteousness by being united with Him. All that we do apart from Christ comes from, and is characterized by, darkness, and if you remember from 4:17-18, the idea of having “darkened understanding” points to the lack of the influence of the life of God. And this was us, at one time, because all of humanity lives in this moral and intellectual darkness because of sin, to the degree that we can be said to be darkness itself.
But, Paul says, while at one time we were darkness, now we “are light in the Lord.” This is the Union language being used to show that because we have been united with Christ, and because He is Light (cf. 1 John 1:5ff.), we can be described to be light “in the Lord.” And Paul uses this doctrine of Union with Christ and this analogy of our being “light in the Lord” to give us another reason to keep our distance from the world - we are not of the world anymore, we are in Christ! He is light, therefore we are to be light! But what does that mean?
Harkening back to vs. 1-2, Paul gives a description of what we are to do because we are now light in the Lord - Walk as children of light, producing (beware the mixed analogy here) the fruit of light - goodness, righteousness, truth, and we are to do this walking as children of light by “trying to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
Now, let’s look at vs. 9 first. Paul commands us to walk as children of light. Why? Because in Paul’s thinking, light produces fruit. Not edible fruit, but a product of light. And if God is light, meaning that God’s character is shown forth as light, and we are to walk as children of light, then when God has influence in our lives through union with Jesus, we will produce the products of God’s character - goodness, righteousness, and truth.
By “goodness,” Paul speaks to showing benevolence to others. Being kind to all people. By “righteousness,” Paul here is not speaking to the perfect righteousness of the Law that is needed to stand pure before God, but instead when combined with “goodness” has the idea of upright behavior before mankind. “Truth” speaks to our being honest and forthright with other people.
I am not surprised when my oldest looks at a picture of a completed lego set and puts it together, because that is what his father did. I’m not surprised when my second son won’t eat his dinner because he doesn’t like what’s on his plate, because that is what his father did. I’m not surprised when my sweet girl bosses everyone in the house around, because, well you get the point. As children, we have ingrained in us the characteristics of our parents. And according to Paul, all of these are characteristics of God (goodness, righteousness, and truth), and if we are His children, we will have these characteristics, as well.
Now that we see the why of walking as children of light, let’s see the how in vs. 10: “proving/testing what is pleasing to the Lord.” Now, I’m the first one to urge us all to go to the Scriptures to find our answers to life’s many ethical questions: Is it right to murder? Is it right to murder, even if the person seems insignificant? Is it right to allow murder to happen? Is it right to allow murder to happen in a system of government that says it is acceptable in certain instances? Answer to these kinds of questions have pretty direct answers in the Scriptures. But if we are honest, there are many things in our lives that don’t have direct answers from the Scriptures. And in these instances, Paul tells us that as we are walking as children of light, we are to “test” what is pleasing to the Lord.
This probably makes some of us uncomfortable. I understand. But it is here. What should I eat for lunch? Try to discern what pleases the Lord. What clothes should I wear today? Try to discern what pleases the Lord. Who should I marry? What should be my major in college? What should be my job? How much money should I give away and how much should I save for my family? Should I sell my house and move to a needy area to be light to the people there? Should I celebrate lent? Should I approach my child with hard discipline or appeal to her as a sister in Christ? Direct answers? No. These are instances where we try to discern what would be pleasing to the Lord, based on all of the things we know about Him from His Word.
So, Paul gives us this analogy, that we are light in the Lord, and just as a light source produces more light, when through union with Christ we become light, we produce more light, goodness, righteousness, and truth. And Paul gives us this analogy to urge us to continue to walk as children of light, being imitators of God as beloved children, not partaking or partnering with the sons of disobedience in the world. But what happens when we who are light begin to affect a world of darkness? Paul addresses this in vs. 11-14
Paul begins vs. 11 by echoing vs. 7 IN warning disciples not to take part in the “unfruitful works of darkness.” If light has the product of “fruiting” more light, then darkness, the absence of light, cannot produce fruit at all. So, Paul says that we are to take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness.
But with equal weight he positively tells us what TO do: “but rather (also) expose [them].” This word “expose” has an important definition and usage. Notice first, it speaks of “exposing/reproving” the “unfruitful works of darkness.” Not the people who do them, but the works themselves. We see often in public or personal debate, people, both believers and unbelievers, going for the jugular of the other person, and maybe even thinking they are doing what Paul is commanding here, reproving those doing unfruitful works of darkness. But that is not what Paul says. He commands us to (sticking with the light analogy here) to be light, exposing the unfruitful works themselves. As we live as light, our conduct characterized as “goodness and righteousness, and truth,” then as we walk through the world as children of God, our lives will shine into the dark corners of the lives of the sons of disobedience. Without a word, our lightness can illumine the works of darkness!
But why are we to do this? Paul says in vs. 12, “for it is shameful to even speak of what they are being in secret.” Paul is not specific here, but apparently the culture of Ephesus and its surrounding area was hiding secret sins. Knowing that these sins were so bad, they kept them hidden and wouldn’t even talk about them. So Paul commands the Ephesian believers to go into those dark places and be light! Expose the darkness!
Now, ask yourself this question: Are there secret sins that is in our culture that everyone knows about, but about which its just not “acceptable” to mention? Maybe its feelings concerning race? School situations in Shelby County? Maybe its pornography? Maybe its greed and the unending desire for more and more wealth? What are these secret, hidden sins against God and others that are in our MidSouth culture? As a believer, we cannot allow them to go on hidden! We are to expose them by our being light!
It may take words, as we are told in other places in the Scriptures. But I think often we over look the power of living uprightly in the work of exposing the darkness of the world. There, rightly so, has been a push against “lifestyle evangelism” being the only means by which we attempt to make disciples. The gospel can be lived out, but it must also be spoken. That being said, we also must not allow the pendulum to swing back to the other side and ignore the power of our lives in exposing the darkness in the lives of unbelievers.
This is what Paul is addressing here. We are to live as light among the darkness, so that the dark deeds will be seen as being sin. But why? What good does that do? We are told in vs. 13-14 that there is a glorious result of following Christ in our everyday life! Remember in the introduction I spoke of this supply chain in my breakfast and how my seemingly insignificant purchase affected so many people all around the world? What happens when you live your every-day-life as light in a dark world? Paul says this: “But all that is exposed by the light is made known, for all that is made known is light.” Paul’s argument is this - Light produces more light, and the more we live as light and expose the darkness by our being light, the more the darkness becomes light. Conversion! That is the result of our being light in the world! And it’s happening all the time around us. Our lives are affecting the lives of others, a little here, a little there, our goodness, right-living, and truthfulness is giving opportunity for the Holy Spirit to do work in the lives of unbelievers.
Husband, you choose not to steal office supplies, even though everyone else does - and just one of your coworkers observes it, and is convicted that they are a thief. He sees that you don’t run down the boss the way everyone else does. And he’s convicted that he is full of malice. You invite him over for dinner, and in seeing you interact with your family, he sees that he is not a loving person, especially when you clear the dishes and wash them. He hasn’t ever done that voluntarily! You ask him questions about himself, and are truly interested in his life. He’s never had anyone take an interest in him like that. But you’re not perfect, so you will sin like him many times, but he sees that when you do sin, you are willing to admit it, confess it to God, and seek His forgiveness, as well as the forgiveness of the people you sinned against. Slowly, over months and years, he sees something in you that is totally different than what the world tells him a man is to be. And he gets it. Through the light lived and the light spoken by you, the goodness, righteousness, and truth, he gets the gospel!
Now, it may not work that way all the time, or even most of the time. It may be that God uses you to play the roll of convictor in someone’s life. Or maybe you play the roll of introducing them to the idea of grace and mercy. Maybe you speak to them about Jesus, the only One who can forgive sins because He is the only One who by His nature could do that work. But through all of these little flares of light from each of us, God is stoking fires in the lives of people all around us. And we may never be aware of the holy inferno He chooses to bring about by using us, but know that God is sovereign, even over the mundane moments of our lives. So, let this be an encouragement to you to do what Paul goes on to say in vs. 15-16: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
But before he gets there, Paul inserts a small poetic verse, maybe drawing from Isaiah 60:1, or this may be a verse from a hymn of the early church. But Paul inserts it here because it goes along well with what he is saying concerning unbelievers in darkness. “Awake, O Sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!”
So, maybe you’re here today and you do live in darkness. You do see these secret sins that cause you to be separated from God and man. Maybe you feel a connection with the term “son of disobedience.” Maybe darkness is the only word that describes your life. Friend, do you understand this truth about yourself? That the worst thing about you is not the terrible situation you are going through, or the terrible people that are around you. The worst thing about you is you! I don’t say that to you as your judge, but as a fellow sinner that struggles through everyday life the same way you do. But I point this out, your sin, so that you might see that there is life and light to be found outside of you, in Christ. And that the union with Him I spoke of earlier, with all of the joy that comes from having your sins forgiven, and more than that, having His goodness given to you as a gift - that can be true of you, if you will trust Him only as your savior from the wrath that is coming on those who are rebellious against God’s rule. We who follow Christ were once as you are in darkness, but we are now light. We are not perfect, but we have been given the command to go forth showing you grace by being light. Forgive us when we don’t. But understand that you are not accountable to me or any other man, but the man Christ Jesus. What will be your reason when you stand before Him that you don’t accept his gift?
Listen to the Holy Spirit calling out to you from the Scriptures - “Awake, O sleeper! Arise from the dead! And Christ will shine on you!”
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