Ephesians 5:3-14, Holy Living in a Fallen World:

  • In our previous Bible study we looked at the depths of human sinfulness and discussed the depravity of the world and how we as “God’s holy people” are to live in such a world.
  • Today’s section, 5:8–14, continues the same theme but now uses the imagery of darkness and light. We are to “live as children of light” (5:8), not by removing ourselves from the darkness but rather by shining into the darkness so as to make visible the things of darkness.

 

  • The aim is that through us, those who live in darkness might be drawn to the light, even being raised from death to life, just as we have been through God’s grace.
  • Our outline then is:
  • 1) Living in holiness (v3-7) (done)
  • 2) Living as the light (v8-14)

 

  1. Living in holiness: (3-7) Recap
  • In agreement with imitating God; sexual immorality, impurity, and greed must not “be named” among God’s people. In other words, they should not exist in the church.
  • 1) “Sexual immorality” translates porneia, the Greek word used by early Christians for sinful sexual activity, that is, sexual intercourse outside of marriage.
  • 2) The use of “greed” in this context could be aimed at materialism, but may also be referring to sexual craving in particular, perhaps a desire of lustful intention. In either case, “greed” indicates excessive desire.

 

  • Verse 4 reveals that our speech must be in check too. 3) Foolish talk includes, but may not be limited to, speech that is shameful before others. Where “coarse joking” can mean “lively wit” but it has a negative connotation here.
  • And verse 5 shows us why we should not do these; the “inheritance in the kingdom,” is not for idolaters. We could read 5:5 as a threat: “If you are a Christian and you engage in any sexual immorality, impurity, or greed, then you will be excluded from heaven.” But this excludes the earlier teaching of Ephesians that salvation is by grace not works (see 2:8). When we receive God’s grace through faith, we are saved and newly created in Christ (2:8–10).

 

  • A better way to read 5:5 is to see it as a promise: “No immoral, impure or greedy person … has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” So if we do have an inheritance in the kingdom, and if we know that we have this inheritance because of the Spirit, then it must mean that we are not essentially immoral people, impure people, or greedy people.
  • In verse 6, Paul mentions God’s wrath to remind us that God doesn’t compassionately overlook immorality, impurity, or greed. He does not minimize the evil of sin. Rather, God detests it and judges it.
  • Therefore, to avoid the implication, Paul says “do not be partners with them” (5:7). To refrain from joining with them in their shameless behavior. And with regard to the question of how we as God’s holy people are to live in an unholy world, Paul’s answer is clear: we are not to engage in immoral behavior.

 

  1. Living as the Light: (8-14)
  • According to Ephesians 5:8, we were once darkness, but now in the Lord we are light. Therefore, we are to “live as children of the light.” We do this when our lives bear fruit that is good, right, and true. We do this when we avoid partnership with “the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (5:11).
  • Now verse 8 teaches how we should live in a world that is not like us. Chapter 2 says we were “dead in [our] transgressions and sins, in which [we] used to live” (2:1–2). We lived among those who are disobedient “at one time” (2:3). So there is a connection between ‘once’ and ‘now’.

 

  • God, out of his mercy and grace, saved us from our former condition. So in Ephesians, “once” points to our condition before God saved us by his grace. Once we were really dead; now we are really alive in Christ. Once we were really separated from God and his people; now we have been brought near through Christ.
  • Ephesians 5:8, once we were darkness; now we are “light in the Lord.” We experience a fundamental reality change when we receive God’s grace through faith. We move from once to now (see also 2 Cor 5:17).

 

  • Why is this so significant? The imagery of darkness and light is a major theme in the biblical story of God and takes us back to the first day of creation. God speaks light into existence, sees that the light is good, and separates the light from the darkness (Gen 1:3–5).
  • In the story of the exodus, one of the plagues covers Egypt with darkness as a sign of God’s judgment (Exod 10:21–22). And later, God leads his people by a pillar of fire at night “to give them light” for safe travel (Exod 13:21).
  • The prophet Isaiah describes the lost-ness of man as those who “see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness” (Isa 8:22).
  • But Isaiah also offers hope through a glimpse of the future: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in a land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isa 9:2).
  • Ephesians 5:8 echoes this language, however – those who live without God are not just in They are darkness. And those who live with God are not just in the light. They are light.

 

  • This remarkable use of darkness/light reflects the image of Jesus in the Gospels. In John 1:9, Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah by being “the true light that gives light to everyone.” Jesus as the light “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
  • Jesus also identifies himself as the “light of the world.” He says, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). In the Gospel of Matthew, those who follow Jesus, the light of the world, are not just light-followers. We are more even than “children of light.” According to Jesus, we also are “the light of the world” (Matt 5:14). Thus Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

 

  • We are not the same light as Christ, but as we are in relationship with him, we become reflectors of his divine light. We shine into the dark world through what we do and say, not in order to draw attention to ourselves but that those who live in darkness might “glorify [our] Father in heaven.” Matthew 5 says we are light because of what God has done for us in Christ. Thus, we are to “live as children of light.”

 

  • That is one verse… Now verse echoes what we hear elsewhere in Ephesians. In 2:10, for example, we learn that we have been “created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” In 4:15 we hear that we are to help the body of Christ grow by “speaking the truth in love.” In 4:24, we read that we have “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (emphasis added to all).
  • So the imagery of light in chapter 5 offers another perspective on what we have already learned in Ephesians, namely, that we are to be people of goodness, righteousness, and truth. These are fundamental characteristics of God himself.
  • Even as God is light, so we are “light in the Lord” and “children of light.” Even as God is good, righteous, and true, so when we live as the light, our lives will be fruitful, producing “goodness, righteousness and truth.”

 

  • Then there is an interesting transition, look at verse 10. In English this sentence seems to hang in the air as an unattached command. In the Greek, it is connected to the command, “Live as children of light … [by] finding out what pleases the Lord.”
  • In other words, living and finding out are not two distinct activities, but rather two deeply connected ones. The Greek verb translated as “try to discern” means “to examine, test, approve, or prove.” It suggests the use of our mental faculties to consider something carefully and make a wise judgment about it. Literally, “to use your head.” Thus we live as children of light by using our heads to find out what pleases the Lord.

 

  • Verse 11. So since fruitfulness is a result of living in the light (5:9), it follows that the “deeds of darkness” will be fruitless. They will not lead to goodness, righteousness, and truth. “Have nothing to do with” is not the best translation because it might suggest to the reader that we are to back away entirely from the things of darkness.
  • In fact, the last phrase in this verse proves that this is not the case. Whatever it means to expose the deeds of darkness, implies some kind of awareness of them. The point is that we must not enter into partnership with these deeds or the people who do them. Instead, we are to “expose” them. But not in the case of shaming someone, as verse 13 adds, “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible.”

 

  • Verse 12 tells us more. Paul’s point is that what people do in secret is so bad that it would be wrong to speak of it. This raises a question about how we are to go about exposing the deeds of darkness if we are not to speak about them. Verse 13 begins to answer this question in a most surprising way.
  • The first part of verse 13 is common sense. If you shine a light on something, it becomes visible. The second part of verse 13 is puzzling. But a hint comes from a verse a few lines up. In verse we are reminded that “[we] were once darkness, but now [we] are light in the Lord” (5:8).

 

  • What made this extraordinary change in us? God’s grace offered in Christ. When we received it in faith, we were brought from death to life (2:4–5), from far away to near (2:13), and from darkness to light (5:8). When the light of the gospel shone on us, it showed us our need for God such that we turned to God, received his grace, and became a light. If we shine God’s light toward others who are in darkness so that their deeds become illuminated, then they can see how much they need God and turn to Christ.

 

  • And then we turn to our application in verse 14. What we saw in verses 11–13. The quote from Isaiah seems to combine 26:19, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy” and 60:1, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”
  • This sounds like the description of someone outside of Christ who is spiritually dead in sin even though physically alive (2:1–3). But what happens when someone responds to the gospel by waking up? Paul says, “Christ will shine on you” (5:14).

 

Application:

  • And when Christ shines on someone, that person now exposed actually becomes light (5:13). What is not clear at this point, however, is exactly how we are to shine our light and expose the deeds of darkness so that those who do them might be redeemed.
  • Let’s discuss some possible conclusions: