October 29, 2017
I get up early and when I get up I don’t turn on any lights. I don’t turn lights on because I don’t want to disturb Angie. This means I am walking in the dark. It can be dangerous to walk in the dark, because even though you think you know where you are going, you can easily bump into or stumble over something that you didn’t know was there. Light is always helpful because it gives one confidence in where they are going.
I mention this because darkness and light are used in Scripture to refer to the life of those who do not know God as opposed to those who do know God through Jesus Christ. Apart from God people walk in darkness. We might think we know what we are doing and where we are going, but in fact, spiritual darkness is dangerous to our lives. In the Bible, walking in darkness refers to walking in sin. Walking in the light refers to being in the way of God and his Son, Jesus. In Eph.5:3-20, Paul uses this metaphor of darkness and light. He says that all who embrace Jesus Christ are light in the Lord.
I. WE MUST NOT WALK IN DARKNESS. 5:3-7
When Paul identifies walking in darkness in these verses the focus is primarily on sexual sin. And sexual sin always involves greed or covetousness and often includes crude conversation.
Lest you think that today’s society has a corner on sexual immorality, I can assure you that things were just as decadent in Paul’s day. In his book, “A Fellowship of Differents,” Scott McKnight makes the point that “Romans believed in uninhibited sexual exploration, married or not.” He points out that, “Sexual immorality was not a moral issue for most in the Roman Empire.” For Roman and Greek men the typical pattern was to have a wife in order to have children and a family life. But along with this, it was normal to have relations with unmarried women in addition to one’s wife. What is more, immorality with slaves, prostitutes, and those of the same sex was not at all frowned upon. You might say that immorality was just a form of recreation for most married men.
At least our society has had the advantage of strong moral input from Christianity regarding sexuality. That said, everyday we are treated to sexual perversion on the T.V., in the movies, on the radio, and in pornography. Lately we have become very aware of sexual abuse against women on all levels of society. It appears to me that because our society has largely abandoned moral teaching on these matters, it has no clear standard from which to discern morality from immorality. The same people who eulogized Hugh Hefner ostracized Harvey Weinstein. The hypocrisy is astounding.
Paul says that sexual immorality and crude conversation is not to be named among believers. His point is not that we can never speak about these things, but that these things ought not to be going on in the lives of believers. Unfortunately sexual immorality is found among believers in our congregations today. Because our society has normalized immorality, we think nothing of watching sexualized shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, along with other programs that make every kind of sexual activity seem normal and good. All of this contributes to our way of thinking about sexuality. Today, many unmarried and married professing Christians give themselves a pass when it comes to sexual immorality of all kinds.
You notice in v.3 that these things ought not to be found among believers because they are improper. Why are they improper? They are improper because the life we have received in Christ does not include these behaviors. These behaviors don’t fit with Jesus. In fact they ruin our life in Christ.
Before I married Angie I dated a number of women. But when I married Angie I received a life that no longer includes dating other women. My life with Angie is far better, far more valuable than a life of dating other women. The life of Christ that we have received by faith is a life of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. This life is lived in the kingdom of God. It is a far better life than a life of sexual immorality.
There is no one in our culture who has not been negatively impacted by the immorality found in the world. And so Christians who desire to follow Christ, will experience temptation and struggle in these areas. Whatever your sexual orientation may be, if you have turned to Jesus Christ and have received his life then you are called to a life of sexual purity. Married believers are called to faithful monogamy. Unmarried believers are called to celibacy. Jesus was not married so he knows exactly what it is like to be celibate. Jesus shows us that fulfilment in life is not grounded in sexual expression. But more than that, all of us are called to experience increasing wholeness in Christ through the community of the church. Everything Paul says in Ephesians is in the context of the church. When we come to Christ, our old-self attractions do not immediately change. We receive a new self, but the process of putting the old-self off and putting the new-self on takes time and effort. The church is the family of God, called to welcome all believers in Jesus and to encourage and help each other to forsake sinful attractions and follow Christ whole-heartedly.
In v.5-6 Paul makes it clear that people who practice sexual immorality are not in the kingdom of God. Not only that, but they come under the wrath of God against sin. Unrepentant, ongoing sexual immorality is a sign of rejection of Christ and the gospel. If any of this describes your current life, it is time for a change for you. We must not walk in darkness.
II. WE MUST WALK AS CHILDREN OF LIGHT. 5:8-14
Some years ago I was on my way to the dentist on Lake Street and I was walking behind two younger men by Chipotle’s. I overheard the one say to the other something like, “I just love dirty jokes.” The other guy quickly agreed. They were walking in darkness. And in v.7 Paul tell us to not become partners with such people. Before we became believers walking in darkness came naturally to us. But now it is no longer our natural way because we are light in the Lord. And so Paul tells us to not partner with people who delight in the darkness. This doesn’t mean we are to be unkind or judgmental or to avoid such people. When I was playing hockey I played with many people walking in darkness. Instead Paul is saying that we must not partner with them in their darkness. What fellowship does light have with darkness?
The thrust of our life in the Lord is to focus on that which is good, right, and true. As believers we are pursuing that which is uplifting, beneficial, and encouraging to others. We are seeking to affirm what is just and morally right. We are walking with integrity. Every day our goal is to discern what pleases the Lord.
How do we do this? Well, we need to appreciate the nature of our relationship with the Lord. In sports, there is always a rule book that one can consult to resolve any questionable call. In municipal government there is a book of ordinances that define acceptable behavior for that community. Some people treat the Bible like a rule book. There is some benefit in this method, because the commands that are given are good. However, we are in a relationship with God and his Son, Jesus. And as we get to know the heart and mind of God by seeking him through prayer and the Scripture, we learn how to discern the ways in which his commands are to be obeyed. Instead of a rule, we gain a frame of reference for following his commands. This frame of reference is in keeping with the way of God. Our life with Christ is not meant to operate on the basis of rules and regulations. It is meant to operate on the basis of love. In life there will always be situations that are not specifically covered by a rule in the Bible. This is why we pursue a relationship. Again, when I married Angie she did not present me with a book of rules. Rather by living with each other we have learned how to walk with each other in life.
As we pursue our life with Christ and God, we will walk in goodness, righteousness and truth. We will walk as Jesus did. And when we walk in this way, our lives will expose the unfruitful works of darkness. In fact, the closer our lives are aligned with the way of Jesus, the more darkness will be expose. And when the darkness becomes visible there is an opportunity for that person to consider their ways and turn to Christ. As Paul writes this he is reminded of an early Christian confession or hymn which says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Now I do not think Paul is telling us to go looking for unfruitful works of darkness so that we can judge people and call them on the carpet. Rather our lives are to be a barometer of righteousness in this world. I read a statement the other day that I thought was helpful. “Jesus is more than a great moral teacher; He is the moral order.” As we live our life in Christ we show a moral life ordered according to the morality of Jesus.
III. WE MUST WALK BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. 5:15-20
Because we are living in days characterized by great spiritual and moral darkness, it is critical that we pay attention to the way in which we are walking and that we have an increasing understanding of the Lord’s will for living our lives. But in v.18-20 Paul reminds us that we have the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and who seals us in Christ. In v.18 Paul tells us to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Why would he tell us to be filled with the Holy Spirit when we already have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us? How is the filling of the Holy Spirit different from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? To answer that question we must look at v.18. Paul contrasts being filled with the Holy Spirit to being drunk with wine. When a person is drunk he or she is under the influence of the alcohol. The alcohol effects how they think and how they use their body. The person has given him or herself over to the alcohol. In a similar way, being filled with the Spirit means that the Holy Spirit is influencing our thinking and behavior. He is not doing our thinking for us. He is not making our bodies act, but we have given him the permission and freedom to influence and direct us in the way of Jesus.
How is one filled with the Holy Spirit? It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t give any instructions about this. Again, I think the answer is in v.18. Just as a person must give themselves over to the influence of alcohol by drinking it, so we as believers give ourselves over to the influence and power of the Holy Spirit by surrendering ourselves to the Spirit. Alcohol does nothing to me unless I drink it. If the Holy Spirit is in me but I do not yield myself to Him, it probably means I am not walking in the way of the Lord. If I am not seeking the Lord then the Holy Spirit is going to be bringing conviction of sin. So every day, throughout the day I am asking the Holy Spirit to fill me, to help me, to strengthen me, and to guide me into the way of Jesus.
When a person is drunk they speak and even sing about all kinds of things. We are apt to say, “That is the alcohol talking.” In v.19-20 we are given an indication of what it’s like when the Holy Spirit is talking. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit we become people who are characterized by singing and gratitude. The other day it occurred to me that we have so much music available to listen to these days and I wonder if it has not robbed us of our desire to sing. We are experts in listening to others sing, but we have lost the joy of singing ourselves. Music is a window into our souls. When we sing all kinds of Christian songs, Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs we are affirming the truths about Jesus and our life in him to each other. When we sing we are singing to the Lord, giving honor and praise to him. He delights in our singing. Do you ever sing to the Lord? You would be amazed at how it will lift your heart.
Along with this is gratitude. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are given to being thankful, always and for everything. Two brief thoughts. Notice how Trinitarian these verses are. We have God the Holy Spirit, God the Father and God the Son. Christians live in the sphere of the Godhead, three-in-oneness. And then let us recognize that while everything that happens to us may not be worth giving thanks for. We can be thankful in the knowledge that God will seek to use even the worst experiences of our lives for good. Only God can do that. So we give thanks to him. When we have a thankful heart it is an indication that we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
Now let me ask: are you light in the Lord? In other words, do you honestly know Jesus as your Savior, Lord, and king? Have you taken steps to enter into life with God through faith in Jesus Christ? On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we are reminded of how Martin Luther boldly and courageously bore witness to the truth of Scripture that the forgiveness of sins and life in the kingdom of God is a gift of God’s grace through faith. Have you entered into this life and are you living out the life of Christ in you? Amen