“Walking in the Light”
May 1, 2016
You don’t have to keep indulging the deadly deeds of darkness while living in the light.
I. Walk in Love (Ephesians 5:1-2)
II. Take no part in the deadly deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:3-7)
III. Walk in the Light (Ephesians 5:8-14)
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis closes with “The Last Battle” one of the best books in the series. In the country of Narnia, where Tirian is now king, a clever and evil ape is pretending to bring orders from Aslan, when all he really has is a donkey in a stable dressed in a lion’s skin. Soon the foolish ape comes under the control of pagan men and their demonic idol Tash, who possesses the donkey’s stable. Tirian and all who are true to him, including the children Aslan brought from another world, are thrown into the stable to be consumed by Tash. At the same time, a group of dwarfs who opposed Tirian but also opposed the rebels, are thrown in. Their motto has been “the dwarfs are for the dwarfs,” and they’ve refused to believe in Aslan - refused to be taken in.
But the children and Tirian find that the other side of the stable door is not a dank, dark place occupied by evil, but a green beautiful world, occupied by the ancient kings and queens of Narnia, by Aslan himself. It’s a large, lovely, light place which happens to have a door standing in the midst of it. “It seems, then,” said Tirian, “that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places. . . . Its inside is bigger than its outside.” “Yes,” said Queen Lucy, (with classic C. S. Lewis insight). “In our world too a stable once held something that was bigger than the whole world.”
To step through the door was to step into the light of a new world. But not for all. The dozen or so dwarfs who refused to be taken in by belief in Aslan were also there. “Lucy led the way and soon they could all see the Dwarfs. They had a very odd look. They weren’t strolling about or enjoying themselves, nor were they lying down and having a rest. They were sitting close together in a little circle facing one another. They never looked around or took any notice of the humans until Lucy and Tirian were almost near enough to touch them.
“Mind where you’re going” said a dwarf in a surly voice. “Mind yourself,” said Tirian, not happy with the dwarfs, “we’re got eyes in our heads.” “They must be darn good ones if you can see in here,” said the same Dwarf, Diggle. “In where?” asked Tirian “Why you bone-head, in here of course,” said Diggle “In this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable” “But it isn’t dark, you poor stupid dwarfs,” said Lucy. “Can’t you see? Look up? Look round! Can’t you see the sky, the trees and the flowers? Can’t you see me?” “How in the name of all humbug can you expect me to see anything at all in this pitch darkness? And who are you anyway?” “Dwarf,” said Tirian, “she is the Queen Lucy, sent here by Aslan out of the deep past. And it is for her sake alone that I, Tirian, do not cut all your heads from your shoulders, twice-proved traitors.”
“Well if that don’t beat all!” exclaimed Diggle. “How can you go on talking all that rot? Even when you’ve been beaten and shoved in this black hole same as the rest of us, you’re still at your old game. Trying to make us believe that we ain’t shut up and it ain’t dark.” At that moment, Aslan himself appears, and Lucy appeals to him to do something. So he makes a glorious feast appear on the dwarves’ knees. But the dwarves don’t recognize what they are eating. They think it’s hay or pig slops. And they get into a free-for-all over the better bits the other dwarves got until, “in a few minutes there was a free fight, and all the food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot.”
Do you get the picture? I want you to see these dwarfs, sitting in their little circle, living as though in the dark even though everything around them was light. We need this picture because way too often you and I, who are supposed to be living in the light, behave like these nasty, dark-in-their-own-mind dwarfs. Today’s Scripture, Ephesians 5:1-14, counsels us to live in the light. You don’t have to keep indulging the deadly deeds of darkness while living in the light. We begin with Ephesians 5:1-2, a reminder to walk in love: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
These verses can be seen as completing or culminating the put off-be renewed-put on sequence of the previous chapter, or of introducing the next section. The ‘therefore’ points back to the examples Paul has already given and forward to his ever widening circles of practical application. In all these ‘put ons,’ Paul points out, we are being imitators of God, beloved children who imitate their father. Last week we talked about putting on truth, and God is truth. His word is truth. We talked about working hard so we can give to others. A willingness to pour himself out for others is at the heart of our redeeming God. We talked about not being angry, but to be like God in kindness and compassion.
So here, in summary, Paul says ‘walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.’ This is the fifth time in this letter the word ‘walk’ is used describe how to live the Christian. It will be used two more times in this section. I think it’s awesome that Paul sees our lives as a walk a journey into Christlikeness.
We are to walk in love as he loved us. All of us are to love sacrificially, not just husbands, though Paul will command them explicitly later in this chapter. Paul describes Jesus giving himself as “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This is Old Testament language, the language of sacrifice, which God gave to picture and foreshadow and promise the work of Jesus. The sacrifices could not themselves save people from sin, but trusting the picture of blood shed on my behalf could and did save those Old Testament believers.
It’s awesome that this sacrifice is a fragrant offering. In the Old Testament offerings are described as a pleasing aroma to God. This doesn’t mean God relished the smell of steak, but that the act of sacrifice, the heart intent of sacrifice pleased him. And it all pointed to Jesus, the One who provides an eternally pleasing sacrifice. Of him the Father says, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” We’ll come back to this when we move toward communion.
But first we look at men’s darkness, Ephesians 5:3-7 But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or greedy (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things the wrath of God comes on the disobedient. 7Therefore do not become partners with them.
Paul tells God’s holy people that to continue living in the world’s ways, the ways of darkness, is improper. It doesn’t fit. Isn’t becoming. Just as it would not be becoming for a bride to walk down the aisle with a black eye, a smudged face, and a muddied dress, so it is not becoming for God’s holy people, who are the bride of Christ to participate in the sinful acts of darkness. Specifically, Paul is pointing us here at sexual sin and sexual purity in thought and action.
Commentators make much of the fact that Ephesus, and other cities of Asia Minor were centers of idolatry that included temple prostitution. Christians stood out by living to a higher standard. But this is more true today. The very concept of sexual purity, purity in the thought life, purity in behavior is laughed at in our culture. Words like immorality, impurity, obscenity, and filthy talk no longer represent dangers to be avoided, but are allures to be exploited. That’s why I think it’s courageous and timely for us to be getting involved in a growing movement toward victory in Jesus over pornography and sexual sin.
Paul calls us to a higher standard of behavior, and to a higher standard of thought. He says “these things must not even be named among you.” He’s not saying that what I just did - warning of specific sins - is wrong. He’s saying that our lives can be so radically God-focused these things get no focus. Our sense of the rightness of a sexual relationship within marriage, and the wrongness of anything but that, extends to our very thoughts and speech.
Verse 4: “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” Immoral sexual behavior is unfitting of believers, and immoral sexual talk is out of place.
It may be even for some here that the way of speaking you use on Sunday morning is very different than the words you use during the week. Sexual innuendos, course humor and cursing may be the norm in your workplace. Rather than be noticed as different, you allow yourself to fall into the same ways of speaking. Or it may be that you don’t actually say those things, you don’t make the obscene joke yourself, but you smirk and rather like it when someone does.
Instead the words and the thoughts of the believer can be words of thanksgiving. This is evil speech’s opposite pole. Most of us don’t sink to the level of finding fulfillment in sexual innuendo, but few of us rise to the level of thanksgiving. Paul counsels us to be grateful: thankful for the wonder of married love, and grateful in general for what God has done, and for the people around us.
Paul’s point will be that you can’t keep indulging the deeds of darkness while living in the light. The reason he gives, is that those who practice the deeds of darkness reap the fruit of darkness. Verse 5 “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or greedy (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” God has not changed. The God who established his moral law, who communicated clearly how people should live, who revealed plainly that the penalty of sin would be wrath and judgment has not changed. These sins, immorality, impurity, and greed, which Paul compares to idolatry, are as big an offense against God as ever.
In the immediate context, this greed is probably sexual. “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” But the truth applies to all kinds of greed, “You shall not set your desire on your neighbor's house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." This greed is idolatry. Anything I put ahead of God or desire more than God, is an idol. And Paul teaches that no idolatrous person, immoral or impure, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is his present reign in the hearts of those who acknowledge him as Lord, and his future reign over a world that acknowledges him. Into this righteous kingdom no unrighteousness can come: No impurity, no immorality, no greed - none. And in the same way no person who practices these things – not one.
The thought continues in verse 6: “Let no one deceive you with empty words: because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” There are bound to be teachers in every age who attract people to so-called Christian churches, but somehow find a way to avoid the doctrine of sin and judgment. In Paul’s day they were the emerging Gnostics, who argued that bodily sins could be committed without damage to the soul.
In our own day there are many, even in the church, who can’t bring themselves to mention sin, or who teach that God is too kind to condemn anybody, that everybody will get to heaven in the end, regardless of their behavior on earth. But this teaching is self-serving. Not everyone will be saved. There is a judgment for sin. The wrath of God does come on the disobedient. Hebrews 9:27 “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment”
So Paul has painted very clearly the fruit of darkness. The question that in each of our minds may be this: Does he mean me? Having been a Christian, having trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior, and yet knowing that I have committed sins like this, should I be worried about where I’m going to spend eternity?
Is Paul telling believers who sin that they lose their salvation? I don’t think so. He says in verse 7 “Therefore do not become partners with them” He’s making a distinction between the believers he’s talking to and these others who don’t inherit the kingdom. So we can rightfully say Paul isn’t talking about saved believers here. We also know from Romans 7, 1st John 1 and other places, as well as from our own experience that believers do sin and there is forgiveness.
But John Stott warns us about being too quick to dismiss Paul’s words: “It would be easy for Christians to speed-read this text without pausing for reflection, on the assumption it applies to unbelievers, not us.” But, he says “assurance of salvation is neither a synonym nor an excuse for presumption.” In other words, we should examine ourselves, to see if we have been self-deceived, playing at Christianity without ever having really trusted. Let me put it plainly: if your trust in Jesus has never made a difference in your life, it may never have happened. I encourage you to hurry to the foot of the cross, to bare your soul to Jesus, cling to him in trust, and with honesty and integrity ask him to assure you, that he is your Savior. And turn from deeds of darkness.
This is the place I think most of us need to examine ourselves, to see whether we are spending too much time in the dark when we could be in the light. Tim Keller, in his book on prayer, calls this living poor while being rich. Ephesians 5:8-10: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9(for the fruit of light is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
‘Darkness’ in Scripture represents ignorance, error, and evil, while ‘light’ represents truth, knowledge and righteousness. Paul doesn’t say his readers used to be in the darkness and now they’re in the light, though that’s true. What he says is more striking: “you were darkness, now you are light.” Their lives, not just circumstances, were changed. Jesus says “You are the light of the world.” We are to shine. It’s his light, but we shine, when we walk as children of light.
Those who are in darkness bring forth deeds of darkness. Those walking in the light get to bring forth the fruit of light. But all too often, like the dwarfs in ‘The Last Battle’ we come into the light only to sit as if in darkness, to interact with others the way we grew used to in the darkness. So, Paul says, ‘find out what pleases the Lord’ Study this culture of light and learn how it works. ‘Test it’, the same word used in Romans 12: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Test and approve his will. Find out what it’s like to live in light.
How do you do that? It always starts with reading the word, reading this letter. Based on the Word, try reversing the activities of the dark-dwellers If the deeds of darkness embrace immorality, then light-walkers can creating marriages that show the beauty of fidelity in body, heart and mind. If the deeds of darkness are impure, then light-walkers need to be celebrating purity and truth. If the dark-dwellers are characterized by selfishness and greed, then light-walkers need to practice selflessness and generosity. If you take the ways of the dark-dwellers and reverse them, you find the approach we need to take in the light.
And just as the consequence of living as darkness is judgment, so the result of living as light is salvation. To be in Christ’s light is to be rescued, and the witness of those whose life is light can lead to the rescue of those in darkness. Ephesians 5:11-14: Take no part in the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14for what makes everything visible is light. This is why it is said, “Awake, O sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Living as light in a darkened world, exposes the darkness. This isn’t us judging, it’s a by-product of the light. As light-walkers our concern is the will of God, what pleases God. This keeps us from endangering ourselves with too much focus on darkness. That’s why Paul adds that it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. The deeds of darkness aren’t a subject which will profit your Christian walk, and not a subject which will build others up.
Nevertheless, the light in which we walk will expose darkness. The word ‘expose’ in verses 11 and 13 is most often used of the display of what is right, which reveals evil by contrast. This is the way the word is used in John 3 “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” People who walk in darkness are comfortable with what they do there, but the presence of light causes them to shrink in shame.
This is really an evangelistic outcome. I’ve often heard people testify that what intrigued them about Christianity was that some person or group of people seemed to have something they lacked. That’s light at work, drawing people. I’ve also read testimonies of people whose first response was to hate what they saw in Christians because they knew it threatened their life of darkness. The light we walk in plays a major role in leading people to Christ, along with our verbal witness and deeds of love. As verse 13 says: “All things become visible when they are exposed by the light.” The light that shines through us can have transforming power in the lives of others, the same power that worked in us who ‘were once darkness but are now light in the Lord.”
Verse 14 “This is why it is said: " Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." Paul’s isn’t directly quoting the Old Testament, but he summarizes its teaching, for example Isaiah 60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Paul may be quoting a hymn or poem used by early Christians to celebrate the fact that Christ wakes us from sleep, gives life from death, and shines rescue and hope into our lives. We say to ourselves and the world ‘Wake up! My Jesus makes all things new.”
I was looking at some old excerpts from Moody Magazine, and saw the testimony of a woman named Mary. She was looking for meaning, but all she found was despair that her seemingly useless life would end in a death and darkness. So she turned to Eastern religion, because it promised light - but didn’t find much. Then, while saying her mantra, she kept hearing a chorus from Handel’s Messiah “And the glory of the Lord will be revealed.” Her meditation guide said ‘mere thoughts, mere thoughts, you must get past thought.’
But Mary Ellen met a new friend named Jane at a McDonalds, and Jane had the light Mary Ellen was looking for. She writes “Jesus said ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ Because of him death no longer darkens my life, and deprives it of meaning. In Jesus I have eternal life; he is the light of my world.” That’s the impact of the light of Christ. If you’re in darkness, trapped by sin, Jesus offers light. He offers forgiveness, new life, eternity. All he asks is that you come out of darkness into his light, by believing in what he’s done, dying on the cross for your sin and rising from the dead. As you trust him, he will for you all that he has promised, including drawing you into the light.
But as I close, it is to you believers, and to myself, that I want to speak. Many years ago I heard a message from David Mains of ‘The Chapel of the Air,’ about staying in the darkness or walking in the light. He made the clear distinction between being a ‘dark-dweller’ or a ‘light-walker.’
He asked a question that stuck in my mind all these years: ‘What percent darkness are you allowing?’ Sure you’re walking in the light, but are you a 90 percent light walker, or 80 percent, or a 50 percent light walker?’ Do you know in your heart that you have a couple of areas of darkness, but you just don’t want to deal with them? You spend time in the light, but you run from it at times to indulge some characteristic sin? God wants you to be 100 percent light walker.
David Mains used the illustration: If you turn on a light, what percent of the room does it fill up? 100 percent. It fills the whole room. That’s how we are to be. You can’t keep indulging the deeds of darkness while living in the light. You can’t build yourself a little corner of your mind, of your life, where darkness reigns. Jesus wants you to a 100 percent light walker.
Will we live as children of light? We can’t be like the poor dwarfs, who continued to live like children of darkness even with light all around them. Instead, we are given light on the inside, to be children of the light who walk in the light.