Lights in Darkness (Eph. 5:1-21)
Introduction - The Power of Forgiveness
We’re going to continue our walk through Ephesians this evening in chapter 5. As a refresher from two months ago, that Sunday night we looked at the second half of chapter 4. The first 3.5 chapters have are very much family directed. Paul talks about working together, having unity together in the body, being blessed in the church. The second half of chapter 4 shifts more towards practicality, and we’ll see that same theme in this passage. Eph. 4:17-31 talks about putting the things of the past behind us, letting our old self stay buried. And with putting off old things, we need to put on new things for the better of the kingdom. Put off falsehoods put on truth; put off stealing, put on hard work and service; put off anger, put on a drive to resolve conflict. The chapter ends with the call to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Now, normally I’d start a lesson with a gripping illustration or introduction before diving into the passage. Not this week. Here’s why:
Two months ago, we didn’t talk a lot about forgiveness. In a passage so rich, it’s hard to give adequate time to everything, but for the focus of today’s lesson, we need to look at it a little more. And I want the Holy Spirit’s teaching through the writing of Paul to be our introduction for the study today:
“Forgive as God in Christ forgave you.” Man, that can be hard, can’t it? And I’m not talking about forgiving someone for taking the last hot roll at the restaurant. I’m not even talking about the person who cuts you off in traffic or even the person who was unkind to you that one time. Sure, even in those times, forgiveness is needed. But I’m talking about the deep deep hurt. To the individual who has, to use the terms in Eph. 4:30, slandered you left and right. It’s as if they’ve gone out of their way to tear you down to others. To the person who has made you so angry that that feeling of anger has evolved to wrath and maybe downright hatred. Forgiveness to the one who was abusive, verbally, physically, sexually; to the spouse that broke their vow; to the one who’s negative influence pulled your child away from God’s path. These times are much harder to forgive. We’d say, “How can God expect me to forgive that?!” Or, here’s a common one, “they haven’t asked for forgiveness, so I don’t have to forgive them.” And I would agree with that statement. Forgiveness cannot come unless forgiveness is sought after by the guilty party. But, that shouldn’t change our heart and our willingness to forgive. Why? Because it didn’t change God’s heart nor His willingness to forgive.
Look at Romans 5. Verse 6, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” He didn’t wait for us to be strong to take the steps to offer forgiveness. Verse 8, “While we were still sinners (guilty, unforgiven), Christ died for us. That’s how he displayed his love. Verse 10: “…while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” We were weak, unable to take on sin, and He died for us. We were sinners, without hope, and He displayed His love by dying for us. We were enemies of God, and by His death, he brought us together with Him. No longer enemies, but on the same team.
This is the power of God’s forgiveness. And he offered this while we were still sinners and enemies. No, we can’t be forgiven until we seek forgiveness, but man’s unwillingness to seek forgiveness does not hinder God’s willingness to forgive!
So when we read in Ephesians, “forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you,” then we need to have the same heart to forgive that God has for us. The desire is for continued unity and growth. It’s for God’s love to be seen in us.
Tonight’s lesson isn’t just about forgiveness, but it sets the stage. An unforgiving heart leaves one in a very dark place. But we have an example of a better and brighter way.
Tonight’s goal is to see how we can be better of Him in every aspect, not the least of which is sharing His willingness to forgive.
The Hebrew writer refers to Jesus as the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature.” He shined to display God in His life on earth. An imprint is the sign of who they are. Think of a finger print or signature as an identifying marker of who we are. This is Jesus. He’s who God was. Some translations word it “The express image of His character/person.” The image of God.
Sound familiar? Gen. 1:26: “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image.’” Verse 27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” We were created to reflect His image, His character. Jesus came to speak to His created as the image, the exact imprint, of the character of God. He not only reflected the character of God, he was the character of God. Now, to start of this next section in chapter 5, God says, “Be imitators of God…” This isn’t a new concept, but it is certainly a needed reminder that this is what we were created to be! Images of God; imitations of the real thing! Just as Jesus became heir of all things (Heb. 1:2) he has allowed us to be fellow heirs (Eph. 3:6).
To make it simple enough for all of us, this whole section is saying this: BE LIKE JESUS. Be like Him. Imitate Him. Imitate His Walk.
At one time, I was serving at a small congregation in West Tennessee. One of the minister’s there had a very distinguished walk. Chest puffed out, arms a bit stiff, head up. Very confident. At the time, one of his boys was around 2 years old, and you know how that toddler walked around the building? Chest puffed out, arms a bit stiff, head up, very confident. He imitated his father in the way that he walked. (Examples of spouse saying, “That’s your son/daughter” after seeing something they do like you).
Eph. 5:1-2, “Be imitators of God as beloved children. (How?) Walk in love…” In other words, walk like Jesus who walked like His Father. Walk as children of God rather than children of wrath (as is mentioned in chapter 2). Jesus walked in love and that love was displayed in loving action and willingness to forgive and to serve those who were undeserving. “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
III. A Fragrant Offering (5:3-7)
This was not simply a sacrifice, it was a fragrant offering. Any of you like bath and body works? Yankee candle? Texas Roadhouse? Good smells are satisfying! A fragrant offering is an offering that satisfies and substitutes. For example, in Genesis 8:20-21, we see the first use of this idea when Noah offers clean animals as a sacrifice to God as God renewed His covenant with him. Several instances in Leviticus also show how offerings and sacrifices would atone for sins and requirements of the Law as a “fragrant offering to God.” Jesus’s sacrifice was pleasing to God, and was sufficient to justly satisfy the wrath of God. In John 8:29, Jesus says, “I always do what pleases Him. Walking like Jesus means doing what pleases God and offering up our lives for the sake of the kingdom like Jesus did.
Paul writes in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Holy and acceptable. A fragrant offering. A new life in place of the Lord, one that is holy and acceptable, pure and undefiled. That takes effort and action. It takes being different.
Eph. 5:3 and following says, “But sexual immorality, and all impurity, or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” To be imitators of God, walking in love as Christ did, presenting yourself as a fragrant offering, we can’t have such things in our lives. That would be like presenting an offering of burning garbage, not at all fragrant. Actually, it doesn’t just say, “Don’t be sexually immoral, impure, or covetous.” Rather, “Don’t even let it be named among you.”
How’s your reputation? Reputation is built by repetitive action. We receive a good reputation when people have seen is consistently doing good. And so here, if Paul says, “let it not even be named among you,” he’s saying, “let your reputation be so good that no one could even mistake you for wrongdoing.” Let it be such that if an accusation about you was thrown out, others would say, “That doesn’t sound like them.”
But that’s not all that would keep us from being a fragrant offering. Sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness: these are things we’d have no problem saying are wrong. But grouped with those in verse 4: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which is out of place…” These are the types of things we make excuses for. “Oh, the joke wasn’t that bad!” “It’s just words!” But how often can crude talking lead to crude action. Impure thoughts lead to impure talk which often leads to impure action. To be a fragrant offering, our actions, words, and thoughts must be holy and acceptable, pure and undefiled. Otherwise, we can’t rightfully present ourselves to God. Paul is very blunt in verse 5, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” “Well, what about all the grace that was mentioned in chapter 2?!” You’re right, God extends grace to us. Without His grace, we would remain dead in our sins. But that doesn’t mean that we continue in sin so that grace may abound (Romans 6:1-2). So here in chapter 5, Paul is saying, “Don’t betray God’s grace. What you do still matters and still has eternal consequences.” Our faith must push us to change. Out with the old, in with the new.
To counter act the old things, Paul says (Verse 4) “instead, let there be thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving is not just having a feeling of gratitude. It’s giving thanks to someone. It’s a self-descriptive word! So to have thanksgiving means to always have the giver of all good things on our hearts and minds. If we are mindful of God and what He gives, we will be mindful of how we our living our lives and if we are truly giving ourselves as a living sacrifice to him. We will be more mindful to act morally and purely. If we are thankful for what we have, we are less likely to covet what we don’t. If there is thanksgiving in our lives, that we will give thanks by the way we live our lives.
Ignore the empty talk of wordiness (mentioned in verse 6). Avoid being named among the sons of disobedience. Remember chapter 2. We once walked in the ways of the sons of disobedience. Here, talking to Christians, Paul says, “You can still be named among them. So, don’t be mislead by those who say, “You can still do worldly things and be godly people.” That’s empty talk. It’s deceiving. It’s wrong. Because light and darkness do not mix! And that is the crux of this passage and the main point of tonight’s message. Imitators of God must change to the mindset of God. It means going from enemies of God to offerings to God. Lights to darkness.
IV. Lights in the darkness (v. 15-21)
In John 1, John refers to Jesus as the Light. John later writes in 1 John 1 a connecting thought. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all! (1 John 1:5).” This is a description of both light and God. Light cannot have darkness, and neither can God who is Light. Here in Ephesians 5, just like Jesus says in Matthew 5, we are lights in the Lord! We were once in the dark, but now we are lights. Don’t be deceived by those of the world who say that you, the lights of the world, can partner with darkness. That “light” would look more like a flickering flashlight. Unreliable and not worth taking to ward off the darkness.1 John 1:6 says“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Instead, we must be lights shining through the darkness. To be in the world, but not of the world! Jesus was often in the midst of darkness. So much so that Pharisees judged him, saying “He dines with sinners and tax collectors!” But Jesus never partnered with the darkness. He was a light in the darkness. And when a light effectively shines in the darkness, what happens to the darkness? It disappears! The darkness is now in the light. The light exposes the darkness!
Look at verses 8-14. “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Again, it’s a change.(Like Eph. 2, you once were children of wrath, but not anymore). Walk as children of light 9 for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true,” (Who we are is seen in how we are. Goodness, righteousness, and truth. These are reflections/fruit of the light!)”10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness (unlike fruit of light, darkness is not fruitful), but instead expose them. (This is what light does. It exposes things. Ever had to look under the couch or bed for something or a dark attic/basement space? You need light to expose what is hidden in the darkness. Our jobs as children of light is to expose the things of the dark. Don’t participate in them or toe the line between light and darkness. Don’t stumble around in darkness, thinking you’re going to be fine. The longer you mess around in darkness, the more likely ou are to stub your toe. Don’t approve, actively or passively, in the things of the darkness. Don’t agree with things of darkness. Expose them. And perhaps the best way to expose the darkness is by being a standard of light.
Notice, too, that the exposure of darkness is for the good of the things in the dark. Keep reading (12-14). 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.”
Notice the process? Expose them. Exposed things become visible. Things that are visible become light. The goal is not simply to point out the darkness of people and their actions, but to allow the light of God to shine through you in order to bring them into the light. The word translated as “exposed” here carries the idea of convicting. It’s shining light on what is dark, and motivating change through conviction.
Again, Jesus and the tax collectors; Jesus certainly did not approve of their actions, but by being with them and teaching and displaying a better way, the path was laid for them to no longer be children of darkness, but children of light. There, he was a light in the darkness.
This is why Paul goes on to write in verse 14, “Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” What a perfect metaphor. I assume that most of us sleep in the darkness. For me, the slightest glimmer of light can often wake me up. “Those in the darkness, wake up! Let the light wake you up and shine on you!” And for those who are in the light, let that light shine before others so that they might see your good works and give glory to God (Matt. 5:16)!
Family, that is the reason that we should walk in the light, so that Christ’s love can shine through us and on those who are in darkness. It’s not to be like neon lights or the fanning lights at a stadium that say “Woo! Look at us! Come here! There’s something neat over here!” Instead, we should be like search lights looking for the child lost in the woods. Go and be lights that go out into the darkness of the world and expose and convict the world to let the light of Jesus Christ shine on them!
To wrap up, let’s very briefly look at this last paragraph (v.15-21). Much like the end of chapter 4, here we see specific details of the better way of walking in the light. “Look carefully then how you walk (How do you walk? if you aren’t careful how you walk and where you step, you might trip) not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time (dark works are unfruitful, light works are fruitful. Is what you’re doing fruitful? If not, is it the best use of your time?), because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (We can’t do that unless we spend time with God). 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit (where alcohol can mess with the mind and critical thinking, leading to poor judgment and lack of control, the Spirit leads to wisdom and to the fruits of the Spirit, not the least of which is self-control), 19 (And just as crude joking and talking must not be named among us, instead we ought to) address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
In a nutshell, empty your lives of sin and darkness, and fill your life with the light of Christ. And if we are filled with Christ, filled with the Spirit, praise flows from us, we will have no problem 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We will have no problem 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ because we will know that our relationships are all viewed few the tense of honoring and bringing glory to our God and our Savior Jesus Christ.
How beautiful to walk in the steps of the savior, led in paths of light.
What a gift to know the light, to have the opportunity to be in the light, and have the privilege to be the lights of the world shining the way to Jesus: The light of the world! How great of a blessing it is to know that if we walk in the light as He is in the light, His blood covers all of our sins (1 John 1:7)! So, don’t live in darkness. Instead, be. a light that shines in dark places.
Are you holding on to darkness?
Inability to forgive
Step into the light!
Take Home Message: Empty Your life of sin and darkness and fill your life with the light of Christ.