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Walk as Children of the Light

Back to all sermons Ephesians

Date: November 17, 2019

Speaker: Erik Raymond

Series: Ephesians

Category: Biblical

Scripture: Ephesians 5:3–5:14

Outline: Two ongoing priorities for pleasing God

I.  Avoid all impurity (3–7)
    A.  Types of impurity forbidden (3–4)
          1.  Sexual 
          2.  Speech
    B.  Reasons for the prohibition (5–7)
          1.  Such things are improper for Christians
          2.  Such things betray one’s confession of faith
    C.  Warnings against contrary/false teaching (6–7)
          1.  These are empty words
          2.  They provoke God’s wrath
          3.  By sharing their actions they share their doom

II.  Walk as children of the light (8–14)
     A.  Walk as children of the light
           1.  Remember your former darkness
           2.  Live in accordance with who you are
           3.  Look for the fruit of the light
     B.  Discern what is pleasing to the Lord
           1.  Expose the deeds of darkness
           2.  Don’t participate with them
           3.  Do expose them
     C.  The church participates in this as a community
           1.  Ministry of the Word
           2.  Church membership
           3.  Church discipline

 

Introduction

How can you please God? Have you given much thought to this? Is it even possible? And, if so, is it important?

In our previous passage, the Apostle Paul emphasized the need for Christians to put off the vices consistent with the old way of living and then putting on the virtues of new life in Christ. Every day is laundry day for the follower of Jesus; we are shedding the habits of the old life and learning the ways of the kingdom of God. But now in this passage, he shifts from the changing of clothes and moves towards what is fitting and what is not. And, he talks about what is of light and what is of darkness. In the end, the goal is the same, Paul is aiming to lay out the new priorities for the new life in Christ. If we want to live a life that is consistent with our calling and therefore pleasing to God, we must do this.

But this presents an immediate tension for us, doesn’t it? We read in many passages that it is impossible to please God. And, by attempting to curry God’s favor by obedience many have found that that Bible repudiates their efforts at moral reform because in the end, their motives weren’t about the worship of God but personal penance.

So how do we put this together? Context. The assumption here is that the original audience is made up of professing Christians. That is people who have come to see that they cannot earn God’s favor by doing good things. In fact, they were very proficient in doing the very opposite — earning God’s wrath through rebellion. But God was gracious. Even amid their sin, God granted mercy and forgave them because Jesus paid the penalty for their sin. Now after having the guilt of sin removed and being made new and a participant in the new creation—God changed their lives—they are able to walk in the good works that actually do please God. I suspect that for most of us here this morning this is our story, we are professing Christians clinging to the truth of the gospel. But, perhaps for others, this is not true. I want to be clear that the first step is recognizing your state of rebellion from God and his willingness to pardon and welcome you. We’ll talk more about this in due course, but for now, look at this text as what God requires of Christians, those who say they are following Jesus.

This brings us to the command that we find in verse 10, “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” And the word translated discern, has the idea of careful examination and scrutiny. If you are a Christian then you must carefully consider how to do this.

This is the main point I want to persuade you of today: Pleasing God requires walking in the light, not in darkness.

Two ongoing priorities for pleasing God, Avoid all impurity in verses 1–7 and Walk as children of the light in verses 8–14.

 

(1) Avoid all Impurity (3–7)

In this section, Paul’s focus is on impurity and greed. These are the patron sins of the Gentile world, “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (Ephesians 4:19) First, he lists what he is talking about, then second his reasons why, and finally his warnings against those who would teach otherwise.

What is he talking about? Impurity in what way? Specifically involving sex and speech. In short, his argument is that such impurity is improper or out of place amongst Christians.

You’ll notice there are three vices given here of which to avoid.

The first word, translated as sexual immorality comes from the same root where we get our English word pornography. It refers to sexual activity that God has not sanctioned. Of course, it refers to any sex outside of marriage, whether adultery or fornication. In the Ephesian culture, it would have also forbidden sex with prostitutes, which was so common in their day. Even the religion of the day was enmeshed with sexual acts. All of this is forbidden. It is out of place amongst the saints. In other places, sexual immorality heads the list of works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19) from which believers are to abstain (1 Thess. 4:13) or which they are to shun (1 Cor. 6:18). (O’Brien, 359).

The second word, translated as impurity, is a more broad word that refers to any type of sexual deviance. Paul is calling it filthy and dirty. So if the sexual sin couldn’t quite be put into the first bucket of immorality, this word is intended to capture it. We realize at once how out of step the Bible is with contemporary culture. Much of what is celebrated and flaunted today is at odds with what the Bible teaches. The more obvious sins of fornication and adultery would be included with homosexuality, pornography, prostitution, and every other form of sexual activity outside of what God sanctions. Paul is showing that many things that are consistent with and celebrated by the world, is entirely inconsistent with the Word of God.

Finally, in verse 3 he lists covetousness or greed. Perhaps this has to do with amassing much wealth and possessions. But, more likely it is an expression that underscores the self-serving nature of these sexual sins. He may be making the connection to the coveting of the 10th commandment that forbids the desiring of his neighbor's wife. Jesus said that if anyone lusts after a women then he has committed adultery in his heart already. This is the type of selfishness forbidden here.

What makes his punch felt all the more is how he pivots out of a discussion about self-giving, sacrificial love to this. What Jesus showed on the cross was self-giving not self-serving. Love is not primarily looking out for self but for others. Love gives it doesn’t take. Now here we are talking about the self-serving, self-loving acts of immorality and greed. When put in contrast to the cross of Christ, one can see quickly how out of place it is.

Then he shifts to the impurity of speech in verse 4, with another three words that are ruled out of bounds for those who have embraced Christ and his gospel.

The first is filthiness. This has to do with any obscene speech that is degrading of another. This type of speech is unfitting for the follower of Christ. Perhaps he has in mind the discussion of the type of activity forbidden in the previous verse. At any rate, the type of filthy speech that repeats what others say or you create your own new content, all of it, is out of place for the Christian.

The next is translated foolish talk. It’s from the word where we get moron. It’s talking in a stupid, foolish, way. It’s the dullness that accompanied by a base and slow mind. It’s associated with drunkenness. You know the type of talking he’s referring to; it’s basically the ductwork that gives vent to the dirty worldliness of the heart.

Finally, he refers to crude joking. Other translations might say course jesting. You know what this is, it’s the type of speech that uses every conversation as an opportunity to inject his immoral but sharp wit. It’s filled with sexual suggestiveness and perverted innuendos.

Why is this forbidden? If it’s incongruity with Christianity is not evidently seen, he provides a couple of reasons.

First, this type of impurity is improper for Christians. Look at verse 4, he writes that they are “are out place.” He uses a word that was used of fulfilling legal obligations and other social requirements. It’s proper for citizens to pay taxes or honor their king. But, it’s not proper, it’s not fitting for Christians to live with this type of impurity. Instead, writes Paul, our lives should be characterized by thanksgiving. The type of speech has just been described, along with the sexual impurity, betrays one’s lack of gratitude. The Christian is to be one who is overflowing in thankfulness to God. Why? Because God has graciously saved us from our sins. While we were dead in sins, God made us alive. This should engender gratitude.

Second, he writes that this type of living betrays one’s profession of faith. Look at 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.” (Ephesians 5:5)

Here Paul uses the same three words and says that if these words characterize your life then you have no reason to say that being a Christian defines your life. Let me put it another way, the church throughout history is full of people whose lives were characterized by these sins but then they met Jesus and their lives changed. This is what Jesus does, he changes people. But if someone’s life continues to reflect the patterns of the unbeliever, the outsider, and the world that stands in contrast to Christ, then they should know that they have very little assurance of salvation in Christ.

Someone might say that they believe in Jesus but still live like this. But this isn’t how it works, God changes people when they become believers. Jesus warns that on the day of judgment many will claim that they knew him, that is they were followers of his. But Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” That is, he was not their Lord. The demonstration of fruit in the life of the Christians supports the genuineness of the profession of faith. Without fruit, and with the pattern of ongoing sins such as they, even the one who makes such a profession of faith should examine as to whether or not it is true.

Another might ask, does this mean that a Christian will never struggle with sin and even sometimes fall? No, it does not describe moral perfection, but it does describe the pattern of repentance and growth. If one’s life is characterized by these patterns of sin then they are not characterized by repentance and fruit. To continue to live in the unbroken pattern of sin is to reveal that there is actually no spiritual life. John writes, “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,” (1 John 2:4)

Passages like this get past the veneer. It gets to the root question of who you really are. You may say you are this or that, but who are you? The Christian endeavors to please God by living in the light, not the darkness.

For some, this might create a greater resolve toward faithfulness. A clenched fist and an audible “yes!”

For others, perhaps there is a need to examine beneath the exterior. Are you truly a Christian? Does your life match up with your profession of faith? Do you look like the man, woman, or child described here in this passage?

Regardless, the answer is to flee to Christ and find him as your source of life.

Paul concludes this section that calls for us to avoid all impurity but warning against false teachers.

He warns his hearers. He is letting them know that there are going to come some—perhaps they are already there—who aren’t supportive of what Paul has been laying down. And he wants to equip and encourage them with how to respond. Look in verses 6-7, what he says,

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them;” (Ephesians 5:6–7)

The message of these teachers is empty words. They are not substantive nor tethered to God. They aren’t true. So watch out.

Why? Because they are provoking God’s wrath. False teachers and false living is basically a high handed temptation to God to come. Sin is basically saying, “I don’t think God sees what I’m doing. And if he does see he doesn’t much care. I can do what I want.” There is nothing more frightening than to consider mocking God by attempting to belittle him. Be sure that this type of living and any teaching that supports it rather than confronts it is a provocation of God and his impending righteous wrath. He will in fact judge.

Finally, Paul writes, do not become partners with them. He uses the word where we get our word fellowship from. He is saying to don’t have fellowship with them or partner with them. For if you share in their teaching and share in their living, then you will share in their doom. This is sobering.

If we are going to please God then we must walk in the light, not in the darkness.

Looking at the first of two ongoing priorities for pleasing God, we have seen in verses 1-7, avoid all impurity. Now second, in verses 8-14, walk as children of the light. 

 

(2) Walk as Children of the Light (8–14)

Light and darkness. The contrast here couldn’t be starker. Paul is characterizing how we live our new life in Christ as walking in the light. But why light? What is the significance of this command? Is there a biblical train coming behind the image? There is. And I think it’s important to grasp before we get to the commands here in Ephesians 5. Let’s take a brief detour to think about this concept so we can be well equipped to respond, walking in the light.

In short, I believe walking in the light has everything to do with glorifying God by obeying his Word. And it’s the darkness around that makes it more acute.

In Ezekiel chapter one we read of God’s glory as light, radiance, and brightness. He saw a throne and on the throne, he saw brightness emanating out, like fire and a bright rainbow. It was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God. Later on in Ezekiel the same thing, (10:4), “the cloud…filled with with brightness of the glory of the Lord” and in 43:2, the glory of the God of Israel was fast approaching “And the sound of the coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory.” And then in a passage that Paul quotes in verse 14, we read the following from Isaiah 60:1-2:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1–2)

What does this mean? This idea of the light of God’s glory rising and shining. What does it sound like? It sounds like the cycle of a day. Where we know that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” and the sun bursts out each day “like a bridegroom leaving his chamber and like a strong man runs its course with joy…there is nothing hidden from its heat” (Ps. 19:5-6).

The glory of the Lord is described as a bright, brilliant light.

Little wonder then when Jesus comes he says that he is the light of the world (John 8:12). Hebrews 1:3 says that “he is the radiance of the glory of God”. He is the effulgence, the bursting forth of. The root of this word has to do with the dawn of a new day. He is the daybreak of the glory of God bursting forth.

This is where Paul is going here. He is making a connection between the glory of God and the biblical expression of it by using light. Jesus himself is the light that has come into the world (John 1). And he has shone on those who were formerly sleeping. He has made us new.

The image is of a new day. On your conversion, the new day emerged. The sun has risen and illuminated the formerly dark sky of your life. He has filled it with the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.

Christ has made himself known to you and now he means to make himself known through you.

Therefore, he has called us to walk in the light. That is, in accordance with what glorifies God.

How do you glorify God? The Bible, the Word of God, contained in the Old and New Testaments is the only rule to direct us how to glorify and enjoy God (Q2 Westminster Shorter Catechism).

So with this, turn back to Ephesians 5 and let’s look at the commands.

     A.  Walk as children of the light
           1.  Remember your former darkness
           2.  Live in accordance with who you are
           3.  Look for the fruit of the light
     B.  Discern what is pleasing to the Lord
           1.  Expose the deeds of darkness
           2.  Don’t participate with them
           3.  Do expose them
     C.  The church participates in this as a community
           1.  Ministry of the Word
           2.  Church membership
           3.  Church discipline

 

Conclusion

I’ve attempted to show you this morning that pleasing God is not only possible but also a priority.

Remember, not to earn favor but because Christ has already done it. He has please God by his own perfect life and death. And this is precisely why and how we live in obedience to his word now, in order to please him, not to earn but because Christ has earned.

If you're not a Christian you need to see this as the first step.

If you are a Christian, I think this text really puts the matter before us with clarity. You and I need to be sure that we are walking as children of the light.

Certainly, we would not go wrong to remember the main point of this sermon throughout this week, Pleasing God requires walking in the light, not in darkness.

 

May God make it so.