But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 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. 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; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” – Ephesians 5:3-14 ESV
Darkness is the absence of light. It is what happens when light is removed or unavailable. The term, “darkness” is used by Paul and others to describe the moral and spiritual state of mankind apart from God. Without God, they are left in a state of darkness. The apostle John explained it. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). God brings light into the world. He illuminates and eliminates darkness wherever His presence dwells. So the spiritual darkness in which mankind finds itself is the result of an absence of God. And John goes on to say, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6 ESV). In other words, our relationship with God should impact our conduct. That is why Paul tells us: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 ESV). As children of God, we have been exposed to the Light, Jesus Christ. As John wrote in his gospel, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5 NASB). Darkness and light cannot coexist. So when Jesus, the Light, came into the world, He illuminated and exposed the darkness all around Him. John goes on to say, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:9-13 ESV). There were those, living in darkness, who preferred darkness over the Light. John tells us the sad news: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” John 3:19 ESV).
But some turned to the Light. They received Him. Their sins were exposed by Him and their need for a Savior was made clear to them for the very first time. It is interesting to note that John says, “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” The Greek word John used is φωτίζω (phōtizō) and it can mean to “to give light” or “to enlighten, spiritually, imbue with saving knowledge” (“G5461 – phōtizō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Obviously, John was not indicating that every man was saved as a result of Jesus coming into the world. But His message of salvation came into the world, exposing every man and woman to the truth. Some received it, while others rejected it.
Paul’s message in today’s passage is addressed to those who have received the Light. He is calling them to live lives that reflect their new standing as “children of light” – “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8 ESV). Notice that Paul does not say, “you are in the light,” but “you are light.” They have been transformed. At one time, they were not only living in darkness, they were darkness. Their lives were characterized by the deeds of darkness. But the Light, Jesus Christ, had penetrated their lives and they had become children of light. And Paul was simply calling them to lives as who they were. This meant a change in behavior. Children of light were not meant to live like children of darkness. And Paul was very explicit in what he meant. “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people” (Ephesians 5:3 NLT). And just in case his audience got a bit prideful and puffed up, thinking they had no problem with those particular sins, Paul dropped a bombshell on them. “Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes — these are not for you” (Ephesians 5:4 NLT). These are those “little” sins that so many Christians excuse as somehow acceptable to God. But Paul says, “these are not for you.”
It is so easy to rationalize our behavior as Christians. We can find it so tempting to justify certain behavior as somehow not so bad. But Paul lumps obscene stories, foolish talk and course jokes in with immorality, impurity, greed and idolatry. They are all deeds of darkness. And Paul says, “Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him” (Ephesians 5:6 NLT). Those are not the characteristics of those who have become light. They mark the nature of those who are children of darkness. That is why Paul goes on to adamantly demand:
Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:7-9 NLT
Instead, we are to determine what brings pleasure to God and to do those things. We are to live differently than all those around us. The light within us is to produce what is good, right and true. Rather than participate in the deeds of darkness, we are to expose them. I don’t think this means that we are to walk around pointing our fingers in judgment at those who sin, but our very presence as light is to provide a dramatic contrast. Paul says, “their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible” (Ephesians 5:13-14 NLT). Our very presence among those living in darkness and death will provide a convicting influence on their lives. In essence, when children of light live as light in the darkness, our lives become a call to those in the dark to experience the grace we have received: “Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14 NLT).