6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 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. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” – Ephesians 5:6-14 ESV
Paul had a predilection or preference for certain words or concepts, and he weaved them into all his letters. One for which he was particularly fond is the word, “walk.” In Greek, the word is peripateō and it appears more than 30 times in the writings of Paul. It means “to walk, to live, to conduct one’s life,” and it carries the idea of moving from one location to another. But for Paul, it was a way of describing how people, either saved or unsaved, conduct their lives.
Seven times in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul uses the word peripateō to describe the way people navigate life on this planet. Everyone, regardless of their relationship with Christ, is required to “live” or “walk” their way through life. The question is what manner of “walk” they will display. What will be the basis of their conduct? How will they deport themselves as they make their way through life? What rules will they live by and by what criteria will they measure their success or failure?
Throughout this letter, Paul repeatedly uses the word peripateō to convey his desire that the Ephesians live or walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (Ephesians 4:1). He uses it to compare their old lifestyle to the new one made possible through their faith in Christ. Seven different times, he uses this same Greek word to establish a contrast between the old sinful nature and the new, Spirit-enabled nature graciously provided to the child of God.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked (peripateō), following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air… – Ephesians 2:2 ESV
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk (peripateō) in them. – Ephesians 2:10 ESV
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk (peripateō) in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called… – Ephesians 4:1 ESV
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk (peripateō) as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. – Ephesians 4:17 ESV
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk (peripateō) in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV
…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk (peripateō) as children of light… – Ephesians 58 ESV
Look carefully then how you walk, (peripateō) not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. – Ephesians 5:15-16 ESV
For Paul, the abundant life promised by Jesus (John 10:10) was not only possible, but it was indispensable and intended to be highly practical. Saving faith was meant to produce a radically different lifestyle modeled after Christ, enabled by the Spirit, and intended to glorify God the Father.
There is no place in the life of the believer for a dualistic or bifurcated approach to life. The willful mixing of old and new together is unacceptable and to be avoided at all costs. That is why Paul so strongly stated, “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 so his audience understands, he takes those rather broad categories and boils them down to specific examples of unacceptable behavior for believers: “Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you” (Ephesians 5:4 NLT).
And Paul warns the Ephesians about the danger of rationalizing or justifying these kinds of behaviors.
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 5:5 NLT
For the Christ-follower, there is no excuse or explanation for such behavior. It can’t be excused or explained away as innocent or harmless. These kinds of “acceptable” behaviors are rooted in sexual immorality, impurity, or greed and, as Paul so strongly states, “You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God” (Ephesians 5:5 NLT).
Paul goes out of his way to differentiate between the old and the new and, to do so, he uses the metaphor of dark and light.
…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 5:8-9 NLT
Something had changed. They were no longer who they used to be. They had been delivered from a life marked by darkness and sin and delivered into a new kingdom characterized by light and life. Paul emphasized this divine deliverance in his letter to the believers in Colossae.
…he [God] has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 NLT
They were free to live distinctly different lives because they now possessed the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. They had the God-given capacity to “walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8 ESV). In other words, not only had they been transferred into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son, but they had also been given the power to live as citizens of that Kingdom. That’s why Paul insists that they “Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 NLT). They were no longer of this world. As Peter so aptly described it, they were “temporary residents and foreigners” whose task was “to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT).
Light exposes darkness. That is Paul’s primary point in this passage. As children of light, they were expected to influence the darkness around them. Darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. So, the presence of these believers in their community should have resulted in a glaring exposure of the sins that lurked there. But instead, Paul seems to suggest that the Christians in Ephesus were actually joking about the sinfulness of their community. They were sharing obscene stories, engaging in foolish talk, and laughing at one another’s coarse jokes. In doing so, they were essentially hiding their light under a basket, something Jesus Himself warned about.
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” – Matthew 5:14-16 NLT
Paul warns the Ephesians that their flippant approach to the sins of their community was unacceptable because it was ungodly.
It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. – Ephesians 5:12 NLT
And he firmly affixes the responsibility for exposing such behavior on the shoulders of the Ephesians Christians. Look closely at what he tells them.
…their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible… – Ephesians 5:13-14 NLT
What is the source of that sin-exposing light? It is the believers who populate the church in Ephesus. They were, as Jesus put it, “the light of the world” and they were to shine so that the light of their good deeds was visible to “everyone in the house.” Paul wasn’t suggesting that they condemn their lost neighbors for their sinful behavior. No, he was calling on the Ephesian believers to live as light in the midst of the darkness. The good behavior of the Spirit-empowered Christians would radically expose the bad behavior of their lost neighbors and friends. The contrast would be palpable and powerful.
According to Paul, the believers to whom he wrote had a divine source for determining what was right and wrong.
…this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:9 NLT
The indwelling presence of the Spirit of God provided them with the knowledge of God’s will that helped clarify and quality their conduct. That’s why Paul told the Galatian believers, “let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves” (Galatians 5:16 NLT). The Spirit was there to help them “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10 ESV). And once they knew what God deemed to be “good and right and true” (Ephesians 5:9), the Spirit could empower them to do it.
That’s why Paul issues a much-needed wake-up call. He pleads with his brothers and sisters, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14 ESV). They had become lulled into a stupified sense of compromise and complacency, and Paul was calling them to snap out of it. They were to walk as children of the light. Their very presence in Ephesus should have been making an impact on the sin-darkened lives of their neighbors and friends. They had been redeemed for a reason. Ephesus was not their home anymore, but it was their God-appointed base of operations while they waited for the arrival of their future home: the Kingdom of God. As long as God delayed His Son’s return, the Ephesian Christians were to be His ambassadors and serve as His light-bearing emissaries into a world darkened by sin and in desperate need of the light of life (John 1:4). Jesus had chosen to shine His life-giving light through them and, as the apostle John declared, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:5 NLT).
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.