Only By God’s Grace.

So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. – Ephesians 6:21-23 ESV

For the first time in his letter, Paul turned his attention to himself. He had written the letter while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial. He had been arrested in Jerusalem having been accused by the Jews of defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into it (Acts 21:28-30). The Jews had been so incensed at Paul that they were going to kill him, but he had been rescued by Roman soldiers. Paul ended up defending himself before the Sanhedrin, the Roman governor, King Agrippa, and eventually was shipped off to Rome because, as a Roman citizen, he had appealed for a trial before Caesar. So while under house arrest, he had written this letter to the Ephesians. In fact, Paul wrote many of his letters while physically detained in Rome. He made very good use of his time and continued to minister to the churches he had helped to plant.

Paul had a special place in his heart for the believers in each of the cities to which he wrote. He saw them as his spiritual children. He had a pastor’s heart for them, worrying about their spiritual well-being and knowing that they were all under spiritual attack from the enemy. That is why he wrote his many letters. He wanted to educate, encourage and instruct them in the faith. He desired to see them grow in Christ-likeness and continue to spread the good news of Jesus Christ around the world.

Paul knew that the churches to which he had ministered so faithfully worried about him. They were concerned with his well-being. They each felt a certain sense of dependency upon him as their spiritual mentor and father in the faith. So Paul regularly kept them updated as to his condition. With everything else going on, he did not want them to have to worry about him. So he told them he would send Tychicus, “the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord” to bring them up to speed. It seems that Paul used Tychicus in this way quite often (Acts 20:4; Colossians 4:7; Titus 3:12; 2 Tiomothy 4:12). He was one of Paul’s constant companions and was able to travel to these various cities and keep the believers there informed as to the current status of Paul’s imprisonment and trial. Paul’s main purpose in sending Tychicus was that they might be encouraged. He did not want them worrying about him. He knew that they did not need any more distractions or discouragement than they already had.

Paul loved others. He cared deeply about them and was willing to do whatever it took to see that they grew in faith. He could be hard on them, pointing out their weaknesses and flaws. He could also be passionately compassionate, encouraging them in their weakness and calling them to not lose faith. Like a loving parent, Paul wanted what was best for his children, and he was willing to sacrifice his own life to see that the flock of God was healthy and whole. Paul was the consummate shepherd. Paul shared the heart of Jesus, who said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 ESV). As a matter of fact, prior to heading to Rome to await his trial before Caesar, Paul had called for the elders from Ephesus and told them, “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). And Paul had lived out that admonition in his own life – all the way from Rome. Paul had lived out the calling for elders penned by the apostle Peter.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

And in keeping with his role as a shepherd, Paul closed out his letter with a prayer for his flock in Ephesus. He prayed for three things: peace, love and faith. Peace is not an absence of trouble, but an awareness of God’s presence in the midst of trying times. Peace also can mean harmony between individuals. Paul knew that there would be plenty of potential for turmoil in the churches of Ephesus, because churches are comprised of people. And he knew that peace was going to be necessary if they were going to grow together and experience the unity that God desired for them. But peace is only possible when love is present. Mutual love is what brings about peace. The sacrificial, selfless love Paul for which Paul was praying is unifying, not dividing. It is healing, not hurtful. It is other-oriented, not self-centered. But the kind of love Paul is talking about is only possible through faith in Christ. It is not a self-manufactured kind of love, but is a natural expression of the love that God has for us by sending His own Son to die on our behalf. “We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:19 NLT). In fact, all three of these attributes – peace, love and faith – come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. They are divine gifts to the church and they are to be used for the mutual edification of one another.

Paul closed his letter the same way he opened it, with an emphasis on the grace of God. “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (Ephesians 6:24 ESV). The grace of God, His undeserved favor, is the most remarkable thing any of us have ever received. But it is easy to lose sight of His grace and mistakenly assume that we somehow deserve His love. We can end up thinking that we are worthy of His forgiveness and capable of living the Christian life in our own strength. But Paul would have us remember that it is the grace of God that made our salvation possible. It is the grace of God that makes our sanctification achievable. It is the grace of God that makes loving He and His Son feasible. All that we are and all that we do is made possible by the grace of God.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!

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No Solitary Soldiers.

To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. – Ephesians 18b-20 ESV

Paul ended his description of the armor of God with a call to prayer, strongly advising his readers to “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion” (Ephesians 6:18a NLT). Constant communication with the Father is essential for our spiritual survival. Prayer is not simply a tool we use to get what we need from God. As Paul will show, it is not to be used for our own selfish desires either. Throughout this letter, Paul has been addressing the great doctrine of the church. In chapter one, Paul addressed Christ’s headship over the church, having earned that role through His sacrificial death and resurrection. “And he [God] put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22 ESV). And all believers are members of that body because they share a common faith in Christ, and that faith was a gift provided to them by God, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). The church was the mysterious or previously hidden idea of God, miraculously joining Jews and Gentiles into one body, “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:14 ESV). 

It was God who has made us “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV). And it is through the church that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 ESV). It was Paul’s prayer that the Ephesian believers would “know the love of Christ” and be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19 ESV). Paul knew that God had a divine plan for the church. He also knew that the future success of the church, including all those who would become a part of it through faith in Christ, was totally dependent upon the work of God and for the glory of God. That is why he ended his prayer in chapter three with the words:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

The body of Christ, the church, is a powerful force, but only as long as it remains dependent upon God. It is a God-ordained agent of change in the world, but only when it stays committed to the will of God and connected to the power of God made available through His Spirit. When we lose sight of the fact that God saved us and placed us within the context of the body of Christ, and begin to see our salvation as something individualistic and isolated, we miss the whole point. A self-centered, what’s-in-it-for-me attitude has no place within the body of Christ. Even the armor of God, is of little use to the Christian, if worn in isolation and utilized as a one-man army. As Christians, we must come to grips with the fact that we are in this battle together. Even the best equipped, most highly trained army, without unity, will fall to its enemy. And without constant communication with and obedience to its commander, even the mightiest army will fail. So Paul calls Christians to prayer. “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Ephesians 18 NLT). There is a sense of camaraderie and unity in his words. We are to pray not only for ourselves, but for one another. We should desire that each and every believer on the planet is living in the power of the Spirit and according to the will of God. The body of Christ requires members who are healthy, whole and committed to the cause of Christ. That is why Paul even asks for prayer on his behalf. “And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike” (Ephesians 6:19 NLT). Paul knew that he needed the prayers of the saints in order to stay committed to the call given to him by God. He coveted their prayers. And he longed that they would pray for one another.

What more selfless, loving thing can we do than pray for God to protect, guide, strengthen, and embolden our fellow believers. We must realize that our strength, while provided by God, is found in our unity with fellow believers. It is together that we form the powerful force that can dramatically alter the landscape of the world in which we live. Solitary soldiers, even though well-armored, will have little impact “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). So we must pray. We must seek God’s face, determining to know His will, lifting up our fellow soldiers, and resting in His divine strategy for ultimate victory.

Stand!

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. – Ephesians 6:14-18a ESV

Two times Paul told his readers to put on “the whole armor of God.” He was not providing them with a menu of optional items from which to choose. They were not to decide for themselves which piece of God’s divine equipment they were interested in wearing or utilizing. But the sad truth is, that is exactly the way many of us as Christians approach this passage. Whether we intend to or not, we jeopardize our spiritual well-being by self-selecting the armor of God we want to put on. But Paul would have us understand that when it comes to the armor of God, it’s all or nothing. He tells us to “put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (Ephesians 6:13 NLT).

Paul uses two Greek words, ἀνθίστημι (anthistēmi) and ἵστημι (histēmi). The first means “to stand against” and the other means “to stand” (“G436 – anthistēmi, G2476 – histēmi – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). To withstand in the evil day carries the idea of being able to stand your ground in the midst of battle. You are under attack. The enemy has you surrounded, but you refuse to surrender your position. You resist. It is a defensive posture, not an offensive one. The enemy is bringing the battle to you. Jesus told Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18 NET). Satan is out to destroy God’s people and has His church under constant assault both from without and within. But Paul calls us to stand our ground, to resist. James uses the same Greek word, ἀνθίστημι (anthistēmi), when he writes, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 ESV).

And Paul calls us to stand. It means to stand firm, immovable, ready and prepared for action. But how are we to pull that off? What is the secret to our standing firm? Paul makes it quite clear. It is the whole armor of God. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes for your feet comprised of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. This six items are to be the indispensable equipment for every soldier of God. You can’t survive without them. It isn’t a question of whether the enemy will attack and you will see battle. His is bringing the war to your doorstep each and every day. And God has given us all that we need to withstand and stand firm in the heat of the battle. The belt of truth is the first and most essential piece of equipment. It most likely refers to the truth as revealed in God’s Word. Truth is key to standing up to the lies of the enemy. Remember, the goal is to “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV). That word, “schemes” means “deceit or trickery.” Satan is a liar. He is cunning and clever and he uses falsehood as his primary weapon of choice. So truth is going to be one of our greatest assets as believers.

The breastplate of righteousness is probably referring the righteousness of Christ. Like the armor of a Roman soldier, this breastplate would provide protection from the neck to the thighs, covering all the vital organs. As believers, we are covered by the righteousness of Christ. It is His righteousness that has made us right with God. When the enemy attacks and hurls darts of accusations against our self-righteousness, we are protected or covered by the righteousness imputed to us by Christ at His death. Satan can accuse us, but he cannot harm us. We must daily take up Christ’s righteousness and understand that it is what He has given us that protects us from the assault of the enemy.

No soldier would go into battle without shoes. How can you stand firm without proper footwear? And Paul describes these shoes that are “the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15 ESV). The gospel of peace, the Good News is what provides us with the ability to stand firm, without slipping or sliding in uncertainty or losing our spiritual footing. Because of what Christ accomplished on the cross, we have peace with God. We are His and He is ours. That is why so confidently claimed, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 ESV).

The shield of faith is not something you wear, but something you hold. Like all of the other pieces of armor, it is given to you by God. It is His armor. Our faith is not self-manufactured, but it is a gift of the Spirit, provided for us by a gracious and loving God. As long as we stand behind our faith, we are safe. It is when we set aside our faith that we become vulnerable to the darts of the enemy. Our faith is our trust in God and in His promises regarding us. He will not leave us or forsake us. He has prepared a permanent place for us. He will fight our battles for us. He has placed His all-powerful Spirit within us. I must trust in these truths at all time. A weak shield is of little use in the heat of battle. Strong faith in a strong and faithful God will provide protection each and every time, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

The helmet of salvation protects our mind. It is the awareness and recognition of God’s ongoing saving work in our lives. It not only refers to our coming to faith in Christ, but to our ongoing sanctification and the daily saving work of God in our lives. Through His Son’s death, he saved us from sin and death, but He is also saving us from the flesh, the world and the enemy. We must keep our minds focused on the saving work of God in our lives. We must constantly remind ourselves that He is faithful and strong, and that the battle is already won.

The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. It is designed for hand-to-hand combat. The Scriptures are what we are to use when the enemy gets up close and personal. God’s Word provides us with the truth we need to deflect the lies thrown at us by Satan. It is both a defensive and offensive weapon, allowing us to protect ourselves, but also to bring harm to the enemy. Referring to the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “when he come he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment” (John 16:8 NLT). The Spirit of God in conjunction with the Word of God are essential in our fight against the forces of this world.

Finally, Paul tells us to keep “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18a ESV). Prayer is nothing more than communication with God. Like a soldier out on the field of battle, timely communication from headquarters is key to victory. We must listen to our heavenly commander, the Lord of Hosts. He is the captain of the armies of heaven and He has a battle plan in place. We are not to act as freelance mercenaries, operating based on our own agenda and implementing our own battle plan. It is through prayer and the reading of God’s Word that we receive instructions. It also provides us with a means of sharing our own needs and news from the battlefield. Staying in touch with God is essential to our survival.

The battle is real. The enemy is powerful. But our God is great and our armor is time-tested and proven reliable in the heat of battle. It has been made by God. It has been given to us by God. And our victory is assured because of God. “But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4 NLT).

Dressed For Success.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 ESV

Having just addressed the topic of godly submission by illustrating its impact and influence upon three different relationship settings, Paul now makes a somewhat jarring shift in thought to the topic of spiritual warfare. But upon closer examination, it seems clear that Paul is simply continuing the same thought he began when he called them to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which they had been called. For two chapters Paul has been emphasizing the need for believers to live out their faith in everyday life. He has called them to put off their old selves and to be renewed in the spirit of their minds. They were to put on their new natures, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24). They were to walk in love, as children of light. There were to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ and willingly sacrifice their rights in order to selflessly love others as Christ has loved them.

But this was not going to easy. It was not going to come naturally. Paul knew that their old sin nature, their flesh, would fight them every step of the way. Their natural inclination would be to lord over one another, not submit. They would be prone to pride and self-exaltation, not humility and selfless service. Submitting to those who don’t appear to deserve it or loving those who don’t seem to appreciate are not easy things to do. And to make matters worse, Paul knew that believers have an enemy at work behind the scenes to make our walk of faith as difficult as possible. He was keenly aware that there was a spiritual battle taking place behind the scenes to which most of us as Christians seem to be oblivious. What Paul is asking us to do is impossible to pull off in our own strength. We are not equipped for it. Our human nature, apart from the help of God, is not suited for spiritual warfare. We are like the man who brings a knife to a gun fight. So Paul tells us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10 ESV). Earlier in this letter, Paul had told the Ephesian believers that he prayed for them regularly, asking God that they would be “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Ephesians 3:16 ESV). He prayed the same thing for the believers on Colossae: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11 ESV).

When Paul called the believers there in Ephesus to “be imitators of God” and to “walk in love as Christ has loved us” (Ephesians 5:1), he knew that he was asking the impossible. But not if they did it in the strength that comes from God. Not if they recognized their insufficiency and His all-sufficiency. The impossibility of the task should drive them to the reliability of their Father. The life to which God had called them was only possible through the power He had graciously provided for them. And that same power is available to us today. Paul calls it the whole armor of God. Notice he refers to it as the whole or complete armor. We can’t afford to be selective or picky about it. Not a single piece of the armor is to be left out or left behind. It is only as we are wholly equipped that we will “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV). God has provided all that we need, but we still need to put it on. And we must always keep in mind that his “armor” is spiritual in nature because “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). In other words, our battle is not against other people. Our enemies are not those on the left or the right, the liberals or conservatives, the Muslims or the atheists, the irreligious or the immoral. Paul reminds us we are fighting “against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). Sound scary? It should. Because it is real. What we see happening all around us today is an orchestrated effort on the part of the enemy of God to subvert His will and supplant His authority. Satan stands opposed to all that is godly and that includes every single believer. As Jesus Himself warned, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 ESV).

So what are we to do? Paul is quite clear. “Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil” (Ephesians 6:13 NLT). Notice that Paul says “to resist,” not defeat. Our job is not to destroy Satan, but to resist His efforts to destroy us. James gives us some invaluable insight into how this all works. He writes, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 NLT). Humility before God comes before resistance of Satan. Acknowledgement of your need for God’s strength must precede any attempt to withstand the enemy’s attack. The reason so many of us fail as Christians is because we refuse to put on the whole armor of God. God has provided all that we need. Our arsenal is complete and each piece is designed to work in concert with every other. And these are spiritual tools designed to fight a spiritual battle. Paul told the Corinthian church, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV).

We live in evil days. We have a formidable enemy whose mission is to destroy us. We still have our old sin-prone nature, weak and worthless when it comes to resisting a spiritual enemy. But we have not been left defenseless or devoid of help. Our gracious, all-powerful God has given us His divinely empowered armor to protect us and the indwelling presence of His Spirit to do battle beside us. Like Paul, we need to recognize our own insuffiency, the enemy’s reality, and God’s gracious provision for our security. “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT).

It’s An Inside Job.

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. – Ephesians 6:5-9 ESV

As Paul continues to discuss the application of walking as children of light, in love and in submission to one another, he brings up a particularly difficult relationship for us as modern believers to understand. He has already addressed husbands and wives, and children and their parents. But now he takes on the relationship between slaves and their masters. There are those who would label Paul as a proponent of the institution of slavery, because he does not speak out against it. But Paul, like Christ, was not out to revolutionize civil institutions or bring about social upheaval. He was interested in redeeming the lives of those who made up the society. So while it is true that Paul does not speak out against or condemn the socially accepted practice of slavery in his day, this does not mean he was a supporter of it. In fact, in his letter to Philemon, he appeals to his brother in Christ regarding one of his slaves, a man called Onesimus. Evidently Onesimus had run away from Philemon and had somehow ended up meeting Paul and, under his influence, had become a believer. He ended up ministering to Paul while he was a prisoner there. And Paul had encouraged Onesimus to do the right thing and return to Philemon, his master. Slavery was legal in Paul’s day and Onesimus was obligated to return to Philemon or face severe punishment. But Paul wrote his letter to Philemon to explain the change that had taken place in the life of Onesimus and to ask Philemon to see his former slave as what he now was, a brother in Christ.

For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. – Philemon 1:15-16 NLT

This is exactly the kind of context Paul is addressing in his letter to the Ephesians. Slavery was a socially accepted, legally sanctioned part of the culture of the day. And yet Paul was calling slaves and masters who came to know Christ to radically change their perspective regarding this institution – from the inside out. The interesting thing is that slaves, who were viewed as property and sub-human in many ways, were coming to faith in Christ. Not only that, they were becoming members of the local churches. It was not uncommon for a 1st-Century church to have slaves and their masters as part of its congregation. And within the context of the church, there was a unity and equality that was unheard of anywhere else in the culture of that day. Which is why Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia: “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28 NLT). In the context of the body of Christ, everyone was on an equal footing. But while coming to faith in Christ set someone like Onesimus free from sin, it did not free him from slavery. In fact, Paul wrote to the Corinthians and told them, “Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ” (1 Corinthians 7:20-22 NLT).

Paul’s primary concern was the behavior of believers. He was focused on their walk – the daily living out of their faith within the context of their existing social relationships. Which he wrote to the church in Ephesus, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ” (Ephesians 6:5 NLT). We see once again, that their motivation was to be Christ-centered, as if they were serving Christ. He became a slave, a servant on their behalf, even dying in their place so that they might be freed from slavery to sin. Now He was calling them to serve their earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Rather than forced subservience, Paul was calling them to willing submission. Paul gives them some very specific instruction about how their faith should manifest itself in their relationship with their masters.

Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. – Ephesians 6:6-7 NLT

Notice that Paul encourages them to do the will of God with all their heart. What would the will of God be in their particular situation? To walk as children of light. To walk in love. To walk in a manner worthy of their calling. Yes, even within their context as slaves. Because in reality, they were slaves of Christ. Their earthly situation was temporary. So they could work with enthusiasm, performing their earthly responsibilities as if they were doing it for the Lord, knowing that “the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free” (Ephesians 6:8 NLT).

But Paul is not done. He also addresses those individuals in the churches in Ephesus who happened to be masters. He tells them, “Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites” (Ephesians 6:9 NLT). Their faith in Christ was to have a relationship-altering impact on their lives. Their slaves were now their brothers. And everything they did was to be done as to the Lord. This was a game-changing, life-altering moment in the lives of these individuals. Can you imagine what kinds of renewing of the mind and shifting of their paradigm was taking place as they wrestled with the new-found faith in Christ and the reality of the social construct in which they found themselves? This particular relationship between slaves and masters would put the daily application of faith in Christ to the test like no other. 

Jesus did not come to revolutionize the structures of society, but the lives of the people who make up that society. He did not come to radically alter institutions, but to redeem individuals. Political change or legal sanctions do nothing to remedy the condition of the heart. Overthrowing the evil social structures of a society through rebellion or civil disobedience may bring about external change, but it will never fix the problem of sin. Believers living as children of light in the midst of darkness, loving unconditionally, submitting to one another willingly, and obeying Christ joyfully are the true change-agents in the world.

Godly Homes.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. – Ephesians 6:1-4 ESV

One of the most important things for us to keep in mind when considering Paul’s call for believers to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, is that it is impossible to do without the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, you could pull it off in your own power for a season, but it wouldn’t be long before your old sin nature raised its ugly head, causing pride and self-centeredness to take center stage again. For wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to sacrificially love their wives, the Holy Spirit is a non-negotiable necessity. He alone can provide us with the fruit we will need to “walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Ephesians 5:8 ESV).

Here in chapter six, Paul now draws our attention to yet another relationship in which the fruit of the Holy Spirit will be essential. He calls for children to obey their parents. The Greek word Paul uses carries the idea of listening and obeying. It infers the sense of submitting to the God-given authority of one’s parents and the obedience rendered to them is to be “in the Lord,” which is another way of saying “out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 ESV). Just as wives are to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord,” children are to obey their parents with an awareness that they are really submitting to the will of God for their lives. Now, this is going to be very difficult for young children to comprehend. And even after a child comes to faith in Christ, they will have difficulty understanding what it means to obey in the Lord. That is where the careful, patient, and persistent training of godly parents comes in. Even very young children are naturally prone toward disobedience. Their wills develop quickly and their innate desires to do what they want show up very early on in their development. Obedience is not natural to children. They may not initially know that they are being disobedient, but their natural drive toward self-autonomy will cause them to choose their will over that of their parents.

In these first three verses, Paul seems to be addressing two different phases of childhood, starting with young children and moving up to adult children. After commanding children to obey, Paul reaches back into the Mosaic law and quotes the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12 ESV). And he provides a side note that says, “this is the first commandment with a promise” (Ephesians 6:2 ESV). Rather than obedience, Paul calls for honor. The word “honor” carries with it the idea of reverence and veneration. In the Hebrew, it is kabad and it actually means “heaviness” or “weight.” There should be a weightiness or significance given by adult children to the God-given role of their parents in their lives. While young children will not be capable of grasping the significance of this concept, older children, especially adult children can and should. It is interesting to note that in Deuteronomy 6, Moses told the people of Israel, “Now this is the commandment — the statutes and the rules — that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long” (Deuteronomy 6:1-2 ESV). Moses was calling the people of God to obedience, so that their days would be long in the land. Then Moses went on to give them the motivating factor that should be behind their obedience to God:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:5-9 ESV

Verse five contains the great shema. This is what Jesus would later say is the greatest commandment. Love is to be the primary motivating factor behind obedience to God. And Paul seems to be saying that, ultimately, love should be behind the obedience of children to their parents and the honor they give them in their later years. But for this to happen, Moses said that parents were to teach their children diligently. They were to talk about the things of God all the time. Obedience to God was to be a constant topic in the home. And parents were to be the primary source for instruction and illustration of what that obedience was to look like.

Which is why Paul addresses fathers. In God’s economy, fathers are held to a higher standard by God. They are responsible for the spiritual well-being of their household. So Paul warns fathers about provoking or exasperating their children. Nothing will frustrate a child more than inconsistency in the life of a father. His behavior toward and in front of his children will have a dramatic impact on their spiritual well-being. Hypocrisy in parents is one of the greatest negative influences on the life of a child. Fathers who say one thing and do another end up frustrating and confusing their children. Fathers who demand one set of standards for their children while living outside of those standards themselves, will end up causing anger and resentment in their children. Which is why Paul says, “Fathers, don’t provoke your children to anger” (Ephesians 6:4 ESV). Another surprising cause of anger within children is a lack of discipline. Children need boundaries. They require supervision and discipline in their lives. This will require training on the part of the parents, and the father is ultimately responsible. A father who is overly strict or heavy handed in his discipline will end up exasperating his children. But a father who is lax and lazy in providing his children with loving discipline and godly instruction, will also provoke his children to anger. That is why Paul tells fathers to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. The goal of all believing parents should be to raise godly children. While we can’t cause our children to come to faith in Christ, we can provide an environment in which the truth of the gospel can be lived out in their sight and the love of God can be modeled in their lives.

Her Holiness vs Your Happiness.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. – Ephesians 5:25-33 ESV

Wives are to submit to their husbands. Not exactly a popular topic among most women today. It sounds so archaic. It comes across as demeaning and dismissive of women. But we must remember that this entire section of Paul’s letter was calling all believers to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ. His reference to wives and husbands was simply a practical application of what that would like in real life. But the one thing we miss in this whole discussion of submission is the inter-relatedness of it that God intends. In God’s divine plan, submission was not intended to be a one-way affair. Yes, wives were expected to submit to their husbands, but notice that Paul calls husbands to love their wives. And here is the important distinction: As Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. There is an inferred expectation of sacrifice and selflessness involved in the kind of love Paul is describing. It is other-oriented. It is a love that suppresses its own rights and desires for the well-being of another. But, interestingly enough, Paul goes on to describe this kind of love as a form of self-love, because “husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28 ESV). For the husband, there is no me versus her. In God’s eyes, his very existence is permanently is linked to that of his wife. That is why Jesus taught, “‘God made them male and female’ from the beginning of creation. ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together” (Mark 10:6-9 NLT).

The husband is to give to his wife the same value that he gives to his own life. She is a part of him. He is to love her as he loves his own body. He is to nourish and cherish her – in the same way that Christ does the church. Christ not only sacrificed His life for the church, He constantly intercedes on Her behalf. Even now, His full attention is focused on the church. Paul tells us, “Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us” (Romans 8:34 NLT). Paul then goes on to ask, “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?” (Romans 8:35 NLT). And the answer is meant to be a resounding, “No!” And in the same way, there is nothing that should be able to separate the love of a husband for his wife. Nothing she says or does should cause him to fall out of love with her. Now that is a tall order and a high expectation. Not only that, but the husband is to make it his goal in life to sanctify his wife – sometimes in spite of her and without her full cooperation. Even when she refuses to submit to him, he is to sanctify her.

But what does Paul mean when he calls husbands to sanctify their wives? Isn’t that the job of the Spirit of God? Paul is using Christ’s love for the church as an illustration of the kind of love men are to have for the wives. Christ gave Himself up for the church. He died so that the church might be sanctified, set apart and made holy. Earlier in his letter, Paul wrote that God “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV). God’s desire was our holiness. Jesus made that possible by His sacrificial death. So as husbands, our goal should be the holiness of our wives. God has appointed us as husbands so that we might help fulfill His desire that our wives be holy, set apart of Him.

Paul says that Christ cleansed the church by the washing of water with the word. The word refers to the gospel, the good news about salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Every believer who places their faith in Christ based on the gospel message, is washed clean from their sins. Water baptism is a statement of that reality as the believer is lowered into the water and symbolically “cleansed” from their sins. The emphasis in verses 26 is sanctification. It is not a command for men to read the Word over their wives as if in doing so they somehow cleanse their wives. Jesus’ death on the cross is what provided their cleansing from sin. The point Paul seems to be making is that Jesus gave Himself up “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27 ESV). In the same way, the husband is to choose give himself up for the spiritual edification of his wife. Her holiness is to be his highest priority. He should want for her life what Jesus Himself gave Himself to make possible.

Submission is difficult. Our natural inclination is to refuse any thought of submitting ourselves to another. Loving like Christ loved is a formidable task, and goes against our natural disposition toward self-centeredness and self-preservation. But we have to remember that Paul is calling us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV). He is calling us to “put off your old self…and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22,24 ESV). He is commanding us to “walk in love, as Christ loved us” (Ephesians 5:2 ESV), as children of light (Ephesians 5:8). Marriage is one of the primary venues God has chosen for all of this to take place. And it is intended by God to be a constant illustration of Christ and His love relationship with the church. His sacrificial love and the church’s obedient submission, working in unison to accomplish God’s will. So Paul writes, “let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:22 ESV). For our good and God’s glory, and as a living testimony of our calling as children of God.

 

Submission Is Not A Dirty Word.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. – Ephesians 5:22-24 ESV

Submit is not a four-letter word. But in our culture and context, it has become a dirty word, conjuring images of slave-like subjugation and subservience. These two verses strike fear into the hearts of many pastors and insight anger among women. This passage is viewed as old-fashioned, a throw-back to some cultural context that has no bearing on our more sophisticated modern milieu. Many conclude that Paul was writing to a people trapped in an antiquated social structure that doesn’t apply to us as modern Christians. Either that, or he was just misogynist, trying to keep women in their “proper” place.

But what most of us fail to realize is that submission is a non-negotiable requirement of every believer in Christ. These two verses, like so many others in Scripture, are typically lifted from their context and treated in isolation. But Paul has been talking about how believers were to live their lives – how they were to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV). They were to live differently than those who were unsaved. Their behavior was to set them apart as children of God. They were to walk in love, as children of light, exhibiting the wisdom of God, not the foolishness of the world.

The verses that often get overlooked when dealing with this passage are located right before it. In them, Paul gives an admonition to every single believer – male and female.

…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:18-21 ESV

Submission is expected of each and every follower of Christ. A lifestyle of submission is one of humility and honor, not subservience and servitude. When done properly it reveres Christ, because it models the very lifestyle that He lived. Jesus Himself described His mission in terms of submission and a servant-like attitude. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NLT). The apostle Paul told the believers in Corinth:

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. – Philippians 2:5-7 NLT

This had nothing to do with Jesus’ rights. He was the Son of God. He was divine and powerful. He had created the world and all those who lived in it. Yet, He was willing to submit to His Father’s will and set aside His divine privileges and prerogatives in order to serve mankind by giving His life. In the upper room, on the night that Jesus was to be betrayed and arrested, He washed the feet of His disciples. He set aside His robe, wrapped himself in a towel and did what none of the others would have dared to do. Jesus told His disciples, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand” (John 13:7 ESV). When He had finished, Jesus said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:12-17 ESV).

Jesus’ act of submission was meant to be a living lesson to the disciples about what their lives were to be like in the days to come. They were to serve one another. They were to submit to one another. Titles were not to stand in the way. Rights were to be set aside. Status was to be ignored. Submission was to be a key characteristic of their lives. And what the disciples did not yet understand was the foot washing by Jesus was simply a symbol of His ultimate act of service that would take place on the cross just a short time later.

When James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples came to Him and arrogantly asked if they could have positions of prominence in His coming Kingdom, the rest of the disciples became angry and jealous. Jesus responded, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45 ESV). Among you it will be different. In His Kingdom, sovereignty was marked by slavery. Honor was achieved through humility.

So what does all this have to do with wives? In this chapter, Paul is going to use a number of earthly relationships to illustrate Christian submission. He will talk about husbands and wives, children and parents, and slaves and masters. As believers, we do not operate in a vacuum. We are not independent agents, acting on our own and focused solely on our individual walk with God. We live in the context of community. Wives have husbands. It is in that context that they are to practices submission. Notice that Paul says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands.” He does NOT say that all women are to submit to ALL men. This has nothing to do with the value or significance of women in general. It has everything to do with the context of marriage. What more difficult place to practice submission than in a marriage. Just as the disciples would never have lowered themselves to wash the feet of one another, wives will find it difficult to submit to their husbands. Especially if their husbands fail to love as Paul commands. Yet submission is not optional. It is a willing coming under the other, making them more important than yourself. It is NOT an admission of their superiority, but a recognition of God’s divine order. He has made the husband the head of the household, not because He is smarter, more spiritual or even better equipped to lead, but in order that there might be order in the home. He holds the husband responsible. Just as He held Adam to a higher standard than He did Eve when it came to their mutual sin against Him.

Submission is essential to every relationship in which we find ourselves as Christians. And submission is one of the hardest things for us to do. We long to be first. We see ourselves as somehow better than others. We long to be in control. But when we submit to others, we are really submitting to God. We are coming under His divine authority and recognizing His righteous order for His creation. At the end of the day, submission is about trusting God. It involves a realization that He is in control and that He has authority over the husband. A believing wife must submit to her husband “as to the Lord.” She is trusting God to lead him and protect her. But the temptation will be to step in and take over, stepping out from under God’s ordained plan. Submission will not always make sense. It will not always appear to work. It may even be uncomfortable at times. But even Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death, offering Himself as a ransom for many. Submission is not a dirty word. It is a way of life for the believer.

Think Before You Act.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV

Once again, Paul brings up the issue of our walk. He has already told his readers “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV). He has warned them “you must longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV). Back in verse one of this chapter, he wrote, “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:1 ESV). And then he gave his readers yet one more admonition: “Walk as children of the light (for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true)” (Ephesians 5:8-9 ESV). Now, in verse 15, he provides yet one more more word about the walk of the believer. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time” (Ephesians 5:15 ESV).

For Paul, belief and behavior in the life of the Christian were inseparable. Faith in Christ was to have a direct impact on every area of life, including the believer’s attitudes and actions. The Christian’s walk and words were to reflect his new nature. But the verses above are all imperatives. Walk in a manner worthy of the calling. Walk not as the Gentiles do. Walk in love. Walk as children of the light. Walk not as the unwise. They are commands, not suggestions. They require forethought and proper consideration. You have to think about them and plan for them to be a part of your life. And like all commands in Scripture, while they are non-optional, they are not always obeyed. We can choose to ignore each and every one of these commands. That is why Paul was so emphatic. He begged his readers to not act thoughtlessly, and he put it in very blunt terms: “do not be foolish” (Ephesians 5:17 ESV). To “be foolish” was to act without reason or reflection. It was to act rashly, without forethought or proper consideration. Living the Christian life requires a bit of brainpower and intellectual capacity. We have to think about what we are doing. It requires planning and deliberation. Back in verse 10, Paul wrote, “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10 NLT). That requires thinking before acting. It means you have to stop and consider the deed before you commit to doing it. In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul provided them with a key to making this happen.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:2 NLT

God wants to redeem our thinking. He wants us to think like He thinks. But that required knowing His will, what He would have us do. Which is why Paul said, “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17 NLT). And just in case his readers couldn’t follow his train of thought, Paul gave them a real-life example. “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life” (Ephesians 5:18a NLT). Think about it. What good ever comes from getting drunk? Who has ever been proud of their behavior after a night of heavy drinking? A better decision, Paul suggests, would to choose to, “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18b NLT). It should be obvious that when Paul compares being drunk with wine with being filled with the Spirit, he is talking about control. When you’re drunk, you are under the control of the alcohol. It dictates your behavior. You do things you wouldn’t normally do. You say things you wouldn’t normally say. So to be filled with the Spirit is to choose to let Him dictate and determine your behavior. There is a big difference between being indwelt by the Spirit and filled by the Spirit. Every believer receives the Holy Spirit at the point of salvation. And while we have all of the Spirit all of the time, we are not always “filled” or controlled by the Spirit. We can choose to ignore Him. We can determine to disobey Him. But when we are filled by the Holy Spirit and are under His control, our behavior will reflect it. Paul provides a glimpse of what that should look like:

…singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:19-20 NLT

Earlier, Paul had warned, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30 ESV). We grieve the Spirit when we choose to live our lives apart from His power and without His guidance. We rob Him of His primary role in our lives. He exists to assist and help us as we navigate this fallen world, but when we refuse to live under His control, we deny Him the joy of producing His fruit through us. We end up producing “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander” (Ephesians 4:31 ESV), when He longs to make us kind, tenderhearted, forgiving, thankful, and submissive to one another.

That is the will of God. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians, “For this is God’s will: that you become holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:4 NET). Forgiveness of sins is great. But even an absence of sin does not make someone righteous or holy. God’s intention is to transform us from unrighteous to righteous. From unholy to holy. His ultimate goal is our glorification, when we will be free from all sin and entirely righteous. But we must stop and consider what it is that God is doing in our lives. We must constantly question why we would do anything that is contrary to His will for our lives. He desires for us to be holy, so why would we do anything that prevents that from happening? That is why Paul tells us, “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17 NLT). Think before you act.

Children of Light.

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).