Message: Let Light Shine Out | Scripture: Ephesians 5:7-10 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: Behold Our God; Here is Love; Christ is Mine Forevermore; O Great God.
Over and over again, we’ve learned from Paul that who we are dictates what we do and don’t do. No passage provides a better example of this than Ephesians 5:7-10. In the previous verses (3-6), we’re told that the way we avoid the wrath of God and living lives of worldly self-indulgence is by being thankful for who God is, what he’s done for us in Christ, and what he shall do for us when Christ returns. We escape the wrath of God by having thankful hearts that we’ve been saved by and for the pleasure of God. Verses 7-10 remind us not only that we’ve been saved by God but also that we’ve been brought into the presence of God through his perfect knowledge and love, first, of himself, and, now, of us through Jesus. In his sovereign act of grace, we are given and made light, as he, himself, is light without any hint of darkness. This transforming, light-inducing disposition moves us to avoid partaking in and partnering with those who are still under wrath while continuing to minister the truth of the gospel to them. It also enables us to walk as children of light who can discern what brings pleasure to God. Walking in light doesn’t mean testing the boundaries of our faith. Rather, it means recognizing that God loves it when we seek to please him, and we fill our lives increasingly with acts that display the sacrificial love of the gospel to other Christians and deepen our devotion to him recognizing such a thing would be impossible unless he first brought us to himself.
- What grounds our passage and calls us away from living as the world lives in its self-indulgence?
- What does it mean for us to be light? Why can we only understand who we are in “light” of who God is?
- What do we mean when Scripture says, “God is light”?
- The Bible calls us not to be partners with sons of disobedience–those under God’s wrath. What are some innocuous ways that we partner with sons of disobedience without really thinking about it (think economically, socially, physically, emotionally, etc.)?
- Do you ever partner with those under God’s wrath by neglecting to do or say something? How so (give examples)?
- Do we walk in the light alone? Why/why not?
- Do we walk in the light with others? Why/why not?
- What does it mean to display goodness, righteousness, and truth? Where/in whom are these three adjectives/attributes grounded?
- What does it mean to test or discern what is pleasing or acceptable to the Lord? Why is this not permission to test the limits as to what we’re allowed to do as Christians?
- How are we motivated in our daily lives not to test the limits of Christianity but to test the limits of what brings delight to God? How do we neglect bringing pleasure to God (give examples)?
- What have you learned in this week’s sermon (or in the sermons from previous weeks), and how have you applied that/those lesson(s) to your life?
- How can we be praying for you this week either in struggle or in victory?
- Give sufficient time to intentionally pray for one another, especially for those who have shared specific requests.
Last week, we discussed how the Christian life isn’t a life of striving after our own self-indulgence. Rather, it’s one characterized by gratefulness—a gratefulness for what’s taken place in the past, for what’s taking place now in the present, and for what shall take place in the future. It is the gospel that is our hope and strength. When the world comes with its temptation, we are those who are able to resist because we aren’t striving to save ourselves. It is the reason why we can give thanks in every circumstance, and why that gratitude is a sufficient enough response to carry us through every trial in life and in death.
I remember on September 11, 2001, I was sitting in class when my teacher came out from the room next door around 11:00 am with tears in his eyes, telling us what happened, explaining the situation and sorrow he had, especially for his family who lived in New York, and then, he asked us to pray with him. Do you know what I remember most from that prayer? It was that he ended by saying thank you for the days that we’ve been given, because we do not know when we’ll be called home, but because of Jesus, we have no fear. We have no need for anything. In him, we’ve received everything.
This morning, we’re talking about what it means for us to have received everything in Jesus. Yes, that means talking about the gospel. It means being reminded of the cross, but the gospel gives us more than the death and resurrection. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t give us less than that, and if that were it, it would be enough. The cross is eternally sufficient. It is eternally satisfying! Jesus, because of his death and resurrection, is the name above every name, and he is worthy of our every adoration. He is the revelation of the glorious plan of God in history, but there is more, and Paul wants to show us the “more” of the gospel, so that we might live as “more” for the gospel. So, let’s look at the implications of our thankfulness in Ephesians 5:6-10. Read it with me. TWoL.
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 be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
The implication of our gratefulness in the gospel is that we can be ourselves. Be Yourself—this is what Paul is telling us in this passage. That’s the “more” of the gospel, we are saved so that we can be ourselves, but of course, this doesn’t mean exactly what it sounds like. So, today I want to break down what it means to be ourselves, and why Paul wants this for us because living grateful, self-sacrificial lives as one people under one Saviour as one household is impossible unless we are who we’re supposed to be. Thus, our outline this morning is to explain what it means to Be Ourselves, and it’s as follows:
- Who We Are;
- What We Must Not Do; and,
- What We Must Do.
Paul doesn’t want us living hypocritically, he wants us living sincere, happy lives, and how we do it is by first understanding who it is we are.
1) Who We Are
Similar to last week, I’ll be going through the verses slightly out of order, but before we look at the immediate structure of our passage, I want you to see all of Paul’s argument for this section from verses 3-14, because it’s pivotal for how we understand the depth of Paul’s concern and command for us. The thing that ought to be motivating sinners to flee from sexual immorality, all uncleanness, greed, crude language and joking, and general idolatry isn’t the love of God—the love of God is what compels us, as Christians, to change our ways and desires—but what ought to cause man to flee his self-indulgence is the wrath of God. Verse 6 serves as the fulcrum of our entire passage. It is the wrath of God that is coming. Just like in Exodus, the hand of death is coming. It is coming for those who are unbelieving, it is coming for all the unfaithful, it is coming for the disobedient. It is coming and none shall escape it. It is because of the promised wrath of God that Paul says have nothing to do with sinful man. Have everything to do with a grateful heart. A self-indulgent man thinks he deserves everything, but the thankful person, he understands that he deserves nothing. God’s wrath is coming, therefore, live as one who is thankful—thankful that he shall spare you, thankful for the cross of Christ, thankful for a heavenly inheritance.
Then, Paul swings the pendulum so that on one side of verse 6 he says be thankful, and now, in verses 7-14, he tells us what grateful looks like practically. It’s this practicality that we’ll focus on this week and next week. Gratitude has a specific look. Grace has a specific effect upon our lives, and this is our starting point today.
So, look with me, firstly, at verse 8a-b: “For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord.” There are three parts to this verse, and our starting place begins with the first two parts, which I just read [repeat].
Paul starts us off here by doing something we see throughout this book. He employs a once-now pattern. Once you were dead in sins and trespasses, now you have been saved by grace. Once you were Jew and Gentile, now you are one people. Once you were aliens to the covenant of Israel, now you possess a new covenant through Christ’s blood. Once you were the old man, now you are the new man. Once you were darkness, now you are light. In other words, the apostle is concerned with who we were and who we’ve become. .
And it is who we are, now, based on who we were that fuels our gratitude. Every person in this room has likely been in a position where we’re told to say thank you for something without meaning it. I remember growing up, we used to get clothes as gifts, and every person in this room knows that the last thing little boys want to see when they unwrap their long-awaited Christmas presents is a stack of clothing. In fact, I used to be so bad that I would open gifts with clothes in them, throw the garments into a corner with the rest of the torn up wrapping paper, and run to another box that was more likely to be a toy or something more exciting. And yet, without fail, my parents would pick up those clothes, give us their “ooo’s” and “ahhh’s,” tell us to try it on, and before we were allowed to open another gift, we were to call whoever had given us that gift and say, “thank you,” and we were to mean it. I’m telling you now, I never meant a single one of those thank you’s.
Well, Paul is telling us that God’s given us clothing as gifts. He’s given us the new man—he’s told us to put on new garments—he’s required us to adopt a new life, and some of us walk through life like that rambunctious child who goes up to his aunt and uncle and mutters, “thank you” while looking at the floor the whole time. All the while, you’re secretly waiting until that moment after that obligatory hug and the “you’re welcome” so that you might run back to the gifts and pick out that toy you’ve really wanted this whole time.
Let me ask you, does this kind of kid deserve the next gift? Does he deserve ANY gifts? Does he even deserve the clothes? Not a chance. Why? Because all he wants are the things that will keep him in his adolescence. He wants what he wants. He doesn’t want what other people think he should have, or what will be good for him.
This is what darkness looks like. God’s offered you the greatest gift of all, and some people flat out reject it. And yet, some of us, we take it begrudgingly, as if we’re doing a kindness to the one who’s given us the gift, and we say we’re thankful, when our hearts really want something else entirely. We want to say we’re saved, yet we want to live like a sinner.
Paul is saying don’t be mistaken. Both the one who denies the cross, and the one who says they believe in the cross, yet live perpetually in sin, as if nothing has changed, they are of the same cloth. They are both darkness. They are both bound for wrath.
Ephesians 4:18 tells us what it means for someone to be in darkness: “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” But notice in our passage today that you were not only in darkness at one time. No, you were darkness. You were the cause of misunderstanding. You were the source of your own alienation from the life of God. You were the ignorance and the stain of the earth. You were the hard heart that rejected everything about God. You weren’t only the effect of sin. You were sin personified.
But now, we are not darkness. Those of us who have received the new man. Those who accept the new clothes with true gratitude, like a child who runs to embrace the giver and knows the magnitude of the gift, they are not only in the light like some reflective surface. It’s not what we see externally that’s transformed. No, we are light itself. We radiate light from within so that what people see is our heart. Our actions display our attitude.
But what does Paul mean when he says, “we are light”? Where has a similar statement to this been made before? Well, the one that comes to mind is 1 John 1:5-7: “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. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
What does it mean for God to be light? It means that God knows God and God loves God. This is what the passage says, the apostle John equates light to truth and fellowship. If we are to have light, then what we also have is knowledge of the truth and fellowship. So, for God to be light it means that God is in perfect truth and fellowship with himself. He is God who knows God, and he is God who loves God. In other words, God sees the Son and knows him as he knows himself. Christ is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his eternal nature. In systematic theology, we call this God’s eternal generation of the Son. The Son receives his personhood as the Son eternally through the Father, so when God the Father sees God the Son, he sees himself perfectly. He knows himself perfectly. And when the Son sees the Father, he knows the Father perfectly as he knows himself perfectly. And in their seeing one another, in consideration of one another with perfect knowledge, there arises from them, in eternity, a perfect love that is personified in the Spirit. The Father and Son literally spirate the Spirit in eternity—the Spirit eternally proceeds from the perfect knowledge and love shared by the Father and Son. This Spirit is God himself, the third person. In him, he carries all that the Father and Son are in their relationship unifying all three as one in perfect love. So, we can say God—one being, one nature, one essence in three persons—knows and loves God eternally and perfectly.
Why am I giving you a systematic theology lesson? I’m doing it to tell you the “more” of the gospel. You see, the gospel is more than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is not less than this, and this, in itself, is sufficient. But there is more, and the more has to do with the character of God himself brought to light in our own lives. The apostle Paul here says that we are light in the Lord. The only other being in all the Bible who is said to be light is God himself. So, we have to understand what it means for God to be light—what it means for him to have a perfect knowledge of his truth and love of his own fellowship—in order to understand what it means for us to be light. To be light means to possess the truth and fellowship of the perfectly knowing and loving God himself.
Our parallel passage in 1 John 1:5 says that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. The Greek actually makes this extremely emphatic. It says in God there is no darkness not one. You see Greeks didn’t possess the concept of a double negative. When you had two negatives in one sentence, it meant an absolute no. There is absolutely no darkness in God. So, when Paul says that we are light—it doesn’t mean we are without sin. It means we’ve been brought into the absolutely no darkness presence of God. We are made one with the singular being in all the universe who is perfectly knowledgeable about himself, and who is perfectly loving in himself, and that perfect knowledge and that perfect love is given to us so that now he perfectly knows us as he knows himself, and he perfectly loves us as he loves himself.
This is the “more” of the gospel. It is light without darkness. It is fellowship without distraction. It is covenant without frustration. It is the intimate love of God forever and ever. The “more” of the gospel is that we are made into something that is not only new, but it is something that God wants for himself. What was once worthless and useless to God has become of infinite value through the sacrifice of his own Son so that, now, we might be who we’re supposed to be—those brought in as sons and daughters of light. Be Yourself, dear Christian. Let light shine out from you because you belong to God and because you’ve received his perfect fellowship. When God gives you that gift, he’s not just giving you any old piece of clothing off the rack. No, he’s giving you the garment of glory itself—he’s giving you himself. Don’t treat it—don’t treat him—like something to be ungrateful for.
2) What You Must Not Do
Look, now, at verse 7 with me. What, then, does it mean to be ourselves as those who possess the perfect fellowship of God? It means, first and foremost, that we do not partake, or the better word to use is partner—do not partner with them, namely, those in verse 6 under God’s wrath who act in their unbelief, unfaithfulness, and disobedience.
This is what Paul means in 2 Corinthians 6 when he talks about not being unequally yoked with unbelievers. The message actually begins in 2 Corinthians 5, and this is what it says (v.16):
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting us to the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (v.1) Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
Paul follows by listing all the ways that Christians persist in persecution, how they are set apart from the world, how they stand immovably with the truth, how they are always sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
THEN, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:14: Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? In other words, what needs do Christians have with those who are not Christian? What needs do we have that God has not provided for within the body through the ministry of reconciliation? Paul’s point there in 2 Corinthians is what his point is here in Ephesians. Being yourself and belonging to God means not belonging to anyone else in this world because God is our God, and God is faithful to provide. He has been faithful in your calling; he shall be faithful even in your suffering. Don’t let anyone who is unchristian to have say over you other than God. Don’t let anyone dictate your steps other than God and those submitted under God.
You’re not to be partners or partakers with those under wrath. You’re not to associate yourself with unbreakable vows with those who seek their own self-indulgence. They do not know what it means to be sacrificially loving. They don’t know how to walk in the light. They will always pursue the darkness. This is why Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:1 ends the exhortation with: “Since we have these promises [namely, the promises that God is for us, and that he shall provide for us, and that he shall be our God]—since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of the body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
Let me sum it all up: Let the light of the grace of God shine through you, and don’t let anyone or anything snuff it out. Don’t let any sin have claim over your life. Throw out that computer if you have to. Unsubscribe from that television subscription if you have to. Cancel your cable if you have to. Stop letting people with hard hearts control the conversation. Leave the conversation and miss out on what people are saying if you have to. Take all measures that are necessary to live a life of gratitude to God for who you now are. You belong to the God of light, and in him there is no darkness whatsoever. Absolutely none. So too, don’t let darkness have any part or control over your life because you have received your ultimate and highest satisfaction in the light of life through Jesus.
Now, some of you may be asking—does this mean we can’t be around non-Christians? Does this mean we shouldn’t hang out with them and get to know them? And I hope you all know that I would answer, “of course not.” You’re called to be around those who are sinners because (1) we are sinners, and (2) all need Jesus. However, there’s a difference between being around those who are unrepentant and partaking with them in their sinfulness and encouraging them in it.
I played on a softball team with a bunch of guys, and like most nights after a game, we went to get dinner at a nearby restaurant. While we were sitting there waiting for our food, some of the guys began discussing their upcoming trip to Niagara Falls over the weekend for a big slo-pitch tournament. I should preface that all of these guys were professing Christians. They all served in various capacities at their church. They were all part of this big Christian softball league that we each played in, and they all looked the part.
Despite these facts, they began to talk about what they would do on their free night, and one of the guys suggested going to a strip club, another guy chimed in and said, “that’s a good idea.” Then, they broke out into laughter, like it was something to look forward to. Now, I knew this was wrong, and yet, I sat there and kept my mouth shut, I might have even laughed along with them because (1) I wasn’t going on this trip, I wasn’t in danger, and (2) I wanted these guys to like me. This was my first year playing with them, and I wanted to be invited back. But one of my best friends who also was not going on this trip, and who also was playing with these guys for the first time, opened his mouth, and said, “why would you go to a strip club? Aren’t you guys Christian?” Then, the guy who had suggested the idea responded, “relax, it’s no big deal. We do it all the time.” And at that point, my friend’s face turned grim, and he said, “just because you do it all the time, doesn’t make it right, and it is a big deal. Hell is a big deal.”
Friends, I don’t only bring up this story to condemn the idea of the guys on my softball team or to commend the actions, courage, and words of my friend—although both of these things are true. I tell you this story because, within it, not only are my teammates guilty of sin, I, too, am guilty of sin. They were guilty by commission. I was guilty by omission. Here’s the thing—by my not saying something, by my laughing, or by my pretending that I didn’t really hear them, I was partaking in their disobedience. I was complicit with their actions. My silence was their permission.
When God brings us to himself and gives us his perfect fellowship, he calls us not only to avoid partnering with wickedness in ways that only affect us. He also calls us not to be partners with those under wrath even when it affects our relationship with other people. Yes, we are to be around them, but we’re not to give any ground to the evil that is inside of them. He calls us to be ourselves and to speak out in courage despite the consequences that may come. It may mean many things, even losing a friend. But let me tell you, if someone cuts off your friendship because you’ve taken the courage to expose their sin, then that’s not on you. Sure, you may have found a nicer way to do it, but at the end of the day, the reason why you’re being cut out isn’t because you’re wrong, it’s because they love their sin more than they love the God who condemns sin. Christian, in those instances, choose to love God more than you love letting your friend love their sin. Don’t partner with them in their active guilt. Don’t partner with them in your passive permission. Be yourself, even when it costs you, because God has brought you to himself at great personal cost.
3) What You Must Do
Let the light of God, which now belongs to you, shine out. Be Yourself as God has called you to be in himself. Do as verses 8c-10 tells us to do: walk as children of light (for the fruit of light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
Not only are we to avoid partnering with people in their darkness. We are to take on an active fellowship with the light. Walk as children of the light. It’s a plural “you” that’s implied with the verb. This means immersing yourself in the lives and struggles of other Christians. It means walking with them step-by-step and contending for each other. It means rejoicing in victory, weeping in sorrow together. It means dispelling and fighting against the darkness among you. It means belonging to God by being the family of God.
And Paul tells us what comes from being light. How are we to act towards each other as light? With all goodness and righteousness and truth. Goodness, here, has to do with a moral, heart attitude that is interested and satisfied by caring for others. Righteousness refers both to the legal declaration of righteousness, like a man who is found righteous in a courtroom, and the desire to act rightly. Truth contrasts the lies of satisfying self-indulgence that our sin and flesh feed us. And all of these things can only be summed up in one being: God. God alone is good. God alone is right. God alone is true. And yet, we can be these things, and more importantly, we can be these things for each other because while God alone is light, he has made us light with him through his Son. It is Jesus who displayed his goodness by becoming the incarnate God-man and dwelling among us. He revealed his righteousness by both imputing it upon us through his death and by enabling us to pursue it in his Spirit. He proclaimed to us the truth, first, with his own mouth, then through the apostles, and now through his preachers.
Walking as children of light means being ourselves in Jesus Christ. Our identity has been bought. We are the children of God. Our love has been secured. We have the fellowship of God. Our light has been restored. We display the character and heart of God in all that we do.
Now, what this looks like exactly isn’t easy to figure out. This is why Paul ends by saying, “walk as children of light by testing what is pleasing (or acceptable) to the Lord.” I know the NASB says learning, but the word here is “testing.” The ESV uses the word “discerning.” Again, where have we heard this combination of words before? Testing, discerning, pleasing, acceptability?
This is what Romans 12:1-2 has to say: “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is you’re your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Thus, what Paul means in Ephesians 5:10 by testing what is pleasing to the Lord is the same meaning he gives to the phrase in Romans 12:1-2. And what does he mean by this phrase in Romans 12:1-2? Well, he takes all of Romans chapter 12-15 to explain it. Let me give you snapshot of what he says:
Rom 12:3-8 – I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function . . . let us use [our gifts for one another]
Romans 12:9-10: Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another with honour.
Romans 13:8: Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Romans 13:10: Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Romans 13:14: But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Romans 14:1: As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
Romans 14:7-8: For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
Romans 14:18: Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
Romans 15:5-7: May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Doesn’t this all sound familiar? What does it mean to test or discern what is pleasing to God? It doesn’t mean that we get to take grace as far as we possibly can. It doesn’t mean figuring out what God will find permissible as we indulge in our sins. No, testing doesn’t mean pushing the boundaries, it means exceeding expectations in serving each other as Christ served us upon the cross. Paul doesn’t have in mind what our limit might be as Christians, he has in mind the heights, the depths, the breadth, the length of what it means to possess the living God and be his children in the gospel. What marvelous rapture Christ must have lived in throughout his life to know, “I am the Son of the living God.” So too, we go as far as we can to proclaim and display Christ as much as we can because we have been made sons and daughters of God; children of light. That is what it means to walk as children of light. That is what it means to be light. You’ve received the fellowship of the triune God. You belong to him. Now live in such a way that honours him. Live in such a way that displays your gratitude to him. Live drastically set apart from the wickedness of the world. Be Yourself as Christ is. Love one another as Christ has loved you. And do it all to the glory of God.