Message: Let Light Shine In| Scripture: Ephesians 5:11-14 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Sin that is exposed to the darkness is illuminated and made visible. Sin that is made visible by God’s light becomes light, itself, through the power of Christ’s gracious atonement. Therefore, don’t keep sin hidden. Don’t seek to live a Christian life that is self-satisfying because such a thing doesn’t exist. Christianity is only satisfying when we recognize that God sent his own Son into the world to die for sinners. In the same way, as Christians, we go into our families, our church, and our world for the purpose of displaying the light of the knowledge of the glory of God displayed in the face of Jesus Christ. This is our mandate. This is our privilege. This is our joy. As we testify to the grace of the gospel, we can sing with Paul and other redeemed sinners that Christ has shone upon us. There is no song more important, nor is there one more glorious. All glory be to Christ, indeed. All glory be to Christ, our King.
- What does it mean to test/discern what is pleasing/acceptable to the Lord? What are the effects in the church when we are testing/discerning rightly?
- Paul’s request not to participate in unfruitful dark deeds is different from his earlier request not to be partakers with the sons of disobedience how? Is this difference important? Why/why not?
- Do we, in our own relationships, make the effort to expose the darkness of those whom we declare to love? If you don’t, why does this show that we have a misunderstanding about what it means to be Christian (hint: what does it mean to be Christian)?
- What does it look like to be a church that seeks to illuminate the darkness? Do we, as one body, practice this kind of unity in the church? Are there things we withhold from one another because we’re afraid of their judgment, condemnation, or being hurt (i.e. you’re not withholding because what you have to say is mean-spirited or ungracious but because it would cost you your pride)?
- What does Paul say is the remedy for dark deeds? What is it that the light does to darkness? How is this possible?
- Paul sings a hymn to end this passage, what about his hymn teaches us about the kind of songs we ought to be singing? As Pastor Stephen said, the hymn does not quote a specific passage, but does it make reference or allude to the Bible at all? What then must accompany the songs that we sing?
- What is significant about Paul choosing this hymn to sing as he ends this passage?
- What have you learned in this week’s sermon (or in the sermons from previous weeks), and how have you applied those truths/lessons to your life?
- What strides have you made towards holiness and exposing the dark in your life and in the lives of those whom you love this week?
- How can we be praying for you as a group in struggle or in victory?
- Spend some time in prayer for one another.
Last week, we discussed how we are light—those brought into the very presence of God himself and included as his own beloved children. Because of this, we are to walk in such a way that honours him in goodness, righteousness, and truth, and we test whether we’re doing this by growing in holiness. As we walk with the Lord day-by-day, our desire is to bring him pleasure and delight through our actions. So, we start off by doing what we know is good, right, and true, and those good, right, and true actions become better, more righteous, more saturated in truth. This is, ultimately, Paul’s vision for the church. It’s not only supposed to grow numerically; it’s also supposed to grow into an unstoppable force for goodness, righteousness, and truth. This is what he means by testing. You keep doing the good work in greater measure until there are no more good works to be done.
It is no wonder then that the next thing writes about is how light must shine. Just think of a lightbulb plugged into the socket. You can put dirt on it and try to block out its light. You can attempt to block it with your body, but that will only cause the rays to go around your body. [How is it that the song goes, “Hide it under a bushel, no, I’m going to let it shine.”] We all know that the only way to put out the light is to either kill its source, to literally crush it, or to let the light run its course and die. But as long as that light is plugged into its socket, as long as the socket is feeding it sufficient energy, and as long as the light has life, it has no option but to shine.
Christians, as children of the light, as light itself, have no option but to shine because there is nothing else that we can or want to do. We have been gripped by the source and have become utterly dependent upon it. We would rather die than go back into the darkness because to do so is to return to nothingness and despair. But light is love, and we have received an infinite supply. To have received the light of God is to be known by him as he is in perfection. To be known by him is to desire to serve him and display his glory in all the earth. This is our starting point today. Paul continues from Ephesians 5:8c-10 not only giving us a blueprint of how to walk in the light, namely, walking in goodness, righteousness, and truth, but he also tells us the lengths to which we are to go in order to display it. We have no option but to shine. Read Ephesians 5:11-14 with me. TWoL.
Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason, it says, “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Our proposition this morning needs no further intro than what I’ve already said, and what Paul is telling us in these verses is that in our shining, we are to Help Others Be Themselves. Help Others Shine—to see the Light. And he tells us that there are three steps to do this:
- Expose Their Darkness;
- Illuminate and Transform Their Darkness; and,
- Prophesy Over Their Darkness.
Light is to have nothing to do with darkness, and yet, we know that the only way that light might overcome the darkness is by exposing it, transforming it, and interceding for those trapped in it. So, let’s let light shine in and do the work it’s supposed to do. Let’s start with:
1) Expose Their Darkness
In the Greek, verse 11 starts with the word “and,” which is connected to the broader unit of the passage beginning with verse 7 and ending with verse 14. Verse 7 is an imperative: do not be partakers with the sons of disobedience who are under the wrath of God, and this imperative is grounded by verse 8: for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Do you see that? Because you are light, therefore don’t be partners with sons of darkness. But Paul doesn’t stop with what you shouldn’t do, he continues with what you should do in verse 8c. Because you are light, therefore walk as children of light, namely, walk as those who are given the very presence of God to do the works of God in goodness, righteousness, and truth. These are the two imperatives of being light.
But now, in verse 11, Paul adds a third imperative. Because you are light, you are not to participate in the unfruitful deeds themselves, rather you’re to expose them. So, you have three commands as a consequence of being light-bearers: you’re not to partner in wrath, you’re to walk in light, and you’re not to participate in dark deeds, rather expose them for their fruitlessness. Three commands, three inferences, and we’ve looked at the first two, but let’s see how this last one is different.
You might think that Paul seems to be repeating himself here at the beginning of verse 11. Verses 7 uses similar language when it says not to partake with sons of disobedience, and in some ways it is repetitive. They’re very close. But the concept of partnering in verse 7 has more to do with not having any reason to fall under the wrath of God. In other words, verse 7 is telling us, “don’t join in and become a son or daughter of darkness.” Verse 11, on the other hand, has more to do with your actual relationship to the works of darkness. Directly translated, verse 11a says do not fellowship with unfruitful works of darkness. In other words, don’t find satisfaction in dark deeds. Don’t make your comfort in them. Not only are you to avoid partnering with sons of disobedience themselves, you’re not to take any pleasure in the actual works that they’re doing.
Why is this important? Because of what the rest of verse 11 says: don’t fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose, correct, or rebuke them. We’re to expose unfruitful works of darkness for what they are—they are unfruitful and dark. We’re to make the worthlessness of these actions as obvious as possible. They do not satisfy. They enslave. They punish you, and in the case of sexual sins, they punish your part as well. They make you less of a person driven by uncontrolled desires.
I’ve told some of you that I really dislike strawberries. Growing up in Toronto, I hardly ever ate them because I have extremely sensitive taste buds for some reason. So, whenever I ate strawberries, all I would taste was how sour or bitter they were. But then, we moved here to California, and a friend of mine brought over an entire bucket of strawberries that he had purchased on the side of the road. I thought, to be polite, I’ll eat one. I ended up eating half the bucket because I’d never tasted strawberries so sweet in my life.
You see, if we had never moved to California, I would have lived the rest of my life thinking that strawberries were horrible fruit—things to be avoided when eating. But because I moved here, and because my friend brought me California grown strawberries and told me to try them, I know now that they’re not only healthy for you, but they actually taste good, and they satisfy the palette.
What Paul is saying here is that we are that friend. We’re that friend who goes to that other friend and says, “You’ve never tried strawberries like this before.” You’ve never had satisfaction like this before. You’ve never been exposed to light like this before. You’ve lived your whole life thinking strawberries are sour, unenjoyable, good-for-nothing fruit. But come into the light and try one of these. Here’s where I want to bring the strawberry metaphor into its biblical metaphor. Those who are in darkness and live according to the works of darkness, they don’t know how good the light is. They have no idea what they’re missing. They think the light is foolishness, but Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 1:27: God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.
Don’t get me wrong, the world will think that we are fools. They will think that what we have to offer is foolish, and this, I know, is a scary thing. It is unappealing to our human instincts—we don’t want to look foolish. We don’t want to feel worthless and undervalued. But the reason we let this get to us is because we forget where and in whom we derive our value. The Christian life is a willingly humble life. We, in one sense, could boast to be greater. We could boast to know better, but why would we when what we care for is anything but ourselves? Paul includes this imperative here in verse 11 because in verse 8, we might start thinking that walking as children of light is all we have to do. All we have to do is live like Christians for ourselves. All we have to do is serve our Christian brothers and sisters. All we have to do is continue to grow in personal holiness.
But verse 11 is a gut-check to verse 8. We aren’t only growing in our Christian walk for ourselves. Christianity isn’t individualistic. It’s not even self-identifying. It doesn’t just seek to affect those who are like us. Our job as Christians doesn’t stop with ourselves. Our job as Christians doesn’t stop with sacrificially serving other Christians. No, our job expands in such a way that we actively and willingly move out into the darkness. Paul is saying it’s not okay to isolate ourselves from the world. It’s not okay to make Christianity about yourself. Why? Because Christ didn’t isolate himself from the world. Christ didn’t make it about himself. Yet, the whole New Testament paints a picture of Christ’s exaltation. Do you know how it does this? Do you know why Christ is exalted? It’s because he humbled himself to the point of death in order to glorify the Father.
As Christians, we’re not only called to walk as children of light, we’re called to expose the darkness with our light. Christianity is not self-contained, it’s others-oriented understanding that we did not deserve to be saved, but God did it anyway, and he did it with joy and urgency. So, even when our neighbour doesn’t deserve to be saved, we go out of our way to do everything we can to save them because we understand where we’ve come from, and we understand where we would have gone if someone didn’t bring the gospel to us.
Let your light shine into the lives of others who carry on in works of darkness with your gospel-saturated words and with your gospel-appealing actions so that they might see it—so that they might understand that there is something far more satisfying and beautiful than their sin. We are to expose dark, fruitless works for what they are: worthless, unsatisfying, wrath-bearing. We’re to expose them with the light so that they might have life.
2) Illuminate and Transform Their Darkness
Then, in verse 12, Paul grounds verse 11 with another reason for exposing darkness. By exposing darkness, you bring to light that which was hidden. Here is the brutal reality of the world. What they do in the open is already detestable. Yet, there are things being done by them, and maybe even by some of us here, in secret, that’s even worse than what we can see.
This is what Paul says here in verse 12, there are sins being done in private that can’t even be spoken about because those things are utterly disgraceful. They’re so vile and so contrary to the character of God that the apostle can’t bring himself to list them or to explain what they are. Yet, many of us here would probably be able to guess what he’s talking about given the context in verses 3 to 5. In fact, I would venture to say that what’s taking place today on our TV’s, on the internet, on our phones, in our private conversations goes beyond what Paul was speaking about back then.
The advent of privacy and our learned entitlement to it has opened up a doorway into all manner of unspeakable evil. Being secret and living a double life now would have been incomprehensible to Paul and his readers—at least in the degree that we have it today. Just thinking about pastors, more pastors and biblical scholars have been exposed over the past few years for leading double lives with sexual sin than ever before. Ravi Zacharias, R.C. Sproul Jr., Tullian Tchavidjian, Carl Lentz, Brian Houston, the list goes on and on. And I lament this! These are pastors and scriptural scholars. They’re supposed to be the ones in their Bibles every day. They’re the ones who set an example for us. So, if the sample size is this great for pastors, how much worse do you think it is for those who aren’t in their Bible’s every day? How much worse do you think it is for the father with three kids or the mother who feels detached from her community? I venture to guess that the sins that entice us in private are far worse of a problem than we admit them to be.
Christians, let me say very quickly here, that nothing is new under the sun. In fact, sin festers and it grows more perverted with every passing generation, and privacy has bankrupted our morality. Church, unless you’re married and entitled to the intimacy that exists between man and wife, privacy amongst us should be scarce. Why? Because we do not belong to ourselves. Nothing we have belongs to us in any final or lasting way. We are not a religion that is about ourselves. It’s not about our personal holiness. No, the call for holiness is always collective in Scripture. Here in Ephesians, it’s about our holiness as one people under one Christ brought together as God’s family, and in God’s house, nothing is or can be hidden from him. Thus, we ought not hide anything from each other.
We are not like the world. The shift from verses 12 to 13 is subtle, and if you read it too quickly, you might miss it or misunderstand it. See, verse 12 is a concession: “despite the fact that there are utterly disgraceful things being done by sinners in the dark,” verse 13 tells us that when those secrets are borne out, when they are confessed and brought into God’s presence, something quite different than what we expect takes place. Instead of there being great, immeasurable shame, Paul says the darkness is made visible. Or more accurately, the darkness is illuminated, and it’s talking about an internal quality. Verse 14a clarifies what he means by this: what was once darkness now becomes light.
Peter O’Brien, a commentator on Ephesians, says this: “Darkness hides the ugly realities of evil, but light makes them visible. Evil is seen for what it is without any possibility of concealment.” And this is true, but Paul is saying something even more than this—Paul is saying that the darkness becomes light. Does this mean that the sin of the world, the works of unrighteousness—do these become righteousness? No! Absolutely not.
The apostle is saying the means by which we are to help others into the light, the means by which we are to expose sin, is by reminding ourselves and by explaining to them that we, too, are sinners. What do I mean by this? How is darkness turned into light? This is an impossible phenomenon. Darkness is the absence of light. It is not a substance. Thus, for us, it’s impossible for nothing to become something. Where there is nothing there is no something. How is it possible for darkness, then, to be light? It is possible because this is no ordinary light. This light is the personification of grace! Nothing is made into something by God. Instead of destroying us in our darkness, God shows us kindness by making what was ugly into something lovely. By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God so that no one can boast. When darkness is confronted with light, when sin is brought before grace, grace wins. The grace of God triumphs the blackness and wrath-bearing stain of our iniquity so that we can BOAST, “I was nothing, but God brought me to himself and gave me everything. God did it! God made me worthy. I was lost in sin, addicted to the sensualities and lust of the flesh, but God turned that lust from my eyes, and he fixed my sight upon a cross where he nailed my sins to a tree in the body and spirit of his own Son, and he, now, calls me friend. He calls me his own beloved child. In my darkness, he made me light. Now, because I am light, my boast is in God.”
Remember this brothers and sisters! Your testimony of the gospel shatters the darkness that enslaves the world, and we know this is true because it’s exactly what happened to us. This is how Paul grips us with the gospel. He reminds us of who we were and brings us back to see who we are now. He wants to refresh us in this truth because it is the power of transformation in the world. Do you see the progress in verses 11-14a? Verse 11 commands us to expose the darkness, and as you expose it, verse 13 says that it’s illuminated—the dirt that was your sin is brought under the refining fire of the gospel and fashioned into faith. Then, verse 14a tells us that which is made visible becomes, itself, light because the light its exposed to isn’t just any kind of light. It’s the light of life himself. It’s God’s light, and God’s light is a transforming light. God has revealed the light of the knowledge of who he is in the face of Jesus Christ so that all who might truly see him might have the life that they’re supposed to have. Help Others Become Themselves as God intended them to be by exposing, illuminating, and transforming their darkness with the light of Christ’s sacrificial love. Point them to the gospel. Point them to the truths of Scripture. Don’t hide it under a bushel. Don’t cover it up with dirt. Lights are meant to shine. Lights have no option but to shine. So, let light shine in where darkness once prevailed and marvel at its effect to turn what was once disgraceful into something full of grace.
3) Prophesy Over It
We’ve come to the last part of our passage. We’ve learned that we are to expose the darkness for what it is: fruitless and worthless. Then, we learned that we expose the darkness as fruitless and worthless because that is how the mystery of the gospel takes effect in our lives. It is through our Spirit-enabled, human action to expose sin that God does the miraculous work turning what was worthless into something of infinite value.
And now, because of these amazing truths. Because God uses normal, human means to bring about his extraordinary purposes of turning darkness into light, Paul ends on a crescendo. He ends with a song. Every commentator agrees, as do I, that these final three lines, “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you,” they do not come from a specific portion of Scripture. No, it’s most likely that this is a hymn: ἔγειρε, ὁ καθεύδων, καὶ ἀνάστα ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, καὶ ⸂ἐπιφαύσει σοι ὁ Χριστός⸃. It’s easy to say. Very poetic and it resembles the structure of a psalm. You see the parallel meanings of the first two lines: Awake, sleeper/arise from the dead. To sleep among many cultures was a euphemism for the temporary state of death. You have been asleep, you have been spiritually dead, now wake up! And the last line is what you see when you awaken from spiritual death—Christ shines upon you.
Why does Paul sing this hymn? Well, it’s widely believed that this was a hymn that was sung during people’s baptisms, and it was often used in the liturgy to remind its singers of their own conversion. They were dead in trespasses, and now, they possess the light of Christ. This word for “shine,” it’s used only here in the New Testament, and but in the Old Testament, it communicates an all-encompassing, transforming light that casts out darkness. How fitting then is it that Paul uses this hymn here since it communicates exactly what he’s said from verses 8-14a? The motivation we have to wade out into the darkness and seek the lost is BECAUSE the light we have is the transforming light of Jesus.
But there seems to be more here than just a hymn-sing. Paul’s crescendo, although not a direct quotation of a specific biblical passage, does make an allusion to all kinds of Scripture, and most pointedly, it makes reference to priestly and prophetic texts. Isaiah 26:19 says, “You who dwell in the dust, awake and shout for joy!” Isaiah 60:1 says, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Jonah 1:6 says, “How can you sleep? Arise, call upon your god!” Then, Aaron, the High Priest, in Numbers 6:24-26 says, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
It’s prophets and priests who Paul is drawing our attention to, and I’m sure that it is intentional. See, true prophets and priests in the Old Testament had one main job: they were to intercede on behalf of wicked people. They were to contend for sinners before God. But as history progresses towards prophets like Jeremiah, Elijah, and Jonah, we see a weariness, even sometimes an anger, seep in. Wicked people don’t get it, and prophets keep having to intercede without seeing any real change. So, the priests and prophets start to change their role where they condemn and complain about the peoples’ wickedness, and God sees the wickedness. He punishes his people. He brings an end to the covenant with Israel made at Sinai, and for four hundred years, he withdraws his vocal presence from them.
But Paul sings this hymn at the end of this passage because the true priestly and prophetic order has been restored. God’s silence has come to an end. No longer is there any need to complain and condemn because wickedness has been permanently banished. The wrath of God has been eternally satisfied. There is no more need to languish in the darkness. Light has come. Christ, the Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity, has paid the price. He has provided the final intercession for the wicked with his own good, righteous, and true blood.
But that’s not the final nail in the coffin! Notice how both Isaiah says, “the Lord has risen upon you,” and how the Aaronic Blessing says, “the Lord make his face shine upon you.” “Lord” in the Old Testament is referring to God—to YHWH. The readers in Ephesus would have understood this rare reference of “shining” as a trait that belonged to God alone. Now, notice what the last line of the hymn says, “Christ will shine on you.” You see, the priestly and prophetic order has not simply been restored by a man. Intercession has not been provided by one who is powerless and defeated. No, YHWH has restored the order. YHWH has interceded for the wicked. YHWH has turned darkness into light by the grace of his own sacrifice and righteousness, and his name is Jesus Christ. Christ is God, and he is the one who shines. What’s more is that he shines on you!
What does this mean for us? It means that we can have full confidence that when we wade out into that darkness to help others see the light, we do not go out as those without authority. Because YHWH has given us his light, and he has given it to us permanently through his own blood. We are called to intercede for the wicked as the prophets did, only now we are not those who lose hope or grow weary because our intercession has been preceded by the blood. The sacrifice has been paid, and the effect of the gospel on our hearts is infinite. A new covenant has come, and it cannot be broken by man’s foolishness because it’s secured by the everlasting, omnipotent God. It is by his power, his authority, his identity that we can go out and say, “Awake, sleeper! Rise from the dead! Let Christ shine into your darkness because he wants to bring you into the light. He wants to save you from sin. He wants to spare you from wrath. He wants to shower you with love and grace.” Let light shine in! Help others become who they are meant to be, because when we live like Christians, we have no choice but to display the radiance of our King. Show them what it means to expose sin, to illuminate it, and transform it into goodness, righteousness, and truth. Intercede for those who are wicked because you have received the very presence of God through the death and resurrection of his Son. Do this work because it must be done! Do this work because it is your joy and satisfaction to do it! Do this work because it brings glory to the one who brought you out of darkness and into everlasting light.