Children of Light
Paul emphasises that there should be a clear difference in the way we choose to live as children of God
This next chapter in Ephesians holds a great challenge for all of us: do our lives reflect the fact that we are each called to be imitators of God in the world? Last week, Ben looked at Ephesians chapter 4 (click here to check it out if you haven’t read it yet!) which looked at the call for unity in the body of Christ, i.e. the Church. This previous chapter closes with Paul challenging the believers in Ephesus, and indeed us today, that once we become believers in Christ we are to "put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness", leaving behind the old, sinful patterns of our life before. In this next part of Paul’s letter, he continues to emphasise that there should be a clear difference between the way we chose to live before knowing Jesus and the way we choose to live now, living as children of God. In this passage, he outlines some very clear guidelines for the kind of life the people of God should be leading: living in the light of Christ, rather than in darkness as we once did. Paul emphasises from the beginning, at verse 1, this call to live as 'imitators of God'.
"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
This does not mean we try to live our lives in a certain way, following a strict set of rules, because we’re trying to convince God to accept us. Instead, in the knowledge of God’s grace (undeserved yet given as a free gift - see Ephesians 2) we will understand our identity as God’s children, and it is from this place that we will desire to "live a life of love as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God". It’s not about doing it in our strength, it’s not driven by guilt... it will always be in the context of a covenant relationship with God, in light of His grace, that we begin to live a life that glorifies him. And the good news is, we have a perfect example of what this kind of life looks like in Jesus. His life was one of sacrifice, a life poured out for others and for God. As we move through Ephesians 5, Paul contrasts the perfect example of Jesus’ life with a list of bad habits that can trap and consume people in shame, guilt and foolishness when kept hidden in the darkness and not exposed in the light of Spirit-filled life.
live a life of love as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God
Paul is not half-hearted in his approach to the sinful patterns in our life, and nor should we be complacent about these areas of darkness in our lives, and in the lives of those we walk in accountable relationships with (for more on what an accountable relationship is see 'Don’t go it alone'). He writes in verses 3-5:
"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality , or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person- such a man is an idolater- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."
Paul interestingly describes immoral, impure and greedy behaviour as a form of idolatry. Idolatry is the act of taking another person, object or desire as a god, replacing that of the one true God. The anger of God towards their other idols had been a lesson the Israelites learnt over and over again in their journey as the people of God (see the Old Testament!). Paul is writing to the Gentiles, and he is claiming that idolatry was also present in their community, even if it wasn’t so obvious. Paul is emphasising that idolatry does not simply come in the form of a golden calf statue but in our uncontrolled desires for another person, money and possessions. These attitudes and sinful patterns are not compatible with living in the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Light, and as imitators of God on Earth. Equally, nor is careless talk and gossip: "Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking."
In the book of James we see a clear warning to keep a check on what comes out of our mouths, to watch that our tongue does not act as a force for evil and corrupt our whole body (see James 3:3-8). In James 3:9-12 it says this:
"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water."
We are called to honour God with our words because they express what is going on in our hearts
In short, this passage ties in with Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5 that we cannot life as ‘Children of Light’ and not address and rid ourselves of sinful patterns and actions in our lives that remain in darkness. We are called to honour God with our words, not only because they are powerful in themselves in praise or curse, but because our words express what is going on in our hearts.
"A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."
Does what we say reflect a heart that is completely sold out for God? A heart that is aligned in thanksgiving and love to God will outpour pure and good conversation of thanksgiving with other people that is not characterised by swearing, careless joking or comments that cause offence or hurt to others. It is ultimately is motivated by glorifying God, rather than ourselves. This is a massive challenge for all of us, but one we need to take seriously and ask for the Holy Spirit to strengthen us in honouring God in our conversations.
Back to Ephesians 5, in verse 6, Paul asks us to not only look at our own actions and what comes out of our mouth but to keep a watch on the people we choose to hang around and listen to. "Let no-one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them." This is Paul saying be wise so as not to be dragged into relationships with people whose words may be flattering, or sound impressive but are in fact are not filled with ‘goodness, righteousness and truth’ (v. 7) as you will be called to account for the way you have ‘partnered’ in the sinful patterns of their life and been disobedient to God’s call live in truth and not deceit.
The climax of this chapter is found at verse 8.
"For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them...it is light that makes everything visible."
Paul uses the contrast of light to darkness to speak of our lives before knowing Jesus and now living as children of God in His kingdom. Goodness, righteousness and truth he names as the defining characteristics, in other words the fruitful produce, of a Spirit-filled life. These will be evident in our lives when we live in a way that pleases God. But how do we know what pleases God? Paul urges us to find out what pleases God. This requires action on our part. In Romans 12, Paul teaches us that we will be able to test and know what is pleasing to God by the renewing of our mind, reading the word of God and continually asking for God to fill you with His Spirit which will give you the knowledge of His will.
Jesus teaches his disciples to "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation"
It is so important that we desire and pray to know the will of God as Paul reminds us in verses 15-16 to "Be very careful, then, how you live- not as unwise as wise...because the days are evil." It is rarely an easy thing to live a life ‘in the light’ when there are constantly pressures and temptations trying to lead us back into unhelpful thoughts and behaviour. In Mark 14:38 Jesus teaches his disciples to "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation" and so must we too follow this wisdom. We must ask God to help us stay alert to the actions, thoughts and relationships in our lives which are threatening to trap us in places of darkness rather than embracing the light which Christ has called us to.
Paul says in verse 14 "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you". It is Christ’s desire to shine his light on us, bringing freedom from the parts of our lives that hold us back from knowing God more fully and leading us to live in a way that glorifies Him. Our part in the equation is to willingly and consciously turn away from the darkness in our lives and invite Christ to come and do His work within us.
Finally, Paul writes "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." Paul does not just ask us to turn away from sin in our lives, he asks us to instead turn towards God Himself. Paul teaches that getting drunk with alcohol will simply lead us down a spiral of self-indulgence, instead we should desire to be filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit because then we will know the desires of God. When we look beyond ourselves, and look instead to our incredible God, we have a reason to live our lives as an offering of worship. We have a reason to live as Children of Light because we've realised that everything we have has come from God.
And, what will it look like when we live as Children of Light? Paul says our conversations with other people will look different (v. 19), our hearts will be filled with thanksgiving to God for all that He has done for us (v. 20) and our relationships with others will reflect Christ (v. 21).
So let us "be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (v. 1)