We share our opinions and insights at SBC Voices, but we believe that the Voice that matters most is the one that comes from God’s Word. We present these daily expositional devotions, beginning with a tour of Ephesians called, “Walk Worthy,” in hopes of encouraging our readers to remember to Voice above every voice.
Ephesians 5:6-14 (NIV):
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
At this point we’re well into the ethical commands that Paul gives the Ephesian church – ultimately deriving from his command back in 4:1 to “live a life worthy of the calling” they have received. The passage immediately preceding (4:25-5:2) has contrasted the old way of life and the new. In 5:3 the contrast shifts slightly to the difference between those who are God’s people and those who are not. Paul teaches there should be a clear, observable difference between God’s holy people (5:3) and those who have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ (5:5).
Those outside of God’s holy people may be characterized by (5:3) sexual immorality, impurity, greed, (5:4) obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, but these are improper for God’s people. Our passage today begins with verse 6, where Paul warns the church not to be deceived with empty words, because of God’s wrath coming (present tense) on those who are disobedient.
What kind of empty words are we to guard ourselves against according to this verse? Of course we should always strive to avoid being deceived. Is Paul giving a general statement about the value of truth here? The context indicates there’s a more specific meaning intended. Both before and after this statement about avoiding deception we have descriptions of disobedience and warnings about people who practice disobedience. So the context indicates this deception is a specific kind that might lead Christians to indulge in the kind of immoral behavior Paul is warning against. It’s specifically avoiding being deceived by “empty words.”
“Come, join us in our impurity, it’s not really offensive to God!” “What harm can greed really do? Isn’t it only natural for a person to want to provide well for his/her family?” “This sin is something God’s not concerned about!” “What’s wrong with coarse joking among friends? We’re all believers, it’s just a little fun. They all know I’m just kidding.” The seriousness with which God takes these kinds of sins are emphasized by Paul by reminding the Ephesian Christians that God’s wrath is poured out because of these things. Therefore we must resist empty talk that diminishes his holiness or justice. And there’s the final warning in this paragraph (5:7) to avoid partnership (but not all interaction) with those who live lives of disobedience (1 Cor 5:9-11 similar).
Verses 8-13 move into a different analogy but continue to call the followers of Jesus to a life worthy of their calling. Now the contrast is between light that shines and darkness that is being overcome and exposed by the gleaming righteousness of the resurrected Christ. Plenty of passages in Scripture compare life before conversion as being in darkness and coming into the light. But here Paul states it differently. Believers are now themselves light (v.8 now you are light in the Lord), children of light, who are illuminating and exposing (v.11) deeds of darkness. God’s holy people are providing illumination to the world that is still trying to hide and defend and explain away with empty words their fruitless deeds (v.10).
There’s a fascinating (seeming) conflict between the command to “expose” the “fruitless deeds of darkness” (v.11) and admission that it’s “shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (v.12). When we are aware sin is taking place, do we sound the alarm and call attention to it? Certainly with some sins that’s necessary and pleasing to God, as we’re learning even more clearly in these days with the focus on properly handling reports of sexual or physical abuse. At the same time, when safety or other concerns don’t demand that we actively bring sin to light, holiness seems to call us to not prying or dwelling or sharing details of sin, especially not purely for interest and gossip sake. I thought this was helpful: Peter O’Brien* says Christians will desire to convey the seriousness without mentioning the details of the depravity. Resolving this tension is far beyond the scope of today’s post, but I do believe the next verse (13) answers some of this question for us: Everything exposed by the light becomes visible. There is a redemptive purpose in the illumination that naturally occurs when God’s holy people shine their light in the world. Everything that is illuminated becomes a light, Paul says at the end of verse 13.
As God’s light bearing representatives, sent out into the world to illuminate and expose unrighteousness, knowing that the shining of light produces other light-bearing believers, Paul gives the call in verse 14, which is likely an allusion to Isaiah 60: Wake Up! Rise from the dead! It’s both an evangelistic call to let Christ himself shine into the lives of unbelievers who are hearing; as well likely, I believe, an encouragement to Christians who have been slumbering and falling asleep at their high calling. Like those little glow in the dark stickers we got as kids: recharge your ability to shine by going back to the source, remembering his glorious illuminating beauty, dwelling there, and then moving out into the world to bring his goodness, righteousness, and truth (5:9) to the world.
*I’m aware of the recall of O’Brien’s commentaries for academic plagiarism. That certainly renders them far less useful in an academic context. However, I still believe they are immensely valuable for pastors trying to understand the text.