Working life out – but we’re not alone in the dark
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:6-21 ESV)
In the week that is past, I dare say that we have lived very much our usual lives – usual routines, current health situation, usual relationships, usual times with God. Maybe ‘the usual’ this week was different – we had holidays, a baby was born in the family, news arrived of illness or death, we received a diagnosis that changes our foreseeable, future, tragedy struck – and then we found ourselves having to react, respond quickly or just differently. How well, how often did we remember to leap into action using the Jesus’ foot? (Yes, that’s an allusion to last Sunday’s sermon which you can check on Facebook or YouTube.)
For us a week has passed and we are again at worship doing what the followers of Jesus have always done – gathering around him – to be cleaned up from the dirt, grim, and injuries of the past week – to hear Jesus, to be guided by him – to talk to him in prayer and know that he hears and helps – to be fed and strengthened by him – and to be blessed by him as we go back out into the world. Unfortunately over the centuries ‘going to church’ in the way I’ve described it just then hasn’t been prominent but rather it has been an activity people did to ‘be good’, ‘be seen’ or even to sustain a view that we were better than many others in society. Children were told to go because they simply had to – and for many it became something only done when necessary. The idea that the ‘children of God’ were gathering as ‘Sinners Anonymous’ wasn’t a strong meme or message. And yes, people knew that they should give thanks to God but it often became because I am not like ‘them’ (think whatever social group that is looked down upon) and they forgot that thanksgiving was to be grounded in Jesus’ rescue of sinners, of us, and his forgiveness, and his presence with us – through this past week – no matter what the week had been!
For the Ephesians, only a breath or two has passed and they are still hearing Paul talk about how the followers of Jesus should live life – walk in a way that is ‘worthy of the Lord’ which doesn’t mean to get a reward but to walk following Jesus because he loves us and doesn’t lead us astray – no matter how tough it might get day to day – it is simply better to know, receive, trust, and live in the love of God each day.
Remember Paul is reminding the followers of Jesus – then and us now – that they are now different and Paul uses the description of light and dark – note not that the followers of Jesus are ‘in the light’ but that they are light shining now in a dark world. Christian often get caught up with the idea that I’m a ‘weak’ light, a ‘flickering’ light because they think of all the sins they do or the good they didn’t do this week – and this misses the first point which is you are light because you are ‘enlightened’ which is another description of Baptism – where Jesus, the light of the world, gives you his light and life to live in, with, and under yours. This means that the followers of Jesus are lights lighting up darkness – yes, when we use God’s Word to look within and see our sins – but and this is what Paul was mentioning to the Ephesians as we live in the world we light up relationships, structures, moralities, the ‘way things are done’ economically, with words, sexually – and Paul is saying that there is a lot of darkness in the world – which many of the Ephesian Christians would well know. Paul is critiquing society and yes this section of his letter is talking about both how one lives sexually, economically, and how one talks and he saying that what is without Christ is darkness – meaning that it is harmful for you and for others – and he doesn’t give prurient details but instead talks about what is good, right, and true (v.9) – rather than what is bad, oppressive, abusive, selfish.
For those looking for details of sins or how we should behave, Paul is remarkably lacking and in fact remarkably freeing because in essence he is saying that you need to work out how to behave in your situation – he says (v.10) try and discern what is pleasing to the Lord – which some translations say ‘verify’ what is pleasing to the Lord but the idea here is part thought – what is the right thing to do following Jesus in this situation? – and experience – what is my context, at the moment, as a follower of Jesus and what should I actually do?
Paul sets what I might call boundaries or parameters in relation to sexual behaviour (summarised as within the context of marriage) and speech (summarised as wholesome, true, edifying) but we all know that everyone has contexts and questions arise about this or that situation or circumstance and so one has to work out how to follow Jesus in one’s context.
So if you’re a small child you are learning one thing – usually where the boundaries are – not as rules per se but as where Jesus wants you to walk or live as light in the darkness.
Maybe you’re a slave and you have to navigate your situation – or a poor woman – or a rich woman – or a man previously involved in a guild that made idols – or a Roman soldier – or a former Roman soldier – or a merchant – and there is this big navigation and orientation that is happening – and that includes teaching the next generation – remember that Jesus’ salvation isn’t just for the ‘grown ups’ as Peter said on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2: 38,39 ESV).
That is what the followers of Jesus are to be filled with – the Holy Spirit – who leads them to Jesus and keeps them close to Jesus – hence worship is so central – but also there is the support from other believers as we work out how to walk worthy of the Lord – as we support each other when someone says that their light shone into such and such a darkness this week and this is what they saw and what should they do? In this context it is easy to turn Christianity or following Jesus into rules and laws – do this and be a ‘good Christian’ – whereas the context is that Christians are putting themselves and everything that has happened or their contexts under Christ and submitting to him.
And that isn’t easy, at times, when the world, the people around us, our desires, the laws of the land allow us, encourage us to do what we want towards others – use them for our pleasure – get our needs met first – maybe ignore those in need – when, in Christ, the followers of Jesus will submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. There is no handbook of instructions about how a specific person behaves on a specific day – if he does this to you, do that – if she says this to you, say that – Christian living is about not sleeping walking or walking in the dark but being light and having our eyes open so as to live in the best way we think we should behave with Jesus with us – while not seeing Jesus himself (!) but trusting his Word and seeking his wisdom, courage, and strength to follow him.
We do live nearly 20 centuries from this letter to the Ephesians – the days are still evil and we are still encouraged to make the best use of the times we are in whether the week is a usual one or it is full of ‘stuff’ happening to us – and leap with our Jesus’ foot not as robots or rule bound unthinking drones but as light in the darkness seeking the best way to live as we follow Jesus. It means switching our brains on, regular worship, giving thanks for God’s love and presence, and then getting on with living, one day at a time. It is the best way to live.
- Ephesians 5:6 - 21