“Anyone whose life is not holy will never see the Lord” (Hebrews 12.14, NCV). The apostle Paul was acutely aware of just how vital holiness is for Christians. Already in chapter 5 of Ephesians he has exhorted his readers to purity in their lifestyle (vs.1-7). Now, pulling on the rich heritage of light and darkness familiar to him through the Old Testament, Paul unpacks the need for a holy life, a separate walk from the world with Christ (v.8-14).
A Holy Walk (5.8-14)
As children of light, Christians walk separated from darkness.
8for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
For at…darkness: Before Christ, they practiced these sins and were identified by darkness.
But now…the Lord: A sharp contrast is drawn from where they once were and where they are now. Now they are in the Lord which carries with it certain ethical charges and changes.
God is light (1 Jn 1.5). God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6.16). His truth is light (Psa 43.3). Light expresses His perfection & glory & majesty & truth. Darkness, on the other hand, is every in opposition to His perfection & glory & majesty & truth. It is in this darkness the world gropes and in which we once made our abode. But not anymore. In Christ, we are “children of light.”
Walk as children of light: Here is the obligation of those rescued out of darkness. “The life lived as children of light is characterized by goodness, righteousness, truth, and whatever is pleasing to the Lord” (Patzia 258).
9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),
For the fruit of [the] light: Fruit is “a figurative term for the moral results of the lights, its products as a whole” (Nicoll 356). The earliest manuscripts read the light making “the Spirit” (NKJV, KJV) a transcription error intended to harmonize this verse with Galatians 5.22.
Found…and true: This triad summarizes living in light. “All goodness” is a disposition inclined toward good works (cf. 2.10); “righteousness” is moral integrity by obedience to God’s word; “truth” is what corresponds to reality, esp. relating to God.
This could serve as a commentary of sorts for what Jesus says in Matthew 5.14-16. Letting our light shine so that others may see it means we pursue goodness (a disposition seeking to engage in good works), righteousness (moral integrity & rectitude), and truth (freedom from falsehood and embracing, loving, and speaking moral truth). Sometimes there is a yawning chasm between what we know how we live. My brethren, these things ought not be so!
try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
try to discern…the Lord: To live (“walk,” v.8) as children of light means Christians will “find out” (NIV) what is acceptable to the Lord, He Himself being light. The present tense indicates that this is the lifelong, habitual practice of light-children. Keep discerning what pleases the Lord.
Like Yoda said, “No try. Do or do not.” To “discern” is “to ascertain by test and experiment. Our whole walk should be directed to finding out what things are pleasing to Christ, rejecting at once everything that is not so, and clinging to all that is…The supreme practical rule of the Christian’s life must be to please Christ” (PC 209). The way to discern what pleases Him is accurate & diligent study of His word. Further, through careful practice we can please our Lord. “Discern” & “pleasing/acceptable” are both found in Rom 12.2. This has led some scholars to see here (Eph 5.10) sacrificial language, i.e. our entire, every action is a sacrifice unto God as we are ever laid upon the altar.
Implied in this is that there is a lifestyle which is displeasing to God, i.e. a life lived in darkness, a life stubbornly refusing the light. Wickedness, unrighteousness, and falsehood would characterize that kind of life.
Pause for a moment and notice the progression of these verses:
- Transformation (v.8): We have been changed from darkness to light. Hence, we abandon immorality and pursue holiness; we put off ignorance and put on knowledge; we are no longer but now have joy.
- Obligation (v.8, 10): We are called to walk as children of light and live so as to discern what pleases God. Don’t go back to the darkness and engage what is not pleasing to God; walk farther into the day where God-pleasing activities are.
- Demonstration (v.9): We will demonstrate 1) divine beneficence/benevolence – doing good to all men; 2) divine righteousness – rendering to men what is theirs and to God what is His; 3) divine reality – the way things ought to be with God in control.
11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Take no part…darkness: The works of darkness are barren, having no life in them. They only produce death (see Rom 6.21). The Christian is to “have no fellowship” (NKJV) with the evil so prevalent in the world. That is old self behavior; the new self accentuates light, especially…
Instead expose them: Expose here means to convict through words and actions. By living the life excellently Christians convict and even condemn the world (see Noah, Hebrews 11.7). By speaking the word engagingly we can convince them of the truth.
Christians must never be content with passivity toward darkness. We are light and must shine forth into darkness (Matt 5.14-16; Phil 2.15). Now when people’s darkness is exposed it is traumatic so expect a reaction (see John 3.19-21).
12For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.
For it is shameful…in secret: Clarke says this is a reference to the mystery cults of Ephesus which we engaged in extreme levels of debauchery as recorded by Livy. However, it need not be limited to those cultic practices performed at night. It certainly could be the secret vices of engaged in the home. Either way, it is shameful for those who practice them to talk about, but Christians must speak out and shed light into the dark corners of culture & society. Paul has done that throughout these two chapters as he contrasted the old self with the new self.
The degradation & depravity of man knows no bounds today. We’ve got an entire internet full of corruption and foulness. Parades are held in celebration of debauchery. Sin has crawled out of the shadows of hiding and is now all over the TV & silver screen. It is still darkness; it just seems the darkness is advancing. Fast falls the night. And it is still shameful, disgraceful. Deep down inside those who practice know this is the case. Yet, they have seared their conscience, walled it off in an attempt to silence that still small voice which tells them, “This is not right.”
13But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,
But when…the light: When Christians identify those evil, barren works of darkness to those who practice them, “people will come to see the true nature of evil and, it is hoped, turn to the light” (Patzia 261).
It becomes visible: Or they are seen for what they are, i.e. shameful, evil, darkness.
We, Christians, are enlightened (1.18; 5.8) and we are enlightening others. “Christians are to be God’s light in the midst of darkness” (Boice). We’re like Motel 6 – “We’ll leave the light on for the you.” Brethren, let us hold forth the light of the gospel in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation.”
14for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
For anything…is light: Here is the transformative effect of the light of the gospel. Once enlightened, what was darkness is light (verse 8).
Therefore it says: or “He says” (KJV, NKJV). Either is an acceptable translation.
“Awake, O sleeper…on you”: Three metaphors for turning to God are linked in this statement: 1) Awakening from sleep; 2) Being raised from the dead; 3) Christ shining light into darkness. This may have been a song sung when a person was baptized (Patzia 262; see also Special Study).
Paul seems to present a three-fold progression from darkness to light:
- Exposure (v.11): Their sin(s) are revealed to them either through conversation with or conduct of Christians. They are found out.
- Disclosure (v.13): A crisis of judgment occurs – either they avoid the light (because they love evil) or they allow their deeds to be made manifest (John 3.19-21). But if they disclose their sins to God…
- Erasure (v.14): The light erases the darkness. They come to the serenity and tranquility of being So darkness is transformed into light by Christ (who is Himself the Light).
Special Study—What Is Paul Quoting in Ephesians 5.14?
Most scholars believe that Isaiah 60.1 is in view, though other Old Testament passages are cited as well (Isaiah 9.2; 26.19; 52.1). However, there is not an exact match with any OT text. So what is Paul quoting? Foulkes says, “The most likely explanation is that we have here another little fragment of an early Christian hymn” (155). Patzia goes further and says “it may have been used by the church at a baptismal service as part of a hymn that was recited or sung” (262). If it is a hymn, Isaiah 60.1 (et al) surely inspired it.