We Strengthen One Another

| Ephesians 5:8-21

Week of August 23, 2020

The Point:  We strengthen one another to live as God desires.

Walking in the Light:  Ephesians 5:8-21.

[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. [ESV]

“More incentives to righteousness [5:5-21]. The apostle has been arguing that because we are God’s new society we must adopt new standards, and because we have decisively ‘put off’ the old life and ‘put on’ the new, we must wear appropriate clothing. Now he adds more arguments for holiness. The first concerns the solemn certainty of judgment [5-7], the second what he calls ‘the fruit of light’ [8-14], i.e. the implications of being people who belong to the light, and the third the nature of wisdom [15-17] and the fourth the fullness of the Holy Spirit [18-21]. 1. The certainty of judgment [5-7]. Many reasons are given in the New Testament why Christian people should abstain from immorality. Here in verse 5 is the threat of God’s judgment. We must be cautious, however, in our application of this severe statement. It should not be understood as teaching that even a single immoral thought, word or deed is enough to disqualify us from heaven; otherwise, which of us would ever qualify for admission? No; for those who fall into such sins through weakness, but afterwards repent in shame and humility, there is forgiveness. The immoral or impure person envisaged here is one who has given himself up without shame or penitence to this way of life, one who is covetous in the sense already defined, namely sexually greedy [4:19; 5:3], that is, Paul adds in parenthesis, an idolater. Such people, whose lust has become an idolatrous obsession, will have no share in the perfect kingdom of God. Let no one deceive you, the apostle continues. Paul warns his readers of the empty words of false teachers who would persuade them to ignore this teaching about God’s judgment. In our day there are many deceivers in the world, and even in the church. They teach that God is too kind to condemn everybody, and that everybody will get to heaven in the end, irrespective of their behavior on earth. But their words are empty and their teaching deceitful. The truth is that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience [6]. Therefore, Paul concludes, because God’s kingdom is righteous and God’s wrath will overtake the unrighteous, do not become partners with them [7]. 2. The fruit of light [8-14]. Paul goes on to give an additional reason for not getting involved in the evil conduct of immoral people. He bases it not now on the future (the coming judgment of God) but on the past and the present (the difference between what his readers once were and now are). The whole paragraph plays on the rich symbolism of darkness and light, ‘darkness’ representing ignorance, error and evil, ‘light’ representing truth and righteousness. This radical transformation from darkness to light had taken place in the Lord, by virtue of their union with him who claimed to be the light of the world [John 8:12]. So then, because they had become light in the Lord, they must walk as children of light. Their behavior must conform to their new identity. They must radiate the light they are. What will this mean in practice? It will mean a life shining with all that is good and right and true [9], for these things are the fruit of light. [9]. Certainly if they are to live consistently as ‘children of light’, they will try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord [10]. The light metaphor speaks vividly of Christian openness and transparency, of living joyfully in the presence of Christ, with nothing to hide or fear. Unfortunately, however, it is not possible to live in the light and enjoy it, without also adopting some attitude towards those who still live in the darkness, and to their lifestyle. What attitude will this be? Negatively, take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness. While the light produces the fruit of goodness and truth, the works of darkness are unfruitful, unproductive, barren; they have no beneficial results. So we are to take no part in them, but instead, positively, expose them. We may not wish to do this, but we cannot help it, for this is what light invariably does. Besides, evil deeds deserve to be exposed, that is, to be unmasked and rebuked, for it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. Verse 13 elaborates the double value of a Christian exposure of evil. First, when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible. This is always good. Darkness hides the ugly realities of evil; the light makes them visible. Then evil is seen for what it is without any possibility of concealment or subterfuge. Secondly, anything that becomes visible is light. A second stage in what light does is transforming what it illumines into light. This may mean that Christians who lead a righteous life thereby restrain and reform evildoers, yes, and even convert them. The light which exposes has positive evangelistic power. For it may bring people, as they see the ugliness of evil, to conviction of their sin and so to penitent faith in Jesus. This, then, is the twofold effect which a Christian’s light has on the prevailing darkness: it makes visible and it makes light. Verse 14 is a natural conclusion. Paul clinches his argument with an apt quotation. Here our former condition in Adam is graphically described in terms of sleep, death and darkness, from all of which Christ rescues us. Conversion is nothing less than awaking out of sleep, rising from death and being brought out of darkness into the light of Christ. No wonder we are summoned to live a new life in consequence! 3. The nature of wisdom [15-17]. Paul’s next little paragraph is based upon two assumptions, first that Christians are wise people, not fools, and secondly that Christian wisdom is practical wisdom, for it teaches us how to behave. Everything worth doing requires care. We all take trouble over the things which seem to us to matter. So as Christians we must take trouble over our Christian life. We must treat it as the serious thing it is. What, therefore, are the marks of wise people who take trouble over their Christian discipleship? First, wise people make the best use of the time. Certainly wise people know that time is a precious commodity. Wise people use time to the fullest possible advantage. They know that time is passing, and also that the days are evil. So they seize each fleeting opportunity while it is there. For once it has passed, even the wisest people cannot recover it. Secondly, wise people understand what the will of the Lord is. They are sure that, whereas willfulness is folly, wisdom is to be found in God’s will and nowhere else. Nothing is more important in life than to discover and do the will of God. Moreover, in seeking to discover it, it is essential to distinguish between his ‘general’ and his ‘particular’ will. The former is so called because it relates to the generality of his people and is the same for all of us, e.g. to make us like Christ. His particular will, however, extending to the particularities of our life, is different for each of us, e.g. what career we shall follow, whether we should marry, and if so whom. Only after this distinction has been made can we consider how we may find out what the will of the Lord is. His ‘general’ will is found in Scripture; the will of God for the people of God has been revealed in the Word of God. But we shall not find his ‘particular’ will in Scripture. To be sure, we shall find general principles in Scripture to guide us, but detailed decisions have to be made after careful thought and prayer and the seeking of advice from mature and experienced believers. 4. The fullness of the Holy Spirit [18-21]. Paul has already told his readers that they have been ‘sealed’ with the Holy Spirit, and that they must not ‘grieve’ the Holy Spirit [1:13; 4:30]. Now he bids them be filled with the Spirit [18]. There is no greater secret of holiness than the infilling of him whose very nature and name are ‘holy’. Grammatically speaking, this paragraph consists of two imperatives (the commands not to get drunk but to be Spirit-filled), followed by four present participles (speaking, singing, thanking and submitting). Theologically speaking, it first presents us with our Christian duty (to avoid drunkenness but seek the Spirit’s fullness) and then describes four consequences of this spiritual condition, in terms of our relationships. The apostle begins by drawing a certain comparison between drunkenness and the Holy Spirit’s fullness. There is a superficial similarity between the two conditions. A person who is drunk, we say, is ‘under the influence’ of alcohol; and certainly a Spirit-filled Christian is under the influence and power of the Holy Spirit. But there the comparison ends and the contrast begins. It is a serious mistake to suppose that to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus Christ is a kind of spiritual inebriation in which we lose control of ourselves. On the contrary, ‘self-control’ is the final quality named as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit we do not lose control; we gain it. Consider how Paul paints the contrast. The result of drunkenness is debauchery. People who are drunk give way to wild, dissolute and uncontrolled actions. They behave like animals, indeed worse than animals. The results of being filled with the Spirit are totally different. If excessive alcohol dehumanizes, turning a human being into a beast, the fullness of the Spirit makes us more human, for he makes us like Christ. The apostle now lists the four beneficial results of being filled with the Spirit. A. Fellowship: addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs [19a]. The context of this verse is public worship. Whenever Christians assemble, they love to sing both to God and to each other. B. Worship: singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart [19]. Without doubt Spirit-filled Christians have a song of joy in their hearts, and Spirit-filled public worship is a joyful celebration of God’s mighty acts. C. Gratitude: always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father [20]. The Spirit-filled believer is full not of complaining, but of thanksgiving. Although the text reads that we are to give thanks always and for everything, we must not press these words literally. For we cannot thank God for absolutely ‘everything’, including blatant evil. Of course God’s children learn not to argue with him in their suffering, but to trust him, and indeed to thank him for his loving providence by which he can turn even evil to good purposes. But that is praising God for being God; it is not praising him for evil. So then the ‘everything’ for which we are to give thanks to God must be qualified by its context, namely to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our thanksgiving is to be for everything which is consistent with the loving Fatherhood of God and the self-revelation he has given us in Jesus Christ. Once again the doctrine of the Trinity informs and directs our devotion. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit we give thanks to God our Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. D. Submission: be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ [21]. Sometimes a person who claims to be filled with the Spirit becomes aggressive, self-assertive and brash. But the Holy Spirit is a humble Spirit, and those who are truly filled with him always display the meekness and gentleness of Christ. It is one of their most evident characteristics that they submit to one another. They also submit to Christ, for their mutual submissiveness is out of reverence for Christ. Those who are truly subject to Jesus Christ do not find it difficult to submit to each other as well. Such are the wholesome results of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. They all concern our relationships. If we are filled with the Spirit, we shall be harmoniously related both to God (worshipping him with joy and thanksgiving) and to each other (speaking and submitting to one another). In brief, Spirit-filled believers love God and love each other, which is hardly surprising since the first fruit of the Spirit is love.

We need now to return to the imperative on which these four participles depend, that is, to the Christian duty and privilege from which these four Christian attitudes result. It is the command be filled with the Spirit. The exact form of the verb is suggestive. First, it is in the imperative mood. ‘Be filled’ is not a tentative proposal, but an authoritative command. We have no more liberty to avoid this responsibility than the many others which surround it in Ephesians. To be filled with the Spirit is obligatory, not optional. Secondly, it is in the plural form. In other words, it is addressed to the whole Christian community. None of us is to get drunk; all of us are to be Spirit-filled. The fullness of the Spirit is available for all the people of God. Thirdly, it is in the passive voice. There is no technique to learn and no formula to recite. What is essential is such a penitent turning from what grieves the Holy Spirit and such a believing openness to him that nothing hinders him from filling us. It is significant that the parallel passage in Colossians reads not ‘Let the Spirit fill you’ but ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’ [3:16]. We must never separate the Spirit and the Word. To obey the Word and to surrender to the Spirit are virtually identical. Fourthly, it is in the present tense. In Greek there are two kinds of imperative, an aorist describing a single action, and a present when the action is continuous. The fullness of the
Spirit is not a once-for-all experience which we can never lose, but a privilege to be renewed continuously by continuous believing and obedient appropriation. We have been ‘sealed’ with the Spirit once and for all; we need to be filled with the Spirit and go on being filled every day and every moment of the day. Here, then, is a message for both the defeated and the complacent, that is, for Christians at opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum. To the defeated Paul would say, ‘Be filled with the Spirit’, and he will give you a new love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control. To the complacent Paul would say go on being filled with the Spirit. Thank God for what he has given you thus far. But do not say you have arrived. For there is more, much more, yet to come.” [Stott, pp. 195-209].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Contrast the characteristics of light and darkness in verses 8-14. How would you explain what it means to walk as children of light [8]? What are the fruit of light? What two effects does light have upon darkness?
  2. To Christians struggling with unholy habits, what counsel did Paul give? Why do you think Paul inserted the advice of verses 15-17? Contrast the wise and unwise. What two aspects of wisdom does Paul mention in these verses?
  3. Why do you think Paul commanded his readers to “be filled with the Spirit” [18]? What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? What is our Christian duty according to 8:18-21? What are the four beneficial results of being filled with the Spirit?
  4. We live in an increasingly dark and foolish world. What can you learn from this passage concerning how a believer should “walk” in this world so that God will be glorified?

References:

Ephesians, James Boice, Baker.

Let’s Study Ephesians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Ephesians, Frank Thielman, BENT, Baker.

The purpose of this article is to provide additional reference resources for those Sunday School teachers who use Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life material.