Children of the Light
Ephesians 5:3 – 13
Children of Light
The key to being who God wants us to be,
Friends, I have a plan for our church, that will see us be everything that God wants us to be!
It will see us equipped for ministry,
Growing in godliness,
Unified in passion and purpose,
It’s a plan that will squeeze sin, out of our lives,
Enabling us to turn our backs on unholiness and immorality.
And the implementation of this plan, will be rigorous.
Each one of us who calls this our church home will be called upon to play our part.
So what is the plan?
Is it the latest training course to come out of the United States?
Is it from something on the New York Times bestseller list?
Well, it’s actually very straight forward,
It’s very simple,
Here’s the plan, are you ready,
From now on, as a Christian, a follower of Jesus, this is what I want you to do, are you ready for it,
Here it comes:,
Act , like , a child,
Did you get it? I’ll say it again, act like a child.
It’s brilliant isn’t it?!
And the best thing of all, is that it comes straight out of the Bible.
If we as a church, the body of Christ, the new humanity that God has created in Christ, if we are to live the kind of lives God wants us to live, we need to live like what we are, God’s dearly loved children.
That was the ultimate motivation for behaviour t that we saw last week, chapter 5 verse 1, Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children
And our section today flows immediately out of that encouragement, and turns the spotlight onto both our identity, and our conduct.
Perhaps you’ve heard Christian people say, that false religion, is all about doing things, in order to gain identity.
If I perform, I will be accepted by God,
If I live a certain way,
If I obey the commandments,
If I uphold the 5 pillars, God will be pleased, and will welcome me in.
But Christianity, we say, is the opposite,
The Christian faith says, because of Jesus I can be accepted and welcomed by God, therefore I live in a particular way.
Christianity is about living out the identity that we already have.
And in this section it’s our identity as God’s children, or as children of light, verse 8, that Paul says shapes our behaviour.
The things Christian people do, we do because we are children of light.
The things Christian people don’t do, well, we don’t do them, because we’re children of light.
There can be no hint of sexual immorality among us
You would have noticed as we read it earlier, or when you looked at it during the week, there is a particular focus on sexual sin in this section.
It’s not always easy for us to hear the Bible’s teaching on this, because the prohibitions are so strong, so uncompromising, that they can make us wary in an age where tolerance is promoted as the ultimate virtue.
And yet, how timely for us to be looking at what God thinks about human sexuality and relationships, and God’s pattern for sexual expression, at a time when the public discussion of sexuality is very much in the headlines.
So what does a Christian person’s identity as a child of light mean for sexuality?
Well, Paul gives 2 short lists, that are really dominated by the first item in the first list, 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
sexual immorality comes from the Greek word porneia, which you may have come across, and is obviously connected to the English word “pornography”, but don’t think about just in those sort of very narrow terms.
And, if you can remember older versions of the Bible, this was the word “fornication”, which again, in some circles came to be understood quite narrowly.
But the idea actually is incredibly broad, and is perhaps best defined by exclusion. That is, any kind of sexual behaviour, other than, between one man and one woman, in a life-long union before God.
So the prohibition here, of even a hint of sexual immorality, means that Christian people are to have nothing to do with,
Sex outside a marriage relationship,
Sex before marriage,
Any kind of physical sexual relationship between boyfriend and girlfriend.
What might seem to be obvious ones, Adultery,
Through to maybe things that seem less obvious,
Less harmful, in our minds,
Sexual behaviour like looking at pornography,
Entertaining lustful thoughts and fantasies,
Watching movies, for sexual gratification,
Even reading novels, the trashy paperback, because it gives us a bit of a sexual thrill.
And it’s not for some arbitrary reason that God has decided on just one allowed sexual expression, but because as we’re going to see next week, God has chosen the relationship between husband and wife to communicate something of the relationship between Christ and his church.
It’s important to realise that Paul doesn’t put sexual immorality first on the list because Christians have some kind of obsession with sex,
I remember hearing a Christian leader being interviewed on the radio, and question after question was about the Bible’s teaching about sexuality.
And in the end, I think somewhat exasperated that his guest had quite gracious and wise answers to all his questions, the interviewer just blurted out, “Don’t you think you Christians are obsessed with sex?” And this Christian leader just calmly answered, “No, I don’t think so, and of course you’re the one who’s asked me all of these questions about sex!”
Paul’s list doesn’t start here because Christians are obsessed with sex.
He doesn’t start here because Christians have some kind of hang up about sex and sexuality.
The forbidding of even a hint of sexual immorality for Christian people, sits at the top of this list, because of God’s very high view of sex and sexuality, and because Paul knows just how destructive lower views of sexual immorality are, to individuals,
And to society.
And so he continues, children of light are to flee any kind of impurity.
Impurity is often connected with sexual immorality in Paul’s writings, and in his mind there seems to be some overlap between the 2.
But the fact that he speaks here of any kind of impurity, suggests that Paul has his eye not only on sexual impurity, but on Hatred,
Divided loyalties;, trying to serve God, and simultaneously chase the pleasures and offerings of the world.
So all of that is on view, with sexual impurity standing in the foreground.
Next comes greed, and once again, first and foremost Paul has in mind an unrestrained sexual greed;
The expectation, that this other person, exists for my benefit, for my gratification.
There are, of course, other ways in which greed can take hold; Greed for money, greed for power, for pleasure.
But in Paul’s day this had primarily sexual connotations. Think of the last of the 10 Commandments, where this language, translated as coveting, is specifically used to refer to sexual desire.
And it seems that Paul knows us just as well as he appears to know the Ephesians. So there’s not even a momentary opportunity for us to think, “Well, if I avoid these things, I’ll somehow earn God’s favour”, because he goes straight into reminding us that our identity comes first. It’s because of our identity, that we ought to have nothing to do with this kind of behaviour, because these are improper for God’s holy people
God’s people are children of light, so equally what he says about language in verse 4 is out, obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking. Again the first list shapes the flavour of this list, putting coarse speech of a sexual nature at the forefront.
But actually any kind of degrading speech or obscenity is entirely of place with whom God has made us to be.
And it might seem a bit like basic Christianity, 101, the kind of instructions some of us have heard all our Christian life.
But I think we really do need to reflect on 2 things.
One is, remember, identity comes first.
This is an instruction for Christian people, with the expectation that they’re going to be different to the world around them.
There’s an expectation that outside the body of Christ , people will be living everything that’s prohibited among God’s people. do not be partners with them, verse 7.
Verse 11, Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness,
The whole section is about Christian people being distinct from the world around them, Whether that’s Christian people in first century Ephesus being distinct from city obsessed with the cult of Diana, and the sexual immorality, the prostitution that went along with that,
Or Christian people in the twenty first century, being distinct from a culture that embraces, the enslaving of others to my sexual desires,
That whatever a person wants, a person can have.
And you will have heard, no doubt, that in the wake of the US Supreme Court decision outlawing state bans on gay marriage, the polyamorists, those people who want to be in sexual relationship with multiple partners, they are already lining for marriage recognition, for multiple men, and multiple women, to be married all to each other.
A Christian person will stand out from their society. We need to expect that.
The second thing I think we really need to get our heads around, is related to that, and that is, we just have to be so careful.
If we are to take seriously the implications of our identity, not even a hint,
No obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking
In the supermarket this week I was looking at the covers of magazines, and I think, you would be hard pressed to find one that would not draw you in to something more than a hint of sexual immorality,
Or would not immerse you, at least for that 45 minutes or so, in a world of impurity,
Quite possibly foolish talk or coarse joking.
Now, you might be thinking, “Well I subscribe to European Stamp Collectors monthly, and there’s none of that in my magazine.
But you hear the warning here, don’t you?
And I reckon if you really love your European stamps then you’d better watch out for greed!
My point is, this is everywhere.
Our society is saturated with the very things that Paul says our new identity in Christ necessarily calls us out of.
Those who persist in sin are excluded from God’s kingdom (v 5 - 6)
And the reason we need to hear these warnings and take them to heart, is because those who persist in sin will be excluded from God’s kingdom.
There’s a repeated warning in verses 5 and 6, For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
And then in case we missed what Paul was saying, 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.
Those who persist in sin, have no place in God’s kingdom, and will find themselves facing God’s right and just anger at their sin.
It’s a warning of both resent and future exclusion
A few things to note about this warning. Verse 5 uses unusual language, the kingdom of Christ and of God, which is unique in all of the Bible.
Paul tends to use the phrase “the kingdom of Christ”, to speak of the kingship of Jesus now,
The fact that as Christian people we submit to Christ as king now,
And then he uses the phrase “the kingdom of God”, to speak particularly of the future reign of God, when Jesus hands over everything to his Father,
When he’s speaking particularly about aspects of the kingdom that we look forward to, that’s when he tends to use the “kingdom of God” language.
Here we get both! no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God
Do we get the picture? Those who persist in sin are excluded from both the present and the future experience of God’s kingdom.
The person who persists in sin, can’t claim to be part of the kingdom now,
Can’t claim to be submitting to Christ’s kingly rule now,
Can’t claim to belong, to the body of Christ.
But also, the person who persists in sin, can have no expectation of enjoying God’s presence forever in heaven,
Will receive none of the blessings of being freed from sin and brokenness, those things we look forward to in God’s kingdom.
It’s a serious warning, isn’t it? Those who persist in sin are excluded from God’s kingdom both now, and in the future.
To live in immorality is be an idolater
We see also that anyone who persists in immorality is an idolater.
See it there in verse 6, No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God
Idolatry is putting something else in the place of God.
Putting some-thing or some-one else, at the centre of my existence.
That’s the thing that I live for,
That’s what shapes my priorities.
Idolatry is to have a created thing, in the place of the creator.
And someone who has immersed themselves in this kind of behavior, has put some other person, or their own pleasure and gratification at the centre of their life. That’s what they live for.
They serve a created thing, rather than the creator.
Who are these “disobedient” who are excluded from the kingdom?
But who are these people?
The immoral, impure or greedy person
Well, you’ll notice the language I’ve been using, is those who persist in sin.
Paul is absolutely not saying, that a Christian person who falls into sexual sin,
Even the Christian person who struggles repeatedly, in an ongoing, day to day battle with sin, that’s not who’s on view here!
If that’s you, if you read these words, no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God, and it worries you, because of the sin that you struggle with,
The sin that you hate,
The sin that distresses you,
The sin that you repent of, only to trip you up again, the next day, or the next week, or the next month.
If that’s you, please let me say, hear the warning, sure, please do, about the seriousness of sin.
But the fact that you are distressed by your sin, that you see your sin as God sees your sin,
That you struggle against it by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in your life,
That you repent of it, truly and meaningfully, longing to put it behind you,
That all suggests that you’re not the person who most desperately needs to hear this warning.
For Paul to describe someone as an immoral, impure or greedy person, for him to label them, as disobedient, is to picture someone who is, deliberately, wilfully, engaging in sin, and is unrepentant.
One scholar I read this week, used the language, those who are “in slavery to their sexual appetites”,
They demonstrate by their lifestyle, that they have no part in the kingdom of God.
It’s still a warning we need to hear
But of course, even if we’re not in slavery to sin, we still need to hear this warning.
Clearly Paul thinks that Christian people, still need to hear this warning. The temptation to slip into this way of life is ever present, and I think is very strong.
And part of the reason for that, is because there are those around us who will tell us, “this sin doesn’t matter.”
Verse 6, Let no one deceive you with empty words,
Friends, I have no doubt that you know people, who will say to you, your sexual choices or behaviour, are of no concern to God.
Let no one deceive you with empty words,
Maybe it’s people who are indulging in this kind of behaviour who want us to join in with them, as a kind of justification of their choices.
Maybe, it’s Christian people who want to throw out the warning here, and say this is an oppressive instruction from a bygone era,
Maybe it’s people who, more generally, just kind of scoff at sin, laugh at any idea that sin has consequences
Maybe it’s the Christian person who says, I believe in grace. I trust in Jesus, so it doesn’t matter what I do.
This is an important warning for us to hear, to urge to keep working hard at fleeing temptation.
You’ve probably heard me, and maybe others, quote the British pastor John Stott, who once wrote “holiness is not a condition into which we drift.”
It was this very passage that caused him to write those words.
That is, Christian person, it will take effort,
And the renewing of your mind by the Spirit of God,
And a sombre hearing of this warning, for you to continue in putting this kind of lifestyle and behaviour behind you.
It is utterly incompatible with your identity as a child of light, for this to be characteristic of your life, or of my life.
How to live as children of light (v 8 – 10)
So how do we live as children of light?
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light
Again, the first thing is to remember that it’s our status as members of a family that drives our behavior.
If you were around my family when I was growing up, you’d have noticed a whole range of behaviours that were a common part of our family life.
There were things that I did, simply because I was part of that family.
I’m sure your family had some of those sorts of “traditions.”
One of our weird family things is that we kept all our plastic cups in the fridge. We lived in Darwin for 7 years, so that meant not having to drink out of a warm cup! Except it was still our family practice to keep our cups in the fridge after being back in the Adelaide Hills for a decade!
We didn’t do those things to try and fit in to the family,
It was just how we went about life together.
And then I met Kathy!
Now, of course Kathy was able to do all of those odd things my family did, but just doing them, didn’t make her a member of our family.
But then she married me, and now lots of those weird family traditions are part of her everyday experience!
Paul is absolutely determined that the family identity work itself out in every aspect of the Ephesians’ lives;, Live as children of light
Notice he doesn’t say, “You were once in darkness.” No it’s, you were once , darkness
Paul’s making a statement, not just about their environment, but about their nature. Darkness is in them.
Let’s not be under any illusions as to the condition of people apart from Christ Jesus.
The people we love and care about, who are living lives of rebellion against God, this description applies to them.
It’s not just that they don’t believe what you do,
They don’t just approach life differently, or have a different set of values,
Darkness is in them.
They are far from God, and out of relationship with the creator.
And if you’re not a Christian, and you’re wondering, “How does God see me?
What is my true state?”
As I say, this is a sobering picture, isn’t it?
Let’s not be under any illusions as to the condition of people apart from Christ.
But equally, let’s not be under any illusions as to what brings about the change that the Ephesians had experienced. Paul says, now you are light , in the Lord.
The change that’s happened to you,
Not just change of circumstances or environment, but change of nature, has come about because you are in the Lord.
And here’s the correction, Christian friends, against us ever looking down on other people,
Thinking that we’re better than people who aren’t Christian,
Being judgmental against those outside the church,
Think of the moon.
Sometimes the moon’s so bright, you can literally read by it, can’t you?
And yet the moon has no light of its own. It merely reflects the light of the sun.
Yes, Christian person, are even more than just a reflector, you are now , light, but only because you are in the Lord,
Only because you’ve been united with Jesus.
We share his identity and his nature, and so that should be evident in our lives, Paul says.
He makes 2 comments about what the lives of children of light should look like. Firstly in verse 9, for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth
Children of light will bear the fruit of light
Fruit is something that comes from something else, isn’t it?
We have a peach tree at home.
I didn’t plant , a peach,
I don’t water the peaches,
I don’t prune the peaches,
Or sprinkle fertiliser on the peaches.
I plant and water, and prune the tree, and the tree produces fruit.
Again, can you see how Paul is absolutely determined that we hear and understand that the Christian life is not about living according to some set of rules.
He wants Christian people to act like children, children of light, and for that family identity to become obvious, to work itself out, and bear fruit, all goodness, righteousness and truth.
And actually, true goodness,
True , truth! Those are ultimately characteristics of God, aren’t they? Not of us!
Apart from our family identity, apart from God’s work in us, we can’t bear fruit of all goodness, righteousness and truth. It’s simply beyond us.
We could do good things,
We could tell the truth,
But no one can produce fruit of all goodness, righteousness and truth unless God is at work in them.
Of course, to describe fruit, sets an expectation doesn’t it?
If these are the fruit of the light, there is a real expectation that as children of light, these things will be evident in our lives.
If my peach tree is not producing fruit, maybe I chop it back a bit, maybe I give it another year or two,
But ultimately, if a peach tree isn’t bearing fruit, it will get dug up and thrown out, won’t it?
Very clearly there’s an expectation, that the life of a Christian person, the life of the children of light, will bear this fruit, these characteristics of God evident in their lives.
We should be asking this of ourselves. “Is this fruit evident in my life?”
Would those around me, see these characteristics of God himself, being displayed in my life?
Is God’s goodness, always seeking the good of others,
Always acting for the benefit of others,
Not self-centred, not selfish.
Is my life, my interaction with others, producing that kind of goodness?
Or Righteousness, always acting rightly.
It’s being just.
Do I treat others fairly,
And truth, not only do I say true things, but is the truth that is in Jesus, the overarching characteristic of my conversations?
So here’s the question for us to think about in the coming week, Is my life producing all goodness, righteousness and truth?
Children of light will learn what’s pleasing to God
The second specific characteristic of children of light, is that they’ll learn what’s pleasing to God.
Verse 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them
When Paul says find out, his language is about discerning, or putting to the test.
It carries the idea of proving something, for yourself.
Today we often here people saying things like, “well, I think God would want me to do such and such.”
I’ve had people say to me, “Clayton, God’s told me to leave my wife and children, and take up a relationship with this other woman.” They say, “I believe that’s what’s pleasing to God.
God wants me to be happy,
This will make me happy, .
So God will be pleased.”
But aside from cutting across everything else that the Bible says about marriage and relationships, that kind of thinking, suggests that what’s being required of us here is to just king of imagine, what’s pleasing to God.
But actually what we’re being called on to do here is to discern, in any and every situation, how what we already know about God, and what pleases him, might shape our conduct.
It’s not so much learning something new about God, as much as learning how what I know about God, should be put into action.
It’s learning day by day, in each and every situation, what’s pleasing to God.
And of course, one of the great benefits of being in community, like in our family here at TMB, is that we’re a range of ages, we have a variety of experiences,
I might be faced with a particular situation, trying to live as a child of light in this specific circumstance, as a parent, or in a relationship, or whatever it might be,
Well, with 150 others of us around, there’s quite possibly somebody else who’s already wrestled with the very issue of what’s pleasing to the Lord, in my situation.
Somewhere among the body of Christ at TMB, quite possibly there’s someone who’s already prayerfully considered, how is what we know about God, best worked out, applied, in the midst of the issue that I’m facing.
Let me draw things to a close by highlighting the warning in verse 12, and pointing us to the challenge of verse 13.
The warning, there’s lots of warnings here, isn’t there? It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret
Don’t let the detail of immorality and impurity become the subject of our conversations.
To even speak of what goes on in lives lived in opposition to God, can normalise it, and dull our senses, and cause us to drop our guard.
I was driving home from a meeting one night this week. I had ABC radio on, and actually with these very words ringing in my ears, I turned the radio off. I thought “I don’t want the description of this kind of behaviour to become just the normal background to my life.”
Let’s hear this warning, and guard our conversations, lest our senses get dulled.
But let’s finish on a more hopeful note, verse 13, everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light
If we act like children, children of light, that will actually have an illuminating impact on the lives of others around us.
Often you don’t realise how dark it is, until someone turns on the light.
Often someone won’t realise that they are in fact darkness, that darkness is in them, until the light in someone else’s life, shines into theirs.
And then, that life that was darkness, itself becomes light, ready to shine into other lives.
Of course that was the Ephesians own experience, wasn’t it? Verse 8, For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.
You know glow in the dark stickers?
Those of you with little kids will be familiar with these!
You stick them on the wall. And if it’s dark, you can’t see them, they’re just in darkness.
But you shine a torch on them for a moment or two, you illuminate them, and then when the light goes out, the glow in the dark stickers actually shine light into the room,
They become a light.
Friends if you’re a child of light, Paul urges you, the Scriptures urge you, to glow in the dark.
And if you know that today you’re still in darkness, God offers to you, the invitation, to be transformed, and to glow in the dark.