In chapter 5 of this letter, Paul begins with a principle: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2) But the follow-up question is: How?
1) Stop sinning
First, Paul warns us in verse 3 that we should not let ourselves fall into a life of sin. Particularly we are to stand against three types of sins addressed: (1) sexual immorality, (2) any kind of impurity, (3) greed – “because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3b). They are sins of “deeds”, Paul stressed that sexual immorality, impurity and greed are not even proper to be named among the children of God.
Many times, sexual sins destroy the trust, unity, and respect that Christians have for each other and should be banished. They are an offence to God. Such unholy things should not even be acceptable subjects of conversation among people whom God has called to be holy. They are idolatry in God’s eyes.
Sometimes, sin comes into our lives without us noticing it. It might begin with a small harmless sin, and then it will get deeper and deeper until the person is drowned into the pool of sin. The devil is very cunning. It’s methods to lure people into sexual immorality, impurity and greed changes in every generation along with our technological advances. He just uses different baits in a different period to attract people into the same kinds of sins.
Like when you are fishing: I heard a seasonal fisher once said, just throw some breadcrumbs in the water first, not too much so that the fish don’t eat full, only a tiny little bit first. Just enough to open up their appetite, then slowly give them a bit more and more, so that the fishes trust that it is safe to eat here. Wait until the fishes think no danger for eating your bits of bait, wait for them to come and then put in the big bait in the hook on precisely the same spot in the water, then Wa-Lah, the fish is on the bait and pull up quickly, the fish is yours. The devil is a professional fisher, and he has lots of patient, he wants us to get into the baits little by little harmless bait until we get hooked to hell like all other unbelievers. Don’t be foolish. Cut off the baits early from the sins of our deeds.
Paul also gives warnings on obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking in verse 4. They ought not to be part of the speech patterns of Christ’s followers. They are the sins of “words”. Foolish talk can mean speaking shameful things, or foul language. From time to time, we might slip our tongues and say things that are inappropriate or even swearing. It takes a long time to correct a bad habit. But it is a command in the Bible that as Christians, we represent Christ and so in need to learn the art of controlling our mouths. Many good fellowship and relationship are ruined by it. To bear witness of Christ, we need to make sure what we say matches our calling as children of God. We represent Christ in front of non-believers at home, at school, at work and in public. People who do not know us will judge us by what comes out of our mouths. If someone is being turned off from Christ because of the way we behave, or because of the shameful things that come from our mouths, woe to us who drag them down with our badmouths.
As Jesus said in Mark’s Gospel, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.” (Mark 9:42)
Growing up in the Great Western Sydney in a public high school, I used to swear a lot as a young man in the 1990s. It took me nearly a decade to change the way I speak to get rid of the foul language from my mouth. It takes lots of effort to change the bad habits of our speech, but if it is for Jesus and his Kingdom, then it is worth it. We cannot worship God and praise him with the same mouth that we use to say shameful things. Imagine this, would you use the same towel that you just used to wipe the toilet and then use it to clean your face? No, of course not. That is unclean and gross! In the same way, we cannot sing praises to our holy God and swear dirty words or say shameful things with the same mouth.
Instead, because we have received so many blessings from God, we ought to speak from a heart of thankfulness to God in speech and thought. Why? Paul explains in verse 5 onwards, “5 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. 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.” (Ephesians 5:5-7)
Our Christian life requires that we stop doing bad things as well as start doing good things. Paul warns us not to engage in the activities of those who are disobedient to God’s Word. If Christians involved in these activities like immorality, impurity, and greed, we would align ourselves with the people of disobedient. Since we are not part of them anymore, we should not be partners with them. It is not a matter of salvation in this passage but a matter of identification as a new race that is saved through Christ as God’s children. We are not like those who are perishing, so we ought not to live like them. People who do such evil things do not share the kingdom inheritance. Rather, they will endure the divine wrath on the Day of Judgment. So Christians are not to participate sins of non-Christians or partners with them.
2) Be children of light
Paul continues in verse 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.” We have a new identity as the children of light, that is, the children of God. Jesus called us out of darkness of sin in this world and made us shine with his light in the Lord. That means we are representing Jesus, the true light in a world of darkness. The light of Christ produces goodness, righteousness and truth. That means we need to produce these good fruits in our daily behaviour and speech to point people back to God with the light of Jesus. We are no longer darkness, but children of light. Therefore, we should do deeds of light, not darkness. Only as you walk in God’s light, can you please God. That is our purpose of life and mission in this world of darkness as His children.
Not only ought we not to do the same sins as those who are disobedient, but we should try to expose them. Paul may be referring to exposing the sins of church members because brothers and sisters are responsible to hold each other accountable for their lifestyles. If a Christian lives in obvious, unrepentant sin, we as the church is to try to get them to turn from their sin, lovingly helping them to come back to God. As Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (Matthew 18:15)
Paul continues in verse 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.” (Ephesians 5:12-13)
By the context, Paul is talking about the evil things done by the disobedient in the secular world. But sins are exposed by shining light into sin’s darkness. An amazing thing happens. Darkness can no longer hide its nature and acts in secret. All is exposed to light. Light that makes everything visible brings an even more radical element. Literally everything that is revealed is, or becomes light. Light turns darkness into light. This is the global church’s mission. This is the church’s mission. Whether the people in darkness are church members or society members, our goal is to transform them completely from darkness to light through the power and grace of Christ.
It reflects what Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:19-21)
Jesus comes to save the world. People who came from the darkness, like all of us who didn’t know Jesus before, we who are touched by his light, and we will become light and reborn as Christians. That is the blessing of salvation under God’s goodwill and plan for us. That is what we should do as the church. To bring those who are fallen in darkness to turn back to God. Let the goodness of Christ shine upon them and transform them, so that whoever believes that Jesus Christ is Lord will be saved in the last day. As Paul quote an ancient hymn from the Scripture, “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14b) This isn’t a direct quote. But it means that a person who was participating in the deeds of darkness, like we used to be, is to wake up and rise from the dead, meaning to turn from those deeds. Christ will shine on you may suggest that Christ is pleased with the person who turns from evil deeds. God’s shining light exposes all their darkness and transforms them into lights.
So if any of us have any hidden sin. Today God is talking to us and tell us that we should stop committing those sins, which can bring the wrath of God on us, since those are the deeds of darkness, and we are the children of light. Let us bring this point home, and let Jesus transform our lives, give us new hope of light. Let Jesus enters your heart and changes you. This is the blessing and grace of God to help us turn away from our sins.
3) The fullness of the Spirit
But you may ask, how can I get transformed from my old habits of sins? Apostle Paul explains to us that we have to allow the Holy Spirit to direct our behaviour, which will result in mutual ministry to one another and submission to God.
The antidote against sin is to live a life submitted to the Holy Spirit. And you can only have a Spirit-led life if you open your heart to Jesus. As generations of Christians before us since the Day of Pentecost, we need to open our ears and be attentive to the voice of the Spirit. And what does God’s Word says,
In verse 15, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:15-21)
The world in which we live is filled with dangers and deceptions. It is not always easy to live an enlightened life even when we want to. We can get tripped up or ambushed by events and people without even being aware of the danger. We must be very careful to live our lives rooted in wisdom, using our time wisely. Not to do so would be unwise. The will of the Lord is that we live carefully, cautiously, always matching our lifestyle with the teachings of the Bible.
With our Heavenly Father, we do not get drunk with alcohol. Instead, you are filled with the Spirit. In the ethical context, it means directed, influenced, and ultimately governed by the Holy Spirit. Being drunk with alcohol can lead to the sexual sins and immorality of darkness described in the passage. Instead, by being filled with the Spirit, you can determine God’s will and serve him faithfully in moral living.
This filling of the Holy Spirit is a command for the believers, that is us, to yield ourselves to the illuminating, convicting, and empowering work of the Holy Spirit. As God works in our hearts through his Word, our lives are brought into conformity with the will of God as written in verse 17.
And what activities can help us in filling with the Spirit? We can look at verse 19:
- Singing and making music to the Lord with one another from the Spirit.
- Give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of Jesus
- Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ
I remember how this church has sung joyfully with the Spirit at the church camp this year. How many of you remember that Saturday night? Do you feel the difference of singing with joy from the Holy Spirit? Good hymns and Psalms and Spiritual songs have the biblical context in the words we sing. And as we sing and make music together, we learn from the lyrics about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and we meditate the words of salvation and grace of our holy God. That is your real experience of filling the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, when we give thanks to our Heavenly Father for everything, we praise Him and honour Him with our hearts and mouths, in the name of our Lord Jesus, the mediator and High Priest in heaven, letting our hearts to fill with gratitude. We have become one with God through Jesus. That Christ is in us, and we are in Christ as one body, reflecting God’s glory and honour and power and might with our lips, like incense in the presence of God.
As it is written in 1 Timothy 4:4-5 “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” No matter what is the situation, the gratitude of a person to God in thanksgiving for everything is a visual sign of his close relationship with God.
And the last point in verse 21, Paul says “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” How can submit to one another be the way to be filled by the Holy Spirit? It is about relationships we have with one another.
Like when we sing and give thanks to God corporately, We also must willingly submit to one another. The fullness of the Spirit leads to mutual subordination and unity, not to individual pride and disunity. We don’t want to stand out from the crowd, but singing together and giving thanks to gathering as a church. When we submit to one another and united in Christ, we are a spiritually filled church as one body of Christ.
Other than in the church, our mutual submission to one another also extend to other everyday relationship in the community; Paul gives us the examples from the relationship of husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves, and Rev. Neil will continue to teach us about it in the coming weeks. But now, let us give thanks to God for what he has spoken to us today from Ephesians chapter 5.