Ephesians 5:1-20

Jimmy JoEphesians, SermonsLeave a Comment

In a Nutshell…

Read the passage here.

One of the major themes that we’ve seen through the book of Ephesians is the distinction between the old life and the new life: or to use language we’ve used before, between non-life and life. Paul’s recurring exhortation is to live life according to the author of life, the give of life, rather than according to those who are separated from life.

Last week’s passage had largely to do with how we live in community. And that this living in community, a community constituted by what Christ has done for us, not constituted by our own preferences or inclinations means living in a way that is not defined by the world’s values, but defined by kingdom values.   And inasmuch as we do this community well, we testify to the reconciling work of Christ in this world.

Our passage today seems properly understood as part of the same flow of thought.

  • Living the life of Christ, not the old life
  • This happens in the context of community.

So let’s take a closer look at the passage.

1 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.

Again, our passage today is properly understood as part of the same line of thought as last week’s. Inasmuch as in the previous passage, Paul is exhorting us to live in community well, to avoid those things that break community, these verses continue that thought.

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. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 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. v Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

Paul now exhorts us to avoid sin (here he lists only a few, but it’s reasonable to understand this as avoiding sin generally).

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 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. 14 This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,

rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”

Here Paul reiterates his familiar refrain that we are called into a new life. Therefore, live according to that new life and not the old.

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.

And finally, in this last part of our passage, Paul exhorts us, once again to live according to the new life, not the old, but adding the implication that we each choose, daily, whether we live for God or for the world. Notice again that the call to holiness, to godly living, is couched in terms of community. (“be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms…”)

So, as you read the passage, maybe all of that seems obvious. But there are some implications and assumptions included here that we want to dig a little deeper into.

Why is Paul so on about community?

Isn’t religion a personal thing? This certainly seems to be the position of contemporary society.  To answer this, we have to revisit some of the things we’ve talked about, in particular in Ephesians. Right from the very beginning, we’ve seen that God created people to live in community.  When God created Adam, we see in Genesis 2:18 God saying, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  Human beings were not created to be solitary.  Now I realize that some of us are more introverted than others, but I firmly believe that nobody wants to be alone.  Because nobody is made to be alone.  We need each other.  We each crave connection with others.

Now when human beings fell in sin, we broke connection not only with God, but with each other. And God wants to restore that.  He wants to restore our connectedness.  Christ restores our relationship with God, but in doing so, He also restores our basic connectedness with one another.

Now I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but throughout the biblical story, we clearly see that this is the case.

  • In the story of Noah, when God sends Noah and his family out to repopulate the earth, He tells them, “be fruitful and multiply.”
  • God’s covenant with Abraham is that He would make Abraham into a great nation. And that that nation would be a blessing to the whole earth.
  • God sent Moses to free and redeem a people, the nation of Israel.
  • David was appointed to lead a people, to create a nation.
  • The prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, et al. speak to a people, a nation, lost in exile, because they have lost their way.

What we see throughout the biblical story is that God’s purpose is to redeem, not just individuals, but a people.

Secondly, if we live by grace, why does holiness matter?

Here, we return again, to some extent, to the disparity between Calvinism and Arminianism. Again, if you’ve missed our previous discussions about this topic, in a (very over-simplified) nutshell, Calvinism tends to emphasize pre-destination or grace, and Arminianism tends to emphasize individual responsibility or personal holiness.

Now (again, without going too deeply into the rabbit hole), the problem with Arminianism is that it tends to reduce the sovereignty of God. But the problem with Calvinism is that it tends to reduce the need for individual responsibility or holiness. If we are saved by grace alone, if there is nothing we can do to make God love us more or love us less, if our salvation is entirely up to the will of God (i.e. God alone decides who is and isn’t saved), then what difference does it make if we are good or not? Another way to think about it is, if God forgives me anyways, what does it matter what I do or don’t do? I’ll just sin away and ask God for forgiveness.

Again, this is a somewhat complex issue (though not really – at the end of the day, try not to sin). But at the heart of the matter is what Paul is talking about through Ephesians.  In Christ, we have new life.  In fact, in Christ we have life.  Everything that is not Christ is not-life.  This is why he says,

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord.

So we can think about it this way: Yes, we are saved wholly and only by the grace of God.  And we can do nothing to make God love us more or love us less.  But the question is, what exactly has God saved us for.  Or, to what kind of life has God saved us?  If we are “saved” but still hold on to the old life, have we really ever experienced or known life?

And thirdly, what exactly does my personal holiness or sinfulness have to do with community?

There are sins which are obviously destructive. But a lot of our day-to-day sins we brush off as “not hurting anyone.” At least we’re not as bad as that person. I might be reaching a little bit here but it seems to me that the things that Paul is warning against seem to be of the, “what does this have to do with anyone else?” variety (sexual immorality, impurity, greed…). They could easily be seen as the “not hurting anyone else kinds of sins. And in our society, the “not hurting anyone” sins aren’t really sins at all. We live in a world where there is a distinct separation between the private and the public.  So long as I keep my sins to myself, why should anyone care?

Now we could go into a lot more detail about sin and God, and sin and the people of God, but let me just say this: who we are is at least partly who you are (or who I am).  There is no private sin in the people of God.  Or to put it another way, there is no individual sin that does not affect or impact the body because the body is made up of individuals who sin. If we think about it a different way, sin inherently builds walls between us. God wants to tear those walls down.

Therefore, Paul’s call to holiness, his encouragement to living the kingdom life, the life of Christ, is both to all of us and to each of us. I think this is why he is speaking of bringing things to light (11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 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.)

So What Now…?

All this to say, yet again, that the Christian community, the people of God, is a different kind of community. Our call, as we have seen, is to love one another well, and to live well.  And by that we mean, at least, to live according to God’s design and purposes for us, and not according to the ways of the world.  And I want to reiterate once again that we are in this together.  And we’re together in this.  It’s not just about what I get out of this deal or what you can get out of it.  It’s not just about how far ahead I can get.  But who I am and what I do matters because I am part of a community.  And who you are and what you do matters because we are part of a community.

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.

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