Paul’s readers, having thus been graciously granted the status of beloved children, are now called upon to respond to the privilege they enjoy. They should demonstrate they are indeed children by showing they too can “walk in love” (v 2), a love which matches that of their redeemer: “as Christ also loved you”. This is a sure echo of the Lord’s own commandment (see John 13:34). To “walk” is a figure of speech which conveys the idea of human behavior (cf Gen 6:9).
It reminds us too of the supreme demonstration of this love, as the Lord himself said to his apostles, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The terms which the apostle employs to describe the Lord’s love reveals his familiarity with the Law: Christ’s sacrificial love was “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”, an expression he uses in acknowledging the gift received from his beloved disciples at Philippi (cf Phil 4:18). The expression “to God”, recalls the fact that the Lord’s sacrificial death was an act of obedience, contrasting with the first sin, an act of disobedience (see John 10:17). Paul, who had received his rabbinical training at the feet of Gamaliel (cf Acts 22:3; 5:34), was thoroughly familiar with the Old Testament and especially the Mosaic Law. 1
Continuing to pursue the theme of the moral implications of their new calling in the Lord Jesus, Paul addresses to his readers an admonition which embraces the speech as well as the conduct of disciples in verse 3: “But among you there must not be a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (NIV). The admonition is carried further in verse 4: “Nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are not befitting.” Loose talk is becoming commoner in western societies, and it is becoming looser. Some of the Roman writers were very free in their allusions to sexual matters. Indeed, in all generations, talk on sexual matters can be disgusting. As far as believers are concerned, all this behavior is to be banished (v 7): there is to be no sharing of this way of life either in the home of disciples or when they assemble. Jeremiah had much to say about the Jewish world he knew, and there is one expression which sums up the people to whom he witnessed:
“Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush” (Jer 6:15; 8:12).
When the capacity to blush, that is, to feel a sense of shame, has gone, the state of a society can become quite uncertain. The atmosphere amongst God’s people should be pure; all that is unsavory should give place to thanksgiving, and an appreciation of God’s grace and of the priceless privilege of being disciples of the Lord Jesus. The apostle then presses home the consequence of any failure to respond to his teaching: “Let no man deceive you with empty words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience” (v 6). There is no room for argument concerning these matters: God has made perfectly clear what He requires from His servants.
The Lord God is wonderfully forgiving but there is a limit to His patience and this was shown in the days of Noah. We cannot forget the Lord spoke of the time preceding his Second Coming as a period recalling the days of Noah (see Luke17:26,27,30).
“Children of light”
Following the stern warning of verse 7, Paul uses a highly effective figure of speech: “For ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (v 8). Their previous condition was such that it was darkness! There is a similar passage in Colossians, and a vivid one; and we should notice Paul includes himself as a sharer with the Colossians of the same privilege:
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col1:13, NIV).
The Thessalonians also belonged to the day (1Th 5:5). The dark part of the day, when the sun is down, is the time when crimes and shameful deeds are often committed. This is a comparison which frequently occurs in the New Testament; in John 3 we find the declaration:
“For everyone that doeth ill hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works should be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God” (John3:20,21).
The primary source of light, as the opening verses of Genesis make clear, is the LORD God: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (1:3). So complete an expression of God’s will was His Son, that he became the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5). The first of these verses in John possesses a special interest, as it bears so directly on what Paul tells us in Ephesians: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in the darkness but shall have the light of life.”
It is when we accept the Lord Jesus as our redeemer and our example that we can hope to walk in light. We should note, too, how Jesus uses the figure of “walking” to convey the concept of a way of life. It is a metaphor much exploited by Paul in Ephesians, and in chapter 5 we can refer to verses 2, 8, and 15.
It is carried further in verse 9:
“For the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.”
This is the fruit of the Spirit, so familiar to all readers of Paul, who makes that powerful contrast in Galatians 5, between the (dark) deeds of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit (vv 19-23). The followers of the Lord are called upon to live what we may term fruitful lives; in the beautiful allegory of the vine, the Lord tells his hearers: “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; and so shall ye be my disciples” (John 15:8). The natural world endorses fully the truth of the Lord’s words: so much depends upon an adequate supply of sunshine for growth and maturing.
Have no fellowship with darkness
But the fruitful life does not come automatically; it has to be cultivated; we need to know what God’s will is (v 10). Humanity can be so easily misled by hollow claims. With his long experience, John gives this counsel: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1Jo 4:1, NIV). The concept of isolation from the practices of the world is enjoined in Ephesians 5:11:
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even rebuke them.”
“To have fellowship” is by derivation to have things in common, to share. So far from associating with works of darkness, disciples are to denounce them and show them to be what they truly are. Quoting John once more, we have his guidance as to what is true fellowship: “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his son Jesus Christ” (1Jo 1:3). The study of this whole chapter reveals the kinship between Paul’s teaching and that of the beloved disciple — a subject which, like so many in Ephesians, could be pursued, and at some length.
The sense of verse 13 is thus brought out by the NIV: “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible.” How true this is: in the full light of day the nature of objects becomes identifiable. Nothing can be successfully concealed from the Almighty, as Psalm 139 so wonderfully declares:
“Even the darkness hideth not from thee, but the night shineth as the day: The darkness and the light are both alike to thee” (v 12) (see also Heb4:12).
Because of these verities, the apostle calls on his readers to awake, if perchance they have been overcome by sleep:
“Therefore it is said, Awake O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light” (Eph 5:14).
It has been conjectured that Paul is here quoting a hymn, and that may well be the case. In this connection, it is interesting to note that in Ephesians5:19and Colossians 3:16 there is a reference to the singing of hymns. The Lord and the apostles sang a hymn together in the upper room (Matt 26:30). A good hymnal is indeed a veritable treasury and a source of guidance and comfort.
“Examine yourselves”, and “redeem the time”
We can look at verses 15 and 16 of Ephesians 5 together:
“Look therefore carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
Paul declares that we should examine ourselves, just as he does in 1 Corinthians 11:28, whenever we break bread in memory of our Lord’s sacrificial death. Self-examination is always desirable in the life of a disciple. Sloth and casualness are a denial of the principles by which we can be saved. Moreover, our life is fleeting, and only a vapor. This teaches us that opportunities for service must not be neglected. Nobody recognized this more clearly than our Lord: “We must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work” (John 9:4). Long before this, the psalmist had said: “Today, if you hear his voice” (Psa 95:7, NIV; see also Heb 4:7).
In view of all this, disciples must redeem the time, for the days are evil. Redeeming may seem a strange concept, but it is clear that what Paul is requiring is activity, a fitting response to our calling with its challenges. Society does not change fundamentally; it is ever astray and its siren voice can beguile the believer. We must avoid foolishness (v 17), and this we can certainly do if we have a proper understanding of God’s will. We must remember the principle which governed the life of our Lord: he came to do God’s will (see Heb 10:7, quoting Psa 40:7). Ideally this should be true of all followers of our Lord Jesus.
1. Paul’s use of the expression in verse 2 can first be found in Genesis 8:21, of Noah’s offering. Subsequently, it frequently occurs to describe sacrifices acceptable to God: see, among many references, Exodus 29:25,41; Numbers 28 is especially helpful in this connection. When an offering was made strictly according to God’s prescription, it was acceptable to Him; this is a lesson for all times.