Living Light, not Lite
(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)
In our time, “lite” is am advertising term that connotes a food item with fewer calories or reduced fat. It has a broader meaning of something that is a less serious or substantial than other (generally original) versions of the same thing. The word was first coined in 1962 to sell beer.
I’m using “lite” as a symbol of a worldly lifestyle in contrast with the godly lifestyle that Paul described to the Ephesians 1900 years earlier. It’s a play on words to accentuate the difference between the ways of thinking and behaving that Paul contrasted as “light” and “darkness.”
CONTEXT = In v. 17 Paul began to apply the teachings on UNITY and MATURITY he’d set forth in the previous sixteen verses. This application was so important he began by asserting his authority; I…INSIST ON IT IN THE LORD.
Living in the light is the outcome of spiritual maturity.
1. Characteristics of life in the darkness.
Living as the GENTILES lived (17). Most of the members of the church in Ephesus were Gentiles; this comment might have been offensive to them. “GENTILES” refers to the prevailing culture. Paul urges them to achieve maximum contrast against their culture in the way they lived. We would do well to assume the same goal.
They were futile in their THINKING (17). When it was used, reason was used to deny God and/or make excuses for their immoral living.
Persons on the shadowy path are DARKENED IN THEIR UNDERSTANDING (18). Sin obscures the truth.
Before they came to Christ, they were SEPARATED FROM THE LIFE OF GOD (18). Sin is an offense against God. In His moral perfection, God does not tolerate sin to be in His presence. A person’s choice to sin leads to deadly separation from God, the Source of life.
Whether innocently or purposely, they were ignorant of the truth (18). Those who choose the darkness ignore God, choosing to disbelieve He exists, that He is loving, and/or that He is powerful.
Without Jesus, people become hard-hearted (18). “Psychosclerosis” is the made-up word used at last Thursday’s seminar. It is a hardening of the attitudes that comes with repeated choices.
Walking on the darksome path makes a person insensitive (19) or “callous.” They are dull to the pain of others or any feeling that might motivate them to love or believe.
The phrase GIVEN OVER TO SENSUALITY (19) refers to a lifestyle where self-satisfaction is the most important thing: it has become an idol. When “getting mine” becomes a top priority or pursuing every kind of experience without question is typical, self is worshiped instead of God. This person is easily identified by their dread of boredom.
Indulging EVERY KIND OF IMPURITY (19) pictures a person who has a passion for everything that is indecent and immoral. Worse, they have a special lust for everything against God.
Lovers of the darkness are marked as being FULL OF GREED (19). Greedy people do not care how their selfish ambitions harm others. They are insatiable consumers.
A FORMER WAY OF LIFE (22) sums up much of this list; it is the way we live before we accept Jesus as Savior. Characteristic of that way of life is devotion to our OLD SELF. There is a supposed to be a sharp distinction between our OLD SELF (the way we lived before being saved) and our NEW SELF (24); the way we live after being saved. Before Christ, we were CORRUPTED BY DECEITFUL DESIRES. In our FORMER, worldly lifestyle, we were ignorant and easy prey for the charms of the world to convince us to choose selfishness and sin.
Persons on the dark path are given to UNWHOLESOME (“rotten” or “putrid”) TALK (29). These words betray a rotten interior and have evil effects on those who hear them.
In the church or outside, this kind of person is known by sins that work against UNITY (31). We are to GET RID of these sins.
- BITTERNESS is grudge-holding, resentment, refusal to forgive.
- RAGE flows from bitterness. It is a sudden outburst of hurtful frustration.
- ANGER literally means “shouting.” It is giving full throat to one’s negative emotions.
- BRAWLING is all forms of physical abuse, even those that seem less violent.
- SLANDER is all forms of verbal abuse. Whether what you say is true or not is not as important as why you say it.
- EVERY FORM OF MALICE includes all manifestations of toxic attitudes, every word and deed coming from a hate-filled heart.
2. Characteristics of life in the light.
Light-path living is appropriate to the WAY OF LIFE they had been taught by Paul (20-21). This reminds us that our faith is a heritage. We begin with a shared tradition born in our history. This is the starting-point of true faith; we are not welcome to just make it up as we go. The phrase WHEN YOU HEARD ABOUT CHRIST looks back at t moment they were saved. A change of life began at that time. The Apostle affirmed THE TRUTH is THAT which IS IN JESUS. In accepting Jesus, we also accept all that He reveals, the entire truth of who God is and who we are to be in Him.
A renewed ATTITUDE of mind (23) will be present in those who prefer the light. In Romans 12:2 Paul wrote about a personal transformation that occurred from the inside out: new attitudes lead to new actions.
People walking in the light behave in ways characteristic of our NEW SELF (24). This is not as simple as a change of clothes (though that is one way Paul symbolized it); it is a total makeover of a person, from sinful to Christ-like.
Recognizing we are CREATED TO BE LIKE GOD IN TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HOLINESS (24). The NEW SELF is our true self; it is becoming the kind of person God created us to be in the first place. It is life based on God’s standard of good behavior and being set apart from the world.
To be in the light of Christ, you are to PUT OFF FALSEHOOD AND SPEAK TRUTHFULLY TO YOUR NEIGHBOR (25). Having TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS will cause us to speak the truth and stop misleading others. This is a call to avoid all hypocrisy and lying. Telling the TRUTH IN LOVE (16) builds up our fellowship. Doing anything else tears it down.
Behaving as we are ALL MEMBERS OF ONE BODY (25) requires us to put effort into getting along. God gives us UNITY; we must exercise MATURITY in order to preserve it.
We are to not allow anger to turn into sin (26). Anger itself is not always a sin; what makes it a sin is dealing with it in ungodly ways. Paul offers two examples of sinful responses to an angry impulse. First, we are to not allow anger to fester, but should resolve situations without holding a grudge (26). Sunset is not offered as a legalistic time limit, but a reasonable one. Remember, the Jewish day began at sunset, so Paul is actually saying, “Don’t start today with yesterday’s anger still unresolved.”
Don’t GIVE THE DEVIL A FOOTHOLD by having unrighteous anger (27). Think of unresolved anger as the edge of a wedge. Given this tool, our mutual enemy (THE DEVIL) uses anger to split us apart.
Light-living people have a good work ethic (28). Paul offered three aspects of a good work ethic.
- No STEALING. Hard work unites people; stealing drives them apart.
- Stop being useless/lazy. Laziness drives people apart, creating dependency.
- SHARE WITH THOSE IN NEED. Work enables us to provide for ourselves AND for those who cannot work.
Those who walk in the light will speak ONLY WHAT IS HELPFUL FOR BUILDING OTHERS UP (29). Truthfulness is not the only virtue for godly speech. What encourages and edifies is another necessary quality of good speech. Godly speech is choosing words ACCORDING TO THEIR NEEDS, not your own. Say what the other person needs to hear in a way they are most likely to receive and understand it. Godly speech also benefits THOSE WHO LISTEN. Words are not to be used as a way to get even or achieve any other selfish goal. Instead, our motive is to benefit others.
God’s people DO NOT GRIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT (30). All sin causes God sorrow because He knows how we are hurting ourselves. There is a wealth of theology here we don’t have space to explore, but let us observe that the motive of respect for God is a great reason to walk in the LIGHT.
Remember Paul’s earlier assertion that the Holy Spirit is a SEAL and DEPOSIT guaranteeing our redemption (1:13-14). The phrase YOU WERE SEALED FOR THE DAY OF REDEMPTION (30) teaches the same truth. One of the many purposes of the Holy Spirit is to reassure us of our salvation.
Let us be known by virtues that build UNITY (32). Paul offered three of them.
- Kindness is a sweet, generous disposition. It is be others-oriented.
- The Greek word for “compassion” literally refers to healthy functioning internal organs - “good guts.” Here it is the virtual of a godly internal life.
- Forgiveness JUST AS CHRIST FORGAVE YOU. Here is the highest possible standard for one of the most essential virtues in good relationships.
Living in the light is the outcome of spiritual maturity.
A life lived in the light will bear an obvious difference from life lived in the darkness and life lived in our surrounding culture. Life is constant transformation into the image of Jesus or it is not life at all, but death.
Considering the qualities of “darkness dwellers” and “light lifers” the Apostle Paul set forth, where do you see yourself? Chances are, your characteristic attitudes and actions appear on both lists, as we are imperfect beings always in process. However, what is the general trend? Is there enough of a difference between the way you live and our prevailing culture? Or are you doing a good job of “blending in?”
Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold