Wake Up, Sleeper
by Jack Wald | February 7th, 2016

Ephesians 5:3-14

There are some things I would have done differently if I had been God when the world was created. One of these would have been to choose an alternative to human sexual reproduction. Sexual immorality has caused so many problems in history and continues to wreck havoc in the world and in the church. I think I would have had us reproduce like plants. We would all spend two to three hours of our day standing outside under the sun, spreading our hands out in the air, and allowing bees to cross pollinate. Then we could go inside and get back to the business of life.

Marriages are destroyed by sexual infidelity. Studies in the US reveal that between 25% and 72% of married men have had affairs. Women have affairs at a rate less then men, but their numbers are rising as they enter the workplace in larger numbers. Families are destroyed by the divorces that result.

There has never been an age when sexual immorality was not a problem but today sexual immorality dominates public space. Sex is no longer private; it is on display. Children are growing up without the world of innocence that allows them to explore without fear or anxiety.

When Paul looked around at his world, he saw what we see today and Paul is not at all ambiguous about what he thought. Paul is as clear as clear can be.
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. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

In contrast to the loose living of the Hellenistic world, the New Testament teaching requires unconditional obedience to the prohibition against fornication. Sex is God’s gift to be used as God intends. When sex is taken outside of the bonds of marriage of one man to one woman, then it becomes an act of defiance against God. Not your will, but mine be done.

It is clear that Paul is serious about this. A couple weeks ago I preached from Ephesians 4:17 where Paul writes:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,

This is way beyond Paul’s personal opinion or reaction to the lifestyle of the Gentile world in which he lived. Paul tells us that this comes from the Lord, not from him. And now in Ephesians 5:3-7 Paul again tells us again that this judgment against sexual immorality, impurity, and greed is God’s judgment, not his.
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.

Sexual immorality and impurity are indications that the person who is immoral and impure is being led by natural lusts. There is no submission to what God thinks best. The desires of the flesh are in control and ruling the immoral and impure person. At a heart level, God has been pushed aside, allowing the desires of the flesh to rule.

So Paul moves from immorality and impurity to greed. He moves from the outward behavior (sexual immorality) to the inward cravings of the heart (greed). Paul moves from fornication to covetousness.

Paul does this because it is the inward cravings of the heart that control our outward behavior. Jesus said, (Matthew 15:18–20)
18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person;

Paul’s teaching in this passage is not a personal preference like wanting people to wear dresses, suits and ties rather than jeans and t-shirts. Sexual immorality, impurity, and greed are not a matter of taste or culture. Paul’s teaching is far more important than that. This is a matter of eternal life. This is disobedience to God that carries the price of being on the receiving end of his wrath and if you take just a second to think about it, no one wants to be on the receiving end of the wrath of the all-powerful God who created all things.

I am moving through this quickly because I want to spend more time on verses 8-14, but let me just say that when Paul tells us not to be partners with those who are disobedient, he does not mean that we are not to associate with people who do these things. If that were the case we would have to cut ourselves off from the world. But it does mean that we are not to participate with them in their immoral activities.

Jesus was known as a friend of sinners. He ate and drank with sinners and earned the criticism of the religious leaders because of this. But Jesus did not partner with them. I’ll come back to this in a few minutes.

For now, I just want to make this point: This is a world that chooses its values without regard to what God values and Paul warns us, as strongly as possible, that we are not to participate in any way in this behavior.

Why? For what reason does Paul tell us not to be partners with those who are disobedient?

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.

Paul is taking us back to Ephesians 4:17-19.
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

We were in the dark. Our wisdom, no matter how well thought out it was, was dark because it did not acknowledge the truth of Jesus.

There are very wise people who are not followers of Jesus and there are followers of Jesus who are not very wise. So please do not interpret what I am saying to mean that we should only seek the advice of those who are followers of Jesus. When Annie and I went for marriage counseling, we went to a woman who was not a follower of Jesus but she had the skills and insights that helped us to turn our marriage around.

What Paul is talking about is the reality that we are moving through this life. We will come to an end and leave behind everything we gathered in our years on earth. And then there will be a judgment. The wisdom Paul is talking about is the wisdom that takes this into account.

In my teenage years I had conversations about the meaning of life and I read books to learn what others thought about the meaning of life. As I talked with others we shared our insights. But our wisdom led people astray, into dead ends. Because we did not deal with the reality of a creator God who became flesh so we could be rescued, our thinking was futile and our advice was inadequate.

The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote about Solomon’s search for meaning in life. Solomon pursued pleasure. Solomon amassed great wealth. Solomon poured himself into work. And at the end he concluded: (Ecclesiastes 2:10–11)
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.

This is wisdom because it acknowledges the meaninglessness of life without God.

Paul says
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.

It is not just that we were in the dark, we were dark. We were lost and the advice we shared revealed the darkness of our souls.

But now Paul says we are light in the Lord. As the moon reflects the light of the sun and shines on earth, we too reflect the light of Jesus to the world. But Paul goes further than this and tells us that we are light. We do not merely reflect the light, we ourselves are light. We bring light into the darkness of the world wherever we go.

When we step out into the world, into relationships, into the public space, we bring light. In our conversations we have words of life to offer. We have insights that help us to see into the dark corners of the futility of life without God. We have words that can give hope to the most desperate person in the world. Our wisdom leads to life. We are light.

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.

What are the implications of this?

First, we are to live as children of light.
Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)

In this Paul is returning to Ephesians 4:1 when he began the application of the truths of the first three chapters.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

We are the beloved sons and daughters of God. We have been brought into his family. As a princess or prince needs to behave in a way that reflects well on the king and queen, we need to live in a way that reflects well on Jesus. What the world thinks of Jesus will be dependent, at least in part, on how we live.

How are we to live? Paul talks about the fruit of the light as being goodness, righteousness, and truth. This is not an exhaustive list. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul talked about the fruit of the Spirit and lists nine qualities: (Galatians 5:22–26)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

Who does this list of behaviors describe? Who do you know who these characteristics describe? Let me read five verses to help you answer this.

1 John 4:16
God is love.

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Psalm 27:13
I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.

Lamentations 3:23
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Matthew 11:29
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The fruit of the light, the fruit of the Spirit, is a description of the God we serve.

It is easy to see the fruit of the Spirit as something Christians need to see developed in their lives, but it puts a whole new spin on it when you realize that the fruit of the Spirit we are to see develop in our lives is a description of the character of God.

What this means is that when we grow in the fruit of the light and the fruit of the Spirit, we become more like God. The Holy Spirit works in us and with us so we will grow to be the holy person God sees us to be. We become Christ-like.

This should not come as a surprise. If you have an apple tree, why should you be surprised when it bears apples? If you have a grapevine, why should you be surprised when the vine produces grapes?

In order to live as children of the light, we need to abide in Christ. As the roots of a fruit tree go deep into the soil to seek out water and nutrients, we are to sink our roots deep into Jesus so that we are sustained in our walk with him.

A fruit tree that does this produces fruit. When we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, read our Bible, pray, worship, study the Bible with others, journal and reflect on our spiritual journey, then we are sinking our roots deep into Christ and we will produce fruit. Over time we will see that goodness, righteousness, truth, and the fruit of the Spirit are more and more a description of who we are. Over time we will become more like Jesus.

We are to live as children of light. Secondly, we are to work to find out what pleases 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 are not to be lazy princes and princess, taking advantage of our position in the royal court. We are not to coast through our Christian life. For many years I had a couple signs hanging in my room. One was a picture of a wild flower in a field. The caption read: “Growth is the only evidence of life.”

The second was a bumper sticker that read: “Only dead fish swim with the stream.” This is wisdom. If we are not growing in our faith, we have to question if we are alive. And if we are alive, we will have to expend effort to swim through the cultural drift that pulls us away from God.

I have seen this so clearly in my life. There have been periods when I got caught up in work and responsibilities at home and did not do more than go to church on Sunday. I drifted along and then would discover that I had moved away from God. I didn’t like where I was. And so I would renew my discipline and once again work to draw close to Jesus. Work and effort is required.

So Paul tells us to find out what pleases the Lord. In Romans 12:2 Paul wrote:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We have to put to the test, examine, and evaluate in order to determine the right course of action. We have to read the Bible and seek its wisdom. We need to seek out the counsel of godly friends and ask for their advice. We need to pray and ask for the Holy Spirit to lead us. We need to use the mind God gave us and evaluate our choices before we make a decision.

When I first became a follower of Jesus it was rather simple. I had to learn that getting drunk was not something that was pleasing to God. But it gets more complicated than that. Over the years the culture shifts. How do I respond to the new challenges to my Christian faith? How do I respond to the decreasing morality of political leaders? What is my response to the new crises that arise? Global warming. Islamic fundamentalism.

The world is getting smaller. We receive almost instantaneous news from anywhere on the globe. People can travel from one part of the globe to another far more easily than in past decades. What is our response as Christians to migration?

We tend to think about these issues from the perspective of how it affects us. But what does God think about these issues? Is our response to these issues helpful to God’s work or does it make God’s work more difficult?

When everyone else cheats on a test, what should I do? When everyone else cheats on the tax they pay to the government, what should I do? When people lie to make themselves look good so they can get a promotion, what should I do?

find out what pleases the Lord.

We are to live as children of light. We are to work to find out what pleases the Lord. Third, we are to expose what is in the dark.
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.

In verses 6-7 Paul wrote:
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.

Now he repeats himself,
11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness,

Paul cannot be more clear about this. He tells us and insists on it in the Lord that we are not to participate in any way with the lifestyle of a disobedient world. We are not to participate, but we are also not to cut ourselves off from those who live a disobedient lifestyle.
11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

We are to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness. How do we do that? We are to bring our light to shine on those deeds. What is done in the darkness needs to be brought into the light.

Jesus did not cut himself off from those who lived disobedient lives. Jesus was accused by the Jewish religious leaders of being a friend of sinners. He feasted with them. He went to parties at their homes. Jesus went into the world and brought light to the world. He brought light to the prostitute who washed his feet, anointed them with expensive oil, and then dried them with her hair. He brought light to Simon the Pharisee at whose home this happened. He brought light to tax collectors and Matthew and Zachaeus are among those who followed him into the light.

Notice that Paul says we are to expose the deeds of darkness. He does not say we are to expose the people who are living disobedient lives. There may be times when it is right for us to speak the truth in love and tell someone they need to repent, but here Paul’s emphasis is on allowing the light in us, the light of Christ, to shine and reveal the deeds of darkness for what they are. What seems beautiful and precious in the dark may not be beautiful or precious in the light.

A few years ago the movie Black Hawk Down was filmed in Rabat. Many of the Africans in our church were paid to be extras in that film. One of the actors came to church, as did the head of the stunt team and some others. The voice coach came to church and she began to spend Sunday afternoons at our house. There was a lot of tension on the film set and she found it relaxing to be away from that environment.

Over the course of the weeks she was with us she got to know some of the people in the church and she was particularly impressed by an older couple, Ruth and Habib. She told me one day that the world looks to the actors she works with and wants to be like them. But the truth is that what the actors want and what the world needs is what Ruth and Habib have. The light of Jesus in Ruth and Habib shone and revealed the shallowness and emptiness of the movie world in which she worked. Because of what she observed, she moved into the light of Christ.

When we move out into the world and the light of Christ shines in us, then we will bring our light to all we meet. As children of light, we will shine as beacons to others, bringing light to darkness, and  revealing what is not pleasing to the Lord.

Paul concludes this section of his letter with a verse that might have been part of an early hymn of the church. It seems that it might have been used at baptisms.

14 This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Sleep is an image of physical death which we see in Job 14:10-12:
But a man dies and is laid low;
he breathes his last and is no more.
11 As the water of a lake dries up
or a riverbed becomes parched and dry,
12 so he lies down and does not rise;
till the heavens are no more, people will not awake
or be roused from their sleep.

In a metaphorical sense, we were once asleep. Paul wrote:
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.

This is Paul’s exhortation and so now he calls out, “Wake up, sleeper. Rise from the dead.

Paul draws a sharp distinction between the life and behavior of those who are God’s holy people and the surrounding world. There is light and there is darkness. There is no middle ground. There is no part light or part darkness. Just light and darkness.

Paul calls to followers of Jesus to realize who they are. We are children of light and we are called to live by values that are very different from the values of the world. Our speech, our sexual purity, our use of the money we have been given need to reflect Jesus who is the light of the world.

We are not called to leave the world. We follow the example of Jesus who was a “friend of sinners.” But instead of being corrupted by the surrounding darkness, we are to exercise our influence in it.

It may seem that you are swimming against a swiftly moving stream, and you are, but it is not a losing battle. Christ is the light who has called us to wake up and rise from the dead. He has shone on us so that we have become light to the world. As children of light, we are to shine as beacons, exposing the darkness for what it really is.

Some who sit in darkness may be attracted to the light and even choose to enter it.

This is the beauty of the J.B. Phillips translation of verse 14
It is even possible (after all, it happened to you!) for light to turn the thing it shines upon into light also.

We tend to think that we are not that important. There are Christian writers who have a large influence. There are pastors and evangelists with national and international reputations and they have a large influence. But who are we? We don’t have the gifting these people do. We have a very small circle of influence.

But Paul says you are light. You bring light into darkness. You matter. You are important to the work of Jesus in the world. Jesus is depending on you to bring light to the people you meet throughout the week. It matters whether or not you spend time with God, reading the Bible and praying. It matters whether or not you meet with other people for encouragement and support. When your light grows dim, the people you meet during the week will suffer. The darkness of the world needs the light you bring. The world needs the light of Christ that has been entrusted to you.

Be the light of Jesus this week to each person you meet.

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”