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Ephesians 5:8-14

When I saw this text on the list for year A, I decided that I had to sign up to write the commentary for A Plain Account on it. The first Exegetical paper that I wrote as a Religion student at Trevecca Nazarene University was on Ephesians 5. I was excited to go back and look at that paper fully expecting to be disappointed with my little sophomore self. But I have to say, upon reading that old paper, I was kind of pleased with my work. Most of my thoughts here come from the work I did all those years ago.

Ephesians is understood by most scholars as being made up of two sections. The first section is chapters 1-3 and is concerned with doctrine and the second is chapters 4-6 and the focus is on on Christian ethics or right practice/living. This is what is so great about the book of Ephesians; it focuses not only on orthodoxy but orthopraxy as well.

Something to keep in mind in reading Ephesians is that much of the practices that Paul is encouraging his readers to avoid in the second section of the letter were common in the pagan culture that the believers were living in.

In the second section of Ephesians, Paul begins by imploring the readers to “maintain the unity of the Spirit” (4:3). He then begins this long appeal for the believers to live as new people, no longer controlled by the old desires that the old way embraces which goes through 5:20.

The section assigned by the lectionary for this week is in the midst of this appeal by Paul for the believers to embrace their new self and abandon the old. Verse 8 continues a metaphor that Paul hinted at in 1:18 where Paul describes his hope for the Ephesians as the eyes of their heart being “enlightened,” and again in 4:18 where he explains that those who are living in destructive ways are “darkened in their understanding.”

The Pauline corpus is fond of this metaphor of light verses darkness as we see it used in nearly half of the letters that bear the name Paul. This is likely because it was a popular metaphor for Greek thinkers who attributed the ascent to knowledge as an enlightenment; the more you know the more you escape the darkness of our physical world.

Only Paul seems to clearly be thinking about a different kind of knowledge than the Greek philosophers. Back in chapter one when Paul first uses the language of “enlightened,” what he is communicating is that to have enlightened heart eyes, the reader must “come to know” (epignosis) the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The knowledge that Paul desires for his readers is a relational knowing not a learned knowledge.[1] Salvation, Paul is saying, does not come from ascending some sort of esoteric mountain of intelligence. Rather, it is in our knowing the God that Jesus Christ reveals in his life, death and resurrection.

Paul is creating an extreme distinction between how the believers used to be and how they are now; you can’t get any more distinct than the difference between darkness and light. We must remember that Paul was talking about the difference between living a lifestyle that permitted all kinds of self-indulgence and disregard of how actions affect others.

By coming to a relational knowledge with the God revealed by Jesus, the Ephesians have not only been enlightened, they have become light themselves. This goes to what Paul says in 5:1: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” As children of the light they are light. And what does light do? It doesn’t avoid the darkness or try and escape it. Rather it shines into the darkness and exposes what happens there as the brokenness that it is. Verse 11 begins by telling the readers to not take part in the “unfruitful works of the darkness.” But it doesn’t end there for those who have been enlightened. Paul continues, “instead, expose them.” Light doesn’t flee from the darkness; it exposes it. And that which is exposed by the light becomes enlightened itself (v. 14).

When faced against light, darkness doesn’t have a chance. The goal of darkness is to hide shameful actions that are unfruitful, but the goal of light is to expose the uselessness of the unfruitful works of the darkness so that what is in darkness can become light and that fruit can be produced. Just as when light shined on the believers they became light themselves, anything that the believers, through the Lord, shine on becomes light as well. Through the shining of Christ, the death becomes life and the darkness becomes, not only illuminated, but a source of illumination itself.

A part of the exegetical assignment that I completed as a sophomore was to write a sermon based on the text and while I was pleased with the paper itself, I can say that I will not be preaching that sermon this coming Sunday. Still, I thought I’d share what my title was for that sermon because I would use that again: “Light is What Light Does.” That’s a pretty good summary of this passage if I do say so myself.

[1] Let me be clear, this isn’t to say that learning/education should be absent from Christian faith and living but that our salvation is not based on it.