Every parent knows that fearful moment. Walking into your child’s dark room, unable to turn on the light for fear of waking your sleeping angel, only to have the stabbing pain of a Lego shoot into your foot, causing you to cry out in pain! Now the kids are awake. Now you are saying all sort of unwholesome things about messy rooms and wicked Legos, and everyone is crying! There are few places as dangerous for a parent as the Lego landmine floor in the dark. All of this could have been avoided if the parent had just turned on the light, spoken softly to their sleeping child, finished their task, and left. The light would make all the difference.
In this week’s Epistle lesson, Paul continues to encourage the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). “Walk,” he says, “as children of light” (5:8). Paul talks to the Ephesian Christians as those who have been brought out of a place of darkness, into the light. The darkness refers to their former, sinful way of living. Ephesus was home to a large temple to the goddess Artemis. The goddess had inspired a fertility cult, which means it is likely that sexual practices were part and parcel of these pagan worship services. Paul says all practice and speech which flow from this worship is darkness. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret” (5:11-12, also refer to 5:4). Like the cursing resulting from Lego stabs on the foot, conversations which fly forth from pagan practices are harmful and shameful.
Paul reminds the Ephesians these things are in their past (you were darkness... you are light). For they are (present tense) light, that is, now new creations in Christ Jesus by virtue of their baptisms. Christ Jesus, who is the light of the world, has turned on the lights, woken up sleeping sinners, raised them from death to life (see Romans 6:1-6). Christ, in conquering the darkness, has turned on the lights, exposing sin for what it is, and guiding His beloved Church in how to navigate their way through this world of sin. His light makes all the difference.
Christ, in conquering the darkness, has turned on the lights, exposing sin for what it is, and guiding His beloved Church in how to navigate their way through this world of sin. His light makes all the difference.
The danger Paul must deal with, however, is the constant temptation found among the Ephesians to return to the darkness. So, building upon the Psalmist’s promise, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105), Paul entreats the Ephesians to walk in accordance with God’s Word and the salvation given them in Christ Jesus. They are called to take a hard stand against the old sinful way of life and to conduct themselves in a manner that contrasts with their pagan neighbors. The way they behave themselves (5:15), their thought processes (5:16), even the way they talk are all to be saturated with and guided by the Word of God (5:17-20).
This is a call to faith in Christ and obedience to His Word that puts the Christian in opposition to the surrounding culture. The application to our hearers is not difficult as the light of Christ makes all the difference for what one believes and how one lives. God’s Word of forgiveness, new life in baptism, and life given in the Lord’s Supper direct our lives in this world of sin and cause us to follow Christ’s light through the darkness.
An interesting sermon structure for this section would be the analogy structure. The preacher could compare the dangers of what can happen when we walk around in a dark house (like my “Lego landmine” illustration above) with the dangers of living in a world apart from the guidance of God’s Word. Then, to contrast this, the preacher could talk about the importance of light for directing one’s movement through a house (how it helps you avoid the attacks of evil, sharp Lego pieces). The light guides and protects by exposing the danger. God’s Word gives such guidance and protection. God has given us Christ, the true Light who has come into the world, to be our Savior. Now, living in His light, we see more clearly how Christ guides us as He takes us, “...from this valley of sorrow to Himself in Heaven” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Explanation to the Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer).
God’s Word gives such guidance and protection. God has given us Christ, the true Light who has come into the world, to be our Savior.
Christ in the Text
On Easter morning, when the women went to the tomb of Christ, we are told they went early in the morning “when the sun had risen” (Mark 16:2). The same Easter sun that shone on the empty tomb continues to shine upon the baptized, showing them the truth: Christ is risen and has conquered the darkness. This good news, delivered in baptism, brings dead sinners to life in Christ: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (5:14). The baptized who are united to Christ in His death and resurrection have been awoken to the truth of God’s Word, which gives and creates faith as well as informs and guides action.
The preacher must be sure to neither downplay the Law in this text, nor the Gospel. Paul is not merely giving moral instructions here but offering dire warnings against returning to the darkness. The temptations of the world are a real threat to Christians, and Paul’s call is to stand firm and fight against the darkness (reference Mark 4:7, 18-19). Here is a true call to repentance to those Christians who have grown lazy in their faith and have used the Gospel as an excuse for sin. However, it is also true that exhortation will not produce the strength to walk in a manner called for here. Paul knows it. This is why His exhortations are grounded in the baptismal promise, “You are light... Christ will shine on you” (5:8, 14). The call to live as one who is in the light of Christ comes to those who are already basking in the glory of the resurrection. Preaching this Gospel produces the walk of faith Paul desires of Christ’s Church.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Ephesians 5:6-21.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Ephesians 5:6-21.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Ephesians 5:6-21.