Ephesians 5:8-14

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on March 26, 2017.

Paul has exhorted believers to shun sexual immorality, greed, or any kind of impurity for these are unfit to God’s people; besides, they provoke God’s wrath (5:3-6). So, they ought to disassociate themselves from disobedient people (v. 7). It is not clear to what degree believers should distance themselves from immoral and greedy people. Should they have no contact with them or simply not share in their immoral behaviors? In 5:8-14 he provides an additional motive for avoiding said misconducts and associations, which are discordant with their new identity. The pericope cuts off the reading before Paul’s more general advice regarding how believers ought to conduct their lives in a society influenced by evil (5:15-33), but the preacher should have them in mind.

According to Paul, believers now have a new existence. Once “darkness” characterized their lifestyle, now “light” does (v.8). It is clear that the source of their new existence is “in the Lord.” This recalls Jesus’ self-declaration of being “the light of the world,” where he uses darkness-light conversion metaphor (John 8:12; 12: 35-36). Similarly, in v.8 believers have a new life as “children of light” and should walk in a way that reveals the light they now are in Christ. Paul is setting the basis for his view that Christ-enlightened persons can have a transforming effect on darkened lives (vv. 11-14). Here Paul emphasizes his pre-conversion and post-conversion contrast (2:2-4, 11, 13).

Next, Paul discloses the nature -ethical fruit- of the believer’s new life focusing on goodness, righteousness, and truth (v. 9). If one is “light in the Lord,” one ought to produce fruit proper to the light. This evokes the contrast between the acts of the “sinful nature” and the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:19-23). Paul seeks to set ethical boundaries for life together that challenge believers to expose their true nature in the Lord by imitating Divine traits (4:24, 5:1).

How are these traits to be lived out in the circumstances of everyday life? By “discerning,” “testing” or “approving” what pleases God (v.10). Paul readers are aware of the traits that are pleasing to God, but do they know what these ethical directives look like in the context of their daily relationships? The only criterion Paul provides is ambiguous. Determining what is pleasant to the Lord is not easy. They will have to find out what delights God by fulfilling their new self in Christ (4:22-25) and employing their renewed mind to discern, test and approve God’s will (Romans 12:2).

Paul is aware of the difficulty to live out the ethic of the new life; therefore, he reiterates the attitudes believers must have (vv.11; 7). They are not to partake in unfruitful and sinful deeds (vv. 3-5). Why? Because they are incompatible with their new existence. Further, the “works of darkness” cannot produce the lifestyle that pleases God. They are to expose them. “Expose” frequently conveys the meaning of correcting or convincing someone (Matthew 18:15; 1 Corinthians 14:24). What exactly are they to expose, the behaviors themselves or the people who practice them? Do the behaviors to be exposed belong to believers or unbelievers? Aren’t the immoral behaviors to be exposed characteristics of unbelievers (4:17-19; 6:12)? Yet, isn’t Paul also implying that believers too can fall into similar behaviors by admonishing not to partake of them (v.11)? Certainly, these ambiguities make the text challenging for the preacher. What’s important, however, is to keep in focus the spirit of the exposure, which is not for punishing, but for healing, correction, and transformation.

Besides, evil deeds ought to be unmasked and rebuked. Why? Because they are so perverted that it is shameful to speak about them (v.12). They are so far out of limits that those who practice them seek to keep them secret. Interestingly, Paul not only points to the deeds themselves but also to those who practice them. Again, is he referring to unbelievers such as the “idolaters” and “sons of disobedience” mentioned in 5:5-7? Or, is he addressing backsliding believers covering up their deeds while requiring healthier believers to expose their misconducts?

What value there is in exposing evil deeds? When exposed by the light, evil becomes “visible” (v. 13). The light unmasks the dreadful realities of evil, which is seen for what it is without the chance of disguise or fudging. Moreover, “everything that becomes visible is light.” What does Paul mean? Is he suggesting that light actually transforms what it shines on into light? Is he meaning that believers who lead a life pleasing to God can correct and convince those living in darkness (1 Timothy 5:20)? Overall, Paul is suggesting that exposure expressed in love (4:15), with the purpose of building up each other in love (4:16; 5:1-2), can have corrective and transformative power as it leads individuals to realize the darkness they live in, and to be enlightened to seek repentant faith in Christ (1Corinthians 14:24-25, 2 Corinthians 4:6).

Paul concludes by quoting an apparent Easter or baptismal hymn, which describes believers’ former condition of sinfulness regarding sleep, death, and darkness from all of which Christ has rescued them through his transforming light (v.14). Paul’s final words picture the preacher of the gospel calling for people to a resurrected life on whom the light of Christ will shine. Is Paul depicting the process of conversion whereby darkness is turned into light? If so, is he implying that the exposure of unbelievers’ deeds of darkness can lead to their conversion (1Corinthians 14:24-25)? Are believers then being challenged to become agents of transformation through Christlike living? The answers can take multiple directions, but the sermon should challenge believers in a society influenced by darkness to live lives that imitate Christ’s goodness and righteousness with the hope of revealing his life-giving light that can impact others to awake from the sleep and deadness of their own misconduct and be converted into light. It should likewise expose any existing darkness in our own individual or communal lives. Equally, it ought to inspire us to begin anew, or to continue strengthening, a love relationship with the resurrected Christ who keeps us alert against evil and who is at work raising people from death to life. Isn’t this the hopeful message of Easter?


Edgardo Martinez Mitchell
Minister of Missions and Evangelism
First Baptist Church El Paso






Tags: darkness, light, correction, conversion, transformation, resurrection

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