For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light…Ephesians 5:8
We have come through a section of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians where he gives the church instruction in how to live the Christian life. Beginning in chapter 4 verse 1 there is the general admonition to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called. Then in verse 17, there is the exhortation to no longer walk as the Gentiles walk. In the following verses through chapter 5 verse 7, the Holy Spirit through Paul has catalogued a series of sinful vices (including lying, stealing, angry bitter speech, fornication, and filthy words) that are to be put off and corresponding Christian virtues (truth-speaking, working and giving, edifying speech, and love) that are to be put on. Such virtuous living is encapsulated in Paul’s command in chapter 5:1-2 that we: be imitators of God, as dear children, and so walk in love.
Paul is quick to emphasize that Christian love is very different from the world’s idea of love, which is equated with sinful sexual relations. The reasons given for Christians not to participate in the evil that the world does, is the complete inconsistency of such behavior with the nature of Christ.
In verse 8 of chapter 5, once again, an indicative (or that which indicates what we are in Christ) is given as another reason for obedience to the imperatives or commands given earlier. This one has to do with darkness and light. In chapter 4, verses 17-18, he portrayed the darkened understanding of the pagan world. Here in chapter 5 verse 8, speaking to Christians, he says that like them, you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord! Take note of the present tense indicative, you are light – it is not just that your environment that has changed – you are not merely in the light – but you are literally light. As Jesus said of Himself in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world,” by virtue of our union with Him, in the Lord, we too are light.
What does this look like in practice? It will mean a life that is shining with all that is good and right and true – for such are the fruit of light; in the same way the harvest crop ripens under the light of the sun. The light metaphor speaks vividly of Christian openness and transparency – returning spiritually to the ‘naked and unashamed’ condition of Adam and Eve. It speaks of living joyfully in the presence of God, with nothing to hide or fear. The Christian who knows that his sin is forgiven and that he is liberated from the dark vices of the world which once bound him, has an incredible freedom to be light. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
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