Woke Part 2 – Ephesians 5:1-20

This is week 2 of our WOKE series. Last week I gave you a history lesson on the term WOKE and how it is being used as a disparaging term against those whom some on the political right take argument with. But Paul urges us to be WOKE in a theological sense.

The verse that is the theme for this series is in Ephesians 5, which we will look at today. Paul says, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” This is a term that Paul uses to shock us out of an old way of life and into a new way of life.

Have you ever been shocked out of a heavy sleep? I know some of you have had military experiences, and I can only imagine how you might have been awakened quite abruptly and forced to get moving quickly. But being woke suddenly from a deep sleep reminds me of a time when I was a teenager. I grew up during the ’80s. I was brought up in the faith during the “satanic panic.” Yes, that was a thing. We were taught to be careful of the devil seen in everything! He was in movies, books, pop culture, rock music, or worse yet, rock music being played BACKWARDS (yes, that was called backmasking). The devil was everywhere, so it was best that we did not listen to or watch anything that was not explicitly Christian. Christian music, Christian videos, Christian movies, and Christian pop culture began to emerge during this time and took off during the ’90s and 2000s. The only good thing that I think came out of all of this was definitely “Veggie Tales.”

Well, anyhow, getting back to my story, when I was a young teenager, I was fast asleep in my room, and my dream turned dark. I was being given a tour of hell from none other than the devil himself! There was fire and people crying and darkness as I couldn’t understand why I was being given this tour. Suddenly, a slat in the middle of my bed gave out and hit the floor with a loud boom. Then my mattress began to sink into the hole it created. I became WOKE in the worst way. My heart was beating a million miles an hour, sweat on my forehead, panic in my voice, wondering what all just happened. My dad came running back to my room from the loud noise to see if I was okay. Needless to say, I was happy to see him. It is this kind of a shock to the system that Paul is trying to get the Ephesians to understand. There is being asleep in the darkness, and then there is being awake to the light of Christ.

In the letter to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul takes chapters 1-3 to explain all that Jesus has done for us and all the implications of what that means. Paul summarizes God’s story. Then in chapters 4-6, Paul explains how God’s story should reshape our story.

We pick up our lesson for today with Ephesians 5:1-2

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

In other versions, this passage tells us to be imitators of God. For example, while we were going through the pandemic, I had a pair of teens who thought it would be cute to come to youth group imitating me! Here is a picture of that situation.

But in all seriousness, we are to be imitators of God! So, the first thing that Paul shows us is that Jesus is our prime example. He loved us so much that he gave up his life for us as a fragrant offering to God. In the same way, our love for each other and the world ought to reflect that kind of sacrificial love. But love can be twisted into a warm, fuzzy emotion far removed from what Paul intends here. In our culture I have seen people put up yard signs or have t-shirts that say “Love Is Love”. With the way we define the word “love” this can have a very broad meaning. We use the word “love” to describe our feelings for people, pets and pasta! Love can mean a lot of different things. In American culture we put a lot of stock in love being a feeling I have towards someone or something. But in a theological sense, love is defined more specifically than how we are feeling in the moment. So, we dive into this passage to see what he means in how we show love.

He states in Ephesians 5:3-7
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. 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.

Paul points out here that we can not cave to the sin of idolatry. Now when we think of idolatry in the Bible, we typically think of statues that people would worship as a god. But Paul is not speaking about an external object but our internal motives. He tells us that we should not be involved in sexual immorality, impurity, or greed. This is not the way of love.

SEXUAL IMMORALITY continues to be a god of our culture. We live in a time where pornography is mainstream and sex trafficking is happening all around our country. Pornography and sex trafficking are huge businesses that prey on the addiction of men, women, and our youth. Sociologist Jill Manning in a hearing before the US Senate in 2005, is quoted as saying:

“Research reveals many systemic effects of Internet pornography that are undermining an already vulnerable culture of marriage and family. Even more disturbing is the fact that the first Internet generations have not reached full-maturity, so the upper-limits of this impact have yet to be realized.”

Clay Olsen, Co-Founder, and CEO of Fight the New Drug, states that:

“This material is more aggressive, more harmful, more violent, more degrading, and damaging than any other time in the history of the world. And this generation growing up is dealing with it to an intensity and scale no other generation in the history of the world has ever had to.”

But we also often hear that sex is between two consenting adults. What is really fascinating about this common view is that the Washington Post just recently came out with an article called “Consent is not enough. We need a new sexual ethic.” by Christine Emba. In this article, the author makes the case that there is so much more to consider than just consent when it comes to relationships. She states:
I asked many of these people what a better sexual world might look like. “Listening,” I heard. “Care,” they said. “Mutual responsibility,” some suggested. Or, as one woman plaintively put it: “Can we not just love each other for a single day?”

That question points to what looks to me like a good answer. The word “love” tends to conjure ideas of flowers, chocolate, declarations of undying devotion. But the term has a longer, more helpful history. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century philosopher, and theologian, defined love as “willing the good of the other.” He borrowed that definition from Aristotle, who talked about love as an intention to bear goodwill toward another for the sake of that person and not oneself.

Willing the good means caring enough about another person to consider how your actions (and their consequences) might affect them — and then choosing not to act if the outcome would be negative. … In general, “willing the good of the other” is most often realized in restraint — in inaction rather than action. This involves a certain level of maturity and self-knowledge on all our parts: an understanding that if we aren’t able to manage this level of consideration — in the moment or more broadly — we probably shouldn’t be having sex. … It’s a much higher standard than consent. But consent was always the floor — it never should have been the ceiling.

It is amazing to me that this is not coming from a Christian publication but a major newspaper. The secular culture is coming around to the fact that there is more to love and sex than just consent. We must have a higher standard as Christ-followers when it comes to our ethics. We must honor those in our lives as people created in the image of God and beloved by Him!

Paul warns us not to be people of IMPURITY. What comes out of our mouths speaks a lot about our character. Paul tells us that we need to speak words of thanksgiving. We should develop an attitude where we can be thankful for all the things going on in our lives and speak about that. Show gratitude and appreciation for all that is in your life.

And he also warns us against GREED. This theme comes up in Scripture, but we don’t talk about it much. We like our things. We like our stuff. But Paul warns us not to allow a heart of greed to take over how we look at the world. Instead, we need to be people of generosity and giving. Paul ends by telling us not to partner with people who are full of immorality, obscenity, and greed. We need to steer clear of people like that. Their lifestyle will implode on them.

In the remaining section of this chapter, Paul makes two contrasts. One is between LIGHT and DARKNESS, and the other is between the WISE and the UNWISE. Let’s take a look at Ephesians 5:8-14. He says that:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in 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. 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. 14 This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

One of the last times I was at Ohio University with my girls, as we were walking around town and weaving in and out of the city of Athens, I noticed in an alley that there was a big portable spotlight. I was curious about that and asked the girls. They told me that there was a lot of crime happening in this alley at night, so law enforcement put this light there to help curb the problems they had to deal with. Imagine that! Light exposes the darkness, and those in the darkness flee from the light, searching for darkness elsewhere. An interesting approach.

Paul tells his readers that they used to live in the darkness like this. But now, we are to live in the light of Christ, where we don’t have anything to hide! We are to be people of goodness, righteousness, and truth, pleasing God in all we do. When we do this correctly, we are not ashamed or embarrassed by our actions. Instead, we are grateful for all that God is doing with us. The light of Christ shines on us! Does that help to amplify our good deeds or expose our bad deeds? It’s the difference between joy and shame.
Paul finishes this section of Scripture by talking about the WISE and the UNWISE. He states:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul recognizes that some revel in stupidity. Being unwise is a badge that many people wear with honor today. Instead, Paul is encouraging us to pursue wisdom. In doing so, we make the most of every opportunity that comes our way, doing all we can to understand God’s will for our lives. It takes effort and wisdom for us to discern God’s direction for our lives. We often don’t bother to think through, “Is this a direction God wants me to pursue? Is this of God?” Instead, we often think about careers and college decisions and relationships with a casual attitude of “Is this what I want?” without giving a second thought to possibly asking, “Is this what God wants for me?”

Paul tells us to be filled with the Holy Spirit instead of being intoxicated with alcohol. Letting down our inhibitions can lead to all sorts of bad decisions and immoral behavior. But being filled with the Spirit of God gives us a firm foundation in which we can show gratitude and thankfulness through a heart filled with joy. As we dig into the culture of Ephesus, the people were known for their worship of the god of Baccus, also known as Dionysus. Baccus was the god of wine and drunken orgies. They believed that to commune with their god and be led by him, and they had to be drunk. In their drunken state, they could determine the will of their god.

On the other hand, Paul contrasted how we connect with the God of heaven. How we live for Him and serve and obey Him. It was natural for him to draw the contrast between how the god of Ephesus is served, as contrasted with the God of heaven. With the God of heaven, you do not get drunk with wine, but instead, you are filled with the Spirit of God. When you are filled with the Spirit, you can determine God’s will and serve him faithfully in moral living. To be filled with the Spirit means that we are directed, influenced, and governed by the Holy Spirit.

When we allow the Spirit to direct us, this is where music comes in! With the right heart and attitude, Paul says we will want to sing about God’s faithfulness and blessing. What should be coming out of our mouths is a pattern of praise, thanksgiving, and speech honoring God. What comes out of our mouths reflects our hearts. I would even go so far as to say what we post, what we type, and whatever form of communication you use will reflect something about your character and your dependence upon who you truly worship. Make sure that the object of your affection and love stems from Jesus. Be the example that you are called to be in Christ Jesus. Be the example you want your kids to admire and look up to. Be the example that will inspire others to pursue character, integrity, and love.

I’ll close with this. In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin tells of the time he wanted to convince the citizens of Philadelphia to light the streets at night to protect against crime and as a convenience for evening activities. Failing to convince them by his words, he decided to show his neighbors how compelling a single light could be. He bought an attractive lantern, polished the glass, and placed it on a long bracket that extended from the front of his house. Each evening as darkness descended, he lit the wick. His neighbors soon noticed the warm glow in front of his house. Passerby’s found that the light helped them avoid tripping over protruding stones in the roadway. Soon others placed lanterns in front of their homes, and eventually, the city recognized the need for having well-lighted streets.

A single light made all the difference in the dark streets of Philadelphia. In the same way, when we live in the light, we let go of the things that we once did in the darkness, and now we live into a new way of life in the light of Christ. Our culture is full of darkness, anger, and hate. We are to be people of love living into the fullness of what it means to be a Christ-follower. The most recent mass shootings show us some extreme results of those lost in darkness. White supremacy and domestic terrorism have been huge problems within our culture. In some ways, there are some Americans so focused on being afraid of people wanting to come into our country that we have lost sight of what is happening with the very people already in our country! Hate is becoming mainstream, and we are seeing the results of that. While I am all for sensible gun reform, that does not alleviate the hearts of darkness, which is full of hate, that so many in our country are caught up in. We must change and transform from the inside out with the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. May we be that kind of people, living in the light. Amen

WOKE Part 1 – Ephesians 4:17-32

THEME VERSES: Ephesians 5:13-14

But everything exposed by the light becomes visible. this is why it is said: “Wake up. O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Y’all need to get woke! See, even the apostle Paul says it! Now I know you all are thinking, “Whoa, what exactly do you mean by that?” I get it. So, let’s look at how the term “WOKE” has been used throughout history. Wikipedia tells us that:

“Woke is an English adjective meaning “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination” that originated in African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). Beginning in the 2010s, it came to encompass a broader awareness of social inequalities such as sexism, and has also been used as shorthand for left-wing ideas involving identity politics and social justice….

The phrase stay woke had emerged in AAVE by the 1930s, in some contexts referring to an awareness of the social and political issues affecting African Americans. The phrase was uttered in a recording by Lead Belly and later by Erykah Badu. Following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, the phrase was popularized by Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists seeking to raise awareness about police shootings of African Americans. After seeing use on Black Twitter, the term woke became an Internet meme and was increasingly used by white people, often to signal their support for BLM, which some commentators have criticized as cultural appropriation. Mainly associated with the millennial generation, the term spread internationally and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017.

The terms woke capitalism and woke-washing have arisen to describe companies who signal support for progressive causes as a substitute for genuine reform. By 2020, parts of the political center and right-wing in several Western countries were using the term woke, often in an ironic way, as an insult for various progressive or leftist movements and ideologies perceived as overzealous, performative, or insincere. In turn, some commentators came to consider it an offensive term with negative associations to those who promote political ideas involving identity and race. By 2021, woke had become used almost exclusively as a pejorative, with most prominent usages of the word taking place in a disparaging context.

So, as you can see, being WOKE used to be a positive thing in the sense that someone has become aware of the effect and impact of racism. They get it. They had an awakening to better understanding and empathy for those suffering from racism. But now, as we come into our recent culture wars, we see the word “WOKE” being used as a negative, disparaging way of describing people or companies that promote progressive ideas. WOKE is used as a manipulative word to signal opposition to people and corporations who may disagree with the political right.

Now that we understand all of this, in what sense are we supposed to be WOKE? Paul tells us to be woke in the letter to the Ephesians. He says, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” I want us to look at the theological understanding of which Paul wants us to be woke. It is important that we understand this as a theological term rather than a political hammer to smear the opposition. This is a term that Paul uses to shock us out of an old way of life and into a new way of life.

In the letter to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul takes chapters 1-3 to explain all that Jesus has done for us. First, Paul summarizes God’s story. Then in chapters 4-6, Paul explains how God’s story should reshape our story.

We will pick up where we left off last week in chapter 4 of the letter to the Ephesians. Paul begins by stating that to be woke to this new way of life, we need to stop acting like unbelievers. Living in Ephesus had to be tough. Temptation was everywhere. Ephesus was a leading city of commerce and culture in the Roman Empire. It was the home of the pagan temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The worship of Diana involved the worst immorality of pagan religion. This influence made Ephesus a wicked place to live. Temple prostitution, crime, immorality, idolatry, and every conceivable form of sin were practiced. Many of the Christians in Ephesus came out of that kind of background. In contrast to this evil background, Paul states, “Don’t live like that any longer!”

He says in Ephesians 4:17-19
17 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.

In this passage, we see that the unbelievers continue to live in the darkness. This involves futile thinking. They think in the moment and have no concept of the bigger picture of what God is trying to accomplish. They think only of themselves with no regard for others. They are ignorant because of the hardening of their hearts. They have no sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading. Instead, they have given themselves over to anything they want, leading to immorality and greed. It appears that the Ephesian church might have been struggling with this, understanding the old way of life in contrast to the new way of life. This is something that every pastor deals with in leading their congregation. We can see this play out with this video called the Honest Pastor.


Paul contrasts the way of the Gentile with the way of a Christ-follower. To be a Christ-follower is to be WOKE to a new way of living. Paul states in Ephesians 4:20-24

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Becoming WOKE is definitely a process in which we learn how to be a Christ-follower. It is a process of unlearning habits of the former way of life and instead, forming habits for a new way of life. We are to put off the old self and put on the new self. We are to be made new by the attitude of our minds. This is a new way of thinking. A new way of being. A new way of looking at life and our purpose in God’s story. As we better understand how we fit into God’s story, we let go of our old way of life and embrace a new way of life, transforming us to be more righteous and holy.

Paul then gives us 5 things that we must change as we live into being a Christ-follower. The first thing he deals with is what is coming out of our mouths. Are we using our words to lie or be people of truth? He states in Ephesians 4:25

25 Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

Truth needs to be a central characteristic of a Christ-follower. Unfortunately, we live in a day where so much falsehood is put out there, and it is so easy to get caught up in things like fake news, alternative facts, and blatant lies. It has become a key characteristic of our culture over the past several years. Many online webpages and news sources have found how to get viewers by keeping their audience in a perpetual state of fear and anger. It is a corrosive and cancerous way of being. Instead, we find our truth in what Christ has done for us. We find our truth in how we are invited into God’s Story instead of the ugly and hateful narratives that permeate our culture. If you are caught up in false narratives and fake news, you’ve gotten off course.

The next thing Paul contrasts is how we deal with anger. Do you have constructive anger or destructive anger? Paul says in Ephesians 4:26-27

26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

We cannot allow anger to seep in and become the main characteristic of who we are. It can have a harsh and destructive effect on us. Based on what I see some people posting on the internet, I can tell you that some are living in a perpetual state of anger: anger at the government, anger at scientists, anger at the church, and anger at the schools. This is not healthy, nor is it Christ-like. Is anger always wrong? No, of course not. When we see the injustice being done to people all around the world, it ought to break our hearts and stir up righteous anger in us. But the difference here is that this should lead us to do what we can to bring God’s love and healing to situations of injustice and hate. First, there is an anger that leads us to do what is right for the sake of others. Then there is an anger that becomes a cancer to our soul, eating us from the inside out, hurting and destroying our relationships with others.

The third thing Paul addresses are the contrast between theft and work. He states in Ephesians 4:28

28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

It is interesting to note why he says we should work. It is so that we can help others who are in need! We are not supposed to figure out how to cheat, lie and steal, but instead, have a solid work ethic where we are taking care of ourselves and others. Honest work is a godly value where you learn how to take care of your needs and help other people in need. When we are blessed through honest work, we can meet our needs and help others.

Fourth, Paul contrasts bad language with good language. He says in Ephesians 4:29

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

What comes out of our mouths ought to benefit others. It should build people up, challenge, inspire and uplift people. This would include what we post online as well as what we speak with our mouths. We live in a new information age where we can put out a lot of words both verbally and online. There have even been examples in recent news of pastors who have created virtual fake online personas in which they can post and say things that would shock their congregation if they knew this was their pastor. What we say, what we type, and what we post reflect our true identity, even if you are hiding behind a false identity online.

And then lastly, Paul shows us that we need to let go of the old way of life and embrace the Holy Spirit’s transformation into a new way of life. He says in Ephesians 4:30-32

30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Our actions and attitudes need to reflect the Holy Spirit’s transformation of our life. We let go of what would grieve the Spirit, and we take on things like kindness, compassion, and forgiveness towards others. We are to build each other up and not tear each other down. Paul reminds us in the letter to the Romans that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. Why then would we think anything less would help to attract people to our church? We need to be people of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. When we act like this, people will be drawn to our faith. This will be the evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in your life and transforming you to be more like Jesus.

As I was growing up in the evangelical church, a big question that we always had was, “How do I know for sure that I am saved?” However, the more I have grown in the faith and studied Scripture, I believe that the biggest evidence of salvation is recognizing how the Holy Spirit is changing you and transforming you to be more like Jesus. So, take a good hard look at yourself. Are you still asleep, living out the old way of life? Or are you WOKE to the reality of the Holy Spirit making you more like Jesus each and every day?

Our faith should influence our behavior. We should be transformed through the inner working of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t just behavior modification, though, but a new way of thinking and living. Being WOKE to the reality of the Spirit in our lives.

Are you allowing the Spirit of God to work within you, or are you holding out on the Spirit? We can push him off or invite him in to change us to be more like Jesus.

The OLD way of life produces disunity, disfunction, fracturing, and broken relationships.

The NEW way of life produces unity, love, harmony, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

Which are you?