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