We usually think of light as a positive thing. When darkness falls at my house, I take comfort in the glow of soothing lamps. Both of my girls have small lights in their rooms that stay on overnight. If I’m driving on a dark rural road, I always feel better when I approach city lights once again. I’ve stood outside on clear nights and felt awed and comforted by the light of the moon.
This positive feeling about light is spiritual as well. I have a friend who says, “I’m holding you up to the Light” to people who are going through difficult times. Throughout the Scripture, Jesus is described as the “Light of the world” (John 8:12), the one who overcomes the darkness (John 1:5). God’s word is a “lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps 119:105).
But light can have a more unpleasant purpose that is no less important. This morning as I drove my girls to school, I heard a story on the radio about social media’s fostering of false perceptions of perfection. That is, some of us are looking at what our Facebook friends are posting and getting depressed. We see their “perfect” families, hear about their “perfect” lives, and see the listings of their “perfect” jobs. Nothing bad ever seems to happen to them. It looks like everything goes right for them. This mentality makes us question our own lives—even our very worth as human beings. It’s an updated version of trying to “keep up with the Joneses.”
The truth is that everyone—even the Joneses—experiences struggles, hard times, unhappiness, and failures. Everyone suffers disappointment and loss. Everyone is busy and stressed and hurried and harried. We all say things we don’t mean to the ones we love most. So why aren’t we more honest about these things? The report stated that if people were more real about their lives, then we’d all have a healthier perspective on what it means to be human.
In today’s lesson text, the writer talks about exposing what has been hidden in darkness (Eph 5:11). When we bring our struggles to the light, we can no longer hide behind them. We are able to face reality, and, even though it’s unpleasant, it is often the only way to move forward and grow as people.
The writer adds, “…everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light” (v. 13.) Could it be that our difficulties, once exposed, could actually transform from something dark and defeating into something bright and restoring? With Jesus Christ, I would say definitely yes!
1. How do you feel about light—both physical light and spiritual light?
2. Why do you think light is such a common image in the Bible? How does it speak to you?
3. Have you ever been guilty of comparing your life to what you perceive as someone else’s “perfect” life? How did that make you feel? Why might it be harmful?
4. When has something negative about your life or the life of a friend or family member been brought into the light? What was the outcome?
5. Do you believe that Christ can turn our darkest places into lights that can shine into the lives of others and help them? If so, ask that God would help you be more honest about your struggles. If not, ask that God would help you recognize Christ’s ability to transform the darkest parts of you into places that shine with his glory.
Verse 5 contains a powerful exhortation: inheriting the kingdom. People who are sexually immoral, impure, and/or greedy cannot inherit the kingdom, i.e., be saved. First, a comment on idolatry: Earlier we noted the connection between sexual misconduct and idolatry. This connection went as far back as Hosea and continued in Judaism after the writing of Ephesians. Again, the connection and context of Ephesians 4–5 do not indicate that such practices are running rampant. Rather, it is a conventional way to contrast in a readily accessible way what it means to be faithful or unfaithful to God. The language itself leads to further comments. It is noteworthy that idolatry, not a divorce, is the end result. This tells us that sexual relations in this instance is a metaphor for a relationship with God. The verse moves back and forth from metaphor to literal referent: fornicator (metaphorical) to impure person (literal); covetous (metaphorical) to idolater (literal). The literal defines the metaphorical.
What then was “idolatry”? It literally meant to worship a meaningless image. For Jewish people it connoted worshiping a false deity and, as previously stated, was often associated with some type of sexual sin (e.g., Wis 14:12; T. Benj. 10:10; cf. Rev 2:20-23). Best sees idolatry relating only to covetousness since idolatry refers to “money and possessions as idols.” However, the Decalogue says differently that it includes adultery (Exod 20:17). Therefore, I consider all three vices roughly synonymous. Within this context, idolatry connotes turning oneself into a sexual predator that becomes prey to her or his own addiction.
The phrase “the kingdom of Christ and God” is unique to Ephesians (cf. Col 1:13). The norm is “the kingdom of God” (cf. Rom 14:17) or simply “the kingdom” (1 Cor 15:24). More study of this phrase solely in Paul’s letters without reference to the Gospels is sorely needed in order to arrive at a more balanced view.
Lincoln correctly argues that Ephesians does not envision two kingdoms but one with both present and future dimensions. This peculiar phrase may be dependent on 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 where Christ delivers the kingdom to God. On the other hand, it might have been influenced by Ephesians 4:32 and 5:1-2. While the precise meaning of the expression “the kingdom of God” is open to debate, it clearly had soteriological dimensions in the Pauline churches. Ephesians 5:5 is an admonition to avoid certain practices if one wishes to be saved.
Thomas B. Slater, Ephesians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2012) 131–33.
Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a local charity serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (12) and Natalie (10) and her husband John. For fun, she tries to stay caught up on the latest amazing TV series (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and The Crown).
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