- The Explore the Bible lesson for Nov. 3 focuses on Ephesians 5:1-14.
As a child growing up, my parents made a practice of informing me of their love for me. This took place as part of a regular day, on special occasions and when I got into trouble. While I readily accepted their love for me as a reality when it sprang out of good times and happy memories, I struggled somewhat identifying love that found expression through punishments that were meted out or corrections that had to be made. It really wasn’t until years later when I expressed personal discipline while my friends took unhealthy paths or I was prepared for a task while my colleagues floundered that I came to understand that love sometimes occurs by saying the difficult things people need to hear to help them grow and prosper.
As the Apostle Paul continues his ethical applications of the theology he presented in the first part of Ephesians, he moved to the subject of the Father’s love and what that looks like expressed in our lives. While Paul does highlight the demand for sacrifice that we have come to expect from biblical writers, he also challenges believers to distance themselves from sinful behaviors and to confront others when sin is present. These latter two instructions often are seen as holy or—by some—judgmental expressions of the faith. But for Paul, they are simply further applications of what it means to love.
Imitate (Ephesians 5:1-2)
The first two verses of chapter 5 are transitional in nature. They end the discussion of the transformed life Paul highlighted in chapter 4 by challenging believers to be like God. But they also introduce the means by which we are will be able to express the love he is advocating for in the next portion of chapter 5. The command to be like God is not new to those who have spent time in Scripture. Leviticus (particularly chapter 19) is full of such an admonition. Likewise, Jesus commanded his followers in Matthew 5:48 to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. The foundation for such a challenging command is found in the fact that, as believers, we have become children of God and, therefore, must love others just as he loved us. This love is expressed in sacrificial living, just as Christ sacrificed himself for us.
There is power in imitation. How often do we watch a video online that shows us how to do something we previously didn’t know how to do? How many times do coaches demonstrate an activity they want their athlete to emulate? A visible example will go much further than merely a spoken instruction. For the church in Ephesus, and for us as well, Paul’s guidance to love others is reinforced by his pointing to two visible ways such love has been demonstrated for us—God the Father adopting us and God the Son dying for us.
What are some excuses that we make for not carrying out Christian mandates for ethical behavior? How does God’s love for us undercut those excuses?
Isolate (Ephesians 5:3-7)
The shift from focusing on love and Christ’s sacrifice to avoiding sins seems almost too jarring to allow for a connection for the two. But the relationship between the two texts is made apparent through the repetition of words such as “goodness” and “truth.” Images pertaining to the tongue, darkness and light, and partnership reveal that Paul is staying very much in the same area. The contrast is to be found in the fact that whereas before Paul was focused upon what we should be doing to demonstrate our distinctiveness, now he is highlighting what we should be avoiding to communicate the same.
The sins Paul emphasizes are broken into three groups: sexual sins, sins related to speaking and covetousness. Though this list is hardly surprising in terms of its content, the fact that Paul continually returns to motivations for avoiding such sins that relate to our contact with God, show that the commandments ultimately are given to allow believers and those they minister to the ability to prosper. Paul alludes to avoiding things that are improper for God’s people (5:3), out of place (5:4), disqualifiers for the kingdom and subject to the wrath of God. He further highlights that these punishments are both present and future realities in his use of the word “comes” in verse 6. When looking at his discussion as a whole here, it becomes clear Paul is trying to encourage a path that results in the most blessing and least hardship. The sins themselves naturally lead to broken relationships and sorrow, but these also result in punishment from God that carries with it its own sorrow and grief. A logical person will do what he or she can to avoid both.
What are some ways that the sins Paul lists here reap consequences right now? What are some ways to avoid such sins without turning into a legalist?
Illuminate (Ephesians 5:8-14)
For the fourth time in the letter so far, Paul returns to the theme of light and darkness (cf. 1:18, 3:9, 4:18). Here he baldly calls believers “children of light.” The term is a Hebraism that communicates the very nature of someone as being light. That is, Paul is not simply saying Christians reveal or express light; here he is saying we are light. The distinction is important because in stating our nature the way he does, Paul is giving both the impetus and power for living the ethics he is outlining here. Light, by its very nature, distinguishes itself from darkness. It can’t help it. But light also can be directed into certain areas to reveal what previously was hidden in the darkness. Indeed, Paul suggests the power of light in that when it is present, whatever it touches must become in the light as well. Such is our mission to a darkened world and the means by which we will carry it out.
How does Paul’s light imagery change or impact your view of our role as Christians? What attitudes are incompatible with one who walks in the light as he or she interacts with darkness?
Timothy Pierce, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion at East Texas Baptist University.