PFOA: Ephesians 5:1-14
“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”
Eph 5:8, ESV.
If you need a short summary of Paul’s theology, Eph. 5:8 is a good candidate. In any case, the verse certainly gives a good summary of the main message of Ephesians. Here is the before-after contrast: formerly, at one time, we were darkness, not just ‘in’ darkness, but darkness itself. In the past we were actual sinners. Now, having heard and believed the gospel, we have been called “out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). In fact we are light itself. And Paul follows this with a command “Walk as children of light”. Theology must govern ethics. Knowledge must direct living. Christians must go beyond saying what is right; we must practice it.
One of the communicable attributes (i.e., man may also have this attribute) of God is that he is holy, and we are to be holy too, if we are to imitate God as Paul urges us (v.1). While there are all kinds of sinful acts and thoughts, Paul focuses, in these verses, on the ones that, as believers, we are perhaps most susceptible – sexual immorality and greed. It seems opportune that we are reflecting on this passage as just a few days ago, the US Supreme Court has ruled that gay marriages are legal in all of the U.S. Although around the world, gay activists celebrated this as a victory, only in the U.S. was there much debate and even then, the responses from the churches have been equivocal.
However, we should view this event as perhaps one of the last nails in the coffin of “Christendom”. Christendom began with the conversion of Constantine who then made Christianity the religions of his empire. As the empire grew, Christianity spread along with it. This is vividly seen when the Church followed the armies of Portugal and Spain in the Inquisition where proselytization went along with colonisation. Later, with the growing British Empire, the way was opened for Western missionaries to go into the colonies to establish churches. In Christendom, the authority of the empire is validated by the church, and in turn the church enjoy favour and facilitation in the propagation of the faith. After the World War II, European nations lost this relationship and now we are seeing its dissipation in America. The church can no longer depend on the state for support and defence. This is the end of the first Christendom as Philip Jenkins sees it in his book The Next Christendom.
But Christendom is not the Kingdom of God. If there is a “sword”, it is the word of God (Heb 4:12, Rev 1:16) wielded by the Holy Spirit (Eph 6:17). God’s kingdom does not need the sponsorship or defence from the nations of this world. God’s people are light. When we live as children of light, darkness has to recede. The challenge faced by Christians is not so much as to influence the law of the land, than to live ethically as light to dispel the darkness in the land.
Rom 1:18-32 typically lists what Paul meant by sexual immorality and greed. This is what described us formerly, but now, there must not even be a hint of such (Eph 5:3). Homosexual acts are sinful, so is adultery and ‘jumping into bed’ with anyone who is not your spouse. Why do we condemn one and wink at the other? We frown on the casino customer but practically praise the trader who makes a killing with his speculative plays on the stock market. We are light, let it shine forth clearly and consistently. Then the world will hear us, and even if they don’t, they will glorify God eventually (1 Pet 2:9).