“Out of the darkness comes the light.” So began an article in yesterday’s newspaper. It was the Faith and Values section of the Lexington Herald Leader, and it described the experiences of three Pentecostal preachers in Leslie County who work weekday jobs as coal miners and preach on the side.
The article continued, “Every workday, at dawn’s early light, Kevin Napier crawls into a long, black hole. Coal mining is safer than it used to be, though it’s still dusty and dirty, and there’s always concern that something terrible could happen deep inside a cramped shaft. But sometimes something wondrous can happen, too. Napier remembers the time he had stopped in a mine to eat his lunch, and he reached up and turned off the light on his safety hat. “Everything was completely dark, and I looked up a way, where the men were near the top, and I could see a light,” Napier said. “It made me realize how Jesus Christ came to me in the darkness while I was a sinner and brought me out to the light. ‘It’s in 1 Peter 2:9. The Bible says Jesus brings them out of the darkness and into everlasting light'” (Lexington Herald Leader, March 9, 2002, story by Art Jester).
When I read that article I immediately knew it was the introduction that I needed for this sermon on children of light. What better image for us in eastern Kentucky than that of a coal mine?
Our passage from Ephesians says it this way, “For you were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (5:8).
Jesus loved to use this contrast between darkness and light as a tool to describe the difference that Christ makes. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus forecast his own epitaph by saying, “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil” (John 3:19).
We are called “children of light” in several passages in the New Testament. Early in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said in a very direct way, “You are the light of the world.”
When Jesus told the parable of the dishonest manager, he concluded that “the children of this world are, in their own generation, wiser than the children of the light “ (Luke 16:8). And again in John 12, Jesus says, “Believe in the light, that you may become children of light.” (John 12:36). 1 Thessalonians says, “You are all children of light, and children of the day. We don’t belong to the night, nor to darkness” (1 Thess. 5:5).
The first verse of our text says, “you were once… but are now…” This is one of several in Scripture that paint a stark contrast between what we were before we became Christians and what we are now that we have. Each one has a peculiar way of describing the contrast.
Here in Ephesians, Paul starts the contrast with the words, “you were once” and ends it with “but are now.” The book of Titus draws the same contrast by saying, ” For we were also once …” (Titus 3:3). And on the other side, Titus says, “But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love toward mankind appeared …” (Titus 3:4). Colossians describes the first side as “on the earth… You also once walked in those, when you lived in them.” This stands in contrast to how we live “as God’s chosen ones…” 1 Peter says, “For we have spent enough of our past time doing the desire of the Gentiles” which he contrasts with the advice to “be of sound mind, self-controlled, and sober in prayer.” And I love the nice summary from Ephesians 2:13 which says, “You who once were far off are made near in the blood of Christ.”
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Paul sums up that very idea in verse 8 when he says, “For you were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”Notice that this reference does not say, “You were IN darkness” but rather “You WERE darkness.” Jesus put the idea this way in Luke 11:34, “The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore when your eye is good, your whole body is also full of light; but when it is evil, your body also is full of darkness.”
The key phrase of our text today is interesting because it is uneven. On the one side is, “For you were once darkness.” A balanced ending of that statement would be, “but now you are light.” “For once you were darkness, but now you are light.” But, in fact, our text ends the statement with these words, “but are now light in the Lord.” The phrase is unbalanced by adding on the side of light the words, “in the Lord.”
Perhaps that is the point. What makes the darkness hopeless and helpless is the fact that the Lord is not there. Life within the darkness is utterly alone! It is the presence of the Lord that makes our current life one that is filled with light instead of darkness.
Verse 10 says, “proving what is well pleasing to the Lord.” This whole light and darkness business is important because it makes a difference in how we live. Living in the light becomes the basis for ethical admonition. It means that the children of light will associate themselves with the good. They will actively seek to determine that which pleases God. Along with the transition of status comes the appropriate behavior. We are to “walk as children of light” (v. 8)
Romans 13:12-14 says it this way:
“The night is far gone, and the day is near. Let’s therefore throw off the works of darkness, and let’s put on the armor of light….” What are the works of darkness? The passage in Romans goes on to describe them, “not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
In all of the passages we have looked at, the writers make lists of the kinds of behavior typical of us before we were changed. Listen to some of the phrases that described us “before Christ:”
Titus: “For we were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.”(Titus 3:3)
Colossians: “Sexual immorality, uncleanness, depraved passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry… anger, wrath, malice, slander, and shameful speaking out of your mouth. 3:9 Don’t lie to one another” (Colossians 3:5).
1 Peter: “Having walked in lewdness, lusts, drunken binges, orgies, carousings, and abominable idolatries.” (1 Peter 4:3)
It’s not a pretty picture, is it? After Paul makes the list in Titus, he concludes of the Christians in Crete, ” Such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:11). We can make the same conclusion by saying, “And this is what some of US used to be!”
But such an honest recognition of what we were and what possibilities still lie within us should give us cause for compassion and understanding. As Whitefield said when he saw the criminal on the way to the gallows: “There but for the grace of God go I.”
What are the works of light? The Biblical writers don’t spend nearly as much time describing these actions. The passage in Romans simply says, “Let us walk properly, as in the day” (Romans 13:13)
South Carolina Coach Lou Holtz has a similar rule for his football players. He always says, “I only have one rule. Do right.” He insists that everyone really knows what the right thing to do is, we just need to do what we know to do.
It seems the Biblical writers have much the same attitude. Live honorably. In 1 John, the writer boils it down to love and hate. He says, “the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shines. He who says he is in the light and hates his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no occasion for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in the darkness, and walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:8-11).
In verse 12 of our text, Paul turns again to the works of darkness when he says, “For the things which are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of. But all things, when they are reproved, are revealed by the light, for everything that reveals is light.” He speaks of things done in secret too shameful to be mentioned. The “works of darkness” are too terrible even to discuss.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul said, “But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2).
The Light can expose the things done in the darkness.
I remember dining at a restaurant that had “atmosphere,” and by that they seemed to mean that they turned the lights down low. It was one of those restaurants with the ceiling painted black and some creative lighting techniques. For some reason, I was back at the same restaurant during the off hours when they had the lights turned up fully. I was surprised at how different the place looked. And even more, I was surprised to see that there was dirt in the corners. The darkness had covered up the dirt!
Jesus has the same effect on us. When His Light comes into our lives, He exposes our hidden ways of shamefulness.
Jesus put it this way: “But there is nothing covered up, that will not be revealed, nor hidden, that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light. What you have spoken in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3).
What is called or is a form of life that is out in the open, transparent before God.
But the good news is that the Light has power.
Yesterday with bright sun and the first warm weather of the spring, I was eager to get outdoors and work on my sailboat getting it ready for the season. I cleaned it up good and tried to patch the pesky leak that bothered me last summer. As I sat in the cabin, I could hear the small whirr of the solar-powered vent I installed at the front of the boat. It’s an amazing little device that runs only on solar power. When the sun shines, the photovoltaic cells transform the sun’s rays into electricity and that turns a little fan that constantly exhausts air from the boat. This little fan removes the moist, musty air that too often causes mildew in boats.
When Jesus comes into our lives, he give us the power to remove the darkness from our lives. He not only exposes the darkness, he give us power. The light strengthens and enables us. We are no longer helpless and alone.
As I thought about all this talk of darkness and light, I remembered the words to a song we sometimes sing on Wednesday night. It was written by Graham Kendrick in 1987 and is entitled “Shine, Jesus Shine.” Listen to the words:
“Lord, the light of your love is shining,
Jesus, Light of the world, shine upon us,
Shone on me. Shine on me.
Shine, Jesus shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory;
Blaze, Spirit, blaze, set our hearts on fire.
Flow, river, flow, flood the nations with grace and mercy;
Send forth Your Word, Lord, and let there be light.
Let there be light.”
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2002, Mickey Anders. Used by permission.