Song to the Ephesians

Song to the Ephesians

Song to the Ephesians.

Please read Ephesians 5:14.

“Arise, O sleeper! Rise up from the dead, and Christ will shine into you and upon you!”

THE CONTEXT. Ephesus was the center of just about everything deemed important in that region of western Turkey. It was the political capital; the converging point of all the trade routes; the meeting place for all religious travelers and worshipers of the pagan deities; the hot spot of occult behavior and witchcraft. Ephesus was also the city with the strongest, busiest, and largest church in the ancient world. Since it is the most excavated city from the ancient era, we know of its famous Temple of Diana, many other pagan temples, the busy marketplace, the huge theater, and the stadium hosting gladiator contests and wild animal fights.

So the church in Ephesus had a lot to contend with… the dominance of pagan worship; popular cultic ceremonies and witchcraft; sexual immorality, especially through temple prostitution; and bloodlust. St. Paul spent three years in Ephesus, and the church remained strong through all that cultural opposition and religious “competition.” Despite their amazing endurance and perseverance, it would still be easy to be lured by false teaching and social pressures. The Song to the Ephesians was no doubt familiar to the church members, and Paul sought to use this hymn excerpt as a wake-up call to those believers in the church who might be falling asleep spiritually. Paul didn’t want the Christians in their midst to “forsake their first love,” as John mentioned in Rev. 2. Ephesians remained an effective church in a somewhat oppositional environment. The believers no doubt took to heart Paul’s description of a healthy church and the necessity of being united in the Faith. Ephesians is full of wonderful teaching from Paul on these matters, including his closing thoughts on putting on the full armor of God as they wage battles against the principalities and the powers of darkness.

THE SONG. Ephesians 5:14 is an excerpt from a baptismal hymn in the early church. This brief song is a wake-up call to walk in the light. The song implores some believers to wake up from their spiritual slumber. Wake up, sleepyheads! Rise and shine! Climb out of your coffins, as the Message puts it. Open your eyes in wakefulness and the Lord will shine on you, the Lord will give you light. If you are not baptized, then let’s get it done, and watch Jesus Christ shine his light into you and upon you. Watch your new day dawn on you. If you are baptized, then walk in the light. Bask in it. Live into it. Stay away from the darkness surrounding you.

Baptism is known as the sacrament of illumination in the Orthodox Church. Baptism is the time when we are brought into the light. It is the time when the new day dawns, when we start  new life, when we put on the armor of light (Romans 13:12). When we are baptized, Christ shines His light on us, and we are called to walk in the light. Beginning with our baptism into the Triune Lord, we are called to be children of light. (Eph. 5:8).

FACE OF THE FATHER. In the Aaronic Blessing of Numbers 6:24-26, we ask God to bless someone by making His face to shine upon that person. In that blessing, we are asking the Lord to turn full-face to that person in person-to-person contact. We are asking that the Lord has his eyes light up when He sees that person, like when two friends meet. We are asking the Lord to deepen His friendship with that person, that He would look upon that person favorably, that the blessed person is reflecting the very light of God’s face.

This early hymn mirrors Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.” In fact, the baptismal hymn seems to complete the spiritual vision of that Isaiah verse. Arise! The glory of the Lord rises to shine on you! It’s a new day! Put on the armor of light, and let your light shine. Praise and worship the Father of lights (James 1:17), who wraps Himself with light as with a robe (Ps. 104:1). Grow in the very knowledge of God, the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2), the ultimate source of light.

Does it even seem possible to embrace the God who dwells in unapproachable light (I Tim 6:16)? Does that seem too abstract, too intangible, if not impossible? How then do we live into the light? How do we become children of the light?

  1. Follow Jesus. First and foremost, follow Him who is light from light, true God from true God. Unite with the Son who is the radiance of God’s glory (Heb. 1:3). Accept Jesus Christ, who said ,”I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness. No, he shall possess the light of life.” (John 8:12). The more like Jesus we become, transformed through His Spirit, the more like a window we become, transparent, revealing His light in us, uncovering His radiance, His truth, goodness and beauty. Shine the light of Jesus, and we will become the children of the light. “Look to the Lord, and be radiant.” (Ps. 34:5).
  2. Grow in Goodness. How can we show God’s light? By learning to be good, by reflecting God’s own goodness. “Listen, you lovers of God! Hate evil, for God can keep you from wrong and protect you from the power of wickedness. For He sows seeds of light within His lovers.” (Ps. 97:10-11). Deeds of goodness bring the spotlight to the Giver of light. “So don’t hide your light! Let it shine brightly before others, so that the commendable things you do will shine as light upon them, and then they will give their praise to your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16). Let Jesus, your light within you, shine brighter and brighter as you grow in goodness, in purity, in righteousness. And love shines the brightest light. As has been said, Jesus is Love that comes at the speed of light. “The person who continues in the light is the one who loves his brother and sister.” (I John 2:10).
  3. Grow in Wisdom. Light and truth were seen as synonymous in the Hebrew mind. Wisdom is walking in the light of the truth. Wisdom is living skilfully, with discernment and understanding. Wisdom is learning God’s mind and living in light of that, making decisions in concert with God’s will. The very nature of light is that it is active, it is doing something. Wisdom is essentially truth-in-action. “Wisdom brightens a person’s face, it makes his face shine.” (Eccles. 8:1). The wiser a person, the brighter the light, the more is revealed of God’s light of truth. In fact, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Dan. 12:3).

DESTINY. What is our ultimate destiny as lights in the darkness? What is all this light leading up to? Our full destiny is to be united with the glory of God’s light, in whom there is no darkness at all. Our little flame will be touched by the Holy Fire. We will wear light like a robe as we finally live in unapproachable light, no longer seeing through a glass darkly. No longer will we need to put on an armor of light, but instead slip into our luxurious robe of light. But becoming full of light, enlightening the world with God’s light, is a process, in which “the path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Prov. 4:18). That’s what we can confidently look forward to, the time when we will be filled with light, when “the righteous will shine like the brightness of the sun in the kingdom of the Father.” (Matt. 13:43).

FINAL WORD. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has cascaded His light into us – the brilliant dawning light of the glorious knowledge of God as we gaze into the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Corinthians 4:6, (The Passion Translation).

One Reply to “Song to the Ephesians”

  1. Thank you again, Steve, for calling us as Followers of Jesus to live out our calling through such eloquent and insightful expounding of the Scriptures. I believe the church of Ephesus may have been much like the western church today, like myself. So the charge/ reminder to “ wake up” and be the light, truth , wisdom He intends us to be as we look to Him is personally encouraging and convicting.
    Also your exposition of the Aaronic Blessing always blesses me!
    Thank you, Ann.