“This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.”
Paul is basing his authority to make this very strong exhortation, on the teaching he has just presented pertaining to the truth upon which we are established, and the application of that truth to mature us, and grow us into a strong body (speaking metaphorically) with Christ as our head.
We didn’t bring verse 16 into the last sermon, so let’s touch on it briefly here for the full picture, before we go on to consider this question of what ’darkness’ really is, in reference to the spiritual condition.
As I said, here in verse 15 Paul has once again established that the focus and goal of the Christian is to mature and be made more like Christ, and once again calls Christ our head.
So that leads him once more into this analogy of the body, and I know you’ve all heard sermons from these ‘body’ passages that build on that analogy and bring out all of the obvious illustrations that give us a picture of the structure and working of a unified church.
I won’t repeat all that here, but let’s just draw from verse 16 before we go on, the primary point of Paul’s; the one he’s been working toward from the beginning of this chapter.
He has admonished us to walk in a manner that is consistent with our calling as born again believers, being diligent to preserve the unity that the Holy Spirit has brought to us, and by grace taking advantage of the tools He has gifted us with for the sake of our growth and maturity and our further developing knowledge of the Son of God.
We are to allow those tools, says Paul, to build us up and equip us for service in ministry, and also to grow us up spiritually so that we do not fall prey to the crafty schemers, but also so that, knowing sound doctrine, we can order our lives by it but also speak it in love, declare it, for the sake of maintaining unity and giving truth to the lost.
He has said all these things and brought us to this point, to say that a healthy body grows! If all the parts and joints are working, and mental stability and emotional well-being are present, then the body goes forth productively and joyfully.
So as he comes to his next line of thinking in verse 17, we keep in mind that what he has taught and established in the reader’s mind concerning the unity and maturity and overall health of the church, empowers her, and every individual part, to be obedient to the coming exhortations.
“This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord…”
Now what does that tell us about how important these coming words are in the mind of the Apostle? “Based on these things I’ve been saying, I now say to you, and not only I, but I am confident that I have the Lord’s full support in this”
MOM SAID SO
I must have been about 6 years old, we lived at the time in Moira, New York I think, when one Saturday morning I was at the home of a friend just a short way down the block. We were watching the “Lone Ranger” with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. At that time there was another boy living in our house. My parents had taken him in as a foster child while the authorities found a permanent home for him. His name was Billy Nesbit.
About half way into this episode of the “Lone Ranger”, Billy came to the door and said, “Clark, your mom wants you to come home”. I said that I would, as soon as the “Lone Ranger” was over. “No,” he said, “she wants you to come now”.
Apparently, neither he nor my mother were able to accurately discern the prominence of the “Lone Ranger” in my life.
Not only was it foolish to presume that I would miss five minutes of the program by walking from my friend’s house to my house, but to me it was detestable that they would conspire together to bring me a message while the program was on, making me miss valuable seconds of what Kemosabe was saying and doing at the moment! They didn’t even have the common courtesy, to wait for the Cheerios Kid to be doing his thing before interrupting!
Billy went home alone. And, when the “Lone Ranger” “Hi-Yo Silver-ed” off into the days of yesteryear, I obediently went home.
Now remember, I was very young and gullible. So when I walked in the door on this Saturday morning and entered the kitchen, and saw my mother rinsing out an empty ice cream container and throwing it away, I assumed that they had all just had ice cream, and hadn’t saved any for me.
“Why didn’t Billy tell me you were having ice cream?” I whined through my state of shock.
My mother picked up on a golden opportunity. “If you had come home when I called for you, you wouldn’t have missed out”. Of course I know now that my parents had probably emptied that ice cream container Friday night after we kids went to bed, but that didn’t occur to me then.
I was devastated. I was angry at Billy. I was angry at my mom. I was angry because even if I had known about the ice cream, the choice would have been very difficult to make, and honestly, the “Lone Ranger” probably would have won anyway.
But I told you that whole story to say this. Billy didn’t come to me on his own authority. “Your mom says to come home” He came on the authority of one of the two people in my life who had the ultimate authority over me. Kemosabe was never going to know my name. He’s gone from this world now, and the only influence he had over me, although good, was through a television screen.
But in the foolishness of youth I ignored the one who had the authority to call and the right to expect obedience, and gave my allegiance to a fable.
Paul said, in essence, “The Lord is in agreement with me, and I with Him on this. Though I am His chosen Apostle and always speak with the authority He has vested in me, this time I’m telling you something that you should take as coming right from His mouth, or you will have consequences to pay; and they will be far more disastrous than missing out on ice cream.”
So listen up! “…walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind…”
Now in using the term ‘Gentiles’ here, he’s making a reference to the unsaved. His primary audience in Ephesus would have been gentile, in the usual sense of not being Jewish. That was made clear back in chapter 2, verse 11.
For clarity’s sake we might just change the word and say, “walk no longer in the way that those who are of this world walk”.
We’re going to be spending more time later in this chapter, talking about the walk of the world and how and why our walk should no longer resemble it.
But for today let’s land finally on this opening phrase of verse 18 and glean from it.
“…being darkened in their understanding…”
I think one of the most powerful and effective analogies used in scripture, is that of the difference between darkness and light.
Have you ever visited a cave? I mean one of these enormous caverns that has been turned into a guided tour, like Merrimack Caverns in Missouri? Or Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico?
We were in Tennessee a few years ago for a family reunion, and went to a place like that; I can’t remember the name of the caves now.
Nicole was about 4 at the time. Once we were deep into the cave, which by the way had lights installed throughout, the tour guide treated us to the obligatory ‘total darkness’ experience.
He warned us first, so I picked Nicole up so she’d feel more secure, and the lights went out, and we all ooooo-ed and ahahah-ed at the total darkness. After a minute or so he turned the lights back on and continued on up the trail, leading the group of tourists.
As we fell in behind the group and started up some stone stairs, Nicole, who was still in my arms, leaned close and whispered in a very accusatory tone, “Why did you bring us here?”
One of my most prevalent childhood memories, simply because it is something I heard so many times, is of my father saying, “Darkness is only the absence of light”. He said it whenever one of us kids was afraid of the dark. As an adult and looking back I can’t help wondering why the idea of a nightlight never seems to have occurred to my parents. But it’s a moot issue now. We’re all grown up with kids of our own (who are allowed nightlights, by the way).
Anyway, every time I hear this line or think of it myself, the picture that comes to my mind is of my dad, framed in the light coming from the hallway through my open bedroom door. He’s getting ready to shut me into almost total darkness; me and the monster under my bed; and he’s saying, “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Darkness is only the absence of light. Now go to sleep”
Well, he was right, of course. But when we come to this passage in Ephesians 4 and see the term used by Paul, we find that he had something in mind, much more dangerous, much more devastating, than simply the absence of physical light.
This term should sound familiar to the Bible student who has been through Romans. In chapter one Paul argued the condemnation of all mankind through the folly of its rejection of God.
“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…”
At the instant that sin was introduced into the world, death came to the spirit of man and his heart and mind were plunged into absolute darkness in regards to God and His love and His purpose and His plan.
“The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin”, goes the song, and that is an accurate assessment.
Spiritual darkness is much, much more than simply the absence of light. In this context, of course, it is the absence of the Light.
“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:4,5), says the gospel writer. That word ‘comprehend’ means to ‘lay hold of’ or ‘seize’, as in understanding. The same word is used in Ephesians 3:18 (and I’m sure you all remember that sermon very well and in detail), when Paul says he prays that we “…may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth…of the love of Christ…”
We could say a great many things about darkness today my friends. I could probably very easily find illustration after illustration pertaining to darkness. Stories about it. Maybe poems about it.
This is the horribleness of this darkness Paul speaks of, in Romans and again here in Ephesians. It is from this that all the devastation and hatred and violence and human suffering and sadness throughout the centuries stems…
…that it blinded men to the Light of the world, Jesus Christ.
That’s it. That is the root of the matter. All over the world, in religion, in psychology, wherever people are working to make the world a better place; whether it be through law making or charity work, or fund raisers or free clinics, or whatever…
…people are only attacking the symptoms, and they’re losing the battle. They are losing the battle, because the symptoms grow in strength and quantity faster than they can find and provide medicines against them, and they are losing the battle because whether they can recognize it or not, they are as ill and helpless as those they are trying to help.
They are as empty and as weak and as blind as those they think to fill and strengthen and lead.
“…being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart…”
This was the condition of all mankind without Christ at the time of Paul’s writing, and we must be made to see that it is the condition of mankind outside of Christ now.
Yes, even in this age of enlightenment, where people are educated and beautiful and wealthy and self-assured and self-confident; where they have absolute freedom to think and say what they want with impunity, and to continue to grope and get for themselves virtually without restraint, and they sit back in their world of creature comforts and laugh at anyone who would be so backwards and out-dated as to believe in God and in a Man from Nazareth who died for us.
They are darkened in their understanding, excluded from God’s kind of life, they are ignorant, they are hard of heart.
And the result, says Paul, is callousness, animal-like behavior, and an insatiable and continual lust for more.
Striking at the symptoms. Like a blindfolded child swinging at a piñata. Because they can’t see Christ, and therefore they can’t really see anything with clarity.
As Christians, we must come to understand and be often reminded, that their darkness is total. Awareness and accurate understanding of their condition will do two things for the Spirit-filled believer.
It will serve to convince and remind us that their only hope is the gospel message, and it should give us some degree of comfort and encouragement to go on, even when they reject us, knowing that the kind of darkness that envelopes them can only be taken away by the Holy Spirit of God.
THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD IS JESUS
He said it of Himself.
“I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12
Now I want to talk very specifically about what we who have the light should be seeing and doing something about, and then I’ll draw this to a close for today.
We have to see that the world sees the church, generally, as an entity that considers them low and dirty and unworthy. They think of us as people who look down our noses at them and condemn them as infidels and consider ourselves better than they, just because we’re in the church. Because we’re religious and they are not.
Of course, they are utterly in darkness. They are without understanding. We’ve just read those very words in the Bible that we believe in.
But the picture they get of us is not only a result of their lack of understanding. It is because we in the church go about with an ‘us - vs. - them’ mentality, and act like they expect us to act. Look down our noses, condemn, consider ourselves better.
We must combat this, church, or continue to weaken and lose our effectiveness in influencing the world for Christ.
Christ is the light of the world, and we are in and of the light, and we must bring the light into their lives to dispel their darkness; but first we have to have our minds changed about what the church is for.
The church is not on earth to legislate morality. The church is not on earth to set a good example of clean living. The church is not on earth to provide for the physical needs of the poor.
Am I shocking you? Of course we do those things. Scripture even exhorts us to be a good example, and to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Jesus even said that as we do those things in His name, it is as though we have done it for Him.
But if anyone asks you, ‘what is the primary purpose and function of the church’, I’ll tell you what you should say to them. You should say, ‘the primary purpose and function of the church, is to bring light to the world’s darkness’.
We are here to be light, and to lead them to the Light, so that their darkness might be dispelled, and their understanding enlightened, and so that they might have the life of God. And the way we bring the light, is by speaking the truth in love. We bring light to their lives, not with the things we share, or the good behavior we show, or the noble stand we take against sin and corruption, but with the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
They are in total darkness, Christian. Total darkness.
In my final Summer before going into the Air Force, just after graduation from High School, I went camping. I had a girl-friend at the time; or at least, I thought I did. But as I prepared to go off to Basic Training, she went back and started dating the guy she had broken up with before dating me. So I was going through a lot of emotional turmoil, big changes happening in my life, and in the middle of the night I decided I just wanted to go home. I was restless.
So I started to walk. In the darkness. Through the woods. As I walked with my all black German Shepherd panting quietly and invisibly at my side, clouds covered the sky and it began to sprinkle. And, because of the cloud cover, it now became very, very dark. So I took out my flashlight and used it for about 10 minutes until the batteries died.
For the next half hour or so, I struggled through undergrowth, stumbling over dead- falls, almost having a heart attack when my dog suddenly broke into a run and chased something through the woods that sounded, as it ran, like it was much larger than my dog…
..and just when I was thinking that I’d better just curl up in my now soaked sleeping bag and wait until morning, I stepped out from the trees next to a lake. I could just barely see the ripple of the black water in contrast to the ground at my feet, but as my eyes scanned the shoreline, way in the distance, I could see one single ray of light from a small cabin at lakeside.
Encouraged, I trudged on, staying focused always on that light, until I finally reached it, and found a place of warmth and comfort in which to spend the remainder of the night.
I thought of that night when I read a quote that I found in my research for this sermon. I want to share it with you in closing:
“We can’t see light itself. We can see only what light lights up, like the little circle of light where the candle flickers - a sheen of mahogany, a wineglass, a face leaning toward us out of the shadows.
When Jesus says that he is the Light of the World (John 8:12), maybe something like that is part of what he is saying. He himself is beyond our seeing, but in the darkness where we stand, we see, thanks to him, something of the path that stretches out from the door, something of whatever it is that keeps us trying more or less to follow the path even when we can hardly believe that it goes anywhere worth going or that we have what it takes to go there, something of whoever it is that every once in a while seems to lean toward us out of the shadows. “
—Frederick Buechner, Light, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC (New York: HarperCollins Publishers,  1993), 62.
Christian, remember that day when you first saw light. If you cannot, pray and ask Him by His Spirit to bring that memory back to sharp focus. Remember the relief of ‘seeing’, if you will, your salvation holding out His hand to you under that one ray of the light of truth, that brought you into the warmth and safety of His shelter.
Then, with that memory fresh in your mind, go to someone and, speaking the truth in love, let Him use you and the gospel message through you, to dispel their darkness. It’s more than the absence of light. It is their eternal destiny, unless we intervene. God help us to do so.