Summary: The tension between light and darkness resolved as we shake off our drowsiness!
AWAKE THOU SLEEPER!
A. Paul contrasts what believers once were (darkness) with what we now are (light in the Lord) (Ephesians 5:8).
We are to live accordingly “as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8), operating from the perspective of our native environment (the light). This will inform both our style of life - “discerning what is acceptable to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10); and the kind of company we keep - “having no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11).
It is light that overcomes darkness, not vice versa (John 1:5): so we are not to be assimilated to the world around us, but rather to influence it for the better by living out our lives in “all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9).
LIVE by the light, and you will expose the darkness (Ephesians 5:11-12). This does not involve us self-righteously criticising others, but simply BEING WHO WE ARE: “light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). It is possible that even the very darkness (which our souls once were) might yield to the intrusion of light (Ephesians 5:13).
B. Ephesians 5:14 might be translated: “Arouse, sleeper, and rise up from among the dead, and Christ will (shine upon, give light to, enlighten) you.”
i) Perhaps sleepers sleep because they are sleepy. Still, we have to arouse with the bugle call, the alarm clock that warns us not to be late. Get yourself up and off to work while you still have a job to go to.
ii) Perhaps the sleeper is sick. To such Jesus says, ‘ARISE, take up your bed and walk’ (John 5:8). At the word of Jesus, that which was broken is mended. Jesus subsequently went on to use the same verb of the Father ‘raising’ the dead (John 5:21).
iii) Perhaps we are just sick of life, sick of sin, sick of self. To such Jesus says, ‘Your sins are forgiven you’ (Matthew 9:2) - for which is easier to say, ‘Sins are forgiven you’ or ‘ARISE and walk’? (Matthew 9:5).
iv) The sleeper here in Ephesians 5:14 is envisaged as in a worse state than these: it is the sleep of death. This is literal physical death, as explained by Jesus (John 11:11-14) - but over this, too, Jesus has the last word: ‘I go that I may AWAKE him out of sleep.’ Jesus called Lazarus by name, ‘and he that was dead came forth’ (John 11:43-44).
v) There is still another, yet worse, kind of sleep. It is to be ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1). For such Christ is still standing outside the tomb of their life, just as surely as he stood outside the tomb of Lazarus: and still He graciously calls, “Awake, you sleeper!” (Ephesians 5:14). If we refuse, it is our own fault: and beyond this there is only the prospect of ‘the second death’ (Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:14).