The Gospel Observer

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19,20).
September 23, 2012


1) Ephesians 5:14-17 (Tom Edwards)
2) News & Notes


Ephesians 5:14-17
by Tom Edwards

In Ephesians 5:14, Paul declares, "For this reason it says, 'Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.'"

Though as a paraphrase rather than verbatim, this quote appears to be an allusion to Isaiah 60:1,2: "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee.  For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but Jehovah will arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee."

"Sleep" is used in various senses in the Bible.  It is used, of course, to refer to actual or literal sleep.  However, it is also used figuratively for physical death.  One example of this is that of Lazarus in John 11:11-13: "...'Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awaken him out of sleep.'  The disciples therefore said to Him, 'Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.'  Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep."

In addition, "sleep" is also used figuratively to refer to a worldly indifference toward spiritual things, or spiritual lethargy or sluggishness, as seen in these following definitions:  Noah Webster, for instance, shows that "sleep" also means "to be careless, inattentive or unconcerned; not be vigilant."  And W.E. Vine defines the Greek word as used in Ephesians 5:14 to mean "of carnal indifference to spiritual things on the part of believers."  It appears that this is how it is also used in Romans 13:11, where the command is to "Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we [first] believed."  In other words, as that great day approaches, shouldn't we be even more concerned with being spiritually-minded and ready to meet God -- with each day that passes?  So if we have any unconcern about spiritual things, we need to arouse ourselves from that apathy and become spiritually alert.  

Compare this also with 1 Thessalonians 5:4-10: "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.  For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.  For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him."

In just this one passage, "sleep" appears to be used in three different ways: worldly indifference toward spiritual things (v. 6), literal sleep (v. 7), and physical death (v. 10).  

But how is "sleep" being used in Ephesians 5:14?  The term "awake," in the same verse, helps us to understand that.  Vine defines the Greek word for "awake" in this passage, as well as in Romans 13:11,  to mean "metaphorically, 'of awaking from a state of moral sloth.'"  So "sleep" in Ephesians 5:14 connotes a worldly indifference toward the spiritual; and sleep makes a pretty good figure for this.  For, as Albert Barnes observes, "In 'sleep' we are, though living, insensible to any danger that may be near; we are unconscious of what may he going on around us; we hear not the voice of our friends; we see not the beauty of the grove or the landscape; we are forgetful of our real character and condition...."

In his article, entitled, "We Need Arousing," Olen Holderby cites Ephesians 5:14 and comments on the word "awake" by saying, "Obviously, Paul is trying to stir the Ephesians to active opposition to the immorality of their day, and especially that immorality that was in their midst. They were to arouse from their state of slumber and false security. This writer is persuaded that the Ephesians had no greater need to be aroused than do we today."  

So these who are asleep are to arise from the "dead."  Death also has various meanings in the Scriptures:  It is used, of course, with reference to an actual, physical death.  But it is also used to describe a spiritual death:  For example, 1 Timothy 5:6 declares, "But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives."  Spiritual death is what accountable people have before becoming a Christian, according to Ephesians 2:4,5: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)."

In addition, the captivity of the Jews, while away from their homeland, is viewed as a type of "political" or "national" death.  This we see in Isaiah 26:19, "Your dead will live; Their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, For your dew is as the dew of the dawn, And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits."

Commenting on this passage, E.M. Zerr writes, "The preceding paragraph dealt with the conditions in the time of the captivity.  This verse predicted the release of the nation from that bondage and likened it to a resurrection from the dead.  ...All of the leading words in this verse are figures to illustrate the glorious recovery of the Jewish nation from its political death and burial in the country of Babylon which was referred to as its grave."

Death representing the Jews in captivity is also seen in Ezekiel's vision of the dried bones; and Israel's return to their homeland is then depicted by these dried bones receiving sinew, flesh, and life (Ezek. 37:1-12).  While Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem, Ezekiel was in Babylon, during the time of the Babylonian captivity, which lasted 70 years.

And death is also used to refer to a lack of spirituality.  For the Greek word (nekros) also means "inactive as respects doing right...destitute of force or power, inactive, inoperative" (Thayer).  

We are reminded of what was said years later to the church at Sardis in Revelations 3:1: "...'I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead."  They were, therefore, told to "Wake up" and "repent" (vv. 2,3).  

So these Ephesians are being exhorted to arouse themselves about spiritual matters, which is also seen in what Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 5:15-17: "Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is."

Does this not contrast with what we previously saw in verse 14?  For rather than being asleep or inattentive toward spiritual matters, the exhortations is to be "careful" about those things.  And, perhaps, we can see this contrast even better with the phrase in the KJV "that ye walk circumspectly."  Circumspect is defined as "watchful and discreet; cautious; prudent."  It is "being watchful on all sides."  But how can one do that if he is spiritually asleep?  So these terms are in contrast.  

The need to be "careful" is often seen in the book of Deuteronomy with relation to the Law of Moses, which the Jews were to keep during the Old Testament Period.  For instance: "Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it" (Deut. 12:32).

Sometimes people were not careful to do things God's way, and they suffered the consequences, as a result.  For instance, Nadab and Abihu were consumed in a fire by God when they used a fire that the Lord did not authorize for the incense (Lev. 10:1,2).  Also, Uzzah was fatally struck down by the Lord for touching the ark of the covenant, which was nearly upset in the ox-cart (2 Sam. 6).  In Numbers 15:32-36, a man was stoned to death for having gathered some sticks on the Sabbath Day.  All of these infractions might seem very trivial to many people today, but they were violations of God's law, which resulted in their deaths and instill within us the need to be careful to do things the way God commands -- rather than changing or ignoring His instructions.  This is also seen in Joshua 1:8: "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success."

In the New Testament, we see in Ephesians 5:15 that there is still a need to be careful for how we live -- for how we "walk" is how we live.  Also, Jesus is the foundation of the church, which every Christian is being built up upon; and Paul cautions that "...each man be careful how he builds upon it" (1 Cor. 3:10).  We also need to be "...careful to engage in good deeds," according to Titus 3:8.  

So if we strive to put God's word into practice in our lives, we then will be acting as wise men, instead of foolish.  This might also remind you of what Jesus states about the wise and the foolish in Matthew 7:24-27.  Jesus uses these terms to sum up every accountable person.  For one is either wise or foolish.  And in this passage, the wise are those who not only hear God's word, but also do it; while the foolish are those who only hear, but do not obey.  

But by doing God's will, as Paul goes on to show, we will be "making the most of" our "time" (Eph. 5:16).  The KJV renders this as "Redeeming the time."  But we probably understand it better as "making the most of your time" or "making the most of every opportunity," as the NIV expresses it.  Since we can't live in the past and tomorrow is not here yet, the best time to be living for the Lord is always  now.  

The reason Paul gives for why we need to make the most of our time is because "the days are evil."  As J.W. Shepherd writes, "Evil days mean days in which evil abounds."  So especially in situations like that, we need to be even more careful and strive to do good, lest we succumb to temptation.  

We need to remember, too, that the term "evil" can involve more than sinful things. As Thayer shows, the word can also mean "full of labours, annoyances, hardships...pressed and harassed by labours...bringing toils, annoyances, perils; of a time full of peril to Christian faith and steadfastness; causing pain and trouble."  So in other words, "evil" can refer to various adversities of life that can try our souls by putting us in difficult situations that will test our faith.  

Therefore, in order that we can be wise and use our time wisely, we need to acquire a good understanding of the word of the Lord -- and cling tenaciously to it.  So that evil times won't shake us from it.  

The importance of having the proper understanding can also be seen in Matthew 13: "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road" (v. 19).  "And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty" (v. 23).

What is implied in the latter passage about the man who understands and bears fruit?  Since fruit is borne by our compliance to God's word, then to truly understand the Scriptures, it should lead to our obedience to it.  Compare, for example, Psalm 111:10: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever."  Notice that the Psalmist doesn't say a good understanding have all those who know God's commandments; but, rather, "do His commandments."  The proper understand should be manifest in one's life: "Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom" (Jms. 3:13).  Note, too, what  Job 28:28 declares: "And to man He said, 'Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding."  Solomon also shows how one can increase in understanding: "He who neglects discipline despises himself, But he who listens to reproof acquires understanding" (Prov. 15:32); and Proverbs 15:22 also shows the value of having understanding: "Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it, But the discipline of fools is folly."

So as we consider Ephesians 5:14-17, if we need to awaken from an indifference toward spiritual things, let us do so promptly, and carefully strive to live wisely unto the Lord by knowing His will and making the most of our time by carrying that will out in our lives.  For then Christ truly will shine on us!


News & Notes

Let those of us who are Christians continue to remember in prayer the following:

R.J. Evans and his wife Jackie were involved in an automobile accident on their way to church last Sunday evening.  Their car was totaled by another vehicle that had run a red light.  R.J. was okay; and Jackie was taken to the hospital for a cat-scan to be sure she didn't sustain any head or neck injury.  Everything checked out fine, but they will be doing some follow-up tests for her.  Let us pray that no problems will develop from their accident.

Let us also continue to remember Pam MacDonald who is to be seeing her doctor this week, due to serious back trouble; Linda Lefort (Harris Lefort's sister-in-law) who has throat cancer and is receiving hospice care; Bill Barfield (Virginia Fontenot's brother) who was admitted to ICU last March and has been in a step-down unit ever since; Jean Calloway who has been having a foot problem; Shirley Young, who continually experiences fibromyalgia; and Cheryl Crews, who is now undergoing therapy three days a week for some of her physical ailments.

The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation

1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17;  John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

Park Forest

9923 Sunny Cline Dr., Baton Rouge, LA  70817
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Tuesday: 7 PM (Bible class)
evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (225) 667-4520
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