A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 9/26/99
As Paul continues to develop his sharp contrast between the old life and the new, life in the world and life in Christ (and the Church), the old walk and the walk that is worthy of our calling, he calls in this passage upon one of the most simple, basic, and profound images that Scripture uses to make this point: the image of Darkness and Light.THE CONTRAST OF LIGHT (v. 8)
To understand the symbolism of Darkness and Light, we must first contemplate their essential nature. According to the Physicist, dark is the absence of light energy; it is not the presence of anything. Therefore Darkness is inert, sterile, barren; Light is active, powerful, dynamic. Darkness is weak in nature but sometimes strong in its effects; Light is inherently stronger in both. Darkness hides, obscures, covers; Light reveals, unveils, clarifies. In other words, Darkness is a natural symbol for ignorance, Light for knowledge; Darkness of folly, Light of wisdom; Darkness of shame, Light of the freedom that come with a pure heart.
The Apostle, in the light of this background, makes a bold statement: not that we were dark, in darkness, or shadowed, but that we WERE Darkness; not that we are now enlightened, but that we ARE Light in the Lord. In other words, it is not just that we were in Darkness, but that Darkness was in us. It was not just an external characteristic when we were without Christ, but it was our essential nature. To paraphrase Falstaff, we were not just foolish in ourselves but the cause of folly in others. We were like Milton's Hell, containing "no Light, but rather Darkness visible." And becoming a Christian does not just mean that we have come into the Light, but that the Light is now in us, welling up as a Beacon for all the world to see. The greatest accolade Gautama's disciples could give him was to call him Buddha, the Enlightened One. But the weakest Christian can make a stronger claim than that, because the Light of the World lives in us.THE CONTENT OF THE LIGHT (V. 9)
Paul describes Light as having three characteristics.Goodness We call good whatever we find to be beneficial, pleasing, or excellent. Things can be good in many different ways. Chesterton remarked that a man who shot his grandmother at 100 yards would be a very good marksman, but not perhaps a very good man. But the Light does not allow for such distinctions: it is "all goodness," that is, all kinds of goodness. And if it is Light indwelling us, then it is goodness that flows naturally, not that has to be forced. The Do-gooder and the Busybody are secular and worldly caricatures of the goodness of Light. So the Christian's motto should be Phil. 1:10, "approve the things that are excellent." We should be the greatest lovers of all that is excellent--of goodness, truth, and beauty. Matthew Arnold said that the function of criticism was to see the thing as in itself it really is, and on the basis of that vision to discern and to propagate the best that has been thought, said, or done. His words sound awfully quaint and naive in the (post)modern critical context--but Believers have the foundation and the resources to actually do what he could only dream of. Righteousness Righteousness is the rightness of conformity to rule or law. This second characteristic helps us focus our understanding of goodness as that which is harmonious with the will of God and hence with Scripture. So it is not "I think it would be nice if . . . " but rather the outworking of the whole counsel of God. Human righteousness is as filthy rags, but the righteousness of Believers comes from Christ, not from our efforts in striving to keep the law, but the natural outworking of the life of Christ within. Nevertheless, the law still helps us as a guide and definition of righteous living. Truth In the age of the sound byte, the factoid, and the spin doctor, the answer to Pilate's question "what is truth" depends on what "is" is. There was a time when Truth was among the noblest of words and of goals, but now it is scoffed at as merely a disguise for oppression. But Christ, because of His own truthfulness and integrity of character, can restore it to its ancient glory in us. While we were Darkness, we may well have thought that Truth was just an instrument of oppression; but in Jesus we discover that the Truth sets us free. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE LIGHT (v. 10)
To walk as children of Light is to "prove what is acceptable to the Lord." The word is dokimazo, which means to test by experience. In other words, to walk in the Light is to take biblical statements of what pleases God and, by putting them into practice, to learn by experience what it is to please Him, to hear Him say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." This is the differentia of Christian ethics. The good pagan pursues the good and the right as an intellectual abstraction, but the Christian is concerned to please a Person who has His own peculiar likes and dislikes, His own agenda, His own personality. That is ultimately what gives goodness and light their value for us: they please the One whom we love because He first loved us.
Therefore, let us remember that we used to be darkness, but now are light in the Lord; therefore, let us walk as children of Light.
Here endeth the lesson.