Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:14 Introduction
We should “reprove” unfruitful works of darkness (5:11) because, first, they are shameful, often too disgraceful to discuss (5:12); second, they need to be unmasked, revealed for what they really are (5:13a); third, to reveal is the nature of light (5:13b); fourth, it can cause sinners to be saved (5:14).
Eph. 5:14a “Wherefore he saith,. . .”
We do not know who the Apostle is quoting here. In the Greek, the three clauses in verse 14 form a rhythmic, metrical triplet. This poetic format has led some to assume Paul was quoting a familiar Christian hymn. This possibility is reinforced by the fact Paul was at this time thinking about “hymns and spiritual songs” (5:19). Whatever the source of this quotation, it helps enforce the need for reproof by revealing a possible, positive effect which can result from a faithful and loving admonition.
Eph. 5:14b “. . .Awake thou that sleepest,. . .”
Whenever we reprove anyone’s vices, let us include a proclamation of the Gospel as a call to salvation. Always remember, our objective, ultimately, is to win people, not arguments. Even as we expose sinful deeds, we must point out to sinners the only way of escape. We must seek to convince the lost they are asleep, in need of being awakened.
The lost person is a sleeper, living in a dream world, in a fantasy land of make-believe, unconscious of the real world, of the way things actually are. Living solely for this day and age, the lost are dreamers focused on illusions, things which are not ultimate reality. This world is passing away (1 J 2:17). Its pleasantries are fading, but the lost fancy them to be the real thing. Unbelievers are busy about trifles, while overlooking great concerns and eternity. They labor over things of this world, but are asleep to divine things.
The lost person is a sleeper, living in a false security. Sleep gives one a sense of security–the body essentially relaxes all safeguards. One is insensible to danger. People can even walk in their sleep and be totally unaware of any danger. When I was a teenager, a friend of mine sleep-walked across two city streets. The lost are also sleep-walkers, able to move around and do things, but sensing no danger. Thinking all is well, they sleep away in the very presence of an offended God. They are like a sleeper who is dreaming he or she is in paradise, while at the same instant the bedroom is on fire. The sinner refuses to contemplate Judgment Day, Hell, wrath to come. Whether one believes in these things or not has no bearing on their actual existence. If everyone quit believing the sun rises, it would rise tomorrow anyway. In the same way, disbelief in future judgment does not negate its actuality. Despite this, the lost continue to sleep in a stupor which leaves them mindless of the tragic destiny to come.
The lost person is a sleeper, living in spiritual indifference, no sense of guilt or need or dependence, no conflicts with sin and temptation. Unbelief is a sleep of unconcern, a state which neglects self-examination. The sleeper often takes precautions to keep from being awakened, and bolts the heart’s door against unwelcome messengers and intruders.
The lost want their spiritual bed soft and warm, and the devil obliges them. He is the one who rocks their cradle. “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 J 5:19). Unbelievers are asleep, but Satan is certainly awake (1 P 5:8), seeking to keep sinners asleep. Hugh Latimer called Lucifer the busiest bishop in the kingdom. Christians may not be influencing the lost, but the devil is. He visits them, talks to their inner man, and stays after them day and night, seeking to keep them asleep.
Satan is very effective. His sleeping pills produce an enjoyable sleep. It vexes lost people to have their spiritual slumber disturbed. When sinners hear the truth, they are not always happy, but who would not wake others when a house is on fire? The devil is busy, believers must be, also. We are the lost nappers’ only hope. Believers need to blow a morning bugle call. The thief is pilfering while people sleep. Their houses are on fire. Bad seed is being sown in their fields. Let the reveille sound forth, Awake!
Eph. 5:14c “. . .and arise from the dead,. . .”
To convince us that the sleep of the lost is more than an inconsequential or harmless slumber, Paul heightens his metaphor to describe it as a sleep of death. Sleep can be dreadfully dangerous, as when a driver falls asleep at the wheel, a walker becomes drowsy in a blizzard, a sailor dozes on the mast, or a sentinel falls asleep on guard duty. These deadly sleeps picture the sleep of the lost. Unless this death be broken, one falls into “the second death” (RV 20:14), the death which never dies. Spiritual and physical death are horrifying enough, but everlasting death is a thought almost too dreadful to contemplate, a fate too terrible to gamble on.
Mixing the metaphors of death and sleep, Paul gives a well-rounded view of lostness. Death highlights an unbeliever’s impotence. A corpse is helpless in itself, powerless, with no inherent ability of self-resuscitation. The dead can perform no function of the living. The lost are incapable of doing works which satisfy God, no hungering and thirsting after righteousness, no sensitivity to God’s Word, no desire to follow God’s leading.
On the other hand, in this lifetime, spiritual death is as a sleep which can be broken. Sleep implies a listless state which can draw to an end. Sleeping implies the presence of some form of life. The lost are not dead as a rock is. Some form of natural life is in them. In a lost person, their lower nature is awake, but their best part is asleep. Their truest self is drowned in the things of time, and insensible to the things of eternity. However, this best self can be awakened. God made sinners able to do one spiritual thing–to be saved. There is a mechanism in place which allows the sleeper to respond, to be awakened by the voice of the Gospel.
God ordained that in His very summons itself there is awakening, quickening power. His voice is thunder in the ear of the sleeper, and lightning in the heart of the dead. God would never mock people by telling them to do what they cannot do. All the Bible presupposes a person’s ability to obey God’s voice, and when this happens, the result is glorious. . . .
Eph. 5:14d “. . .and Christ shall give thee light.”
Sleeper, not only is there something worth rising from, there is also something worth waking up to. Those who respond “shall” have light. This blessed consequence in an unbeliever can result from a believer faithfully manifesting light and reproving darkness. When believers do what they are called to do, Christ will bless their efforts and shine on people in darkness. As we speak boldly in the midst of moral cemeteries, some graves will open and the dead shall come forth. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (PS 126:5-6).
If we “go,” some will “come.” This week I attended a meeting about the simultaneous “Here’s Hope” revivals Southern Baptist churches plan to conduct all across our country next year. The speaker, Paul McClung of our state office, shared valuable statistics on soulwinning. Surveys show that when we try to share the gospel with lost people in the USA, an average of one in four listeners will let us present the whole plan. This percentage has long remained constant. However, of these one-fourth who hear the whole presentation, an interesting change has happened in recent years. As late as 1987, just seven years ago, tests were showing that of this one-fourth, one in ten would accept Jesus and pray to be saved. In other words, for every forty times one tried to present the gospel, one would be saved. This one-in-forty was the “etched in stone” statistic I grew up with. Now, however, something amazing and wonderful is happening. Of the one-fourth who listen to the whole gospel presentation, now one in four are being saved. This means for every sixteen times we try to present the gospel, one will be saved. Why this increase in receptivity to the gospel? People have had a generation and longer of trying many other options which have failed. People are seeking for something that works, and the gospel works.
Believers, the sounds of eternity are crashing against the walls of this world’s mortality. Think of it. Eternity. People lost forever. All the sleepers will eventually awake, either by conviction or condemnation. Let us seek to make it the former, rather than the latter, option. Criswell tells of a freight train which one morning at 6:00 pulled into the town of Gans OK. The engineer blew the whistle over and over and over again. The townspeople surely wondered why at 6 a.m. someone was making that much noise. At 6:04 a terrible tornado swept the town and destroyed it. The lost want to stay asleep, but we, as their only hope, must seek to rouse them.
Unbelievers, Christ has stood at some of your heart doors so long that the hinges have become rusty. Cobwebs cover the door-frame corners. Now is the time to open to Him. It is worth the effort. Talmage told of a John Holland, who in his dying moments, swept his hand over the Bible and said to his wife, “Come, let us gather a few flowers from this garden.” It was night, and he said, “Have you lit the candles?” When she replied, “No,” he said, “Then it must be the brightness of the face of Jesus that I see.” Come, sinner, to the light. It is the brightness of the face of Jesus you see.