By J.R. Miller
This chapter is a call to Christlike living. "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children" is its keynote. This means that sin is to be avoided. There are vices that are not even to be named by those who belong to Christ; they are so vile, so loathsome. It is a black list, indeed, that is given in the fifth verse--people who have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Perhaps we do not draw rigidly enough, the line that divides between the things of God and the things of the evil one.
Our passage starts with an exhortation which calls for uncompromising separation from all unholy things. "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness." We know what works of darkness are. All sin is of darkness. It shuns the light. It hides away out of sight. It lurks in the shadows. Everything that is contrary to God's commandments, is a work of darkness. A Christian is to live a pure and holy life. But more than this--he is not even to have fellowship with the works of darkness; he is not to have anything to do with them. He lives in a different world, a world whose atmosphere is the love and the holiness of Christ.
The reason for this counsel is frankly given. "For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret." It would stain our lips even to tell of these vile things! A disciple of Christ should never allow himself to mention impure things or to think of them. He should never permit his ears to hear unclean stories. Books and newspapers which describe vile resorts and the deeds that are done in them--are not fit to be put into the hands of those who are following Christ. They leave a trail of foulness wherever they go. A godly man in his old age said that when he was very young, another boy drew him aside one day into a secret place and, opening a book, showed him a vile picture. He glanced at it only for a moment--but it left a blotch on his memory, like a stain on a white garment. All the fifty years he had lived since that hour he had not been able to forget that moment's unholy glance. We cannot keep ourselves too carefully from all fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.
The call to awake implies that the state of sin is a state of moral death. "Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead." People living without Christ resent the suggestion that they are dead. They claim to be very much alive, indeed. Many of them are full of ambition and are in the very forefront of the world's leaders. They are active in business. They are high in the ranks of society. They wear badges of honor won in life 's arena. They think the meek and lowly people are the dead people--those who do not seem to care for earth's prizes. But as God looks down upon men, those are dead--who do not know Him, who are unconscious of the spiritual realities about them, who live only for this world. Especially are those dead who are living in sin and for pleasure--dead while they live! The voice of God calls over all such, as Christ called at the door of the grave of Lazarus, bidding them awake from the dead.
The next exhortation is a call to walk with eyes wide open. "Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise." The way is full of danger. He is very foolish indeed, who goes carelessly through this world. Yet there are many who seem never to have a serious thought about life. They never try to avoid the temptations that beset them. They have no sense of responsibility. They walk as if blind into all manner of temptations.
Another lesson is the value of opportunity. "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil." Everyone's path is filled with blessings from heaven--but we must watch for them and take them as they come, or we shall miss them altogether. Youth is a time of special opportunities. If it is wasted, it never can be redeemed afterwards.
There is a strong lesson here against drunkenness. "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." A glass of wine may seem very harmless as it sparkles on the table--but what "debauchery" is in it! This picture of the evil, the shame, the strife, the trouble, the harm--which the wine cup contains, needs no filling out.
A wise oriental shiek mentioned to a young Arab prince, from whom he was about to part, a list of crimes and bade him choose the one which seemed least harmful. The young prince turned in horror from murder, theft, immorality--and told the patriarch that he would choose intemperance. "You have chosen that," said the wise old man, "which will bring you all the rest!"
There is always danger in wine. There still are some Christian people who claim the privilege of using it on their tables and on other occasions. But they do not know what they are doing, how unwisely they are acting, what possibilities of harm there are in what seems to them such a pleasant and innocent habit. Our nature craves stimulation, and this, men tell us, they find, when they are jaded and weary, in the wine cup. But Paul says that there is a better way--instead of being drunk with wine--be filled with the Spirit, he says. There is debauchery in wine--but in the Spirit are all pure, holy and heavenly aspirations. If we would let the divine Spirit into our heart we should have such satisfying, such filling of the life, as would give us deep and blessed joy, the joy in which there is no bitterness.