In our consideration of the passage fromwe should bear in mind, that the context is very helpful in determining not only the proper relationship of the command and the promise which is here added, but that it is also helpful in understanding the implication of the terms here used.
At first glance the terms of the exhortation give reason to be a bit perplexed as to their meaning. The mold into which the apostle here casts his thought make us ask: What is to be understood in “awake thou that sleepest,” and “arise from the dead”. Immediately the thought arises whether Paul is telling the dead to rise from the dead; whether Paul is here probably not presupposing that the simple command would be sufficient to bring those who are “dead in trespasses and sins” to the activity here demanded.
Obviously such cannot be the meaning of the Word of God here.
In the first place, this is not thus stated in the text. Nor is this the implication. The text does not say: Arise ye that are dead, but it says: Awake ye that sleep, and arise from out of the dead ones. The text is by implication speaking to those who have life, but they are not living it as they should. For the text is here speaking of those who are in a spiritual stupor in regard to very definitely defined sins. It is an admonition to those who are not fully aware and alert to their situation in an evil world as the children of light, nor to the precious truth of the promise of the great power that fills the lives of those who walk in the ways of faith and godliness.
This is implied in the very terms of the text.
It is interesting and instructive to hear what the exegete Greijdanus has to say of these terms in his “Korte Verklaring” (1925). We translate: “Awake thou that sleepest, i.e., awaken out of your sin-sleep (zonde-slaap) and arise out of the dead, i.e., do not remain lying where you are, for your find yourself amongst the dead. Comp. 2:1-5, but rise up, show yourself to be living, and depart from the midst of the dead, among whom you lie sleeping in sin.” A bit later in the same work, delineating on the implication of the terms, Greijdanus makes the following comment: “In awakening is spoken of coming to one’s self, (tot inkeer) of the consciousness of perversity, and of the change of the inner attitude. The arising (from out of the dead, G.L.) points toward the actual change in the walk and life, a breaking with sin, and a walking in the way of the Lord’s fear and Word.”
According to the quotation from the pen of the just mentioned exegete the question here touched upon is that of our concrete, actual and conscious repentance. Jesus pictures this to us very graphically in the parable of the prodigal son. The latter having come to himself said “I will arise and go unto my father”.
The situation is very serious in our text and in this whole chapter. The apostle is not satisfied in our saying: “Well, yes, I admit that there is something not right in my life; but, of course, we have only a small beginning of perfection, and I don’t even belong to the most holy and then . . . just leave it at that! And then still remain lying amongst the dead! Perish the thought! The church, the believers must arise from the dead. There must be a complete change in their life. To this must be added conversion in life and in very deed. Only thus might the lost son experience the love of his father.ff” (cursives of us).
The question arises here: but can those who are dead in sins arise from the dead. As we have stated before this is not possible. But again we may ask: but do those who are believers in Christ have need of this admonition? Is such an admonition, such a command necessary for God’s children?
It is very evident that such is the case, even though it is and remains true, that the apostle is here addressing God’s church in the world.
Of this church Paul says some very wonderful things. Paul addresses them as “the saints and faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1). They are those who, having heard the gospel of truth in Christ not only believed the same, but were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise unto the day of the final and glorious redemption. (1:3) That was their confession, and they have faith in Christ and love for all the brethren. (1:15) He is addressing the believers, who are the object of his prayer; he prays for them that they may have the eyes of their heart enlightened, in order that they might know the glory of God in all the saints, might know the hope unto which God calls them, and might experience the superabundant greatness of the power of God in Christ’s resurrection and glorious ascension to their advantage. Yea, the apostle is here addressing the church for whom he prays, that they might dwell in their hearts by a living faith, and that so with all the saints they might know the length and breadth, the height and depth of the love of Christ that passeth all knowledge, and that so they might be filled in that fullness of God, which He had revealed and prepared in Christ Jesus.
The apostles point of departure is definitely that of speaking to the saints in Christ. These have been called by the Gospel, heard and learned the truth as it is in Jesus, and were still in need of admonitions and instruction; were in need of his prayers.
How can these be in need of the apostle’s words and warnings. How can they be in need of being reminded of the words: Awake ye that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light?
The apostle has in mind the church of all ages as represented in this particular church here at Ephesus. This church is composed of the saints who already believed and walked in holiness. Others in the same church were not as vigilant as they ought to be, they were in need of being aroused to spiritual activity. Others again needed to be awakened out of a deep sinful stupor.
Thus it is ever in the church of God in this world at any given time. And sometimes the whole church needs to be awaked to a very particular sin, a very particular form of sin, that so easily besets us. They, the church, is not deeply aware of her grave peril due to the forces of evil from within and without.
So it seemed to be in this case.
The apostle is speaking of a very common evil in the church. An evil which the highest form of the culture of the Graeco-Roman world could not overcome. In fact it could have no power against it, for the evil cannot win over evil. The devil does not cast out the devil. His house is not divided against itself. And this evil is that of moral depravity in every form. In thoughts, words and deeds. From the thoughts this becomes manifest in subtle speech. Paul mentions three forms of speech. He speaks of three forms of fornicative speech: filthiness, foolish talking, and jesting. These must not even be mentioned in their midst. It is and should be below their spiritual dignity. Take for instance: filthiness. This refers to dirty talk, smutty stories of which the world is full in all stations of life. Do these befit the man who has died unto sin?! Or to speak of: foolish speech. This refers to empty speech, seemingly harmless jokes, but which do not have a content, tending to positive instruction in the way of godliness? Is this the speech of those who have learned the truth as it is in Jesus, of those whose speech should be seasoned with salt, that is, which should have a spiritual positive flavor? Or again, take: jesting. This is the subtle and nimble play of the thought, the nimble suggestion of evil and the corrupt without mentioning it. This is Satan’s hellish power of suggestion of evil, the same being far worse even in the consciousness of evil men, and for that reason employed by them, than outside filthy speech. It is not only doing evil, but having a delight in them that do it.
Now the church is in need of admonitions to not be overcome of this evil, to have no part in it, but to keep herself unspotted from the world.
And to achieve this end God employs admonitions. For admonitions are a means of grace, being a part of the living preaching of the Gospel. They “give grace” to the believing hearers. (Compare 4:29). God has in His infinite wisdom bound the working of His grace, the grace of sanctification to the means of exhortation, thus binding His Word upon the hearts and conscience of the believers, awakening them out of the stupor of spiritual slumber and perversity. Let it not be forgotten that “grace is conferred by means of admonitions”. Canons of Dort, III, IV, Art. 17.
In this admonition Paul does not tell the church to become what she is not. She is told to show forth in her life what she really is. More and more and in every part and relationship of their lives the believers must walk in the light, as children of God.
Hence, they must not think that the evil speech and actions of the wicked in their moral perversity is harmless ; that God does not seriously look down from heaven to behold these sins, and that His wrath is not as really over this sin now as what it was in the days of Abraham over Sodom and Gommorah. For upon these things cometh the wrath of God against the children of wrath! And the only way not to have fellowship with this is to reprove it.
Then the light of Christ falls upon it.
And in this we must rise from the dead. We must awaken from sleep. This we do when we confess the sin in our life, walk no more in the same, arise from the deadness of sin, choose not to walk with the scornful, but have our delight in the law of the Lord. For whatsoever doth manifest, doth show the sinfulness of sin is light.
Here is a very practical calling in the world. Daily we come in contact with this world. It approaches us, winks at us with its adulterous eyes, and beckons us to follow her example in eating, drinking and being merry, for tomorrow we die. And Satan tempts us. And he and the world find a ready ally in our corrupt flesh, our flesh in which no good dwells, being sold under sin! And thus very concretely and in very actuality and deed, we have daily to fight against this sin, with a complete change in our life, in inner attitude of hatred for all sin and love for God. And to show that we love God in the confession of mouth by reproving evil. He who does not reprove sin—has fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.
Let not any one deceive himself!
“He saith, awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead! Is that not more than sufficient?
But “He” also adds: And Christ shall give you light (shine upon you). This reward is certain for all who heed His voice.
There are still two matters that here call for your and my attention:
1. That the implication of the phrase: “Christ shall give thee light”, is, that the joy of salvation shall be ours in a rich measure when we arise from the dead; we shall be surrounded literally with songs of deliverance. We will then sing from the heart through the Holy Spirit in Christ unto God the Father in wondrous strains of thankfulness. That is the light of Christ in the church, in the living members of it.
2. This is only for those who arise from the dead. Not that the rising from the dead is a “condition” limiting God, so that God cannot confer joy where this conversion is not present, but it is a condition in this sense, that God will not give, and cannot will to give His joy of salvation to be experienced where there is not a complete turning unto Him in repentance. The fulfillment of the promise is connected in our life with a godly walk. And the godly walk has in it the tasting of the light of God’s face, and joy of His great salvation.
Is this merely food for thought? Something for theologians to write dissertations about?
Nay, although it is food for thought, it is much more. It is the call to action. It is the call to repentance, to turn to God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. It is a matter of believing struggle.
While we struggle we already taste the favor of God, and the beginning of the eternal joy in our hearts. And this latter not that we should be satisfied with our progress made, but that we should be encouraged to further advances, until we shall arrive at the perfection set before us in the life to come!