Are You Sleeping?


Scripture: Ephesians 5:1-14

Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping?
Brother John, Brother John,
Prayer bells need ringing! Prayer bells need ringing!
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

Shown above is the well known French nursery rhyme “Frère Jacques,” with a modified translation attempting to capture the original sense of the rhyme, that the bells for prayer service are not ringing because Brother John (Frère Jacques in French), who is suppose to ring them, is sleeping.1

The traditional English translation is said to have completely missed the point with the line “morning bells are ringing,” but that is not a big deal. It is just a nursery rhyme.

What is interestingly, however, is that we have a similar song in the Bible, recorded in Ephesians 4:14, “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”2 If the song is to be written in the style of nursery rhyme today, it might look like this:

Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping?
Brother John, Brother John,
Light of Christ is shining! Light of Christ is shining!
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

The point of the song is not that Christ is shining (as morning sunlight in this metaphor). Of course He is, and we have no question about it. The point is that Christians, who are supposed to be awake and reflecting Christ, can sometimes fall asleep and so are not illumined by Christ or reflecting Christ.

In this passage believers are described as light and urged to live as children of light (v. 8). The two-fold function of light are mentioned:

  • positively, it transforms and produces fruit in “all goodness, righteousness and truth” (v. 9);
  • negatively, it exposes “fruitless deeds of darkness” (v. 11).

But the true light is, of course, not Christians but Christ (v. 14), so the idea is that Christians should naturally reflect the light of Christ as they live in the light. Bible commentator Andrew Lincoln gives a nice description:

“Christ, as the center of God’s sphere of influence, beams out its light on the darkness of this world, like a spotlight playing on the stage of a darkened theater. Believers stand in the beam and become identified with and live in its light. As they do so, the light is reflected off them, showing up the darkness around.” 3

Yet despite this beatiful imagery, we are brought to the awareness of the “wake up” hymn. We are not sure if there was a specific reason for Paul to give this warning. Perhaps living in the most important city in the province of Asia had caused the believers in Ephesus4 to be too busy to devout their time to Christ; perhaps the culture of the wealthy city had caused them to be worldly, perhaps the worship of goddess Artemis (Diana) and the whole lifestyle associated with it still had some influence in believers’ daily life, or perhaps distorted truth from false teachers were influencing believers (cf. Acts 20:29-30).5

They were not lacking in knowledge, as they had been taught by Paul himself for over 3 years (Acts 20:31) and guided by Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:18, 19), Timothy (1 Tm 1:3) and Erastus (Acts 19:22). The warning or reminder, however, shows that knowledge does not guarantee alertness or watchfulness. It is true for the believers in Ephesus. It is true for us as well.

So let us join the Ephesian believers in singing the hymn of reminder.

Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping?
Brother John, Brother John,

Or if we don’t like the nursery rhyme style, we could certainly sing it in the original form:

Wake up, sleeper!


“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for the Lord’s people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person– such a person is an idolater– has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible– and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:1-14 TNIV)

  1. Wikipedia contributors, “Frère Jacques,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed December 31, 2016).
  2. Paul is quoting some source, but the quotation is not from the Old Testament or any known source. Most commentators think it is a Christian song/hymn, likely based on Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 26:19 and/or 60:1. Some think it is a baptismal hymn but we are not certain about its use in baptism.
  3. Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, vol. 32 of Word Bible Commentary (Dallas: Word Incorporated, 1990), 335.
  4. Ephesus and other churches in the area, as noted in earlier articles.
  5. Of course, it is also possible that all was well, and that Paul was just being cautious and reminding them to be alert and watchful.

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