Ephesians 5:10 is one of those Bible verses that is not even a complete sentence: “and find out what pleases the Lord.” That’s the entire verse, but what a powerful challenge and noble calling!
Similar language in other translations (New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version) implies that it is to be an ongoing search to try to learn and discern what pleases the Lord. The context provided by the surrounding verses makes clear that pleasing the Lord is about more than just beliefs or claims, but actually living a certain way: as children of light, where goodness, righteousness, and truth are clearly evident (vv. 8, 9). God smiles when he sees his children walking in the light.
In Ephesians, the word darkness is used as a symbol for ignorance and sin (4:17-19), whereas light is a symbol for wisdom and holiness (5:8-18). Light makes God smile.
Often with the congregation I serve, I open up a class, group discussion, or fellowship time with the simple question, “What made you smile recently?” It’s encouraging to hear sentences or stories that point to blessings from God in people’s lives. Maybe it would be wise to also ask a rhetorical question before the group disperses: “How will you make God smile this week?”
The Bible offers numerous guidelines for living in ways that please God, but the most powerful example is in the life of the Lord Jesus. One day as he spoke to a diverse group that included both seekers and skeptics, Jesus made this bold claim: “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (John 8:29). Always!
The Lord Jesus consistently made his Father smile. As Jesus came up out of the water following his baptism, his Father’s voice declared from Heaven, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). Why was the Father pleased? Obedience.
Jesus was obedient in baptism. We dare not miss the connection the Gospel accounts make between Jesus being baptized and the Father being pleased. The only person in history who did not need forgiveness of sins walked 60 miles to be baptized, and his baptism followed a sermon on repentance!
God smiled as his Son was baptized as an example for the rest of us who would later be baptized for the forgiveness of our sins. God smiles when we repent and are baptized.
Jesus was also obedient in life. He was without sin (Hebrew 4:14, 15; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22) and without blemish (1 Peter 1:19). Hebrews 7:26 describes him as “one who is holy, blameless, pure, and apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” God smiled. He smiles now when we passionately pursue a blameless life of holiness and purity.
Hebrews 11 prominently displays something else that pleases the Father: faith. In explaining why Enoch was taken away without experiencing death, verse 5 says, “He was commended as one who pleased God.” Then the next verse declares, “And without faith it is impossible to please God.”
The remainder of the chapter goes on to show that pleasing faith leads to acts of submission to God. By faith Noah built a massive boat on dry ground as neighbors probably mocked him. God smiled. By faith Abraham followed God’s call into the unknown. God smiled. By faith Joseph gave instructions about returning his bones to the land of promise centuries later. God smiled. By faith Moses led an entire nation into a desert toward a land they had never seen. God smiled.
God still smiles when he sees obedient faith, and when he sees people passionately seeking to please him. He surely smiled when he heard the apostle Paul’s prayers for a group of believers that they “may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way” (Colossians 1:9, 10). In the verses that follow he described ways they could make God smile: bearing good fruit (v. 10), growing in the knowledge of God (v. 10), gaining moral power (v. 11), demonstrating endurance and patience (v. 11), joyfully giving thanks to the Father (v. 12), and celebrating the inheritance in the kingdom of light (v. 12).
These things still please God. It pleases him when we pray for those things to be evident in each other’s lives. Will you make God smile this week? Will you consistently make God smile in the New Year by walking in the light by faith?
Tom Claibourne seeks to please God with other believers at the Bethlehem Church of Christ near Winchester, Ohio.