A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 10/3/99
Today we arrive at Eph. 5:11-14. Since light contrasts with darkness and we are children of light, we must walk as such. But since light is surrounded by darkness, how do we relate to the darkness? That is the question answered by this, one of the most cryptic passages in Ephesians. Paul addresses it in his by-now familiar pattern, giving us something to avoid, something to do instead, and a reason why.
We are to avoid participation in the unfruitful works of darkness. This point he has made before--what is new here? The verb is sunkoineo, the verb form of koinonia, fellowship. The root meaning of koinonia is commonality. Hodge puts it well: "Those who have things in common, who have the same views, feelings, and interests, and who therefore delight in each other's society, are said to be in fellowship." We have in common one lord, one faith, one baptism, and so there is a koinonia, a fellowship in the church around these things that separate us from the rest of the world and pull us together. We are no longer to find our common ground in sharing the unfruitful works of darkness but in the things belonging to the light, in other words. The phrase "unfruitful deeds/works of darkness" is an interesting one. It highlights the fact that the deeds of the old life are a waste of our time--they do not advance us toward anything that we now value. But they are also unfruitful in themselves, not delivering to the ungodly those things that they promise them either. Satan wants to get our souls and give us nothing in return.
Instead of having fellowship around/participating in these unfruitful works, we are to "expose" them. What does this mean? The verb is elencho, which literally means to bring into the light. It has been translated "rebuke" or "reprove" or "expose." But what does it mean here? It seems rather strange that Paul would tell us to verbally rebuke verbally things that we are encouraged in the next verse not to talk about at all. And then verse 13 would sound really strange if we translated "rebuke." Vs. 13 is the key, along with vs. 9 from last week. We are to reprove these works not by going around condemning the people who do them but simply by being light--good, righteous (not self-righteous) and true. This shines a light on dark deeds that shows them by contrast with goodness to be shameful and unfruitful. Then one does not have to condemn. The model is Jesus himself. He did not give the disciples a lecture about how selfish and self-centered they were; he girded himself with a towel, knelt, and washed their feet. Then he asked, "Do you understand what I have done?" We never get to aks that question because we are too busy being self-righteous instead of righteous and we never do anything of which it could be asked. The whole point of this section is to show how the church can glorify Christ. Do we really think he is honored by the Church going about as an army of busybodies condemning people? Does that make them think better of Him? No. There is a time to take a stand against evil, but first we must provide a practical alternative so we can say, "Do you understand what I have done? Well, I did in in the name of Jesus" instead of "You are such a horrible person because you don't measure up to my standards." Before we speak, we had better be light, in other words. Conviction that comes from self-righteousness leads only to the hardening of hearts against the Gospel. Conviction that flows from light may lead to repentance. Mother Teresa said, "if you do not want the child, give him to me." Many remarked that this was a more effective answer to the abortionist than shouting at him that he is a murderer (true though this may be). But she was in Calcutta, and people weren't really going to ship babies off to her. But what if their Christian neighbors said that? And meant it? It is easy to condemn blasphemous and perverted art. But light would produce art that was better--and more INTERESTING. That is hard. The lesson of this passage is one the church desperately needs today.
Vs. 14 says it gives the reason. But what is Paul quoting? No such verse exists in the OT. Probably he was quoting a 1st cent. Christian hymn, since lost. But what was the point of it here? That the light that shines through us must be the light of Christ. The image of resurrection points back to 2:1. So when the light of Christ shines through his Church, then not only will the shameful deeds of the ungodly be seen for what they are, but men will awaken and rise from the dead in regeneration, and Christ will shine on them. May God make it so in our lives. Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.