Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:10a “Proving. . .”
Having concluded a parenthesis (v. 9), Paul returns to the thought of verse eight. To “walk as children of light” requires moral discrimination. “Proving,” a word from the chemistry lab, referred to the testing of metals to verify identity, determine quality, and check purity. By applying acid to a sample and watching the results, a chemist was “proving” the metal.
Believers are to put their deeds to the test. Every action must be put in the crucible of proof. A Christian’s whole life is a lab in which we do analysis. We weigh deeds, ponder actions, analyze behavior in light of. . .
Eph. 5:10b “. . .what is acceptable unto the Lord.”
This overriding principle applies to all the Christian walk. Each step is to be determined by a serious evaluation of what pleases the Lord. Motives and actions must be weighed in light of His smile. All that matters is pleasing God. Each choice is governed by a prior determination, to please God, not self. Ultimately, our behavioral decisions are made in advance, if this pleases Christ, cling to it, if it displeases Jesus, reject it at once.
When pleasing God is the overriding principle of life, cold harsh duty is transformed into the joy of doing a beloved’s will. Love lightens the burden of obligation. My dad was once comforting a man who had to care for his bedridden wife. The man objected, “She is no burden. She is my wife.”
Rather than thinking of ourselves as having to obey impersonal laws, we should be seeking to please a personal will. God’s pleasure is our supreme law and ultimate delight. The only adequate response to Calvary is to freely and gladly enthrone His will atop mine. “For the gift of a Whole Christ, I give my whole self to Him” (Maclaren), and do so joyfully.
Eph. 5:11a “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of
darkness,. . .”
Because spiritual light gives blessing and life, they who walk in it are granted the privilege of bearing “fruit” (5:9). Sadly, many do not allow the light to shine in them. Thus, their life-styles bear no “fruit.” Sin is “darkness,” a dead thing whose manifestations cannot properly be called “fruit.”
Sin definitely produces results, but not the type a person wants to harvest. Bitterness, disgrace, pain, shame, despair, remorse, regret–these are the results of sin, and they do not deserve the title “fruit.” Paul would not tarnish the word by using it to describe rubbish. He chose instead the stark phrase “unfruitful works” to describe this production of barrenness.
Sins bring no glory to God, no edification to others, no peace to self. They yield no gain, no blessing, nothing pleasant or profitable, and are of no use to mankind. People commit sin, expecting benefits. Sinners are convinced it will yield positive results. This is the attraction, the lure, the bait, the hook, of evil. However, sin does not match expectation, and is never as enjoyable as anticipated. Sooner or later, people who commit deeds of darkness learn they made a big mistake. Nothing of worth is gained in the long run by sinning. Whatever profit sin pretends, it leaves in its wake a preponderance of losses which its meager pleasures cannot counterbalance.
Sin is hurtful, and should be avoided, if for no other reasons, for practical considerations alone. In morality, the theological perspective comes first. Sin is wrong and should be avoided because it displeases God. We do not hesitate, though, to bring in the practical. Life verifies Christian theology. The benefits of moral rectitude are an important argument in its favor, and the devastation wrought by immorality argues against sin.
Despite this irrefutable truth, “unfruitful works of darkness” are present everywhere we look. Even when seeking to concentrate our thoughts on our own walk as children of light, we cannot remove from our consideration one obvious fact–we are surrounded by people walking in darkness.
Believers are not isolated and insulated from the darkness. We live not in greenhouses, but in society, in a realm yielded to darkness. Satan is “the god of this world” (2 C 4:4). Believers are ever faced with the dilemma of determining to what extent we interact with the world. Are we to identify ourselves so closely with it that we lose our identity? No, we are in the world, but “not of the world” (JN 15:19). Are we to become hermits and withdraw completely from the lost? No, though not of the world, we are “in the world” (see JN 17:11-18).
The correct stance is somewhere between these two extremes, and our text can help us find the proper balance. Note, first of all, that our verse refers to the “works” of darkness, not to the workers themselves. We do sometimes have to avoid sinners to escape sin. It is sin for a believer to marry an unbeliever (2 C 6:14). Many a godly parent has seen years of their training dissipate because a son or daughter married outside the faith.
Believers must also avoid partnerships, alliances, and memberships which put a Christian’s stamp of approval on the wrong policies of a group. Saints should avoid locations and haunts where unbelievers have predetermined that the very purpose of that place is to promote things contrary to the light. We certainly do not need to go to taverns, bars, brothels, adult bookstores, etc. for entertainment. One can easily and quickly be contaminated by the world. J.B. Gough said, “I would give my right hand tonight if I could forget that which I have learned in evil society.” When I was pastor near Blytheville Air Force Base, a pilot who belonged to my church told me of an incident which deeply affected him. Some pilots were sitting in a room talking of sordid things and looking at indecent pictures. The believer was not taking part, but one of the men threw a pornographic magazine in his lap. He saw the picture on the cover only for an instant, but said the image remained emblazoned on his memory for months. “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 C 15:33).
We readily confess, in certain situations we need to withdraw from the lost, but this truth is not the focus of our text. The primary emphasis of our verse is found in the word “fellowship.” What has to be avoided is “fellowship” with deeds of darkness. “Fellowship” involves communion of heart, agreement of spirit. One has “fellowship” with deeds of darkness when they are tolerated, made light of, or dabbled in. For sure, a believer should seek to avoid sinning as if some terrible plague were in the air, for it is. Bypass sin as you would avoid contamination from a fatal pestilence.
Believers should neither marry nor enter into detrimental alliances with unbelievers. A Christian should avoid the haunts of darkness. Saints should not tolerate, make light of, or dabble, in sin. However, “fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” does not preclude our associating with the lost in the daily routines of life.
Jesus did not isolate Himself from sinners. He ate and drank with publicans, sinners, and Pharisees. He socialized with them, mixed with them. Paul, at the end of our present text, will tell us to “reprove” deeds of darkness. The command itself implies verbal interactions with the doers of these deeds. The Bible permits us to eat and visit in an unbeliever’s home (1 C 10:27). It is okay to do business with the lost (1 C 10:25). Political involvement, even under a wicked government, is allowed. Joseph served under a pagan dictator in Egypt, as did Daniel in Babylon. Romans 13, which commands submission and payment of taxes to government, was written when Nero was Caesar. Government does not get worse or more corrupt than it was then. We are not to isolate ourselves from the lost.
The purpose of our text is to make us see that when we are interacting with the lost, we must never do anything which implies we are condoning their evil. Jesus mingled with the masses, but did it in such a way that people knew He neither participated in nor approved their sins. Sinners knew He loved them, but also knew He did not like their evil ways.
Maintain contact with the lost for their good and salvation, but do not condone their sins. Talk about sports, politics, economics, science, but if a lost person crosses the line of spiritual propriety, change the subject. Make it obvious we do not approve. It is hard to know where to draw the line, but we have to do it. We just have to do it in such a way that we let them know we accept them, we love them as persons, and that our greatest concern is for the hurt they are bringing upon themselves.
We have to have contact with the lost to be their light. We cannot aid them if we do not interact with them. The wounded man in the ditch was helped not by the priest and levite who “passed by on the other side” (LK 10:31-32) of the road, but by the Good Samaritan who touched him. We cannot divorce ourselves from society. We have to be ethical light at work, at school, at play, at the store, wherever we are. Our Master prayed unto the Father, “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world” (JN 17:18). The world is our mission field.