Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Ephesians 5:12-14 Introduction
Believers are to “reprove” the unfruitful works of darkness (5:11). By means of evidence, we are to seek to convince sinners of the error of their way. Verses 12-14 tell us why we are to “reprove” sins–first, they are shameful (5:12); second, they need to be unmasked (5:13a); third, to reveal is the nature of light (5:13b); fourth, to awaken sinners from death (5:14).
Eph. 5:12 “For it is a shame even to speak of those things which
are done of them in secret.”
We need to “reprove” the unfruitful works of darkness because they are shameful, sometimes too disgraceful to discuss. Some acts are so repulsive and sordid that they “should be sealed off not only from contact, but even from conversation” (MacArthur). Our task is not to give sordid particulars of deeds of darkness. Beware the “curiosity which feasts itself like flies on foul corruption” (Edgar, in Pulpit Comm.). Some details should be buried in oblivion. Otherwise, we may be guilty of enjoying sin vicariously from a distance, or of teaching others how to commit the sin we reprove.
Merely to hear of what sinners do should make our cheeks blush. Believers are not to be naive or overly prudish, but should be ashamed to describe in detail certain sins which wicked people are not ashamed to do.
Christians must seek to maintain a proper and delicate balance. We should be marked by a holy bashfulness, but at the same time must be willing to discuss evils enough to “reprove” them. A particular evil may be so bad that it causes us to blush in embarrassment, but we may also find ourselves forced to deal with the contamination in order to contain it. It is better to grapple with disrepute while it is cloistered in a closet than to deal with it after it proliferates into the public. Just be careful not to unduly violate modesty when reproving a sin. Expose only enough about it to be rid of it. Discuss it only to the extent proper reproof requires. When possible, refer to sins by name, but try to avoid describing them in detail.
Sin is a shame, and our duty is to put to shame, if not to silence, the deeds of darkness. We should delicately “reprove” evil, seeking to convince sinners to be ashamed of their own sins. Shame is a first step of repentance, and the fact a sinner commits an evil “in secret” may indicate a continued capacity for shame. An old proverb says, “Night has no shame.” Let us “reprove” the unfruitful works of darkness. Fill the sinner’s night with our light that he might thereby be filled with a proper sense of shame.
Eph. 5:13a “But all things that are reproved are made manifest by
the light:. . .”
We need to “reprove” the unfruitful works of darkness because, secondly, they need to be unmasked. “All things” refers to the evil, secret practices discussed in verse 12. “Made manifest” means to make visible or known what has been hidden or unknown. When we “reprove” the unfruitful works of darkness, we unmask them, expose their true colors, and reveal them for the grotesque and harmful creatures they really are. When we drag sins out of the dingy corners where they lurk, and shine the light of truth on them, they are seen in all their ugliness. “The best way to rid society or the world of any evil is to drag it out into the light” (Barclay). Once revealed for what they really are, some sins die a natural death.
“The Assyrians had a belief that if ever, by any chance, a demon saw himself in a mirror, he was frightened at his own ugliness and incontinently fled” (Maclaren). A sinner who comes face to face with his own sins and honestly analyses them, will have a similar reaction.
Some sense no need for repentance and forgiveness because their own sins have not been unmasked, exposed for what they really are. No believer has been willing to reprove them in a one on one, eye to eye, discussion. Sinners cannot know the sinfulness of sin unless they are told, and sometimes this telling has to be individualized, tailored to their specific situation.
In person to person settings, we must ever seek ways to gently and lovingly reveal the true awfulness of wrong deeds. Sins need to be unmasked. “To make such ways of living attractive they must be cloaked up in a deceitful glamour” (Gore). Someone must counter Satan’s propaganda. Once stripped bare and revealed in its true colors, sin is repulsive.
Sins hate light, therefore let us cast our light upon them. When a sinner known to us steals away to a “secret” place, seeking to hide what he does not wish to avoid, may our reproof echo in his mind. Secrecy gives sinners courage, and takes the edge off their shame. They think what is hidden will go unpunished. Being unseen by others makes them safe and secure, and for the present out of gunshot. Thus, before they slither away to their hideaway, while they are yet in our presence, we must never be ambivalent about sin, or leave any doubt as to where we stand.
Believers are not ultimately held accountable for what the lost do “in secret,” but we are responsible for speaking light into their darkness. Whether they agree with us or not, they must be forced to face the fact that their deeds, no matter how secret, cause dreadful consequences.
If we ignore the known sins of people around us, they probably will continue in their “secret” sins, proceed to even worse crimes, and experience ever more fateful judgment. The more a sin is committed, the sinner becomes more secure in it, and more addicted to it. We must seek to interrupt this cycle, for “sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15), and Christians do not want people to die, especially in their sins. We appeal to sinners–come out of secrecy and sin. Take more concern to get sins pardoned than hidden. He who hides his sins shall not prosper; but he who confesses and forsakes them shall find mercy (PR 28:13).
Eph. 5:13b “. . .for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.”
We must “reprove” the unfruitful works of darkness because, thirdly, to reveal is the nature of light. To “make manifest,” to shine and reveal, is the inherent business of light. Christians are called light (EP 5:8), but are unworthy of the title if we do not shine in the midst of a dark world.
Only light can “make manifest,” reveal reality. We believers truly are the world’s only hope. Nothing but light can brighten and conquer darkness. There will be no conviction of sin unless our light shines upon it.
“May God use us to make sin appear sinful” (Strauss), and may He keep us mindful of our ultimate objective. We want a sinner to feel shame, not to feel bad as an end in itself, but to cause change. “Shame is one of the influences by which the light conquers a soul from darkness” (Barlow).
We must shine, whether or not this illumination leads to reformation. We can cause sin to lose its hidden character, to let it no longer belong to darkness in the sense of being unknown or unrevealed, but once this is accomplished, the next step is left up to the sinner.
A sinner whose deeds are exposed faces the moment of crisis. He is forced either to come to the light or to run into deeper darkness to hide from the light. One has the awful freedom to run away from the light.
The rich young ruler came to Jesus, thinking all was well within. Jesus, though, reproved him, and revealed to him the truth about his inner priorities. The young man thus brought face to face with crisis. He knew what Jesus had said was true, but loved his sin too much to leave it.
In my first pastorate, on an Easter Sunday morning, I saw a man come to the moment of crisis with a level of conviction which I have never seen paralleled again in my ministry. The light had shone upon his darkness. His sins stood revealed. During the invitation, with head bowed, he clutched to the pew in front of him so tightly that his knuckles turned white. He made the wrong choice. He ran from the light. Later that same week, he was electrocuted. I helped preach his funeral. It was tragic.
Since people are free to accept or reject the light, let us believers shine a light which is not only bright, but also attractive, enticing, and charming. We seek not only to expose sins, but also to woo sinners. When Jesus walked among us, Pharisees were repelled, but acknowledged sinners were drawn to Him like a magnet. Something about Him was attractive.
By the life we live, and by the words we speak, we need to give people a glimpse of something better than anything they have ever known before. Most unbelievers think the Christian life is dull. God forgive us for walking around looking as if we were baptized in vinegar. Our lives should be filled with joy. Believers have what the world is looking for, and should put it on display to whet unbelievers’ appetites. The old saying is, you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make him drink. Someone quaintly added, true, but you can give him salt pills to make him thirstier. Believers are “the salt of the earth” (MT 5:13), and should live in such a way that lost people are made thirsty for Jesus, the water of life.
If by our lives and lips we are not bringing people in darkness to the point of decision, of crisis, then what are we doing? Why be called light if we are refusing to shine? “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (MT 5:14-16).