KEEP YOURSELF PURE AS YOU WALK IN THE LIGHT AND EXPOSE DEEDS OF DARKNESS (ESPECIALLY SEXUAL IMPURITY, GREED AND SHAMEFUL SPEECH)
Remember the theme of Walk in Love (5:1-2). This leads into the discussion on abstaining from impurity = the perversion of love.
Grant Osborne: As part of the new humanity (2:15) believers are children of light and can no longer have anything to do with darkness. Thus our lifestyle must change to reflect kingdom values. There are two main subsections here:
- a description of and a warning about the deeds of darkness (5:3–7)
- and a call to be children of light ( 8–14).
Andrew Lincoln: What specifically constitutes Christian behavior according to this passage? Negatively, it will be characterized by the absence of any talk about fornication or sexual impurity, any dirty jokes or sexual innuendo, let alone any participation in immoral acts. Positively, it will mean thanksgiving, goodness, righteousness, truth, discovering what is pleasing to the Lord, and exposing sinful activity. The warrants for exhortation to this pattern of life can be as general as “what is fitting” (v 4), but this should be interpreted in the light of the more specifically Christian motivation, “as befits saints,” to be what is appropriate for those called to be holy (v 3). Other aspects of the framework of motivations include judgment (exclusion from the kingdom of Christ and God and experience of the wrath of God), believers’ change of status through their conversion-initiation and the ethical implications this carries, and assurance about the power of the light and its source, Christ.
Clinton Arnold: Becoming a Christian entails the reception of an entirely new identity that Paul identifies as “light.” Believers are here summoned to live in accordance with their new identity, which will involve two important activities:
- Christians need to entirely dissociate themselves from lifestyles associated with “darkness,” that is, evil, sinful behaviors; and,
- as members of a new community, believers need to expose the deeds of their sinning brothers and sisters as part of a process of restoration that will result in their growth to maturity in Christ.
Frank Thielman: In 4:25 – 5:2 Paul telegraphs his ethical concerns in seven brief statements with few connecting conjunctions. Here the concern throughout is with two vices—sexual immorality and greed—and Paul’s admonitions concerning these vices are organized in threes. Three terms describe the two vices of sexual immorality and greed, three words describe immoral speech, and three words describe the people who engage in sexual immorality and greed (5:3–5). This trio of sinful trios is counterbalanced first by “thanksgiving” (5:4) and then by a trio of virtues: “goodness,” “righteousness,” and “truth” (5:9).
I. (:3-7) ABSTAIN FROM IMPURITY
Grant Osborne: Paul begins with two primary examples of shameful excess and the pleasure principle: sexual immorality and greed, both of which he addresses frequently in this letter (2:3; 3:19; 5:5, 12).
A. (:3) Dirty Deeds (and Thoughts) Are Totally Inappropriate for Saints
- List of Dirty Laundry
a. “But immorality“
Andrew Lincoln: Sexual sins now dominate the vices mentioned in vv 3–5 and are primarily what is meant by the language of “deeds of darkness” and “what is done in secret” in vv 11, 12.
b. “or any impurity“
c. “or greed“
Andrew Lincoln: Sexual lust elevates the desired object, whether a person’s own gratification or another person, to the center of life and is antithetical to the thanksgiving which recognizes God at the center.
“must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints“
Frank Thielman: Paul offers two motivations for avoiding such sinful activity in this first section of the paragraph. Such conduct is not fitting for those whom God has set apart as his people (5:3–4), and those whose conduct is characterized by these sins have no inheritance in the kingdom of the Messiah and of God (5:5).
B. (:4) Dirty Talking Is Totally Inappropriate for Saints
- List of Dirty Talking
a. “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk“
b. “or coarse jesting“
Harold Hoehner: “nor sarcastic ridicule” — In classical times it is used in a good sense, that is, “witty, wittiness,” and Aristotle alludes to it as the fondness of laughter characterized by the youth. Further, Aristotle states that it is the mean between buffoonery and boorishness, but there is a tendency to move from that midpoint because people are so fond of jokes and ridicule that they will do anything to get a laugh. Again it is not found in the LXX and is used only here in the NT. In the context it most likely indicates jesting that has gone too far, thus becoming sarcastic ridicule that cuts people down and embarrasses others who are present. It is humor in bad taste. Believers should build up and not destroy, even in humor. Or, since in the context the preceding words were concerned with sexual sins, εὐτραπελία could even have reference to dirty jokes or humor with suggestive overtones. This does not mean humor cannot not be used by Christians. However, it should not be employed at someone’s expense thus running counter to Paul’s injunction to edify each other (4:29). Consequently, Paul gives this warning. Like anger, humor is to be controlled.
- Inappropriateness –
“which are not fitting“
Does our speech in the body of Christ reflect only what is proper as befitting saints?
These are good verses to help us address those awkward moments when we choose not to go along with the crowd and laugh at the dirty jokes and innuendos.
- Thanksgiving is Appropriate
“but rather giving of thanks“
Grant Osborne: In place of such unsuitable speech our conversation should be characterized by “thanksgiving,” replacing a filthy, worldly mindset with a mind filled with gratitude to God. The self-centered thoughts of the unbeliever are to be replaced by thankfulness. We need to dwell on all that God has done for us rather than on the earth-centered pleasures in which we can indulge. In Colossians 2:7 Paul describes this as “overflowing with thankfulness.” Since God has lavished his riches on us (Eph 1:7–8), we must focus on the heavenly wealth that is ours rather than on the earthly wealth and the pleasures we can accumulate.
C. (:5-6) Such Impurity is Worthy of God’s Wrath
- Make No Mistake — no mystery here
a. No Confusion on this Issue
“For this you know with certainty“
b. Guard Against Deception on this Issue
“Let no one deceive you with empty words“
There are many false prophets who make a good living by calling evil “good”.
Look at how we have stripped away much of the language of sin and guilt from our vocabulary.
- List of the Guilty Reviewed
b. “impure person“
Andrew Lincoln: Believers’ distancing from such vices must extend to their conversation. Presumably, the assumption behind this prohibition is that thinking and talking about sexual sins creates an atmosphere in which they are tolerated and which can indirectly even promote their practice.
c. “covetous man, who is an idolater”
- Exclusion from God’s Kingdom Blessings
“has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God“
Harold Hoehner: The kingdom of God is not for saints who have never sinned but for sinners who have been redeemed by Christ’s supreme sacrifice (Eph 1:7, 14; 2:4–10; 4:32). Here in Ephesians Paul, addressing believers, rightly assumes that they have inherited the kingdom of God. However, Paul warns that those whose lives are characterized by immorality, impurity, and greed, even though they may claim to be Christians, are not included in the kingdom of God.
- Inclusion in God’s Judgmental Curses
“for because of these things
the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience“
This passage clearly shows that hell is not for banishing sinful deeds, but for punishing sinful people. We hear the phrase: “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner” … we need to rethink that emphasis and make sure we are giving a balanced perspective from God’s point of view.
D. (:7) Abstain from Participation
“Therefore do not be partakers with them.”
Grant Osborne: To give in to the false reasoning of these raging secularists is extremely dangerous, because to follow their reasoning is to partake in their sins. “Partners with them” means sharers in all they do. There are three stages to such partnering: listening and agreeing with their false logic, participating in their sinful lifestyle, and facing the wrath of God along with them. In Ephesians 3:6 the same Greek word describes the Gentile Christians as “sharers together [with believing Jews] in the promise in Jesus Christ,” connoting full participation in a joint status or enterprise. To be a complete partner in the sins of these evildoers is to participate fully in their judgment. How can any thinking individual want that? Paul is commanding these Christians to refuse to have any part in the reasoning or the actions of hedonistic fools. The dangers are too great.
II. (:8-10) WALK IN THE LIGHT
A. (:8a) Your Nature Has Been Transformed — The Radical Nature of our Conversion
- From Darkness
“for you were formerly darkness“
- To Light
“but now you are light“
Grant Osborne: We who are light have been “rescued from the dominion of darkness” and given power over it (Col 1:13; see also Mark 3:15; 6:7). The reign of darkness is a past reality for us as saints, and there is no reason for us to have anything further to do with it.
Light versus darkness is a major motif in John’s writings. His Gospel begins with the new creation; he states at the outset that Christ created a new life that constitutes “the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1:4–5). Through Christ the light of God illuminates and convicts every person ever born (John 1:7, 9). Tragically, however, because the people of this world prefer darkness they “hate the light and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed” (John 3:20).
With conversion the new believer enters the realm of light and becomes a new creature, part of a new humanity (Eph 2:15), so a return to the old realm of darkness should have no appeal at all. Since they are now “light in the Lord,” believers are to live differently. Paul is not saying that they once lived in darkness and now live in light. He is speaking ontologically—about their very being: they were darkness, and now they are light. They are a different people, the children of the God who “is light; in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). We are a new creation, conceived as light and now inhabiting light. This takes place “in the Lord,” meaning that Christ is now the sphere in which we live and the universe we inhabit.
Therefore, since we are light, we must “live as children of light.” In my commentary on verse 5:6 I noted that calling people “children of” something identifies a major characteristic of the person. Here the believers not only belong to the light; they are light and must conduct themselves as such. Their walk must be “in the Lord” and must demonstrate the light that Christ has brought into this world. The world must see the light of God in the way Christians behave, in their daily decisions and in the manner in which they relate to those around them. The people of light recognize the despair and slow death that comes with darkness, so they should want nothing to do with dark deeds.
- Difference = Union with Christ
“in the Lord“
B. (:8b) Walk Consistent with Your New Nature
“walk as children of light“
C. (:9) Description of Walking in the Light
“for the fruit of the light consists in“:
Grant Osborne: Paul’s discussion of vices and virtues in the previous verses has centered on the lifestyle God expects of his new community. If believers are indeed the children of God, part of his family, we must manifest the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22–23), a term synonymous with the Christlike virtues Paul has delineated. Fruit denotes harvest, so these are the natural results of the work of the Triune Godhead in our lives. Just as light is a necessary ingredient in the growth of plants, so the light of God enables us to grow in these attributes. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives must produce certain fruit, the natural result of life in the Spirit. Like Jesus (John 1:7, 9), the Spirit is light, so the fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of light. This is the antithesis of the “fruitless deeds of darkness” in verse 11. Light has nothing to do with darkness, which can bear no fruit acceptable to God.
- “all goodness“
Frank Thielman: Like the light, darkness gives rise to activity, but unlike the light, whose activity bears fruit (v. 9), the activity of the darkness is not fruitful (cf. Rom. 6:21). In other words, it yields no profit and has no point (cf. Wis. 15:4; 4 Macc. 16:7; 1 Cor. 14:14; Titus 3:14; 2 Pet. 1:8). The thought is similar to that of Jude 12, where the futility of debauched behavior is also described as “unfruitful”: “These stains on your love feasts [the false teachers] are those who banquet luxuriously together without fear, shepherding themselves. They are clouds without water, driven along by the winds, late autumn trees without fruit [ἄκαρπα].” The description of the works of darkness as unfruitful, then, is part of the theme of the futility of existence in the unbelieving world that Paul has already developed in 2:1–3 and 4:17–19. It stands in utter contrast to the purposeful, goal-oriented existence that characterizes the believing community because of its union with Christ (1:9–12; 2:19–22; 4:11–16).
D. (:10) Walking in the Light Involves a Process of Growth —
Key Determining Principle:
“trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”
Andrew Lincoln: Paul holds that believers are able to discover the will of God in the concrete situations they face, as they place their whole beings at God’s disposal. Cullmann (Christ and Time [London: SCM, 1962] 228–29) stresses the significance of this term: “The working of the Holy Spirit shows itself in the testing (δοκιμάζειν), that is in the capacity of forming the correct Christian ethical judgment at each given moment. . . . This ‘testing’ is the key of all New Testament ethics.” In the Pauline tradition, then, the testing is according to the will of God, now revealed most fully in Christ. Here, that notion is formulated in terms of “what is pleasing to the Lord.” Because the readers are light in the Lord, they will want to discover what pleases their Lord. The idea of pleasing God or the Lord is found frequently in the LXX (e.g., Gen 5:22, 24; 6:9; Sir 44:16) and as the goal and motivation of Christian living in Paul (cf. Rom 12:2; 14:18; 2 Cor 5:9; Phil 4:18; Col 3:20). If the readers’ motivation is to please their Lord, then living as children of light will involve exercising a responsible freedom and developing an intuitive sense about how to act in a given situation.
Grant Osborne: Just as children on the basis of love try to discover what pleases their parents and then do those things, so we as children of God seek to find out what pleases our heavenly Father. The verb “find out” indicates a studied search, and the progression Paul has in mind involves examination, reflection, and action resulting from the search. We are to study God’s word and determine from it what is acceptable to God, thinking hard about how we can alter our actions to bring him pleasure.
Frank Thielman: In the first part of the paragraph (5:8–11a), the light is passive, simply defining the new existence of Paul’s readers. In the second part (5:11b–14), it is active, exposing, illuminating, and transforming the darkness.
III. (:11-14) EXPOSE DEEDS OF DARKNESS
Frank Thielman: Ephesians 5:8–14 accomplishes two purposes in Paul’s argument.
- First, it supplies a second reason (beyond experiencing the wrath of God) for avoiding sexual immorality and greed. This sort of conduct, Paul tells his readers, is as incompatible with their new existence as light is with darkness. The transformation they have experienced enables them to discern what is pleasing to God in the affairs of everyday life, and so their conduct ought to be marked by generosity, fairness, and honesty.
- Second, Paul urges his readers to become agents of transformation for those whose lives are dominated by the darkness and the sterile and shameful behavior that comes from it. They should expose this behavior for what it is by training the light of the gospel on those who engage in it. When the gospel awakens people to the reality of their sinful condition, then Christ shines on them and they too become “light in the Lord.”
A. (:11a) Don’t Follow the Crowd (in their dirty lifestyle)
“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness“
Klyne Snodgrass: The separation Paul calls for, however, is not so much a withdrawal as a confrontation. “Expose” (vv. 11, 13) often carries a nuance of correcting or convincing someone. Whether the confrontation is only by conduct or also verbal is debated, though to suggest this passage has nothing to do with spoken confrontation is overly narrow. Although no guidelines are given for confronting, clearly Paul is not thinking of geographical separation and avoidance of contact, but of the refusal to participate in indecent actions. After all, contact with non-Christians is required if the light is to accomplish its purpose.
B. (:11b) Rather Expose Their Deeds of Darkness
“but instead even expose them“
Harold Hoehner: Observing the NT passages other than Ephesians, the word can be narrowed down to two basic senses:
(1) “to expose, convict” (Matt 18:15; John 3:20; 8:46; 16:8; 1 Cor 14:24; 2 Tim 4:2; Jas 2:9; Jude 15) and
(2) “to reprove, rebuke” (Luke 3:19; 1 Tim 5:20; Titus 1:9, 13; 2:15; Heb 12:5; Rev 3:19).
When wrong is exposed, a conviction must follow that should result in reproof or rebuke. This in turn should lead to discipline. Hence, exposing includes both convicting and rebuking. In the present context it is best translated as “expose” because the object of the imperative is not persons but works. This coheres with the whole passage. In verse 9 Paul speaks of actions or works of goodness, righteousness, and truth (fruit of light) and in verse 10 believers are enjoined to discover actions or works that please the Lord. Both of these verses speak about good actions or works that are associated with light. Furthermore, in verse 13 Paul speaks of “everything” (τὰ πάντα) and not “everyone” is to be exposed by light. Now in verse 11 Paul discusses the opposite kinds of actions or works, unfruitful works of darkness which must be exposed. The present imperative may well be iterative to denote repeated action.
The question needs to be asked: “Whose deeds are to be exposed?” It is all too easy to conclude that it is the deeds of those in darkness. Nevertheless, it is more likely that it refers to believers who are participating in unfruitful works of darkness. First, the context is speaking about believers. Second, Paul exhorts believers (not the world) not to participate in the works of darkness but rather to do the works or fruit of light. Thus, it appears that some believers were participating in the works of darkness, making the enjoinder necessary. Third, in the NT there is no reprimand of those in the world. Rather, Paul exposes, rebukes, and disciplines those in the church (cf. also Matt 18:15–17). He explicitly states that believers are to judge those inside the church and not to judge those outside the church because God alone is going to judge the latter (1 Cor 5:12–13). Furthermore, instructions in Proverbs (9:7; 15:12) and even in Qumran literature (1QS 9:16) warn against rebuking unbelievers. Hence believers, rather than participating in evil works, are to help those who have fallen by exposing their unfruitful works and showing them that participation in those works is totally inconsistent with light. In this respect, the Corinthians failed to expose the sin of incest that was practiced by one of the believers in the church.
C. (:12) Any Association with Deeds of Darkness Is Disgraceful
“for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things
which are done by them in secret.”
D. (:13) The Nature of Light Is to Expose Darkness
“But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light,
for everything that becomes visible is light.”
Klyne Snodgrass: The question that must be resolved is whether the “revealing” is merely negative (exposing people’s sins) or whether a positive element exists as well, so that people are both exposed and transformed. The context seems to require both, and since the word translated “expose” also means “convince,” this is understandable. The person who is exposed and convinced by the light is transformed. This is confirmed both by verse 8 and the confession in verse 14. F. Foulkes rightly sees three stages of the work of grace in verses 13–14:
- People are exposed;
- they allow themselves to be revealed;
- and then they become light.
The context (the primary determiner of meaning) seems to require a translation such as:
All things exposed/convinced by the light are enlightened,
For everything being enlightened takes on the quality of light.
For this reason it says,
Get up, sleeper,
and rise from the dead
and Christ will shine on you.
The logic seems to assume that the light not only exposes, but also transforms (see 2 Cor. 4:6). In all likelihood we are dealing with proverbial statements about light, which lends to the logic being compacted (see also John 3:19–21; Rom. 13:11–14; 1 Thess. 5:4–8).
E. (:14) Walking in the Light Requires Spiritual Alertness
“For this reason it says, ‘Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.'”
Grant Osborne: I prefer to read this as describing Christians who have fallen into sin. The imagery would then parallel the words of Jesus in Gethsemane when he found the disciples asleep: “Are you asleep?… Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:37–38). Paul picks up this image in Romans 13:11 (“The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed”) and 1 Thessalonians 5:6 (“So then, let us not be like others who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober”). These are weak Christians (Eph 4:14) who on a spiritual level are virtually dead and need to wake up. Satan has defeated them and led them back into the darkness of sin, and they are barely clinging to their spiritual vitality. The light of Christ is on them, but their stupor is so heavy that they are unaware of it. They need to awaken and rise up; only then will it be true for them that “Christ will shine on you.” Only then will they be enabled to live in the light of Christ as victorious Christians.