I’m not talking about the thing too many people do on social media, where they nitpick others and put in so much effort in the “yeah, but..” game. That is ill-mannered and usually unwelcome. It usually also concerns something amounting to far smaller than a hill of beans. Instead, I refer to something God-directed and involving sin.
A quick overview of Ephesians lays out a pretty straightforward outline. Chapters one through three lay out what a privilege it is to be a Christian. Chapters four through six speak of how privileged people behave, within the church, with the world, and their relationships, and even with the devil. The “proving wrong” section comes in the second half of the book, dealing with the world. If we isolate ourselves from the world, we cannot hope to be effective. If we allow ourselves to be influenced by the world rather than be an influence on it, we may find ourselves having fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. In Ephesians 5:6-14, Paul issues a difficult challenge for us as we live before and within the world on a daily basis. How do we reprove the unfruitful works of darkness?
KNOW THE DIFFERENCE (6). Paul starts this paragraph, saying, “Let no one deceive you.” Context shows that the “these things” that drew God’s wrath involved three broad categories of behavior and three specific actions: fornication, impurity, greed, filthiness, silly talk, and coarse jesting. Paul says, in essence, “Don’t be deceived into thinking these things are OK. To promote ignorance in these areas, all we have to do is remain silent about them and never teach about them. Paul’s concern is about Christians being an influence on the culture, and that’s still the need today. There are still a great many people in the world who think of Christians as those who avoid filthy speech and who have objective moral standards about sexual matters. The world sees enough conformation; It needs to see transformation; That requires information!
BE THE DIFFERENCE (8-10, 13-14). Paul is concerned about people functioning in the spiritual dark. He wants them to take the information (knowledge) he’s given them and let it show in their lives. He illustrates this lifestyle with the metaphor of light. Paul uses the word “light” five times in this one paragraph. Light has characteristics (8-9)–goodness, righteousness, and truth. Light is corrective (11-14)–it remedies problems that occur in its absence (blindness, fear, ignorance, etc.). Light makes visible what was invisible before. We live in a world in serious need of correction. The majority, walking in darkness, are on a collision course with spiritual death. We’re in a position to shine light on their path. Our schools, workplaces, communities, ball fields, and national institutions cry out from the darkness for guidance. Some of the best “reproving” (exposing) occurs when we are the Lord’s lights.
MAKE THE DIFFERENCE (7,11-12). This is the most uncomfortable part of this text. Beyond building our knowledge and setting an example, we must do something. We make a difference through abstinence (7,10), not partaking and having no fellowship with evil. Saying no when invited to participate in sin turns an uncomfortable spotlight on us. Being a “new man” (4:22) means a new behavior, which Paul describes in 4:25-32. The world feels judged when we avoid something we know is wrong. We also make a difference through admonition. Reproving (exposing) means to shine the light on something (we’re shining the Light of Christ onto it, 8).
When doctrinal error is espoused, do we try to engage people (“in love,” 4:15) or do we just sit in silence? When moral filth is peddled and promoted, do we just go along to get along or do we stand up, stand up for Jesus? In chapter 6, Paul tells us that we’re Christian soldiers, which implies a militancy that must exist (11). Twice more, in 6:13-14, he repeats the charge to “stand firm.” Maybe we’ve witnessed people standing firm in a way that was unnecessarily offensive and unloving. That’s wrong! But that doesn’t give us an excuse to cowardly avoid saying what needs to be said, no matter what it costs us. Nobody likes to be the bad guy, but God commands that we expose sin.
Paul follows this instruction, saying “Therefore” (15). His words are written for a purpose. The reason for exposing darkness is that God has us here to make a difference. How we do it requires wisdom, but it is “what the will of the Lord is” (17). Let’s be effective representatives of Christ in this dark world. Let’s understand the urgency of our task and make the most of our time!