“Do not fellowship with those who practice the deceptive and futile works of darkness, but rather conduct your lives in order to expose and convict them. It is disgraceful even to mention their shameless deeds. The true nature of such things are made visible when exposed to the light, for everything is seen clearly in the light. As God has said in the Scriptures, “Awake, you who are in a death-like sleep, for Christ will give you light.” Live carefully and purposefully, walking wisely rather than foolishly, making the most of every opportunity in these evil days.” (Ephesians 5:11-16, paraphrased)
Within this passage are several distinct contrasts:
~ Productive or “fruitful” (karpos) lives (v. 9) are compared with “unfruitful” (akarpois) lives (v. 11).
~ Light (photos) is set against darkness (skotous) (v. 11 & 13).
~ Sleeping (katheudon) is contrasted with waking (egeirai) (v. 14).
~ Being unwise (asophoi) is opposed to being wise (sophoi) (v. 15).
Paul alludes to the shameless atmosphere of the Roman Empire which enveloped its citizens in spiritual darkness. When Paul arrived in Athens, they “saw the whole city totally immersed in idolatry (Acts 17:16). The lives of sinners are neither spiritually productive nor beneficial and will end in eternal darkness.
Believers are in danger of “participating” (sunkoinoneo) in unmentionable transgressions if they fellowship with those who practice them. Paul wrote the Corinthians to warn them about associating with those who are immoral, covetous, idolatrous, fighters and drunks. (I Cor. 5:9-11).
Furthermore, we are to take a strong stand against evil. Our two basic obligations regarding sins are to evade it ourselves and reprove it in others. To “reprove”(enenchete) means not only to expose evil, but also to verbally admonish ungodly activity. Enenchete includes concepts of rebuke, correction, and discipline. An initial cold reaction to your words could eventuate in a person’s salvation. Simply living a pure and holy life can shine light on a particular sin, but an admonition shared at the right time can turn a sinner to Christ.
The apostle has already alluded to such sins as theft, deceit, wrath, bitterness, malice, anger, wrath, greed, impurity, coarse jokes, covetousness and idolatry. But some sins are too detestable to mention. Paul tells the Ephesian Church not to describe such horrific and repulsive things. Joking with others about immorality contaminates our spirits. Discussion of abominable evils is shameful and always inappropriate, for it fosters images that can lead to temptation.
Light allows us to discriminate between what is helpful and what is harmful. Prior to purchasing anything of value, a strong light will often expose any flaws. Those who love the light are drawn to it (Jn. 3:21). Those who love darkness avoid light (Jn. 3:20 & I Jn. 1:6). What is good or evil is exposed by submitting it to the light of God’s Word. Jesus teaches that the Holy Spirit is ever faithful to “reprove the world of sin” (Jn. 16:8).
“Sleep” is emblematic of spiritual indifference. Sinners slumber in a dream world, but there is something worth waking up for! Only the Gospel can illuminate the sinner’s heart and deliver them from their false sense of security. However, exposing someone’s guilt will not force them to repent. Challenging persons to awaken from their spiritual trance only unmasks their current condition. Those who detest the Gospel light usually resent being exposed for it makes them consider a change of lifestyle.
Paul’s quotation regarding being aroused from slumber seems to be based on Isaiah 60:1-3. Although Isaiah is referring to freedom from the Babylonian captivity, Paul uses the prophet’s words to illustrate freedom from spiritual bondage. In Isaiah’s passage we find similar phraseology that parallels the apostle’s remarks:
~ “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon thee” (v. 1).
~ “Gross darkness shall cover the people, but the Lord shall rise upon thee” (v. 2).
~ “The Gentiles shall come to thy light” (v. 3).
Jesus Christ does not want those who are lost to remain in their sordid condition. He comes to arouse them from their lethargy. Bartemaus had to decide to get up and come to Jesus in order to receive his sight (Mk. 10:50-52). If those who are lost respond to the light Christ provides, He will always bless their efforts. “They that hear the voice of the Son of God shall live” (Jn. 5:25).
We are not only warned to strictly avoid partaking in sinful activities (v. 11), but also cautioned to avoid compromise. To “see” (blepete) means to “to take care.” The apostle cautions us to be wary and to “watch our step.” “Circumspectly” (akribos) means “exactly, accurately, and diligently.” We should deliberately and carefully examine the steps we take as we navigate the traps Satan sets for us. The foolish run through numerous mine fields of sin, ignoring the consequences (Pv. 4:27).
Throughout the Bible, the use of the word “fool” usually refers to one who is morally bankrupt (Ps. 14:1). Conducting our lives wisely rather than foolishly is not optional, for those who are lost often monitor our attitudes and actions more closely than we realize (I Tim. 3:7).
“Time” is kairos and pictures opportune moments. To “redeem” (exagorazo) time means to “buy up or purchase” in order to use something efficiently. Exagorazo refers to making use of every opportunity for helping others to grow spiritually. Paul is aware of the need for expediency, especially as it concerns reaching souls and helping them mature in Christ.
What Paul is proposing in this short phrase is not the sectarian concept of “time management” and adherence to strict schedules. However, it is as easy to waste time today as it was in the first century. He reminds the Corinthians that “time is short” (I Cor. 7:29).
Jesus made the most of His time here on earth. For example, in just one day He taught in the Capernaum synagogue, exorcised a demon possessed man, and healed Peter’s mother-in-law. That evening He healed numerous diseases and cast out many demons (Mk. 1:21-34).
Redeeming time is vital for we do not know how long we will live (Pv. 27:1) and because we will ultimately give an account of our lives to God (Mt. 12:36 & Rom. 14:12).
Every era in the past two millennia has proven the Church has had its share of “evils” (poneros) to contend with. Poneros is “the active opposition to that which is good.” We are to strive to ascertain the will of God and act accordingly.
Less than a century after Paul wrote these words, the Roman government was persecuting Christians with increasing vengeance. They were tortured, burned at the stake, and torn apart by wild animals in the arenas. The Ephesian church eventually succumbed to the pressure and “lost its first love” (Rev. 2:1-4). During the next century the congregation at Ephesus permanently disbanded. Had they “redeemed the time” and stood strong, their story might have ended differently.
Today, opposition against Believers is still intense. Although time is of the essence, our God is able to give us complete victory in every circumstance.
Points to Ponder
1. What is Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians (II Cor. 6:2)?
2. Paraphrase Philippians 2:15-16.
3. What is Jesus advice regarding correcting another Believer (Mt. 18:15-17)?
4. How do spiritual values appear to sinners (I Cor. 2:14)?
5. Who makes fun of sin (Pv. 14:9)?
6. What happened to the foolish man who felt he had all the time in the world (Lk. 12:16-21)?