Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Have No Fellowship With the Unfruitful Works of Darkness: a Closer Look at Ephesians 5:11

The Immediate Context (Eph. 5:1-7)
     In v. 3 of Ephesians 5 the apostle has written, “but illicit sex and all impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as also is proper for those sanctified.”1 Such lifestyles are antithetical to walking in love as imitators of God (vv. 1-2), and Paul goes on to list other ungodly acts, such as vulgarity, foolish talk, and crude jesting, which ought to be replaced with thanksgiving (v. 4). The nouns paralleling the verbal forms noted above are then employed, with the added “idolater” (v. 5). Those engaged in such misconduct are excluded from the promised inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
     To avoid deception and the resulting divine wrath, “do not be partakers with” the sons of disobedience (vv. 6-7). Paul uses the plural form of summétochos, found only twice in the NT, here and earlier in 3:6 in the positive sense of Gentiles, as joint-heirs in one body, being co-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Any alliances involving conduct that would jeopardize this new partnership in Christ Jesus must be avoided (see further on v. 11).
Walk in the Light (Eph. 5:8-10)
     As a reminder of “then” as compared to “now” (cf. 2:1-22), Paul writes, “for you were once darkness, but now light in [the] Lord; walk as children of light” (v. 8). Life prior to receiving God’s grace was characterized by spiritual “darkness” [skótos, cf. v. 11; 6:12] but now “light in [the] Lord” (cf. 4:18-24; Acts 26:18; Rom. 13:12; 2 Cor. 6:14; Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 5:5; 1 Pet. 2:9). The term “light” [phōs] occurs five times in this section (vv. 8[x2], 9, 13[x2]). God is light (1 John 1:5), a symbol of his glory and majesty (1 Tim. 6:16) and the truth he reveals (Psa. 119:105; Prov. 6:23). Therefore, Paul says, “walk” [peripatéō]  accordingly – the sixth time this idiom is employed in the letter alluding to lifestyle or manner of life. Having previously walked “in trespasses and sins” (2:2) but now in “good works(2:10), “in a manner worthy of the calling” (4:1), no longer “as the Gentiles walk” (4:17), and in “love” (5:2), readers are here directed to walk as children of light (see also 1 John 1:5-7).  
     Further explanation is given: “for the fruit of the light2 [is] in all goodness and righteousness and truth, discerning what is pleasing to the Lord” (vv. 9-10). The “fruit” [karpós, cf. Gal. 5:22-24] that is produced by or is found in this “light” (cf. Matt. 5:14), as opposed to “the unfruitful works of darkness” (v. 11), is “all” [pásē] “goodness” [agathōsúnē] (a term found nowhere else in Ephesians; cf. Rom. 15:14; Gal. 5:22; 2 Thess. 1:11), and “righteousness” [dikaiosúnē] (cf. Eph. 4:24; 6:14; cp. 6:1), and “truth” [alētheia] (cf. Eph. 1:13; 4:21, 24, 25; 6:14).
     The verb dokimázō (“discern,” ESV; “finding out,” NKJV; “trying to learn,” NASB; “proving,” ASV, KJV) means to “test,” “examine,” or “prove.”3 Since God’s will has been revealed (Eph. 1:9, 17),4 what pleases him can therefore be known and understood (Eph. 5:17)5 as we obey what he has revealed (Eph. 6:6).6 The primary aim of pleasing God was embraced and taught by Jesus (Matt. 5:16; John 8:29), Paul and his companions (2 Cor. 5:9; Gal. 1:10; Col. 1:9-10; 3:20; 1 Thess. 2:4, 6; 4:1; 2 Tim. 2:15), the inspired writer of Hebrews (Heb. 13:16), and the apostle John (1 John 3:22).
The Christian Example (Eph. 5:11)
     Now Paul instructs his readers, “and have no participation with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather also expose [them]” (v. 11). Reaffirming the sentiment of v. 7, the present [continual] imperative “have no participation with” employs the verbal sugkoinōnéō, meaning to “participate with someone or be connected with something” (cf. Phil. 4:14; Rev. 18:4). The corresponding noun sugkoinōnos means “joint-partaker, co-sharer” (Rom. 11:17; 1 Cor. 9:23; Phil. 1:7; Rev. 1:9), with similar ideas conveyed (minus the sun- [“with”] prefix) by the verbal koinōneō (to “share”), and the noun koinōnos (“partner, sharer”). 
     Another cognate is koinōnia (often rendered “fellowship”), involving a relationship that has agreement, commonality, unity of mind and purpose, along with spiritual, mental, and participatory alliance (cf. Col. 3:2; 1 John 2:15; cp. 2 Cor. 6:14-16).7 Biblical “fellowship” is not merely social activity but entails a spiritual bond. It is something we either have or do not have based upon our relationship with the Lord.
     The exhortation here is to “Take no part in” (ESV), “have no fellowship with” (ASV, KJV),  “Do not participate in” (NASB), “Have nothing to do with” (NIV) “the unfruitful works of darkness,” i.e., the illicit conduct of vv. 3-5 (N.B. v. 7), the opposite of “the fruit of light” (v. 9). Paul is not telling his readers to dissociate from immoral people (“since then you would need to go out of the world,” 1 Cor. 5:9-13; cf. 7:12-13; 10:27); rather, do not participate in their immoral activities.
     Simply avoiding involvement in these sinful works is not all that is expected; “but rather also expose [them].” The verb elégchō could mean either “rebuke” or “reprove” (ASV, KJV) or “expose” (CSB, ESV, ISV, NASB, NET, NIV, NKJV, N/RSV). W. R. Nicoll argues for “oral reproof,” commenting, “these Christians were not at liberty to deal lightly with such sins, or connive at them, or be silent about them, but had to speak out against them and hold them up to rebuke, with the view of bringing their heathen neighbours to apprehend their turpitude and forsake them” (Expositors Greek Testament 357). On the other hand, J. A. Robinson, based on what immediately follows in the text, believes “it is best to interpret the word in the sense of ‘to expose’ [cf. John 3:20] …. With this interpretation we give unity to the whole passage” (Ephesians [2nd ed.] 200). While the importance of verbal rebuke cannot be discounted (cf. 1 Tim. 5:20; Tit. 2:15), in view of the darkness-light antithesis, the expression here would communicate the thought of “bringing to light.”
     Considering the inappropriateness of even talking about certain offenses (v. 12), H. C. G. Moule suggests the Christian response “was to come more through a holy life, and less through condemnatory words” (Ephesians 132). M. R. Weed observes further, “The exposure suggested is that brought about by the penetrating redemptive effect of the Christian life which reveals or illumines evil practices just as light silently penetrates the darkness” (Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon LWC 11:176). A related nuance harmonizing both meanings would be to “enlighten” those engaged in sinful behavior.8
     Although Ephesians 5:11 is often used as a blanket proof-text to oppose a wide range of perceived misbehavior in the 21st-century church (see previous post), contextually Paul is encouraging his mid-first-century Ephesian readers not to participate in the sinful behaviors of the pagan world in which they live. The modern-day application would be the same.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation. The rendering “sexual immorality” in many versions is somewhat vague and does not fully convey the sense of the more precise expression porneía. The noun pórnos (lit. a male prostitute) is employed in the NT of anyone engaging in illicit sex, i.e., a fornicator. The noun porneía applies to any type of illicit sexual intercourse, i.e., fornication. Porneía is any kind of sexual intercourse that is not within the context of a divinely approved marriage (cf. Heb. 13:4).
     2 Instead of the phrase tou phōtòs (“of the light”), the Byzantine Majority Text reads tou pneúmatos (“of the spirit”); cp. Gal. 5:22. The latter reading is found in the majority of manuscripts, including the oldest (P46), whereas the NA28/UBS5 reading is supported by the immediate context and most ancient versions.
     3 Luke 12:56; 14:19; Rom. 1:28; 2:18; 12:2; 14:22; 1 Cor. 3:13; 11:28; 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:8, 22; 13:5; Gal. 6:4; Eph. 5:10; Phil. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4; 5:21; 1 Tim. 3:10; 1 Pet. 1:7; 1 John 4:1.
     4 See also John 6:39-40; Col. 4:12; 1 Thess. 4:3; 5:18; 1 Pet. 2:15; 1 John 5:14.
     5 See also Acts 22:14; Rom. 2:18; 12:2; Col. 1:9; cf. Luke 12:47. Note further the will of God is to be sought (John 5:30).
     6 See also Matt. 7:21; 12:50; Mark 3:35; John 4:34; 6:38; 7:17; 9:31; Acts 13:22; 2 Cor. 8:5; Heb. 10:7, 36; 13:21; 1 Pet. 2:15; 4:2; 1 John 2:17; cf. Matt. 12:31; Luke 12:47.
     7 The noun koinōnia is used in the sense of generosity or selfless giving (2 Cor. 9:13; Heb. 13:16; cf. Eph. 3:9), or a gift or contribution (Rom. 15:26), or participation or sharing in something (2 Cor. 8:4; Phil. 1:5; 3:10; Philem. 6; cf. Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:16), but mostly descriptive of the common type or bond of life that unites certain people together (BAGD 438). In this latter sense koinōnia is used in the NT to describe the close relationship Christians have with God (1 John 1:3, 6; cf. 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 13:14; Phil. 2:1) and consequently with one another (1 John 1:3, 7; cf. Gal. 2:9). Only the former makes the latter possible.
     8 Thanks to Jody Apple, in comments made during the Open Forum at the 2018 FHU Lectureship, for this insightful perspective.

Related Posts: “What Does Koinōnia [Fellowship] Really Mean?” <Link>, “The Walking Dead” <Link>, “When a Biblical Text is Misapplied” <Link>.

Related articles: Allen Webster's Why People Don't Understand the Bible

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