There can be no transforming of darkness into light
and of apathy into movement without emotion.
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961)
Fruitless Deeds of Darkness
Reflective Study of Ephesians
by Al Maxey
Titus Lucretius Carus (99-55 B.C.) was a Roman poet and philosopher who authored the philosophical epic (a six volume Latin hexameter poem) "De Rerum Natura" ("On the Nature of the Universe"), which was a very lengthy but thorough exposition of the Epicurean world-view. In the second volume of this work he made this observation: "O miserable minds of men! O blind hearts! In what darkness of life, in what great dangers, you spend this little span of years!" One cannot help but recall the proverbial statement of Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount, "If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt.). Jesus was speaking of the dark desires of the flesh, such as greed, and how such a focus can blind us to the light of a more noble life. I like the way The Messagephrases the Lord's words: "Your eyes are windows into your body. ... If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!" There is indeed a darkness of heart and mind that can prove fatal (both physically and spiritually), and such darkness, with its accompanying deeds, should be exposed to the Light that has come into this world. Sadly, not all dwellers in darkness desire the liberation that comes from embracing the Light. Too many prefer the deeds of darkness. "In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it" (John 1:5). It is difficult for one to comprehend that which one has chosen not to consider.
God has always sought to call mankind from darkness to light (spiritually speaking), and this calling is even noted in most of the world's religions, both primitive and modern, monotheistic and polytheistic. In early Hinduism, for example, hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, in the treatises which are known collectively as the Upanishads, the Brahmins wrote, "Lead me from the unreal to the real! Lead me from darkness to light! Lead me from death to immortality!" (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28). These words could just as easily come from the pen of the apostle Paul, who used similar terms and metaphors in his own writings. The theme of darkness/light is universal, with the former generally denoting that which is negative, while the latter typically denotes that which is positive. The world dwells in darkness, a darkness which permeates their very being; the redeemed walk in light, a light that is powerful and liberating, and which also permeates into the core of our being. Thus, we can say that those who walk in the light, due to that eternal Light within them, are not just dwellers in light, but also reflectors of that Greater Light. In a sense, webecome light, and are thus said to be a "light unto the world" (i.e., a beacon to the darkness-dwellers, shining light upon the pathway that leads to a fulfilled, and ultimately eternal, life in/with Christ Jesus). "You are the light of the world," said Jesus to His disciples in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt.), therefore "let your light shine before men" (vs. 16). The challenge to the redeemed is to continually walk in light, and to call others out of the darkness to do the same. "God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him, yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin" (1 John 1:5-7).
When we walk in the light, being indwelt by the Light, we not only are in fellowship with deity, but also with all others who have that divine Light within them, and who seek to the best of their abilities and opportunities to serve their Master in their daily lives. Darkness leads to death; Light leads to life. Many love the darkness, for they are enamored with the godless deeds of darkness. Not so with genuine disciples of Christ, for they have turned away from such deeds in order to produce the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus declared to Nicodemus, "Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed" (John 3:19-20). I have no doubt that the apostle Paul had these words of Jesus in mind when he wrote the following to the Ephesian brethren: "You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: 'Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you'" (Eph. 5:8-14). Paul is contrasting the walk of the wicked in darkness with the walk of the redeemed in light, and he emphasizes the principle that one's actions will make evident the nature of one's heart. Those in darkness show it by their deeds, as do those who dwell in light (and who are indwelt by the Light).
Paul informs us that "the fruit of the light" consists of all that is good and righteous and true (Eph. 5:8), which certainly brings to mind his companion teaching that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23). The latter passage has caused some to change the former text to read "the fruit of the Spirit" rather than "the fruit of the light." This change is seen in the Textus Receptus, which explains why some of the older translations, such as the King James Version, read "fruit of the Spirit" in Eph. 5:8, while most of the modern translations, which are not based upon the Textus Receptus, opt for the reading "fruit of the light." Most scholars believe "light" is the correct reading, for it "is strongly supported by early and diversified witnesses, representing both the Alexandrian and the Western text types" [Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 607-608]. Although we might be tempted to debate the matter, the two terms really portray much the same reality: when we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and are walking in light, we become light, and will manifest the same by our actions and attitudes, thus serving as beacons to those in darkness (cf. Matt. 5:14-16).
"You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light" (Eph. 5:8). Paul then lists just a few of the visible traits of light-dwellers (vs. 9). We have a new walk; we are on a new pathway; we are journeying away from darkness and its deadly deeds. Thus, "have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them" (vs. 11). There are several things in this particular verse that need to be examined. First, we are commanded to "have nothing to do with" these "fruitless deeds of darkness." There has long been speculation as to the identity of these "deeds." What specifically did Paul have in mind? I believe the context itself suggests the nature of these deeds/works that Paul had in mind. In this chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul is contrasting those who are worldly in their behaviors with those who are godly in their behaviors. Therefore, he begins the chapter by commanding, "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love" (Eph. 5:1-2a). God is love, so we must be loving; the Lord is Light, thus we must be lights to the world. As those who reflect His holy nature (and who are, by the power of the Spirit who dwells within us, being transformed daily into conformity with that nature -- Romans 8), we shun the deeds of darkness, which are "fruitless" (barren) in the sense that they can produce nothing of a positive nature; nothing that is godly. Paul makes this same contrast in Galatians 5, noting the dark deeds/works of the flesh (vs. 19-21) and then the godly fruit of the Spirit manifested in the lives of those being transformed (vs. 22-23). The first grouping of deeds is destructive; the latter grouping is restorative. Paul continues, in his epistle to the Ephesians, to identify these "deeds of darkness" as "sexual immorality, any kind of impurity, and greed" (vs. 3); "obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking" (vs. 4); getting "drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery" (vs. 18). He is contrasting two ways of life: worldly vs. godly.
Those who are in Christ Jesus, and who are indwelt by His Spirit, must "have nothing to do with" darkness or its deeds. We are called out of darkness into light. Those who answer this call are obligated to show it in their behavior, and to have no dealings with these dark deeds. The Greek word used here is the same word for "fellowship" (as per the reading of the KJV, the NKJV, the 1599 Geneva Bible, the Douay-Rheims 1899 American edition, and the ASV). It can also mean: "have no partnership with; do not participate in." Paul emphasizes this point in his letter to the brethren in Corinth: "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons" (1 Cor. 10:21). Those in fellowship with the Lord cannot be in fellowship with the world. "For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Cor. 6:14). These cannot coexist; those dwelling in light must shun the darkness and its deeds. "Notice that it is the 'deeds' that have to be shunned, not the doers. Paul is not advocating Pharisaical separatism. The follower of Christ will go where his Master went and meet those his Master met. But though he does not withdraw from the world, he refuses to adopt its standards or fall in with its ways" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 70]. This is an important point! Our Lord did not call us to separate ourselves from those in darkness, but rather to assist them in finding the Light. To do this we must often go where they are, while at the same time not becoming what they are! Jesus went to those in darkness, but He did not take on the characteristics of that darkness, nor did He perform the deeds of darkness. Rather, He exposed the darkness for what it is, and by His teaching and example called those darkness dwellers to come forth into the light by embracing the Light that has come into the world (Jesus).
"Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" (James 4:4). We're either with Him or against Him; we can't be both. If we have chosen Light, we must shun darkness: we must have nothing to do with it or its deeds; we must have no fellowship with this darkness or its deeds. We no longer have anything in common with it, for we now dwell in light. Yet, we are to call people to come forth from that darkness, and one way to do so is to help them see it for what it is. Thus, at the end of Eph. 5:11 Paul says we are to "expose" these dark, deadly deeds of darkness. It is not enough to merely shun them; we must show them to others for what they are. There are a number of ways to "expose" these deeds, but the two most effective are: vocal and visible. Speak out against them; do so boldly. Yet, an even greater reproof of darkness and its deeds is to brightly reflect the Light through our own attitudes and actions in our daily walk with Him in light. We will be a light upon a hill shining into the darkness around us, which serves to both expose and reprove the darkness, as well as serving as a beacon of hope to those who desire to come out of that darkness. This latter is "the reproof conveyed by the spectacle of a pure life and consistently moral walk" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 3, p. 357]. In effect, according to Dr. Albert Barnes (1798-1870), our "lives should be a standing rebuke of a sinful world" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. Or, to state it in the words of Dr. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), "Reprove their sins by abounding in the contrary duties" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. When we bear the fruit of the Spirit in our daily lives we expose, and even rebuke, the deeds of darkness. When we show the beauty and wisdom of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23a), righteousness and truth (Eph. 5:8), we expose and reprove the deeds of the sinful nature and of the darkness in which these deeds are both motivated and manifested: "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like" (Gal. 5:19-21a). One grouping builds relationships, the other destroys them; one grouping is fruitful, producing that which is good in the lives of others; the other is barren, producing nothing worthwhile.
As children of light, we are to courageously expose/reprove the works of this present darkness that has fallen over our fallen world. We are to be lights in that darkness, set upon a hill for all to see. Thus, not only do we condemn immorality by speaking out against it with a "thus says the Lord," but we also condemn it by visibly being morally pure. We not only rebuke hatred by speaking out against it, but by loving those around us. We rebuke strife by promoting peace; we reprove division by calling for unity. We live godly in an ungodly world. Some have sought to use this passage as somewhat of a proof-text justifying one's condemnation of the religious traditions of those outside their own sect or faction. For example, I received an email this past week from a minister in Florida who asked if I had seen an article written by the former Dean of Biblical Studies at a major Christian university affiliated with our Movement in which he classified instrumental music in worship as being among the "fruitless deeds of darkness" (Eph. 5:11) of which Paul spoke. How sad to see otherwise intelligent individuals twist a passage so horribly simply to justify their own religious tradition and condemn (expose, reprove) those who dare to differ with them. This is especially appalling coming from one who is well-known to Churches of Christ as a leading figure in biblical education on a university level. It just goes to show that even people of his stature are not immune to the deluding influence of legalistic patternism. Yes, we are indeed to stand against the "deeds of darkness," but singing praises to our God with instrumental accompaniment hardly qualifies. Such legalistic, patternistic condemnation of our fellow believers over such sectarian preferences could actually, and much more accurately, be characterized as "a deed of darkness," for it exposes a darkened mindset not yet penetrated by the light of God's grace. May God help this brother, and others like him, to "see the light" and turn from the darkness and dark deeds of legalism.