Commentary on Ephesians, 5:11-17

Ephesians 5:11-17

“11 and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them:

“fellowship”  (Gr. sugkoinoneo – 4790)

A partaker with. Participation with. Involvement with.

“reprove”  (Gr. elegcho – 4790)

To expose for the purpose of shaming.

Preceptaustin: “The idea is to shame or disgrace and thus to rebuke another in such a way that they are compelled to see and to admit the error of their ways. To show someone that they have done something wrong and summon them to repent.”

We as the “children of light,” are to have no involvement with the “unfruitful works of darkness,” but instead, we’re to “expose” them and their deeds by the light of our lives, which is Christ in us. The idea is to live such a holy and righteous life, that those around us will be convicted of their sinfulness and their need for Christ. I think the idea here is not so much what we say, but the kind of life that we live. However, the difference people see in our lives will normally lead to discussions about what people see in us, which provides opportunities to share Christ and the difference He’s made in our lives.

“12 for the things which are done by them in secret it is a shame even to speak of.”

The “things done by them in secret,” gives us the picture of sins committed behind closed doors, in the privacy of homes or other places where no one else can see. This can refer to many different types of sins: sexual immorality, drugs, partying, drunkenness, rape, murder, even verbal and physical abuse within marriages and families.

Paul says that it’s a shame to even speak of those things. Not sure exactly what Paul had in mind here, but certainly, detailed discussions about some of these things is not spiritually edifying, as it creates certain images in our minds that we’re not to entertain, things that are contrary to a pure thought life. 

It’s necessary that sins be discussed and exposed, but we need to be careful about how detailed we get. There used to be a time when women blushed easily, and people were embarrassed about certain things, but now days there’s no shame in anything anymore. Common decency has gone out he window. We need to be careful that what we say is proper by God’s standards, and spiritually beneficial to fellow-Christians.

If there are things that are shameful to even talk about, then that should give us a clue as to how shameful it is to actually participate in those things. Furthermore, if there are things that are too shameful to even talk about, then we shouldn’t allow those things into our homes via the television set, nor should we allow them into our lives via the movie theater. When we do, we are in effect giving our approval of such things. 

We’re to demonstrate the sincerity of our disapproval, as those who love the Lord, by the actions we take against those things. As those who belong to the Light, we shouldn’t be allowing the dark and sinful things of this world into our homes where the holy Christ reigns as King. Our homes are to be kept pure. They’re to be as Heaven is, in miniature. We live in the Kingdom of Christ where righteousness dwells. We’re to live with a constant awareness of that reality.

“13 But all things when they are reproved are made manifest by the light: for everything that is made manifest is light.”

Worded another way:

“But all things are revealed when exposed by the light, for everything made known is light.”

We’re to live our lives in such a manner that the darkness around us is exposed for the evil that it is. However, if we’re not allowing the light of Christ to shine through us (by living a holy and separated life), if we’re not standing against those things, then the dark and sinful things around us will not be exposed. Our life is to cast a bright light on the darkness of others. Our lives are to serve as a stark contrast to the ways of the unrighteous. We participate in the “unfruitful works of their darkness” when we don’t. 

When we allow Jesus to live His life through us, then those around us will be brought under conviction of their darkness, and realize their need for the light that they see in us. Everything we do should be for the purpose of bringing glory to Christ and to lead others to Him. We have to be mindful of what our purpose is in this world as servants of Christ, and live our lives accordingly.

“14 Therefore, it says, ‘Awake, you who sleeps, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”


“Therefore it says, ‘You who are asleep, wake up! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

According to the Tyndale New Testament Commentary, this may be a quote from an early Christian hymn.

This exhortation could be referring to the spiritual stupor of Christians, but within the context and flow of Paul’s discussion, I believe it’s more likely that he’s referring to the unsaved who dwell in darkness. Our lives should serve as a message to those who need Christ. Our lives are to expose their sinfulness and need for Him as Lord and Savior. Everything we speak and do as Christians should say to the lost around us: 

“Wake up to the truth, you who are spiritually dead, arise from your darkness, and you will dwell in the light of Christ.”

“15 Consider carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise.”

In view of what Paul has been saying, we’re to consider carefully how we live. We are to walk in wisdom toward unbelievers, in a manner that will serve as a positive testimony for Christ. His whole purpose for coming into this world was to provide salvation for mankind. Therefore, our life too is to be geared toward spreading the gospel and reaching the lost for Christ. We’re to live wisely before God and toward those who need Jesus. We’re to seek the mind of God as we relate to the unsaved. 

Many Christians have a lot of zeal for reaching the lost, but don’t have a whole lot of wisdom in how they go about it. That was me in my early years as a follower of Christ. I was very zealous for Jesus, but I lacked wisdom in how I went about sharing my faith. I was very blunt and insensitive, and was more interested in putting another “notch” in my Bible than I was in expressing the love of Christ. 

I had a witnessing experience that changed my life. I won’t share the story, but I learned the hard way that “people don’t care how much we know, until they know how much we care.” People aren’t going to be interested in what we have to say, until they know that we have a genuine love for them. We’re not to look at people as objects or as a means to an end; we’re to look upon them as spiritually destitute, with the same love and compassion that Jesus has for them. Once they see that we genuinely care about them, they’ll be open to hearing the message that put that love for them into our hearts.

“16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”

“redeeming”  (Gr. exagorazo – 1805)

To buy up for one’s use.

We’re to “redeem” or make full use of the time and opportunity that God has given to us to make our lives count for Christ. We were saved to serve. We’re servants of the King. Our whole purpose for being here in this world is to glorify Him, and to spread His message of salvation and of the kind of life that He has to offer. We’re to make the most of the gifts and time and situations that God provides, in order to make a difference in people’s lives. If we’re not making a difference in anyone’s life, what good are we?

“because the days are evil”

We’re to make the most of every opportunity to serve Jesus, because we live in an evil world. We routinely encounter darkness as we go about our business each day, and we’ve been called to counter that darkness with the love and light of Christ. Imagine a world without Christians; imagine how dark this world would be. We’re called to be different…because we are different. We’re called to serve as a sharp contrast to those without Jesus. That’s a reminder that we’re not to be conformed to this world (Ro 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17). That’s an exhortation to both individual Christians, and to churches.

“17 Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

“foolish”  (Gr. aphron – 878)

Senseless. Lack of sensible reflection. Of poor judgment. Lack of understanding and reason.

As Christians, we’re to not to be of poor judgment in the decisions we make, or in the way we live our lives. We are to think sensibly about all matters of our life. There’s only one way to be sensible, and that is to be in the will of God. That means we shouldn’t be guilty of compromising with the world. That goes for both individual Christians and churches. 

I think churches who have chosen to adopt a worldly philosophy for reaching the people of the world, demonstrate a lack of understanding and sensible judgment. This way of thinking goes completely counter to what Paul has been instructing us about in this passage of Ephesians. The darker it is around us, the greater the contrast should be between the two. There should never be a blending or light and darkness.

However, we shouldn’t be legalistic either. We shouldn’t be so “separated” that we’re viewed as oddballs to the extreme. I believe there’s a healthy balance that we’re always to be striving for, and that’s where sound judgment comes in.