The first three chapters of Ephesians are devoted to the doctrine of redemption, the last three to sanctification. The first chapter speaks of election before there was time. Chapter two speaks of the universal atonement. Chapter three speaks of the revelation of the mystery of the Gospel. Chapter four speaks of the new man and urges us to walk in unity. Chapter five urges us to walk in love, walk in the Light, walk in wisdom, and finally, of the mystery of marriage. Chapter six speaks of specific duties of parents, children, servants and masters. The book closes with a description of the Christian's armor. The logical sequence of this book is marvelous.
Verses 3-7 warn Christians concerning six specific vices which were prevalent in the ancient world and still are much with us today. The Apostle warns his hearers that no Christian can make a habit of any of these vices and yet inherit eternal life. The unbelieving world believes that life owes them sinful pleasures. They often feel that sin and vice is their privilege. The Christian lives in a world in which the deceitfulness of sin is made to look so innocent.
But Paul warns in verse 7: "Therefore do not be partakers with them." By "them" he means "the sons of disobedience" in verse 6.
In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul began by reminding his hearers what they were before they came to faith in Christ and then he proceeded, in verses 4-10, to tell them what God had done for them.
Similarly in our text Paul reminds his hearers of what they once were and what they have become. Then he warns them not to fall back into their old ways. In fact, they have a responsibility to wake impenitent sinners up lest they lose their souls. They should walk as Children of Light.
This verse explains why he said what he did in verses 6-7.
Formula of Concord (Tappert 522.10): [After listing 1 Corinthians 2:2-4; 1 :21; Ephesians 4:17-18; Matthew 13:11-13; and Romans 3:11-12, states:] In this way Scripture calls the natural man simply 'darkness' in spiritual and divine things, Ephesians 5:8 and Acts 26:18.
Note the contrast. Christians are no longer darkness. They are now light. And that is qualified by the phrase "in the Lord." Because of what Jesus did I am now light in the Lord. Look at the Third Article.
Stoeckhardt: Darkness and light in this connection do not mean misery and happiness, but here designate the contrast between sin, ungodliness, and holiness, purity. Through their conversion or regeneration Christians have been rescued from the ruination of sin, of the world, and have been transplanted into a new, holy, godly life and status. Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:5; Luke 16:8; John 12:36.
Lenski: 'Darkness' and 'light' are really powers. They exist independently of us, and we are either darkness or light only as we are identified with the one or the other.
The contrast in this verse is double: then-now and darkness-light.
"Walk" is a Pauline word for "live." The "light" is the motivation. That is Gospel. But the Law gives direction. That is obligation.
Many commentators make this verse a parenthesis. Verse 9 explains what Paul meant when he said: "Walk as children of light." Perhaps our text has been influenced by Galatians 5:22. What does the Light or the Spirit produce? Fruit. It is the very opposite of the sin mentioned in verse 3-4.
Whereas in Galatians 5:22 we have nine, here we have only three items. And, as in Galatians 5:22, these nouns overlap in meaning. All of them denote sanctification.
Stoeckhardt: 'Goodness' all that is morally good and proper. 'Righteousness' is moral uprightness. 'Truth' is moral truth and purity.
Lenski: 'Goodness' means all genuine moral excellence . . . The righteous walk in all righteousness. The approval of this Judge rests upon them. Paul's circle is closed by 'truth' which is verity, reality, namely spiritual and moral reality, as opposed to all lying perversion, sham, deception, pretense.
Kretzmann: Goodness in all its forms, moral soundness and propriety, combined with active beneficence; righteousness-moral rectitude, which takes care that nothing and nobody receives any injury; truth-moral purity, sincerity and integrity as opposed to hypocrisy and falsehood.
RSV has: "The fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true." TEV: "For it is the light that brings a rich harvest of every kind of goodness, righteousness, and truth." AAT: "Light produces everything good and righteous and true."
By the way, when a person walks in constant repentance (confessing his sins and trusting in Jesus' blood) his sins are constantly forgiven and God sees nothing but his good works. Look at 1 John 1:7 and Ephesians 2:10. The Christian is at one and the same time saint and sinner. But read Galatians 2:20.
Stoeckhardt: In every case Christians are to examine carefully, exactly, what is pleasing to the Lord to whom they belong . . . It does not always appear at once what before God is good and right . . . A constant examination or investigation before the eyes of the Lord is necessary.
Lenski 'Test' or 'find out' is used of testing metals, whether they are genuine, of coins, whether they are of the real metal and of full weight . . . Endless deception offers what is morally rotten as though it were perfectly sound. Test every thought, word, and act.
Well said. Satan, the father of lies, has filled the world with that which is rotten, untrue, unreal. The Christian needs constantly to be on his guard.
Kretzmann: To everything that they come in contact with in life, the Christians apply the standard of God's holy will. For often the difference between right and wrong is not immediately obvious.
Christians should never rush in where angels fear to tread. "Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord." The point is that it often takes effort and careful deliberation to make mature decisions as to proper courses of action.
This verse contains a prohibition and a command. The negative forbids a continual and habitual act. Here it does not denote ceasing what they are already doing. It forbids constant association with fruitless works of darkness as a way of life. And note that the object of both prohibition and the command is "deeds" not "people."
"Expose" is to bring to light, to reveal hidden things, to convict or convince, to reprove, to correct, to punish, to discipline.
The verb "have nothing to do with" is used here and in Philippians 4:14 and Revelation 18:4. In no instance does it denote fellowship or association with people. Paul does not say that we should have no association at all with the unconverted. That is impossible. The world being what it is we must associate with all kinds of people. But, we should have nothing at all to do with the kinds of works here described.
The power of darkness causes and produces the fruitless works. We think here of John 3:19-21. We think also of Matthew 7:22-23, a remarkable passage. If works are not done by faith in Jesus, He will pronounce them wickedness on judgement day. They are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
Kretzmann: The darkness, the unconverted state, the condition of unbelief, can bring forth real fruit as little as weeds are able to; the works of darkness are unfruitful, they are destructive, wicked, dead, Hebrews 6:1; 9:14; Colossians 1:2.
Stoeckhardt: Not only should any participation in this sin be avoided, one is not only to beware of taking part in these sins, but the Christian is to oppose them aggressively and, in fact, so energetically is he to oppose them that he actually conquers this sin. It is the duty of Christians, the children of light, to reprove the works of darkness, refute the talk of the children of darkness, and prove to them that their works are evil. According to 1 Timothy 5:20; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9-13, and 2:15 this is the duty of the Christian and bishop. However, it is also a part of the duty and calling of all Christians.
Lenski: As far as others are concerned, two things are mentioned, no fellowship with their evil works, reproof exposing their shamefulness. . . Look at 2 Corinthians 6:14: 'What fellowship is there for light with darkness?' Here 'the darkness' is the direct opposite of 'the light.' Both are definite, both are powers . . . The one has fruit, the other is unfruitful . . . Who wants to spend a life working a field which produces no fruit at all?
It is not enough to abstain. The Christians does more than merely to abstain. RSV: "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them." NEB: "Take no part in the barren deeds of darkness, but show them up for what they are." NASB: "Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them."
Actually, verses 12 and 13 go together as a unit. Verse 12 tells us why we have the prohibition and the command stated in verse 11. Verse 13 tells us how Christians deal with such a situation. Two things must be mentioned which Paul is not saying:
The stress in verse 12 lies on the word "shameful." The deeds done in private are shameful because they are the opposite of the God-pleasing deeds mentioned in verse 9. We translate literally: "For it is a shameful thing even to dwell upon what goes on among them in secret." People hide such things because they are a disgrace to themselves. Paul is speaking of a constant way of life. And "to dwell upon our speaking thereof." "In secret" is "avoiding the light."
Kretzmann: The secrecy of the vices here referred to is the reason why they require to be reproved openly.
Though Paul does not say so, sins against the sixth commandment are surely implicit in the text. No intimacies are forbidden to married people. All fornication, adultery, and uncleanness is forbidden. They are deeds that go on in secret.
In this verse we are told how Christians carry out what is commanded in the last part of verse 11. NASB translates: "But all things become visible when they are exposed to light." TEV: "And when all things are brought out to the light, then their true nature is clearly revealed."
Paul does not mean that the Christian publishes the secret sins of people. He is taking about making the perpetrators see the true nature of their sins, whether they admit it or not.
What is meant by "the light" here? The testimony of the Christian, the Word of God, the second use of the Law.
Stoeckhardt: This reproof forces, as it were, the sinners to face their own iniquity and shame. For 'exposed' can refer only to the fact that, in consequence of the reproof of sin, both their public and their secret sins are made manifest and revealed to the servants of sin themselves, which amounts to bringing about in them a consciousness of sin.
Lenski: Paul is not speaking of the saving effect of 'the light' and of our reproof of secret sins. So far he insists only on our steady reproof. We as children of light MUST reprove sins and vice, our very nature requires no less.
Bengel: That their vileness may be known whether those who have done them scorn reproof, or repent.
And now Paul buttresses verse 13 with an axiom, a principle in nature which is readily understood by everyone: "For what is brought into the open is light." The secrecy can no longer benefit or hide what has been done.
Stoeckhardt: If he becomes conscious of his sin and misery in sin, he may in this way be brought to enter upon the path which leads away from sin and leads to God, so that he now lives and walks to please God in all things, that he becomes light as Christians are light. We find the same combination of things in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25. Prophecy (teaching), within the Christian Church, has the effect of reproving an unbeliever who is present and to reveal his secret sins to himself, and in this way, in this manner, he may come to give glory to the God of the Christians and be converted to Him.
By the way, that's what 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 is all about. The people were not using Law and Gospel properly. They were not edifying people. They were using their God-given gifts for self-glorification.
And now we come to the final three lines of this verse which are introduced by the words "it is said." In Ephesians 4:8 these words introduce a quotation from the Old Testament, but here the source is in question. Some suggest a possible reference to an Apocryphal book or to Isaiah 26:19 or Isaiah 60:1. However, the New Testament does not quote Apocryphal books and most scholars doubt a reference to either of the Isaiah passages. Stoeckhardt does not rule out a reference to a Christian hymn.
Lenski: The hesitation about regarding this as a couplet taken from a Christian hymn used in Ephesus in Paul's time ought to disappear.
Kretzmann: This quotation is not taken from Scriptures, but may have been a verse adapted from synagogue or Christian liturgy of Paul's day or Paul applied a common greeting of the Jewish New Year to the situation.
It is considered poetry by the majority of the English translations. We leave it at that.
It must be admitted that the three lines are poetic. Perhaps Paul is using an existing hymn. But the true Lutheran exegete ought to be careful when it comes to the whole matter of "early Christian hymns." The higher critics call Luke 1:67-79 (the Benedictus) an "early Christian hymn." But that can't be because we are plainly told in verse 67 that the Holy Spirit filled Zacharias with the result that he spoke forth. The Holy Spirit is the author of these words.
For decades Philippians 2:6-11 has been called a hymn, either pagan or Christian. But the authorities cannot agree on the Greek metrics and, what is worst of all, they completely destroy the meaning of this passage which is so important for the doctrine of Christ's humiliation and exaltation.
But, back to Ephesians 5:14. The first two lines are a command, the third a promise. For his own good, the Christian is trying to shake the unconverted sinner out of his dull sloth.
Stoeckhardt: The Christian is to call to his unbelieving, ungodly neighbor: 'You are asleep in your sins, you are slumbering in the midst of death and destruction. But awake from this sleep, arise from the dead, repent, be converted!' . . . Recognition of sin is a prerequisite of this arising from the sleep of sin and death, and precedes conversion . . . Christ is here presented as a rising Light, a shining Constellation or Star, as the Sun of grace . . . It is exactly this promise of grace which awakens the sinner from his sleep of sin and of death, gives him spiritual power, and makes him willing to obey the call.
Kretzmann: The sinner, having arisen from the sleep of sin and death, is surrounded and flooded with Christ, the Sun of Salvation, and thus becomes blessed and happy in this illumination.
Lenski: This is the Gospel call of grace, of the gratia sufficiens, ever filled with quickening power (2:5) to raise up those whom it bids to arise . . . Beside the negative appears the positive: 'and there shall shine forth upon thee Christ' . . . Here is the same gracious and efficacious call as in Matthew 11:28-30. Subject and verb are transposed, both are thus made emphatic . . . We have had 'the light.' Here we see that this is Christ. As in John 1:4 life and light are combined in Christ.