The New Testament is full of many hundreds of commands. We are ordered to do all sorts of things, yet I suspect many believers are very selective about which commands they actually obey and which ones they simply ignore, if not outright disobey.
I want to look at just one such command. It is a familiar passage which we all know, but one which it seems many believers are uncomfortable with, or really do not want to obey. I refer to Ephesians 5:11 which says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”
While many Christians may be willing to do the first half of this command, and avoid evil or stay away from clearly sinful activities, far fewer are game to obey the second part of this admonition. And there is a very good reason for this: heaps of Christians actually think this is a bad thing to do.
You see, our culture is so completely steeped in cultural relativism, false notions of tolerance, and Political Correctness, that everyone is terrified of making any moral judgment or pronouncement whatsoever. We do not want to be seen as intolerant or unloving or narrow-minded or exclusive.
We have been paralysed by fear, and have bought the entire package of secular humanism which says we must accept everyone, everything, every lifestyle and every activity. And I am not just talking about the world here. Christians are just as bad unfortunately.
The church has simply followed the world here, slavishly adopting its unbiblical and un-Christian mindset and worldview. It has renounced its calling to be salt and light in the world, and has instead taken on the world’s values of embracing everything and criticising nothing.
And worse yet, often Christian leaders have tried to baptise this moral cowardice and spiritual irresponsibility. They try to convince us that Jesus never hurt a fly, accepted everyone, and was all about an amorphous and nebulous love. These evangellyfish leaders have managed to convince millions of gullible and uninformed believers that we should never speak out against anything.
They think just being “nice” and “accepting” and “tolerant” is somehow the trait of the true Christian. They think namby-pamby, limp-wristed believers must just smile and go along with anything and everything. They believe any sort of conflict, any sort of challenge to the status quo, any sort of prophetic witness to the world is just not Christ-like.
Well I have got news for these spineless wonders: they obviously have never read their Bibles. Scripture throughout presents the people of God as bold, courageous beacons of light and rocks of righteousness. Simply look at the prophets: they challenged people, ideas, values and institutions all the time.
And they did not just challenge other believers; they also challenged the pagan nations as well. Right now in my daily reading I am going through Isaiah, and I am in the midst of a number of chapters fully directed at the surrounding nations (Is. 13-21; 23,24; 34).
These words of rebuke, censor and judgment are just as harsh and just as direct as the words given to God’s own people. In fact, the same language is used, the same sins are rebuked, and the same standards of a holy God are appealed to.
Jesus too was no peace-loving hippy. He was quite often involved in rebuking others – even flinging tables around in the temple. He will do far worse of course when he returns. And the early disciples also pulled no punches, but were unflinching in publically proclaiming truth, even if it upset people, caused controversy, and even sparked riots.
But let me return to Eph 5:11. The Greek verb form used here, elegchó, can be translated “reprove” as in the KJV, or “rebuke” or “refute” or “convict”. It can also be translated “expose” or “uncover” or “unmask”. It thus means to bring to light, to bring out into the open. Of course as part of exposing sin, this will entail reproof, whether directly or indirectly.
There is another side to this word as Frank Thielman notes: “The term can also take on positive connotations, however, by referring to the action of pointing out error in order to correct it and put someone back on the right path.” And this rebuking, exposing and correcting is not just meant to be only for other believers.
As Peter O’Brien comments, “Both the flow of the argument and the context of darkness suggest that the fruitless deeds which are exposed are the sins of unbelievers. The conduct of the children of light will shine as a beacon to others, revealing evil deeds for what they are. To interpret the verb along these lines of exposing sin for what it is does not imply that Christians should remain silent or fail to speak out against evil. But the particular point being made here is that of living a godly lifestyle and showing evil to be evil.”
Jesus of course made a similar point when he too talked about believers as being in the light, and unbelievers walking in darkness. In John 3:19-21 he makes the contrast quite clear: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people 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 their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
The people of light, by their very presence – or rather, by the presence of Christ within them – will expose and reprove the darkness around them. And those in the dark will certainly not be happy about it. They hated Jesus and put him to death, and they will also hate any of his righteous followers.
And our lifestyle is not all there is as a witness. We are also to speak prophetically into our world, acting as salt and light in a decaying and dark culture. The work of William Wilberforce or Martin Luther King Jr certainly comes to mind here.
We must expose, uncover and rebuke evil. That is part of our calling. If past national sins such as slavery and racism had to be addressed by true followers of Christ, so too the many important moral issues of our day. Thus we must be exposing and rebuking the abortion industry as it slaughters millions of unborn babies each year.
We must expose and uncover other works of darkness as well, such as the war against marriage and family. We are not to coddle up to these enemies of God’s institutions, but oppose them and expose them. Sure, we seek to love the individual and reach them for the gospel.
But we must steadfastly resist and fight against their evil agendas and crusades of darkness. That is part of our calling. That is part of what it means to be salt and light. So forget those who would try to tell you we must never rock the boat, must never make a stink, or never speak out.
Comments William Hendriksen, “Sin must be exposed. One is not being ‘nice’ to a wicked man by endeavoring to make him feel what a fine fellow he is. The cancerous tumor must be removed, not humoured. It is not really an act of love to smooth things over as if the terrible evil committed by those still living in the realm of darkness is not so bad after all.”
We are commanded to do this. Of course we are to speak the truth in love, but we must speak truth nonetheless. We must expose the unfruitful works of darkness. Are you obeying this command?