This notion of exposing dark deeds by shining with good deeds and godly truth isn’t unique to Ephesians. It can be found in the Gospels. In John 3:19-20, for example, it says, “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.” What is the light that has come into the world and exposes evil? Not some divine pronouncement against evil, but rather Jesus himself, the light of the world (John 8:12). Yes, at times Jesus did speak out against sin. But the core of his revelation was not judgment, but “grace and truth” (John 1:14). Ultimately, Jesus defeated the darkness, not by some act of divine denouncement, but by choosing the way of love, the way of the cross.
I want to raise the possibility that we expose deeds of darkness not so much by denouncing them as by letting the light of God shine in and through us. We do this by announcing the good news of God’s grace in Christ and by living in such a way that our light can be seen by others.
What does it mean to expose the deeds of darkness? How should we do this? Which dark deeds deserve our attention? Those of the world? Those done by fellow believers? All of the above?
In fact, we are not to have nothing whatsoever to do with the works of darkness—a truth that is affirmed by the following verses, as we’ll see. But we must not become partners with either the deeds or the doers. Ephesians 5:11 does not encourage us to run completely away from the dark world around us. Rather, it teaches us not to participate in dark deeds even though, in some way, we continue to engage with them and those who do them. This verse assumes that we will be in relationship with people who do what is wrong, even as it advises us not to become their partners in wrongdoing.
There are hard things ahead at work today, things I wish weren’t happening, problems I’d like to avoid, people I’d rather not confront. But faithfulness in my work means I must deal with what lies before me, whether I like it or not.
But how do we relate to the dark world from which we came and in which we still live? Should we continue to be connected with the people of that world, or should we withdraw into the purity and safety of the enlightened community of God’s people in Christ? And if we remain somehow engaged with the world that is separate from Christ and his light, what should be the nature of our engagement? Ephesians responds to these questions in 5:11-14. Yet the answers in this text are often missed or even misconstrued. So in the days to come we will look closely at this passage and its guidance for us as we wonder how to relate to the darkness in which we continue to live even when we are light in the Lord.
Many times in life, we’re just not sure what might please the Lord. We wrestle with challenging questions: What career should I choose? Should I marry this person even though we think differently about matters of faith? How many children should we have? Should we join the church with the strong Sunday School program for our children or the one that offers stronger worship and teaching for the adults? How can I live out my faith in my workplace? To what extent should my Christian values be reflected in the business decisions I make at work? Should we move our family to a faraway place because of a tempting job offer? Should I retire even though I feel as if I still have so much to offer? What should I do in retirement? And so forth and so on. You can add your own ethical queries to this list. I’m sure you have plenty.
A more complete motivation for right living takes seriously the implied good news of Ephesians 5:10: You have the ability to please the Lord. By what you do and say, by how you live, you can delight the heart of God. You can please God in your daily work, your daily relationships, and your daily rest, as well as in your daily prayers. The more you reflect on this amazing truth, the more you will be drawn to do that which pleases God.
These days there is a sad shortage of thoughtful finding out. News media get attention from a rush to judgment, not from careful weighing of that is true. Social media exacerbates the problem. If you want to get lots of visitors online, you don’t have to take the time to find out what’s right. Rather, you want to be the first person out there saying something inflammatory or outrageous. Thus, the biblical call to find out what pleases the Lord requires a counter-cultural commitment to thoughtfulness, patience, and persistence. It demands that we learn to be open before God, or, as my friend Terry Looper says, “to get neutral.” We need to surrender our desire to project our pleasures onto God so that we might truly find out what pleases the Lord.
God’s grace is at work in you today as you do your work. Can you see it?