While this book begins, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1), scholars today are divided regarding both the authorship and the intended recipients. A full treatment of these issues is beyond the scope of this exegesis, but briefly:
AUTHORSHIP: The language, style, and vocabulary are markedly different from the letters that scholars regard as indisputably Pauline (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1Thessalonians, and Philemon). Also some of the theology of this letter differs from that of other Pauline letters. For instance, Romans 6:5 says, “For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection.” That verse sees resurrection-unity with Christ as something that we will experience in the future. But Ephesians 2:6 says, “and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” That verse sees our resurrection unity with Christ as already having been realized.
INTENDED RECIPIENTS: The words “at Ephesus” (1:1) are not present in the oldest and presumably most reliable manuscripts. This letter doesn’t deal with congregational issues, as do Paul’s other letters to churches. Also verses 3:2-4 make it sound as if the Ephesians are not personally acquainted with Paul, which is inconsistent with the fact that Paul visited Ephesus on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19-28) and spent three years there on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:31).
These considerations have caused some scholars to believe that this letter was written pseudonymously—by a follower of Paul writing in Paul’s name, perhaps after Paul’s death. Pseudonymous writings were common at that time, and the intent of a pseudonymous letter would not have been to deceive. The recipients would quite likely have been aware of the pseudonymous character of the letter.
Some scholars believe that this letter was written for circulation to a number of churches rather than just to the church at Ephesus.
If Paul was the author, he probably wrote this letter in the early 60’s of the first century. If it was written by someone else, it was probably written in the 80’s or 90’s.
For the purpose of this exegesis and for simplicity’s sake, I will refer to Paul as the author and the Ephesians as the intended recipients—while acknowledging the possibility that the author could be someone other than Paul and the intended recipients could have included a number of churches.
THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT:
Paul has, in various ways, contrasted the lives of these Ephesian Christians before they became Christians with their lives after they accepted Christ:
• They “were dead in transgressions and sins” (2:1), but God in his mercy and love “made (them) alive with Christ…and raised (them) up with him, and made (them) to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:4-6).
• They were ignorant and hard of heart, but have been taught to “put away…(their) former way of life…that grows corrupt after the lusts of deceit” and to “put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth” (4:22-24).
Paul has called them to be “imitators of God, as beloved children” (5:1). This requires walking in love (5:2) and abstaining from “sexual immorality, and all uncleanness, or covetousness” (5:3). He warned them that people who are immoral, unclean, covetous, or idolaters will have no “inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God” (5:5)—so he exhorted, “Don’t be partakers with them” (5:7).
EPHESIANS 5:8-10. YOU WERE ONCE DARKNESS, BUT ARE NOW LIGHT
8For you were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, 9for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth, 10proving what is well pleasing to the Lord.
“For you were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord” (v. 8a). Paul now contrasts the lives of these Ephesians before Christ (“you were once darkness”) with their current lives as people of faith (you “are now light in the Lord.”).
Note that he doesn’t say that they once lived in darkness. He says instead that they “were once darkness.” Darkness wasn’t external but internal—it penetrated to the core of their being. But Christ has reversed that, so that they are light—so that light now illuminates their lives all the way to the center.
Keep in mind that darkness can never dispel light. It always works the other way around. Light always dispels darkness. Light always wins.
Light and darkness are often used in both Old and New Testaments as metaphors for good and evil—chaos and order—danger and security—joy and sorrow—truth and untruth—life and death—salvation and condemnation. The following are representative:
• “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness (Isaiah 5:20).
• “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in the land of the shadow of death, on them the light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2).
• “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and doesn’t come to the light, lest his works would be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his works may be revealed, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).
• “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
• Earlier, Paul called these Ephesian Christians not to “walk as the rest of the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their hearts” (Ephesians 4:17-18).
• God’s first act of creation was to say, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3-4).
• God brings light to the dispel darkness (Psalm 18:28).
• “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).
• “The light of the righteous shines brightly, but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out” (Proverbs 13:9).
• “The sun shall be no more your light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light to you: but Yahweh will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, neither shall your moon withdraw itself; for Yahweh will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.” (Isaiah 60:19-20).
• Jesus told his disciples, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16).
• Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
• Jesus called Saul to be his disciple to the Gentiles “to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me'” (Acts 26:18).
• “You are all children of light, and children of the day. We don’t belong to the night, nor to darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-6).
• “The city has no need for the sun, neither of the moon, to shine, for the very glory of God illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk in its light” (Revelation 21:23b-24).
Walk (peripateo) as children of light” (v. 8b). The Greek word peripateo literally means “walk around” (peri means “around”—as in our English word “perimeter”—and pateo means “to walk.”).
From very early times, Jews used the word “walk” to speak of the manner in which one conducted one’s life:
• Enoch and Noah walked with God (Genesis 5:22, 24; 6:9).
• God challenged Abram, “Walk before me, and be blameless.”
• The Psalmist said, “Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners” (Psalm 1:1; see also Psalm 119:3).
• God executed judgments on the Israelites for failing to walk in his statutes—for failing to keep his laws (Ezekiel 5:6-8).
Now Paul calls these Ephesian Christians to “walk as children of light.” In other words, he is challenging them to insure that their lives reflect their true character—as “children of light.”
This counsel would not be needed if it were impossible for these Ephesian Christians to revert to their old ways—to backslide into darkness instead of walking in the light. The tempter never sleeps, so the Christian life requires eternal vigilance.
“for the fruit (Greek: karpos) of the Spirit” (v. 9a). A fig tree will bear figs, just as a grape vine will yield grapes and an olive tree will bear olives. “Each tree is known by its own fruit. For people don’t gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush” (Luke 6:44). In like manner, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings out that which is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings out that which is evil” (Luke 6:45).
In other words, God has created the world in such a way that the fruit produced by a tree is determined by the nature of the tree, and the fruit produced by a person is determined by the nature of that person.
The Spirit mentioned in this verse is the Holy Spirit—God’s Spirit. It would be unnatural for God’s Holy Spirit to produce evil fruit—as unnatural as it would be for a fig tree to bear olives or a grape vine to bear figs. The Spirit—God’s Spirit will always bear good fruit.
Jesus promised his disciples that he would “pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, that he may be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17). That promise was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, when the disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). Peter exhorted the crowd, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Peter went on to say, “For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are far off, even as many as the Lord our God will call to himself” (Acts 2:38-39)—thus assuring Christ’s future disciples that they too would enjoy the gift of the Spirit.
Therefore, these Ephesian Christians have God’s Spirit dwelling within them—so they should expect to bear fruit consistent with God’s Spirit—good fruit.
“is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (v. 9b). Here Paul lists goodness, righteousness and truth as the fruits of the Spirit.
In both Old and New Testaments, God personifies goodness (Exodus 33:19; Titus 3:4) and gives goodness to humans (1 Kings 8:66; 2 Chronicles 7:10; Nehemiah 9:25, 35; Psalm 23:6; 27:13; 31:19; 145:7; Jeremiah 31:12; Romans 15:14). In the context of this epistle, goodness equates to moral excellence.
In the previous chapter, Paul exhorted these Christians to “put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth” (4:24).
In this epistle, Paul mentions truth more frequently than any other virtue (1:13; 4:21, 24-25; 6:14).
In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul spoke of the fruit of the Spirit as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23. See also 1 Corinthians 12:28ff. for the gifts of the Spirit). He contrasted those with the fruits of the flesh—”adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21).
“proving (Greek: dokimazo) what is well pleasing to the Lord” (v. 10). The Greek word dokimazo has to do with testing something to prove its value—and conveying approval for that which proves worthy. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul prays that the Philippian Christians might grow in knowledge and discernment “so that you may approve (dokimazo) the things that are excellent” (Philippians 1:9-10). In verse 10, Paul is calling the Ephesian Christians to test—and then to approve—those things that are pleasing to the Lord.
EPHESIANS 5:11-12. HAVE NO FELLOWSHIP WITH WORKS OF DARKNESS
11Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them. 12For the things which are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of.
“Have no fellowship (Greek: synkoinoneo) with the unfruitful works of darkness” (v. 11a). We often use the word “koinonia” to speak of koinonia groups (fellowship groups of closely knit, sympathetic people). Koinonia, of course, is a Greek word that has been appropriated “as is” into the English language. The word synkoinoneo, used in this verse, is a combination of syn (with) and koinonia (fellowship), so the translation “have no fellowship with” is a good one.
Paul is calling these Ephesian Christians to wall themselves off from “unfruitful works of darkness”—to keep themselves separate from those works so they won’t find themselves drawn into the vortex created by those dark works—to avoid temptation by refusing to rub elbows with it—avoid being, once again, “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God” (4:18).
Paul has given examples of these works of darkness—a list that is illustrative but hardly exhaustive—a full accounting would go on for many pages. Works of darkness include greediness (4:19), lusts of deceit (4:22), falsehood (4:25), unbridled anger (4:26), theft (4:28), corrupt speech (4:29), bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander (4:31), and sexual immorality, covetousness, or idolatry (5:5).
The counsel to avoid the works of darkness follows naturally on the heels of verse 8, where Paul established that these Christians “were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord.” They are familiar with the “unfruitful works of darkness,” because they have fellowshipPed with those works in the past—but, in Christ, they have moved from darkness to light (v. 8) so it is no longer appropriate for them to fellowship with dark works. They have nothing to gain by doing so—and much to lose. If they were to fellowship with dark works, they would almost certainly find their reputations tainted—and they might even find the magnetic pull of temptation so powerful that they would revert to being darkness once again.
“but rather even reprove (elencho) them” (v. 11b). Paul uses the Greek word elencho (reprove or expose) as the counterpoint to dokimazo (prove or approve) in verse 10 above. In verse 10, he exhorted these Christians to prove or approve “what is well pleasing to the Lord.” Now, in this verse, he exhorts them to expose “the unfruitful works of darkness”—to show them to be wrong—to make public their disapproval of these “works of darkness.” It isn’t enough to sit on the sidelines. Christians have a responsibility to witness to the light—and to actively oppose the darkness.
This would include “putting away falsehood (and speaking) truth each one with his neighbor” (4:25). In other words, we Christians need to hold each other accountable when one of us slips back into darkness. By inference, we also need to be open to hearing the counsel of Christian brothers and sisters when they suggest that we are in the wrong.
A Christian can hardly expect to oppose darkness with any effect unless he/she has maintained a good reputation for living in the light. A Christian who enjoys wallowing in the mud can hardly expect to persuade others to avoid mud-wallowing. The exception, of course, would be a person who has recently converted from darkness to light. The testimony of such a person can be effective only as long as they remain true to the light.
“For the things which are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of” (v. 12). While we know this to be true, it is a truth that is largely ignored in our increasingly coarse and vulgar society. People in the entertainment industry, in particular, have learned that they can extend their popularity by getting their names in the news or their faces on the television screen—and they have learned that they can accomplish that by finding new ways to shock us—by inventing new vulgarities—by “sharing” perverted intimacies—by profanity piled on top of profanity. Christians need to avoid “fellowship with (these) unfruitful works of darkness” (v. 11a). We need to go one further step by actively opposing them (v. 11b).
But vulgarity is only one facet of the problem. Consider the “unfruitful works of darkness” committed by Hitler and his followers—millions in number. We remember, as we should, the six million Jews who were killed, but there were millions of others as well—gypsies, homosexuals, people with mental illness, civilians who just happened to be in the path of advancing soldiers, and many more. Sadly, that happened with the complicity of the church, both Protestant and Catholic. A few Christians actively resisted—often paying with their lives. We remember them as heroes of the faith.
Or consider the racial climate in the United States. There was a time when many Christians were slave-owners—some of them quite abusive. Even today, there are racists, both white and black, whose secret works seem almost too shameful to talk about—but we must talk about them—we must expose them.
Or consider those who plunder publicly-held businesses, leaving impoverished victims in their wake. Or consider those who knowingly sell counterfeit prescription drugs or other dangerous products. Or consider corrupt public officials “on the take.” Or consider those who sell or use illegal drugs, destabilizing governments with tainted money. The list goes on and on and on.
But I should insert a caveat here. In the military, people talk about falling on their sword, by which they mean taking a bold stand at the risk of one’s career or life. While we admire a person who is willing to make that kind of sacrifice in the service of that which is right, we must also acknowledge that falling on one’s sword is something that most people will be able to do only once—so we need to ask God for guidance and choose our battles wisely.
EPHESIANS 5:13-14. ALL THINGS ARE REVEALED BY THE LIGHT
13But all things, when they are reproved, are revealed by the light, for everything that reveals is light. 14Therefore he says, “Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
“But all things, when they are reproved, are revealed by the light, for everything that reveals is light”(v. 13). Jesus said that “the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and doesn’t come to the light, lest his works would be exposed” (John 3:19-20). We can’t expect it to be easy when we set out to expose works of darkness. We should expect those who love darkness to oppose us—possibly violently.
But light does reveal things are they are. It exposes—illuminates—and eventually results in the rendering of judgments. Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). He has called us to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16). Light eventually overwhelms darkness. Light eventually wins. God will insure it.
“Therefore he says, ‘Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you'”(v. 14). This is apparently a fragment from a hymn that would have been well-known to these Ephesian Christians. While they don’t directly quote scripture, they allude to several well-known Old Testament verses:
• “Yahweh bless you, and keep you. Yahweh make his face to shine on you” (Numbers 6:24).
• “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in the land of the shadow of death, on them the light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2)
• “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of Yahweh is risen on you. For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but Yahweh will arise on you, and his glory shall be seen on you” (Isaiah 60:1-2).
But this hymn fragment recasts those verses in light of Christ’s resurrection. Just as Christ rose from the dead, this verse calls Christians to awaken from their spiritually dormant state—to arise from their spiritual grave—and promises that, when they do, “Christ will shine on you.” It is a promise that, when they awaken spiritually, they will not stand alone. Christ will be there to illuminate their pathway—to illuminate their lives—to give them what they need.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan