A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 5:8-14. 2). The fruit of light.
Paul goes on to give an additional reason for not getting involved in the evil conduct of immoral people. He bases it not now on the future (the coming judgment of God) but on the past and the present (the difference between what his readers once were and now are).
The whole paragraph plays on the rich symbolism of darkness and light, ‘darkness’ representing ignorance, error and evil, ‘light’ representing truth and righteousness. In 4:17-18 he has portrayed the darkened understanding of pagans. Formerly his readers were the same: *Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.* Notice he does not say they used to be *in* darkness, but now were *in* the light. This would have been true as New Testament writers say (E.g. Jn. 8:12; 1 Pet.2:9; 1 Jn.1:5-7; 2:9). But what Paul writes here was more striking still: they themselves were actually now ‘light’. ‘Their lives and not just their environment’ had been changed from darkness to light. And this radical transformation had taken place *in the Lord*, by virtue of their union with him who claimed to be the light of the world (Jn.8:12; cf. Mt.5:14). So then, because they had become ‘light in the Lord’, they must *walk as children of light* or ‘like people who belong to the light’ (GNB). Their behaviour must conform to their new identity. They must radiate the light they are, and ‘live like men who are at home in daylight’ (NEB).
What will this mean in practice? It will mean a life shining with *all that is good and right and true*, for these things are *the fruit of light* (some MSS read ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ but this is probably an assimilation to Gal.5:22, and ‘the fruit of light’ is the better reading). It is possible that Paul is following the metaphor through and likening the goodness and truth which grow by the light of Christ to a harvest ripening under the sun. Certainly if they are to live consistently as ‘children of light’, they will *try to learn (dokimazo* is to test, discern and approve) *what is pleasing to the Lord*. The light metaphor speaks vividly of Christian openness and transparency, of living joyfully in the presence of Christ, with nothing to hide or fear.
Unfortunately, however, it is not possible to live in the light and enjoy it, without also adopting some attitude towards those who still live in the darkness, and to their lifestyle. What attitude will this be? Negatively. *take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness*. While the light produces the fruit of goodness and truth, the works of darkness are unfruitful, unproductive, barren; they have no beneficial results. So we are to take no part in them, but *instead*, positively, *expose them*, ‘show them up for what they are’ (NEB). We may not wish to do this, but we cannot help it, for this is what light invariably does. Besides, evil deeds deserve to be exposed, that is, to be unmasked and rebuked, *for it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret*.
Verse 13 elaborates the double value of a Christian exposure of evil. First, *when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible*. This is always good. Darkness hides the ugly realities of evil; the light makes them visible. Then evil is seen for what it is without any possibility of concealment or subterfuge. Secondly, *anything that becomes visible is light*. Paul’s economy of words makes it difficult to be certain what he means by this statement. But he seems to be describing a second stage in what light does: it actually transforms what it illumines into light. This may mean that Christians who lead a righteous life thereby restrain and reform evildoers, yes, and even to convert them. For as their light shines, what it makes visible suddenly *is light*, just as the Ephesians themselves *are light* (verse 8). JBP paraphrases: ‘It is possible (after all it happened to you) for light to turn a thing it shines upon into light.’ If this is correct, then Paul has brought his argument about light and darkness to a fine climax. ‘Exposure’ sounds negative, showing people up for what they are, judgmental, condemning. And it is that. But the light which exposes has positive evangelistic power also, ‘the light of one soul making another light’. For it may bring people as they see the ugliness of evil, to conviction of their sin and so to penitent faith in Jesus. This, then, is the twofold effect which a Christian’s light has on the prevailing darkness: it makes visible and it makes light.
Verse 14 is a natural conclusion. Paul clinches his argument with an apt quotation, which either summarizes the teaching of an Old Testament verse like Isaiah 61:1 (since *legei, it is said*, normally introduces a quotation from Scripture) or, as many modern commentators suggest, is an extract from an Easter or baptismal hymn: *Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light*. Here our former condition in Adam is graphically described in terms of sleep, death and darkness, from all of which Christ rescues us. Conversion is nothing less than awaking out of sleep, rising from death and being brought out of darkness into the light of Christ. No wonder we are summoned to live a new life in consequence!
Tomorrow: Ephesians 5:15-17. 3). The nature of wisdom.