July 15, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
I will start with a confession: I’m rather fond of Godzilla movies, the old ones and the new ones. When I watch giant monsters on a screen, I’m transported back to the days of my youth when I curled up on the couch in the family room in order to watch Godzilla and friends terrorize some poor city (in those days, usually Tokyo).
You can be sure that every Godzilla movie will have certain common features. A giant, lizard-like sea monster will appear shockingly and stun everyone with his iconic roar (see this NPR article). Humans will have lots of arguments about how best to stop Godzilla. And when he shows up, people will run for their lives . . . anything to get away from the monster.
Is that how we should respond to the often scary world in which we live?
In Ephesians 5, Christians are people of light in a world of darkness. It is tempting for us to try to separate ourselves completely from the darkness. We feel the lure of sin and sense that we no longer belong to its dark world (Ephesians 4:17-19; see also John 17:14-16). So we may seek to run away from all that is dark, to withdraw as much as possible from the world and its people so that we might keep our light pure.
The first imperative of Ephesians 5:11 appears to affirm this separation from darkness: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.” We might see this as encouragement to be like those poor folks in Godzilla movies who try with all of their might to run away from the monster. They certainly want to “have nothing to do with” Godzilla, and I don’t blame them.
But running away from the world as if the world were Godzilla is not what Ephesians 5:11 actually encourages. The verb translated in the NIV as “have nothing to do with” is sunkoinoneo in Greek. It means “to participate in, to share in, to be partners with, to enjoy fellowship with.” A better translation might be: “Take no part in” (ESV, NRSV), “Have no fellowship with” (KJV), or “Don’t be partners with” (my paraphrase).
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.
Something to Think About:
Are there movies or television shows that transport you back to the days of your youth? If so, what are they? How do they make you feel?
Are you ever tempted to withdraw completely from the world with all of its mess, sin, and darkness?
Do you think there are situations when complete withdrawal is wise, at least for a season?
In what ways are you tempted to be a partner with “deeds of darkness”? What helps you to reject such a partnership?
Something to Do:
Talk with your small group or a trusted Christian friend about the ways you are tempted to be partners with “the fruitless deeds of darkness.” Pray for each other that God will show you how to reject such partnership without rejecting the people in our life who need the light of Christ.
Gracious God, God of Light, once again I thank you for making me a child of the light. Help me to know how I am to shine in a world of darkness. Keep me from withdrawing so far from the world that I cannot shine into it. At the same time, keep me from being so engaged with the world that I become a partner with deeds of darkness. Give me wisdom to know how I can live so as to reflect your light into the world without allowing the world to dim your light in me. Amen.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is the Executive Director of Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he is the principal writer of Life for Leaders and the program lead of the Third Third Initiative. Previously, Mark was the senior pastor of a church in Southern California and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. Mark has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,000 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark has taught at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
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