A female podcast listener in Colorado writes in to ask: “Hello Pastor John! With a heavy heart I ask: First, what does Paul mean in Ephesians 5:11–12 that instead of taking part in the unfruitful works of darkness, we’re supposed to expose them? Is this talking about unfruitful works that others are committing against the Lord? Or our own? Second, if someone was claiming Christ and his gospel, leading in the church, yet living in sexual sin, are we supposed to do something about that?”
The short answer to each of those question is 1) exposing the works of darkness in Ephesians 5:11 refers to the works of others, not your own, and 2) yes, leaders who are living in sexual sin should be brought into the light and dealt with in a biblical way. So those are the two answers.
“Christians, by the light, by the purity and love and beauty and Christ-brightening demonstrations of their lives, inevitably cause the darkness of those around them to be more obvious.”
Now what we need to do is to put those answers in the context of Paul’s instruction about exposing darkness. The context is important because it shows the way that we expose the darkness is by being children of the light. That is the first thing it shows. So if you take the context, it goes like this: “Do not become partakers with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in unfruitful works of darkness, but instead” — and then comes the phrase — “expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed” — same word — “by the light, it becomes visible” (Ephesians 5:7–13).
So, the first way to think about what Paul is saying is that Christians, by the light, by the purity and love and beauty and Christ-brightening demonstrations of their lives, inevitably cause the darkness of those around them to be more obvious. That is the main thing Paul is saying. We see this every time someone gets converted, and we see it in the Bible in 1 Peter 4:3–4 where it says, “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” In other words, the very brightness of the new life of the believers is what exposed the darkness.
Paul intends for that to happen when he says: Expose them. So the lion’s share of our lives is not devoted to passing judgments on all the sinners around us, but rather living such lives of God-centered purity that the darknesses specifically of God-neglect and impurity will just naturally be shown to be darkness — will be exposed.
Here is another example of the natural way it happens in 1 Corinthians 14 where it says, “If all prophesy,” — so, picture some kind of gathering of Christians, and people are sharing the Word back and forth in Spirit-anointed ways, “and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is” — and here comes the word, it is translated “convicted,” but it is the same word as in Ephesians 5:11, “exposed” — “convicted [and exposed] by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of the heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is among you” (1 Corinthians 14:24–25). Beautiful. Again, the exposure or the conviction that happens is indirect rather than direct. In other words, it is the way the Word of God was being used in the service that brought the exposure of the darkness and the repentance.
“If someone is leading in the church, yet living in sexual sin, are we supposed to do something about that? The answer is a resounding YES from the Bible.”
One last thing on the leaders issue. She wants to know: What about leaders? And Paul is so helpful here because that word “expose” them is precisely the word used to expose an elder caught in sin. So, let me read that. This is 1 Timothy 5:19–20: “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” Now that is a warning to the church not to willy-nilly spread negative things about an elder or to pay attention to one person without more than one person. But here is the key verse, verse 20: “As for those [elders] who persist in sin, expose them,” — or, it is translated “rebuke” them — same word, “in the presence of all so that the rest may stand in fear.”
So if someone was claiming Christ and his gospel, leading in the church, yet living in sexual sin, are we supposed to do something about that? The answer is a resounding yes from the Bible. Now how you go about exposing something you have discovered will depend in part on the nature of the relationship you have with the person caught in sin, and I would say the closer the relationship, the more personal and private the initial rebukes and exposures will be. But since it is a leader who is involved, it cannot remain private or merely personal, because there are too many other people’s lives at stake.
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