Summary: Lives are at stake, both our neighbors and our own. In regard to our neighbors, we are either living as light before them and hopefully exposing for them their darkness, or we are keeping our light hidden and allowing them to wander in the darkness unawar
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….
9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Jesus Christ, the light spoken of in John’s prologue to his gospel, was taken back up to be by the side of his Father. But he left his Spirit, who led people to believe in his name and who caused them to be born of God and so to become children of God. And those children became children of light, given such light to shine forth the light of Christ and his gospel. To such children our text speaks.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
We are to expose what is shameful to speak of. That appears contradictory, but it is the continuing progress of Paul’s argument that is truly baffling. He tells us that we are to expose the shameful works of darkness. When those things are exposed, they become visible. (That is easy enough to understand). What becomes visible is light. Stop there. How did we move from exposing sin with light to exposed sin becoming light? All of you English and logic teachers out there would be pulling out your red pens at this point if Paul were your student. Let’s go through this and see if we can untangle the argument.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. The first half of this sentence follows the ongoing thread of the passage, verses 3-14, namely that Christians are not to be involved in the immoral practices of the world in which they live. So much is clear.
The second half – but instead expose them – adds a new thought. The word “expose” is more often translated in the New Testament as “reprove” or “rebuke,” as in rebuking Christians who are acting in improper ways. But here it is the “works of darkness” that is the object of the verb, not the people committing the works. So it seems that Paul is saying to expose the immoral activities for what they are – unfruitful works of darkness. Such activities are fruitless. They do not produce virtue. They do not produce healthy fruit.
Verse 12 seems contradictory: “For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret,” and yet it actually helps us to understand how the “works of darkness” are to be exposed. Paul is making the point of how bad the immorality is: Why it is shameful even to speak of such things! It is evident, then, that by exposing the works, he does not mean to publicize them, to hold them forth for public spectacle.
How then are the Christians to expose the works of darkness? Paul has already given the answer in verse 8: “Walk as children of light.” It is that walk – living out goodness and righteousness and truth – which will expose immorality for what it is – a bankrupt, destructive lifestyle of darkness.
Now we are getting to the more confusing verses: But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.
Verse 13 is self-explanatory and fits well with what we’ve just observed. By living light-filled lives, we expose the works of darkness for the ugliness that they are, because when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible. If Paul had just stopped there, all would be fine. But he adds this thought: “for anything that becomes visible is light.”
Evidently Paul is changing his train of thought, moving it up to another level. He moves from light merely shedding light onto an object to the light having a transformative effect. It is not transforming the works of darkness into works of light, but it is transforming the lives of those who engaged in works of darkness into light. That is what the quote in verse 14 enforces: