Commentary: Ephesians 5:11 is not about criticizing the government
Ephesians 5:11 is one of the most familiar Bible verses clergy use to justify political activism. However, no manuscripts suggest the apostles meant it for the civil authority. They conflate criticizing state government and “exposing demonic evil” that endangers the gospel.
“Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them.”
“Have no fellowship“
Have no religious connection or association with the heathens or their pagan worship.
“Unfruitful works of darkness“
Paganism was everywhere, and caves were often where witchery and dark arts were held. Naturally, caves are dark recesses where these practices were celebrated. They thought of it as fruitful when it leads to death.
The works of darkness may also refer to magic and incantations, very common during the apostles’ time. (Acts 19:19) and deeds of darkness produce no benefit to us but only destruction.
The word “unfruitful” contrasts the “fruit of the Spirit” in Ephesians 5:9.
“But rather expose/reprove them“
“Reprove them for their vices, which are flagrant, while pretending to be superior illumination.” The Greek word is ελεγχω which means to convince or reprove. For example, fornication, uncleanliness, or covetousness. [Read Adam Clarke’s commentary]
The evil works of Satan should be exposed. We can testify against them and warn others of their malicious intent, sinful abomination, and deception.
We can rebuke with love—but our knowledge of truth should never be used to accuse or shame anyone for their political ideology. God alone is our judge.
Examples of exposing evil in the Bible
Demonic opposition has always stood in the way of spreading the Gospel of Christ. The Jews were repeatedly told not to mingle with other (pagan) cultures (1 Kings 11:2). The apostles gave the same instructions to those who belonged to “the Way.”
- Pagan influences (such as Zoroastrianism, which is both monotheistic and pagan) and magic arts (Acts 19:19) should be exposed to avoid them.
- The apostles constantly warned Christians of “false prophets” who associated themselves with Christ. (Matthew 7:15)
- Paul exposed Elymas the mágos, a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet known as Bar-Jesus or son of Joshua. (Acts 13:6-11)
- Kishuf (sorcery) was practiced because of women’s liminal status in Talmudic society and thought.
- Be set apart and separated from pagan practices (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) and not yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
Divine authority to rebuke evil
- God calls prophets to rebuke kings. Prophets have every right to do so because they have divine and delegated authority.
- Jesus called Herod a “Fox,” which is derogatory and perhaps a way to expose or criticize the king’s hypocrisy. He does not only have the divine right to say so but is the one who will and can judge us.
- Apostle Paul emphasized submission to authority. Jews couldn’t stand their evil government. He told them to live godly lives and distinguish righteousness from evil. We can influence others by how we live. Hence, be salt and light.
Not everyone is called to rebuke civil authority
Some are called to pastor, teach, etc. But not everyone is a prophet & there is only one Jesus who is our judge. Jesus knew how evil the Roman government was, but He refrained from talking about politics. [Mark 12:17]