The sanctifying influence of love
As we approach this fifth chapter, it is good to glance over the supreme interest of the Lord in the church seen in it. It is formed of believers in the Lord Jesus who are:
Chapter 1 Chosen in Him
Chapter 2 Elevated in Him
Chapter 3 United in Him
Chapter 4 Instructed in Him
Chapter 5 Loved by Him
Chapter 6 Enabled and Preserved by Him
We find four simple divisions to this chapter:
The fact that God is love is stated in 1 John chapter 4 verse 8, and that love has been demonstrated to us, making us ‘dear children’. The expression ‘dear’ is that used by the Father of the Lord Jesus.1 What the Lord Jesus is to the Father is what we have become. How blessed if we manifest a family likeness and become imitators of God as His offspring!
Love could never begin with man, but it is demonstrated in all its fullness in the person of Christ. He initiates love. The habit of our life now is to walk, Greek peripateo, in love, as Christ has loved us and given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God. We are to follow the pattern ‘as Christ has loved us’.
We are now confronted with six sins, and the mind of God concerning them, in a threefold way. First, we have the practice of sinners, followed by a prohibition for saints, and, finally, the punishment by the Sovereign on those who commit those sins.
Of the three sins enumerated in the verse we can see that in fornication there is a desire to do, in uncleanness there is the thought or desire to be, while with covetousness there is the desire to have.
We now come to sins that only occur here in the New Testament: filthiness, foolish talking and jesting.
When Paul speaks of filthiness, he is recording something of the shamefulness and indecency of those who practise it. It is not enough to abstain from immorality; to speak of it exposes a desire to practise it and reveals an unclean mind.
Along with the injunction to abstain from foolish talking, he adds jesting to the sins to be abhorred. Once again the apostle is linking this word, which in our day infers a witticism or clever turn of speech, to portray a vulgar use of the tongue, making a clever play around immorality.
Such is the end of those who practise those things that are incompatible with knowing God. Ruth Paxson has ably put it, ‘God’s attitude to sin remains inflexible, God and sin can never fellowship together’.2 It is this that will bar people from the kingdom of Christ and of God.
That there are those who would seek to turn us from a path of separation is evident, be they men of the world or carnal Christians. The plea from the apostle is ‘Let no man’, for we hear and know of those who would trifle with sin and seek companions to justify their evil doings. Well might Paul make such an appeal to the saints when the flesh is always eager to fulfil its base desires.
The pleas of those who would turn us from a life of holiness are vain, that is, empty and meaningless, for it is as the result of immorality in its many forms that the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience.
Rather than be drawn into these evil practices, from which verse 6 desires to turn us away, we are now enjoined not to be partakers with those sins, or with those who would practice such, 1 Cor. 5. 9-13.
This word ‘partakers’, summetochos, is derived, as Wuest explains, ‘from metecho “to hold with another’ and sun “with”, the compound word meaning “partaking together with one”’.3 So we find that the practices should ‘not be once named among you, as becometh saints’, v. 3, and we should not be partakers with those who blatantly defy God.
Once we were darkness, now we are light in the Lord. In chapter 4 verse 18 the understanding was darkened, and, in Colossians chapter 1 verse 13, darkness was the sphere of our activity, but we were delivered from the power of it and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. Both the sphere and the state have changed as we are now in Christ. The state is ‘now are ye light in the Lord’. We are not merely enlightened, but we are light! This is not the lamp, but the light. It is not the environment in which we move but the reality of what we have become.
If verse 8 exhibits the reality of the transformation that has taken place through conversion, we now are confronted with the productivity that should be seen because of our salvation.
There is a threefold cluster here: goodness, righteousness, and truth. The first has the thought of virtue, beneficence, and would lead to good works being performed as a course of habit. The second, righteousness, would infer equity, justification, and it would produce in us a good walk. The third evidence of being light is truth. Much could be said about this, seeing that the Devil is the father of lies.
We have considered what is not acceptable to the Lord in verses 3-7; we must now prove what is acceptable to the Lord.
All our actions and activities should be motivated by what is acceptable to the Lord. Everything must be put to the test. There is a demand for careful thought in all that we do that there might be a right course of action that will have in mind the Lord’s pleasure.
We come to a further stage in the Christian life. Whereas in verse 7 we were to avoid persons who practised those sins that call for the judgement of God, now we are not to have fellowship with their works.
Rather than have association with the unfruitful works of darkness, we are to reprove them. To reprove is to bring disgrace upon, to put to shame. The meaning is that the Christian, by a life so essentially different from those around him, rather than by reproof in speech, is to expose their sins. This is done by the action of light; this exposes the filth all around us.
Again we have confirmed to us that the unfruitful works of darkness are reproved by our life rather than by our lip, for it is a shame to speak of them. This is further emphasized in verse 13 where all things are made manifest by the light. Light is the operating power that exposes evil. The word ‘shame’ occurs four times in the New Testament and means that which is base, unseemly, and carries the thought of being lewd. The word of the Lord is pure. Let our language be consistent with what we believe!
There are three simple statements in this verse that all relate to what has gone before. The apostle speaks of ‘all things that are reproved’. This takes us back to verse 11, where now it is the unfruitful works of darkness that must be exposed for the sins that they are.
One of the prime objects of the saints becoming ‘light in the Lord’ is that the unfruitful works of darkness should be exposed. Prior to this light coming, the immoral deeds of all were the same and the mind of God was not known. Now, as light has been manifested through the transformed life of the believer, it makes evident the base character of sin. Such is the expression, ‘for whatsoever doth make manifest is light’. The presence of light brings into the open what is only known in the dark. We might remember how the light brought by Nathan exposed the unfruitful works of David, 2 Sam. 12.
Four thoughts are expressed in the verse:
See Matt. 3. 17; 12. 18; 17. 5.
Ruth Paxson, The Wealth, Walk and Warfare of the Christian, Fleming H. Revell, 1939.
K. S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004.
William Secker, The nonesuch professor in his meridian splendour: or, The singular actions of sanctified Christians, Fleming H. Revell, 1899.
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