Have No Fellowship With The Unfruitful Works of Darkness

by Tom Wacaster

When Paul wrote to the Ephesians he clearly admonished them: And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them”  (Eph. 5:11).  Fellowship is the joint participation and common bond that exists between brothers and sisters in Christ.  Fellowship exists only where the light is believed and obeyed (cf. 1 John 1:6-8).  The extent of fellowship is here restricted to those who are children of light.  Consequently the child of God is not to extend fellowship, or participate with those who are not walking in the light.  This would include those who teach false doctrine as well as those who partake in the moral vices listed in the previous verses (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-16; Rom. 16:17-18).  

Sinful works are works of darkness: they come from the darkness of ignorance, they seek the darkness of concealment, and they lead to the darkness of hell. These works of darkness are unfruitful works; there is nothing got by them in the long run, whatever profit is pretended by sin, it will by no means balance the loss; for it issues in the utter ruin and destruction of the impenitent sinner. We must therefore have no fellowship with these unfruitful works; as we must not practice them ourselves, so we must not countenance others in the practice of them. There are many ways of our being accessory to the sins of others, by commendation, counsel, consent, or concealment. And, if we share with others in their sin, we must expect to share with them in their plagues. Nay, if we thus have fellowship with them, we shall be in the utmost danger of acting as they do ere long (Matthew Henry, ESword)

Not only are Christians to have no fellowship with such works of darkness, they are told, “but rather even reprove them."   The key word in this verse is "reprove."  The obligation regarding the Christian's relationship to the "unfruitful works of darkness" is here extended beyond that of refusing fellowship; it includes reproving those works.  The original ('elegcho') means "to refute, generally with a suggestion of shame of the person convicted...to find fault with, correct by word; to reprehend severely, chide, admonish; to call to account, to show one his fault" (Thayer).  Coffman points out that the word means “expose, and probably should be so translated.”  Barnes says that “their lives should be a standing rebuke of a sinful world.”  The task of reproving the works of darkness is not a pleasant task, but one that is sorely needed in our "politically correct," "non-judgmental" generation. 

A dangerous, but growing trend among congregations of the Lord’s church is their involvement with denominations in various social works such as disaster relief and local community projects. Some are arguing nonetheless that the Lord’s church can participate in benevolent activities with those in error while at the same time remaining true to the apostle’s admonition in this verse and other passages of like nature.  We have already noticed (chapter 4) that the work of the church involves (1) evangelism, (2) edification, and (3) benevolence.  Why do some think that Paul’s admonition here is applicable to evangelism, but has no application when it comes to the work of benevolence?   Of late we hear of congregations of the Lord’s church in some joint effort with the denominational churches in their community in rendering aid or assistance to those in need.  All such involvement is predicated upon the assumption that Paul’s words do not apply to the benevolent work of the church.   But upon what basis do some draw that conclusion?   Once the lines of fellowship are breached in matters of benevolence it won’t be long before the same lines of fellowship are ignored in matters of evangelism and/or edification. 

Our studied conclusion is that Paul’s admonition applies to all of the work of the church, be it evangelism, edification, and/or benevolence.   While some have concluded that Paul’s admonition in this verse applies to matters of morality only, any defense of such a position seems weak at best.  The passage does not make such limited application, and any attempt to restrict his words to moral inequities while exempting the application of his words to matters in other areas of Christian living fails to keep the passage in its context.  Let’s take a closer look.

First, the verse is surrounded by passages that draw our attention to the things being taught by those in error.  “Let no man deceive you with empty words” (verse 6).  “Ye were once darkness…but now are light” (verse 8).  “But all things when they are reproved are made manifest by the light: for everything that is made manifest is light” (verse 13).   Once a person teaches the wrong thing, his deeds are tainted and unacceptable to the Lord (Matt. 7:21-23). 

Second, there are no works of a religious nature that can be considered fruitful by those who teach and practice error.  Was this not the point of our Savior in Matthew 7:21-23?  Our Lord’s words are precise, pointed, and powerful.   We are not speaking of whether or not a work is fruitful in the sight of men, but whether or not it is fruitful in the sight of God.  Even the very works of those who do not do the will of the Father are considered iniquity.   All such works, whether doctrine that is taught or works of benevolence, are the “unfruitful works of darkness.”  

Beloved, do not be deceived by the wiles of the devil.   Whether it be evangelism, edification, or benevolence, the apostle tells us, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.”