Sometimes truth is difficult to discern. For example, the recent American elections should leave little doubt of the accuracy of such a statement. The proliferation of fake news, constant references to fact checkers, and starkly polarized views represented in unending social media arguments demonstrate that the truth doesn’t always emerge with clarity, easily apparent to all.
As a theological student, I find it difficult to be certain of many things in my faith as well. When I discover intelligent, thoughtful people on opposite sides of an argument, it can be incredibly difficult to determine who I find more persuasive. Who am I to question people who know so much more than I do? However, I don’t think this uncertainty is necessarily a problem. I think if we learn to walk in this life with a bit of humility, we will often find ourselves willing to be generous toward those who think differently than us, or those who have thought more carefully about a subject than us.
With that in mind, Ephesians offers us a stern word of caution: “Let no one deceive you with empty words…” We do carry responsibility for discerning the truth of what people tell us. We are to “try to find what is pleasing to the Lord.” The difficulty of discerning truth and the humility in that discernment do not negate the responsibility to look out for what is dangerous and harmful. In fact, we are called to “expose” the “unfruitful works of darkness”.
So how do we do that? Truth can be hard to find, but there are some seriously dangerous things lurking about for us to potentially believe and do. Perhaps in the context of this passage, we are actually being pointed to some tools for discerning truth. This passage in Ephesians has a lot to do with actions. When we use the phrase “empty words”, we usually mean words that aren’t reflected or supported by any action. If I say “I love you” to my wife, and then treat her poorly, one might say that my “I love you” was empty, mere words.
So, if we read this passage something like, “don’t believe things people say when they don’t act right”, then we might be onto something. If politicians make promises that sound good to our Christian values, but their own lives are wicked, or if the result of their policies is harmful, we ought to question whether we are being led astray. If a theological teaching sounds good, but the teacher doesn’t strive to act like Jesus or the results of the teaching in the lives of others isn’t conduct that looks like that of Jesus, we ought to consider if we are being deceived by empty words.
As you reflect on this passage with me, I hope we go forward living as “children of the light”, not associating the name of Christ with those who say attractive things but then harm others. Let’s not only not be deceived ourselves, but also look out for our sisters and brothers in Christ so that no one is deceived. Let’s expose the darkness and pursue the ultimate truth of who is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.