by Mike Ratliff
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. (Ephesians 5:6-11 ESV)
In the passage above is the the word “fruit.” It is a translation of the Greek word καρπὸς or karpos. This word appears some sixty-six times in the New Testament. In most cases, it is used in reference to the the fruit of plants as in Matthew 21:19 or the produce of the earth (James 5:7, 18). However, its extended meaning in the New Testament is one in which we should pay special attention as well as to its opposite, ἀκάρποις or akarpois, which is translated in this passage as “unfruitful.” In this form, ἀκάρποις is the dative, plural of ἄκαρπος or akarpos. The dative plural simply means that this part of the phrase is an indirect object of the action of the sentence. In any case, this may be more significant than it first appears.
Μηδεὶς ὑμᾶς ἀπατάτω κενοῖς λόγοις· διὰ ταῦτα γὰρ ἔρχεται ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐπὶ τοὺς υἱοὺς τῆς ἀπειθείας. μὴ οὖν γίνεσθε συμμέτοχοι αὐτῶν. ἦτε γάρ ποτε σκότος, νῦν δὲ φῶς ἐν Κυρίῳ· ὡς τέκνα φωτὸς περιπατεῖτε· ὁ γὰρ καρπὸς τοῦ Πνεύματος ἐν πάσῃ ἀγαθωσύνῃ καὶ δικαιοσύνῃ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ· δοκιμάζοντες τί ἐστιν εὐάρεστον τῷ Κυρίῳ. καὶ μὴ συγκοινωνεῖτε τοῖς ἔργοις τοῖς ἀκάρποις τοῦ σκότους, μᾶλλον δὲ καὶ ἐλέγχετε. (Ephesians 5:6-11 GNT)
Here is my word for word translation of this passage: No one you let deceive in empty words; through these for comes the anger of the God upon the sons of the disobedience. Not then become co-partakers of them; you were from then dark, now but light in Lord; as children of light walk! The for fruit of the light in all goodness and rightness and truth – proving what is is well-pleasing to the Lord, and not be co-partner in the works the fruitless of the dark, more but also rebuke.
The usage of καρπὸς when referring to its extended meaning, not literal fruit, expressly indicates that it is not a question of deliberate, self-determined action on man’s part. Instead, it is that ‘fruit-bearing’ which follows from a believer turning to God and the power of the Holy Spirit working in him or her. I have three Pear Trees, one Crab Apple Tree, two Maple Trees, and one Oak tree in my yard. Their fruitfulness is unique to their nature. In the same way, spiritual fruit is automatic in the Christian. We do not produce fruit because of our effort, but because of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. God has changed our nature from what we were before regeneration to what we are now. This is why our Lord said in Matthew 7: 20:
Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:20 ESV)
Now let’s look at unfruitfulness. I am sure that you noticed that ἄκαρπος, “unfruitful” is the same word as καρπὸς, “fruitful” or “fruit,” with a ἄ prefix. This the same thing we do in English by putting a prefix of “a” on a word to make it mean the exact opposite. So, if we put the “alpha-negative” on the front of καρπὸς, which means fruitful, we have a word that means “unfruitful, fruitless, barren, or unproductive,” and that is exactly how ἄκαρπος is used in the New Testament. It is found eight times in the New Testament. In the parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 it refers to the “thorny ground hearer.” In the book of Jude it is used to refer to apostates who are “clouds…without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withers, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots…”
So, as I stated above that a believer’s fruitfulness is part of their nature, so is the unfruitfulness part of the nature of the unbeliever, especially those who think they are Christians, but are only deceived. These are the ones who wreak havoc in the visible church with their unfruitful works of darkness. This unfruitfulness is natural behavior for the unregenerate. This is why our Lord was so positive about that statement in Matthew 7:20.
In Ephesians 5:11, The Apostle Paul warns believers to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose or rebuke them as we bear fruit for God’s glory.
Soli Deo Gloria!