The manchineel tree looks innocent enough, but it can harm in multiple ways. Its fruit is toxic. Its sap, which is also found on the bark and leaves, causes burn-like blisters. Touching a leaf to your eyes can cause temporary blindness. Even having just a drop from it fall on you can cause severe pain. This is why this tree is called in Spanish arbol de la muerte, or “tree of death.”
A tree is known by its fruit (see Matt. 7:16–18). Similarly, Paul taught in Ephesians that the fruit of living in the light versus living in the dark is clear. “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (v. 8). What does this mean? It means to pursue goodness, righteousness, and truth (v. 9). It means that in all situations we should “find out what pleases the Lord” (v. 10). This carries the idea of cultivating wisdom and discernment, the ability to interpret biblical truths accurately and apply them meaningfully in specific contexts. We already know from His Word what pleases God, so the point here is to “find out” in practice.
On the flip side, believers are to “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (v. 11). There should be no participation, no association, no approval or implied endorsement. We’re also not to talk or gossip about sin, for dwelling on it is unhealthy and can lead to pride or voyeurism (v. 12). And we are not to tolerate or celebrate sin in the church. This can be bold and risky and often comes with a price, but it can also happen as part of our normal attempts to follow the path of Christ—for light by its very nature reveals what darkness attempts to conceal (v. 13). Because Christ has shone on us, we have ourselves become a light to the world (v. 14; see Matt. 5:14–16; 2 Cor. 4:6).
From the moment God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3) to the heavenly city which needs no light but Him (Rev. 21:23), imagery of light and darkness is found throughout Scripture. Last August, Today in the Word devoted an entire month of study to this topic. You can find it in the archives at our website: todayintheword.org.