Redeeming the time
I preached the following sermon at Signature HealthCARE of Bremen on Sunday, November 7, 2021.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
The appointed time
In this passage, Paul appears to choose his words carefully. He doesn’t say, “Making the best use of time.” Instead, he says, “Making the best use of the time” (Eph 5:16). Rather than use a general word for time (chronos), he uses the word kairos, which refers to a fixed period of time. He is referring to an allocated season with a definite beginning and end. The time that Paul has in mind has firm boundaries. In other words, it is a precious resource because it is limited.
The book of Hebrews says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9:27). We have only one life, and God has ordained our life’s beginning and end. He has set the boundary lines, and there are no opportunities outside of those boundaries. All we can do is make the best use of the time that God has given us.
Our time is far more limited than most of us care to acknowledge. We need to stop thinking, There’s always tomorrow. There’s always next year. We don’t know that. Regardless, one of the psalmists writes, “Remember how short my time is! What man can live and never see death?” (Ps 89:47, 48). Paul tells the Corinthians, “The appointed time has grown very short” (1Co 7:29). Whether we fail to wake up tomorrow morning or live another fifty years, the time is short.
In Luke 12, Jesus tells a parable that highlights the prevailing attitude in our society. We always think we have more time. We keep building and accumulating our earthly treasures with little regard for the weightier spiritual, eternal things. Why not? I’ll get around to the more important matters later. There’s always time. Yes, until there isn’t.
In Luke 12, Jesus is approached by a man having a dispute with his brother over their inheritance. Rabbis often served as lawyers, so this man assumes that Jesus, a rabbi, can help him get his fair share. Here’s what happened:
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
But Jesus said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, to the crowd, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’
“And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
“So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)
Is it safe to call this man a fool? God did. The hypothetical man in this parable was foolish for at least two reasons. First, his mind was totally consumed by material things. He was selfish, thinking only of what could gain and keep for himself. Second, he refused to acknowledge his mortality. He assumed that his days for building and accumulating were endless, but God boldly disrupted his plans. “Fool!” he said, “This night your soul is required of you” (Lk 12:20).
Beyond the present moment, time is not guaranteed. James warns us this way:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:13-17)
James says that arrogance is what drives us to ignore the limitations of time. It is evil to think that we control our destinies. It is sin to put off doing what is right and good because we assume we’ll have more time tomorrow. We should all be praying as David prayed:
“O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, the width of four fingers, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” (Psalm 39:4, 5)
Lord, make us aware of our mortality. Don’t let us deceive ourselves into thinking we have forever on this earth. Our time here comes and goes like a fleeting vapor.
Redeem the time
“So then,” Paul writes in Galatians 6, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). We shouldn’t be like the man in the parable who wasted his life selfishly gathering material possessions for himself. We shouldn’t fritter our limited time away on worthless endeavors of no spiritual value. Furthermore, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to merely creep along in half-hearted service to God.
What happened to the five foolish virgins in Matthew 25? They were supposed to fill their lamps with oil in preparation for the bridegroom’s arrival, but they didn’t. I can’t be sure what they were thinking. Maybe they assumed there would be time to buy oil later. Perhaps they were convinced the other five women would give them oil. Regardless, they weren’t ready when the bridegroom came. Listen to the conclusion of that parable:
“And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’
“But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:10-13)
We don’t know God’s schedule. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour (Mt 25:13). That’s only a problem, of course, if we’re not watching. We can’t be caught off-guard if we are always and consistently expecting his return. If, however, we’re wrapped up in purely secular concerns with no regard to the limited nature of time—perhaps I should say the time—then we’re in for a big surprise. Either we die or Christ returns. Regardless, the end of our time is quickly approaching.
I’m partial to the KJV’s translation of verse 16. We’re told to “redeem the time.” Paul implies that something has taken our time from us, so we have to take it back.
I think we can all relate. If we, let’s say, resolve to read the Bible more, perhaps we should ask ourselves, what prevented us until now? We’ll have the same amount of time tomorrow as we had yesterday. Chances are, the time we could have spent reading the Bible yesterday was spent doing less important things. If we are to make the best use of our time, we will have to take our time back from other activities and distractions.
The fact that we have limited time is not the only obstacle we face. Paul says, “Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:16). Our opportunities to do good for God’s sake and his glory is further hindered by the evil nature of our world. It’s a struggle to redeem the time because the days are evil. We live in a wicked environment, contending with our sinful flesh, none of which is conducive to righteous living.
The flesh becomes weary. The mind gets distracted. Circumstances stand in the way. Temptations abound. God provides one opportunity after another, but we either ignore them or pursue them halfheartedly.
The hour has come
Consider the people to whom Paul was writing. Sin and debauchery characterized the city of Ephesus. Paul encourages them to make the best use of every opportunity, yet they languished. According to Revelation 2, they continued in good works and resisted false teachings, but their zeal and love seem to have slowly faded. Jesus says to them:
“I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:4-5)
Evidently, the Ephesians’ passion and fervor for Christ had become a cold, mechanical routine. Despite their theological and moral purity, they lacked an essential love for Christ and quite possibly one another. As a result, the church at Ephesus soon disappeared, and there hasn’t been a church in that place since.
What do you suppose happened? I suspect they lost a sense of urgency, becoming apathetic. Think of the kid in school who has to write a report only the deadline is months away. He thinks he has all the time in the world, so he procrastinates. Everything changes, however, when the deadline gets much closer. Suddenly, he’s working at a frenzied pace to finish it.
Paul understood our natural propensity to grow lazy, thinking, What’s the hurry? In Romans 13, he writes:
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12)
Jesus said, “We must work the works of him who sent me, that is, God the Father, while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (Jn 9:4). Much sooner than any of us think, night will fall. Our opportunities to do what God has called us to do will be forever gone. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9:27).
The question will then become, what did we spend our time building? Did we build with relatively worthless materials such as hay and straw, or did we use sturdy, precious materials such as gold and stones? In Corinthians 3, Paul says:
Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day of Christ will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:13-15)
Even the redeemed people of God will not escape judgment. Our works on this earth will be tested, revealing their worth.
How are we using our time? Are we building houses made of spiritual gold or carnal shacks made of worthless straw? If we want to build the former, we need to adopt the attitude of Paul who said, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus” (Ac 20:24). Like him, when the end comes, we want to be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2Ti 4:7).
Understand the will of the Lord
Let’s say we’re primed and ready to make the best use of every opportunity. How do we do that? Paul says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise. Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:15, 17).
“Be careful,” Paul says. We need to accurately examine how we are using our time with alertness. Believers are walking through a spiritual minefield, so we need to stay vigilant. As we assess our lives, we need to recognize the dangers and distractions all around us. We need to understand the way temptations abound yet remain subtle.
Our goal is to walk wisely which Paul defines here as knowing and following the will of God. I could also add that we are to do the will of God with a sense of urgency. In other words, the Christian’s priority is to learn the will of God and do it without wasting any time.
To be clear, redeeming the time doesn’t always mean that we need to do more. Sometimes we just need to do things differently. As Paul says, we need to do things wisely according to the will of God. Perhaps we need to shift our perspective. We need to fix our minds on the grand scheme of God and his plan of redemption. Ultimately, walking in wisdom and making the most of the time means that our will and desires are in line with God’s will and desires.
How can we know God’s will? That depends on which of his wills we want to discover. God does have a secret will that we can’t possibly know, but he also has a revealed will. The book of Deuteronomy says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Dt 29:29). The last part of that verse is key. The revealed will of God is provided through the words of this law, or we could say God’s inspired words.
Briefly, let me back up because we need to understand something vital about ourselves as God’s people. God has already made us a repository of wisdom. John says, “You have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it” (1Jn 2:20, 21).
Similarly, Paul tells the Colossians that the understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:2, 3). That is relevant to us because we are in Christ, a phrase Paul uses over and over again in reference to believers. We are already in Christ, who is wisdom and the knowledge of God’s mystery.
In another of God’s paradoxes, the Bible commands us to walk and grow in wisdom even though we already possess the fullness of God’s revealed will. It’s within us. According to Luke’s Gospel, even Jesus increased in wisdom as a child despite being God himself (Lk 2:52). He had all wisdom, yet he still had to grow in wisdom.
In short, the believer has no excuse for being foolish. The Spirit of God thoroughly equips us to know the will of God. He provides spiritual discernment, not to mention the text of the Bible. His plans for each of us are right here in this book. We may not know the answer to every question or the perfect choice to make in every decision, but God has given us general principles that will guide us through all of life from beginning to end. If you want to know God’s will, all you have to do is read.
The heart of wisdom
And the heart of wisdom is this: believing in God and obeying him. Psalm 14 defines a fool this way: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds” (Ps 14:1). Foolishness begins when a person denies God and manifests itself by disobeying God.
Wisdom is rooted in a conviction that God is both real and good. To become wise, we must learn and obey his word. His priorities must become our priorities. His desires must become our desires. In short, we must become faithful imitators of God (Eph 5:1).
Not only is time a fixed season, but it is also quite short. Let us make the most of every opportunity. Don’t waste a single moment which God gives you to do good.