Redeeming the time.
Without reading ahead, I want to describe something to you and see if you can figure out what “thing” I am describing. Are you ready?
So did you figure it out? It's time! Just the thought of it reminds us of the brevity of our life on this earth. The Bible describes our lives as a mere breath (Ps. 144:4), a passing shadow (Job 8:9), as a flower that comes forth and withers (Job 14:2), and as a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14). That being said, we must learn to use our time wisely. That’s what the Apostle Paul would have us consider in Ephesians 5:15-16. Paul writes,
“Therefore, be careful how you walk,
Paul, at this point in the letter to the Ephesians has already spent the first three chapters teaching them about who they are in Christ. Now, in the second half of the letter, he is teaching them about how to live in Christ, and part of that means is we start managing our time wisely.
The idea of walking in this verse is not literal walking. It’s talking about the habitual pattern of your spiritual lifestyle from day to day. How are we to walk? Paul says carefully, or as some translations say, circumspectly. It means to walk with exactness. It means you are alert, looking from side to side to see what’s going on. You are careful where you step because you have an exact and narrow road to follow that leads to an exact destination.
Recently, I was graphically reminded of the need to walk circumspectly when my dog had to wear a cone around her neck to keep her from chewing and licking a wound. With no peripheral vision, she was running into all sorts of things! On her way to her kennel, the rowdy, high-energy Labrador clumsily ran into the doorway, the wall, the coffee table, and even stepped in her water bowl before I could help guide her! She wasn’t able to walk circumspectly! The cone threw off her exactness.
As believers, we are to be careful how we walk, not as unwise but as wise. But what differentiates the wise from the unwise? Paul says the wise make the most of their time by doing the good will of the Lord in a day when evil is working hard. You are either wise, being careful to live for the Lord, or unwise, being careless of God’s will for your life.
This is quite shocking, but to the unbelievers wasting their lives by living for themselves and with no sure destination, Paul invites them to accept Christ in verse 14 with what is likely a portion of an early Christian hymn,
"Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
An unbelieving “sleep-walker” can become wise by turning to the Lord and doing His will. But for the believer, Paul is saying, if you are in Christ, then live like it! You have been called to walk a wise, living walk. You have a destination. You don’t wander around aimlessly like a “sleep-walker” but as one who is alive! Use your time to serve Him! Live on mission, for you don’t even know if tomorrow will come (James 4:13-14)!
Some translations have translated “make the most of your time” as “redeem the time”" or “buy up your opportunities”. Time can be “purchased” in the sense that we exchange it in the market of life for activities and opportunities that are eternally valuable. Similarly, time is something that, like finances, must be managed. Without an organized budget, finances can easily drift into the red zone of debt. And without an organized “budgeting” of our time, the produce from our lives may end in a big negative red zone as well. But let it not be so of believers who have been called by God unto salvation. We want to be walk worthy of that calling (4:1) and be wise stewards of our time who make a positive return on the time the Lord has entrusted to us. (See Luke 12:41-48)
The problem with discussing time is that many don’t think they have enough time to take on more responsibilities and opportunities to serve the Lord – and for some, this is definitely true! Many of us do too much! But before you come to the conclusion that you’re doing too much already, ask this question:
“Is this just an excuse for time that is already being poorly managed?
The reality for many of us is that if we were better time managers, we would have more time!
Just stop and think: Even if in each week we allot ourselves 8 hours of sleep, 3 hours for meals and conversation, 10 hours for work and travel, and 10 hours for recreation, we still have 31 hours each week to fill! If this is true, J. Oswald Sanders says, “Our problem is not too little time but making better use of the time we have.” What we do with those surplus hours, after provision has been for work, meals, and sleep, he says, “will determine if we develop into mediocre or powerful people.” These hours can determine whether we’re a flash in the pan or grow spiritually rich! How we spend time now determines who we are in the future.
Pastor Gordon MacDonald in his book Ordering Your Private World wrote about how when we do not manage our time well, there are strong but subtle effects we need to consider:
1) our days become filled with broken commitments and excuses,
2) we invest in small, secondary matters (tyranny of the urgent) rather than essential obligations we are called to do,
3) we feel poorly about our work, knowing we have done our second-best, making it hard to even receive compliments,
4) we rarely enjoy intimacy with God,
5) our personal relationships are hindered, and
6) we just don’t like ourselves, our jobs, or much else about our world!
After considering Sanders’ and MacDonald’s words, we’re left with no excuses and no reason to keep on living like sleep-walkers. Now is the time to be a person who is awake and alive with Christ, living on mission like Christ!
Jesus is the perfect example of someone who managed His time well and “bought up” the time. Even though His life was short and His ministry was extremely busy, He was not mastered by time. He was the Master of it! He spent His time doing the things that mattered, which were all under one basic heading: the will of God. Doing the will of God was more important than eating for Jesus – “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” For Jesus, 24 hour days were sufficient for Him to accomplish all the will of God for His life. He understood that opportunity is to time as time is to eternity.
"opportunity is to time as time is to eternity"
So what are some ways that you can invest the time that God has given you today? This semester? This year? Every day there is something to redeem: It may be a Bible to be read, a prayer to pray, a person to share Jesus with, a hand to lend to a neighbor, a spouse to love, a child to nurture and train up in the Lord, a spiritual gift to exercise, and more!
Consider some more wise words from Mr. Sanders:
“Minutes and hours wisely used translate into an abundant life…. The best use of one’s life is to spend it for something that will outlast it. Life’s value is not its duration but its donation – not how long you live but how fully and how well you live it.”
When are you going to redeem the time? He is worthy of your time well spent.
In Christ’s love,
J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, chapter 12.
Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World, chapters 6 & 7.
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