Last week, we talked about ‘pressing on into the new year,’ forgetting what was behind, and pressing forward. Of course, there’s a time and place to look back and remember and reminisce, but when it comes to the bad things, it’s best to leave them behind and keep on keeping on.
Today, I would like to bounce off of that topic and look at what Paul says to both the Ephesian church and the Colossian church. So, if you have your Bibles, you can turn with me to Ephesians 5, and Colossians 4. I’ll be reading from the New King James version today rather than the usual New International Version.
And as you’re turning there, I’d like to read to you something regarding time:
Inscribed on a clock-case in Chester Cathedral, England, is a poem, Time’s Paces, attributed to Henry Twells. It reads:
‘When as a child I laughed and wept, Time CREPT;
When as a youth I waxed more bold, Time STROLLED.
When I became a full-grown man, Time RAN.
When older still I daily grew, Time FLEW.
Soon I shall find, in passing on, Time GONE.
I think that fits well with what Paul had to say about time. While a poet often takes a concept and says something without saying it directly, Paul, of course, in a more pastoral way says something directly.
15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God.
5 Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.
I wanted to read to you from the New King James version because the King James and New King James use the phrase “redeeming the time.” And I like how that’s worded, but of course, it’s an older, odder phrase. It means to “make the most of every opportunity.” Some may say, ‘seize the day.’ But basically, what Paul is saying is that we should not waste our time. We should not waste the moment. Be conscious and intentional about how we spend each moment of our time. Make the most of every opportunity.
So, why did I read the King James version when the NIV states it more simply and directly, “make the most of every opportunity?” Why not just use that version? Well, like I said, I liked the way the King James puts it. To redeem the time.
What does it mean to redeem something? When we collect soda cans and bottles, we take them in to redeem them. I did that just a couple of days ago. Got a whole whopping 95 cents. But it means to exchange something for its value. Often that exchange is something old and unuseful. But it has value that you exchange it for.
Evelyn and I watched a Rocky movie on New Year’s Eve. We watched Rocky III, but the theme song for Rocky II is called “Redemption.” I remember when Caleb was in Pony Club, he had to do a routine with the pony set to music, and he chose that song.
But Rocky had to redeem himself; that was kind of the point of the whole movie. Okay, it’s the point of every Rocky movie, but still…
The idea to redeem oneself, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is: to succeed or do something good after one has failed or done something bad.
Rocky had to redeem himself. He had to do this time after time. And we learn that it’s not just in the ring where Rocky has to redeem himself, but that Rocky has to be redeemed inwardly––as opposed to his opponent who does not see that he has to be redeemed inwardly––that is most important in the film. Then, of course, we find that is usually but not always exemplified in the ring.
When it comes to the gospel, we cannot––no matter how hard we try––redeem ourselves. That is why Christ had to redeem us through the cross. That is why we celebrated communion last week: to remember and reflect on the price paid for our redemption.
Jesus paid the ultimate price for our redemption––to buy us back, to regain possession of us.
So what does it mean, then, to redeem the time? To gain possession of it. To live intentionally. To make time work for us rather than letting it slip away. To make the most of every situation. If we look at our passage in Ephesians again, we read in the first three verses: 15 See then that you walk circumspectly [carefully], not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
So twice there, Paul calls us to be wise. In other words, to use our time wisely. This can mean a number of things, and Paul gives us some examples in the next set of verses.
18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation [sinful]; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God.
In other words, Paul says that redeeming the time is to live a holy, Godly life. And he gives us some examples, but this is not an all-inclusive list. And he doesn’t mean for us to do these things legalistically, but he says right off the bat to be filled with the Spirit.
Legalism is doing things because “the Bible says so.” But Paul is encouraging us to do things because we are naturally led by the Spirit. And if you’re naturally led by the Spirit, you’re
going to do these things. I’ve noticed lately, on my drives, I just can’t help but praise God. It’s something that’s come over me more greatly than in the past. I don’t know if it has something to do with the new year or what, but there’s just been this certain something where the Spirit has come over me, and I’m praising God more and feeling his Spirit in me more. I’m more hopeful now, and I’ve never been more in need of him.
It’s ironic, and it defies logic.
Yet, here I am, as Paul said, finding myself, “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,”
We’re in more desperate need now with our furnace and car situation. We’ve got bills to catch up on, we’ve got school and county taxes to pay, and yet I feel more hopeful. I can’t explain it. Why? Because when you’re filled with the Spirit, it’s going to happen. It’s going to come upon you. Faith increases in spite of your surroundings.
What else do we do naturally? Well, if we’re filled with the Spirit, we’re going to live circumspectly, that is, carefully or as the NIV puts verses 15-17, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
Again, wise and holy. The two go together.
This is a prayer that the Puritans used to pray:
Turn my heart from vanity, from dissatisfactions, from uncertainties of the present state, to an eternal interest in Christ. Let me remember that life is short and unforeseen, and is only an opportunity for usefulness; GIVE ME A HOLY AVARICE TO REDEEM THE TIME, to awake at every call to charity (love) and piety (godliness), so that I may feed the hungry, clothe the naked, instruct the ignorant, reclaim the vicious, forgive the offender, diffuse the Gospel, show neighborly love to all. Let me live a life of self-distrust, dependence on Thyself (Thy Spirit), mortification [subduing fleshly desires], crucifixion, prayer.” (From Valley of Vision)
I’m full of old English today, aren’t I?
But notice the great desire of the puritans in this prayer. It says, “Give me a holy avarice to redeem the time.” That means a strong desire to do what is good, like a ‘good greed’ or a ‘holy lust.’
It’s a prayer to strongly do what is right in the Lord’s sight with the time that we have been given. To make the most of our time. To not waste this one life that we’re given but use it to the fullness for the Lord. And the prayer isn’t just the big things. It isn’t just the “Great Commission” or to be the next Billy Graham and do great missionary or evangelistic work. It’s also in our daily walk to love one another, forgive each other and live in godliness.
Going back to our second set of verses in Colossians again, it reads:
5 Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. 6 Let your speech
always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.
When we live by the Spirit, there is a great desire to do what is holy, and we seek supernatural wisdom to live that life. Man’s wisdom does not seek after God’s holiness but after what? Man’s wisdom. Why? Because man sees himself as wise enough. Mankind does not need God; man is God in his own eyes. Unfortunately, many churches today are seeking man’s wisdom rather than Godly wisdom. It’s happening. Some churches are setting aside the Bible for its own wisdom.
I don’t get it. Apparently, they think The Bible is full of man’s wisdom, so today’s enlightened ‘man’s wisdom’ is wiser than the Bible’s ancient, outdated ‘man’s wisdom.’ I won’t get wrapped up in that, but if we ask for Godly wisdom, Jesus said we will receive it; and we will receive Godly wisdom in abundance. And that wisdom will help steer us in the right direction for redeeming our time and living the way in which God wants us to live.
Redeeming the time requires what we learned last week. Let me read that to you again.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
We have to leave the past behind. Or as Pumbaa said, “leave our behind in the past.”
Paul had to do that. I’m sure it was hard for him. No one knows what his ‘thorn in the flesh’ was, but I often wonder if it was his past haunting him. The time he spent wasted in violent sin condemning and killing Christ’s followers. It had to eat at him. Yet, regardless of whether or not this was Paul’s thorn in his side, Paul still had to press on. Christ’s grace was still sufficient for Paul’s egregious mistakes.
Paul told Timothy:
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
I’m sure many of you know the story of Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel who awoke one morning and read his own obituary in the local newspaper. It read, “Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before, and he died a very rich man.” It was Alfred’s older brother who had died; a newspaper reporter had bungled the epitaph. But that account had a tremendous impact on Nobel, who decided he wanted to be remembered for something different. As a result, he initiated the Nobel Prize to reward individuals who foster peace.
He said, “Every man ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph in midstream and write a new one.”
God’s grace allows us to do that, and Paul’s life––his personal redemption story––is a great example of that. His life was redeemed, and he spent the rest of his life redeeming his time in step with the Spirit.
Listen to what he said to Titus in Chapter 3:
3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.
Paul is talking about how we used to live, setting that aside, and moving forward. Use wisdom, and don’t even engage with foolishness or foolish people. It reminds me of what Abraham said to the rich man. Do you remember? The rich man was in Hades, and he asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers of their fate. What did Abraham say? You would think it would have been a story more like Ebeneezer Scrooge, but instead, Abraham said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” I used to think that was a rather harsh thing for Abraham to say, but the older I get, the more I understand it.
By the way, you’ll notice Paul mentioned not getting into foolish genealogies; it’s not wrong to engage in your genealogy, but it’s wrong to engage in foolish arguments over them like, I’m related to so-and-so, and that makes me better than you. At that time, people searched their genealogies to prove they were 100 percent Jewish, or they were related to such-and-such tribe, and so on.
Today, the Mormons search genealogies for religious reasons, and they think they can baptize in place of their dead relatives. So, this is an example for today, let’s not get involved in unproductive arguments. Arguing with a Mormon about genealogies won’t produce anything positive. They’ll just argue. Set it aside, live in wisdom, and redeem the time. Say and do something more positive and constructive with a Mormon. If you’re living by the Spirit, the Lord may have you say or do nothing regarding arguing or getting some theological point across.
It might be something else entirely. It might be a little seed here and a little seed there. An act of kindness, an act of love. Sometimes those kinds of things open the doors of trust, and then they’ll ask you about your faith rather than trying to budge the door open. What happens when you try to budge a door open? Something usually breaks. That’s why Jesus knocks on the door. That’s why we should follow that example.
So how else can we redeem our time? We’re probably not going to come across very many Mormons every day. What does that look like in our day-to-day lives? I don’t know about you, but before we get out of bed in the morning, I simply ask God to bless this day. I start every morning by committing the day to the Lord and asking Him to help make that day a blessing for me and to help me be a blessing to others. By beginning our day with a prayer like that, we become more aware of spiritual nudges in our hearts. We look for ways we can honor the Lord, help someone else, or utilize our time in productive ways.
Gotquestions.org gives us some examples:
Sitting at a red light, we can pray for our neighbor. Mopping the floor, we can worship in song. At a restaurant, we can leave an extra big tip along with a gospel tract or a card inviting the waiter to church. We can evaluate our gifts and interests and find ways to invest them for God’s kingdom. Volunteering, serving at church, leading a ministry, taking Bible studies to the jails and prisons, and studying to show ourselves “approved unto God” are all ways we can redeem the time (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV).
It goes on to say that James 4:14 reminds us that our earthly lives are no more than a fog that appears and then quickly evaporates. Our money and possessions will be given to someone else. Our jobs will be filled by others. Our families may remember us with fondness but will move on with lives that don’t include us. All that remains of our lives on earth is that which was invested in eternity. In the end, all that matters is what we did or did not do to redeem the time (Psalm 102:3; 144:4).
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on First Baptist Church of Watkins Glen