Redeem the Time (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Topic: Ephesians Passage: Ephesians 5:15–5:17
Time Management 101
Redeem the Time
August 25th, 2013
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
I. Treasures or Trash?
In the dog-eat-dog world of television reality shows, one of the casualties from last year was PBS's Market Warriors. I don't know if you ever caught an episode of Market Warriors, but it was a quasi-spinoff of the very popular Antiques Roadshow. But unlike the Antiques Roadshow, this show took antique experts and sent them on a nationwide treasure hunt, scouring flea markets and antique shows, looking for the best deals.
But here's the catch. This was a competition. Each episode, four 'pickers' (as they are known) had one hour to find a target item (or items) that would turn the best profit when the items were auctioned off the next day. The picker with the highest profit, or the least loss at auction, was the winner. So these buyers were not only driven by the need to find something of great value, but also by the need to not waste their precious time on what was less valuable...or even on what was trash and not treasure.
Unlike most 'reality' shows, I think this show is more like reality than we typically recognize. Though you probably won't find it on a coffee mug or wall plaque, “Life is like an antiquing reality show.” Let me explain that analogy by allowing the Apostle Paul to explain that analogy. Turn over to Ephesians chapter 5.
This morning we are coming back one final time to the topic of time, specifcally, the topic of time management. But as we've seen, this isn't time management according to some self-help guru or corporate fat cat. This is time management according to God; according to the Bible. What's the difference? Well as we saw last week, biblical ‘time management’ is about being faithful stewards (managers) of our time as we look at our time through God’s lens.
We've seen that our present is shaped by our perspective on our past and our future. But having looked at passages relating to God's lens on the past and the future, we need to focus squarely on the present this morning. And that's exactly what Paul does here in Ephesians 5, verses 15-17.
II. The Passage: “Making the Best Use of the Time” (5:15-17)
Let's look at those verses together. This is how Paul instructs or encourages followers of Jesus in the city of Ephesus. He writes...
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. So to help us understand this verses, l'd like to look at four parts of this passage in the same way that some of you eat an Oreo: from the inside out.
A. The Marketplace of Time (v. 16a)
So if you look back at verse 16, we find the very center of the sandwich and a direct connection to our study. Paul writes, “making the best use of the TIME”. Now, its not at all clear in English, but in the original language, the language in which Paul first wrote these words or dictated them to a scribe, we find that Paul is talking about the marketplace of time.
What am I talking about? Well, the word translated “making the best use of” is a verb derived from the Greek noun agora. And the agora was the marketplace in a Greek city or town. In English, this would like the noun “shopping center” and the verb “shop”. But this verb is not simply the word for “buy”. It has a prefix on the front of it that means “out of” or “from”. AND the verb is in, not the active or passive voice, but the middle voice in Greek, which means it is action that benefits the one performing the action.
So this “buying out of” is the same word that Paul uses in Galatians 3:13 when he write, Christ redeemed us [bought us out of, bought us...] from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us... And in many translations this is exactly how Ephesians 5:16 is translated, “redeeming the time”.
But what does it mean to “redeem the time”? Given the verb used here, and given the middle voice of the verb, the picture painted by Paul is of a merchant who is “buying up” or “snatching up” the best deals in the marketplace. This is why many Bibles use the word “opportunity” instead of “time”. Do you see now how Paul is talking about the 'marketplace of time'?
Like the 'pickers' on Market Warriors, Paul is telling his readers, “You have no time to waste. Seize the day. Right now matters. Snatch up those opportunities.” As someone once said, “Kill time and you murder opportunity. Lost time is never found. Time can be wasted, but it can never be re-cycled. To waste time is to squander a gift from God.”
B. The Reality of Counterfeits (v. 16b)
But in the second half of verse 16, Paul tells us a little more about why he is encouraging his readers to redeem the time. He says, making the best use of the time [redeeming the time, making the most of every opportunity...why?...], because the days are evil.
Notice that Paul has thrown another time word into the mix: the word “days”. The “days are evil”. But what does that mean and how is it related to redeeming the time? I believe Paul is talking her about the reality of counterfeits in the marketplace of life. As those 'market warriors' work their way through a flea market or antique show, they have to be careful to not waste their time, right? There are so many things to look at, but only a few things of real profit. There are so many things they could buy, but only a few that have real value.
You see, these kinds of markets and shows are filled with knock-offs, with counterfeits, or with newer, cheaper things that were inspired by older, more valuable things.
Your NOW is like that. My today is like that. Paul is saying, “You must recognize that, because of sin, your NOW is always going to be threatened by distractions, by temptations, by good causes that are not the best cause, and by empty efforts that deceive us.” So what can we do? We can redeem the time. We can snatch up every opportunity. But what exactly does that look like?
C. The Consumer's Choice (vs. 15b, 17a)
Well, if we keep working our way out, we find a similar theme on both sides of verse 16. Paul writes 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....
The word “walk” is an important word in Ephesians 4 and 5. Paul began the second half of the letter with this word in 4:1. He urged them to “walk in a manner worthy” of God's work in their life. In 4:17, he called them to no longer “walk” as the world around them. In 5:2, he instructed them to “walk in love, as Christ loved us”. And in 5:8, Paul encouraged them to “walk as children of light”.
Clearly the word “walk” is about how you live your life. About the decisions that you make. About your everyday choices and desires and priorities. Those things matter. The spiritual truths that Paul declared and taught and wrote about were not just abstract ideas that floated out there somewhere as theological and philosophical curiosities. No, these are earth-shattering, life-transforming, schedule-shifting, priority-pushing, appetite-altering truths from God himself.
Paul is telling his readers that like a consumer in the marketplace, you have choices. Every day you have choices about how you 'spend' your time. With wisdom, you can snatch up those profitable opportunities when they come. OR, foolishly, you can waste your time with diversions and distractions that are so abundant, “because the days are evil”. Treasure or trash. In the only other passage where our key phrase occurs, Paul also connects this idea with making wise decisions. He wrote this to the Colossian Christians: Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. (Colossians 4:5)
D. The Buyer's Guide (vs. 15a, 17b)
But how can we know? How can we know which decisions are wise and which are foolish? How can we tell if our present, if our NOW is being won or wasted? Isn't that something you'd like to know? Isn't that something you have to know if you care about making right now really count? Well look at the edges of our 'scripture sandwich' here. Paul begins by instructing them to, Look carefully then how you walk...and he ends this passage with, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
What is Paul telling us here? He's telling us that we need to examine our life and desires in light of what God has told us about what He desires for our life.
In the marketplace of time, we desperately need a buyer's guide. We need a resource that can describe for us what truly has lasting value. God's word does that. The Bible does that for us. Paul's letter serves that very purpose for both the Ephesians then and for us today. Just look at what Paul has already written about “the days [being] evil” and what is “wise” and unwise”...Chapter 5, verse 1...
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.  For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  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. (Ephesians 5:1-10)
Redeeming the time always begins with what God has revealed. How can you know an opportunity unless God defines it for you? How can you know if you are wasting your life, unless God shows you what real life is all about?
III. The Time that is Given You
In the first book of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein, the hobbit Frodo and the wizard Gandalf have this conversation about the burden of the ring.
'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo. 'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'
Right now, in this moment, you and I have the opportunity to decide something critical about right now, about this moment. We can decide to snatch up this opportunity for eternity; for the glory of God. Some of you feel stuck in the past. Some of you can't stop speculating about the future. We are so often paralyzed by what has been or what we believe will be, that we squander what is.
You see, to redeem the time right now is simply to say, “God, I want to use the time you have given me to do your will, not my will.” And in many cases, as we've seen in this series, we have to “snatch up the opportunity” of dealing with our past in light of His past, that is, His past work of redemption. And in many cases, we also have to “snatch up the opportunity” of facing the future in light of His future, that is, His future work of finalizing our redemption.
The present always involves the past and the future, but it can't be chained down by the past and the future. Right now is a gift from God. Your today is like a very large bank account, entrusted to you by God himself. How are you spending those funds? Everyone is so...busy. But everyone is also so...distracted. We more than any other time in history, we have so many things vying for our attention.
But God's word is clear about what matters most. The world wants us to waste time worrying, but God wants us to trust. The world wants us to waste our time in selfish pursuits, but God wants us to serve. The world wants us to waste our time with celebrities, but God wants us to be fixated on His fame. The world wants us to waste our time with fleeting pleasures, but God wants us to pursue eternal things.
The world wants us to waste our time by making technology an end in itself. But God wants us to use technology with discernment, in moderation, for His glory. The world wants us to tear down others, but God wants us to encourage. The world wants us to obsess about how we look, but God wants us to care more about who we are...in Christ. The world wants us to waste our time by working for a paycheck. But God wants us to work, knowing we are really working for Jesus, that our co-workers would know why we do what we do.
And the list could go on. God has a work for us to do in this world. He has words He wants us to speak. He has love He wants us to share. His has truths He wants us to embrace. He has healing He wants us to experience. He has feet He wants us to wash. He has lives He wants us to touch. But are we too busy for that? Are we too distracted? Are we running around buying trash thinking that it's treasure? If the days truly are evil, shouldn't that change the way we look at our time?
Listen, redeeming the time is not simply about filling your schedule with religious tasks. It means allowing every part of your life to be shaped by your love for Jesus Christ and His lordship, His leadership at all times. It doesn't necessarily mean dumping your hobbies, sports, television, movies, books, Facebook, books, art, music, hunting, etc. When it comes to those kinds of things, it means allowing your love for Jesus, in light of what God desires, in light of His word, it means allowing Him things to tell you when, what, why, how, and for how long. Redeeming the time involves talking to Him about those very things.
I would be making a serious mistake if I did not remind you that Ephesians 5 is preceded by Ephesians 1-4. It would be a mistake to not remind you that the last half of this letter flows right out of the first half. What we are to do (chapter 4-6) is directly shaped by what God has already done (chapter 1-3). Flip back to Ephesians 1. Listen to how Paul lays the foundation for everything we've been talking about. Verse 7...
In him [In who? Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood [why can we redeem the time? Because we've been redeemed by the death of Jesus! We have...], the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, [How can we buy up the time? Because we are wealthy in grace]  which he lavished [not a little; a lot] upon us, in all wisdom and insight  making known to us the mystery of his will [we can understand His will because He's made known His will], according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ  as a plan for the fullness of time [He is the Lord of time...it is His plan], to unite all things in him [in Jesus], things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10)
Which of us has not squandered and is not prone to squander our time on foolish things? We are all guilty of that. We all struggle with redeeming the time. But the forgiveness we need and the power to transform our time can only be found in one place: Jesus. Without Him, without His cross, without the new life He offers, we will waste our time in the bondage of sin. Only Christ can change our perspective. Only He can show us that our time is from God and for God, and not ultimately about you or me.
When you understand the love that Jesus demonstrated on the Cross, you begin to see that time is also a gift of grace. Do you know His love?
Coming full circle to where we started in this series, listen to the words of Moses in Psalm 90, verse 12: So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. We don't have long. None of us is guaranteed a tomorrow. Right now matters. How we use our time, every day, every hour, every minute, every second, it all matters. Asked what he would do if he knew for certain that Jesus was returning in three days, George Whitefield replied, "I would do just what I have scheduled to do." Would you say the same?
David Brainerd was born in 1718 and died when he was just 29 years old. He was a missionary to the Native Americans of New England. Listen to what he wrote about time:
"Oh, how precious is time; and how guilty it makes me feel when I think I have trifled away and misemployed it or neglected to fill up each part of it with duty to the utmost of my ability and capacity. Oh, that I might not loiter on my heavenly journey!" (David Brainerd)
And the man who wrote Brainerd's biography, the pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards, he made similar resolutions when he was just nineteen year old:
5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can...7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life....17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
May each of us make this same commitment to redeem the time. In light of His past victory in light of our future hope, may my present, may your present, be spent for the glory of God.