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Redeeming the Time Eph 5:15-17 - Making the Most of Opportunities

In a related article on Joel 2:25 entitled The Days the Locusts Ate, we examined God’s role in restoring time in our lives that we thought was gone forever.  In this article written in March of 2015, we concentrate on our roles as Christians with respect to proper use of time and opportunities.

Table of Contents

Introduction - Meaning of Time

In the Joel 2:25 article, we examined how God can restore time in our lives that we thought was gone forever.  While that article speaks of God taking the initiative to restore lost time, there is a NT verse in which the Apostle Paul exhorts us to make good use of the time and opportunities that God has graciously allotted to us.

Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is (Eph 5:15-17).

In this article, we explain the meaning of time, its theological basis, and why we should properly redeem the time.  We also offer some practical and Biblical suggestions for wisely using our time, and mention some pitfalls to avoid that rob us of our God-given time.

Definition of Time

Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid (1710-1796) once stated in his essays, “I know of no ideas or notions that have a better claim to be accounted simple and original than those of space and time”.  As basic as time is, there are many usages and associated definitions of the noun.  My person favorite was offered by the French philosopher Jean Paul Richter (1763-1825) who said “Time is a continual over-dropping of moments, which fall down one upon the other, and evaporate”.  For the purpose of evaluating our subject verses, we’ll define time simply as the temporal period or duration of an event or an opportunity.

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Exposition of Ephesians 5:15-17

In quoting our subject verses above, we used the NIV translation.  Most other modern English versions translate the verses using very similar wording, with the exception of the Greek phrase “exagorazomenoi ton kairon” in verse 16.  This phrase (echoed by Paul in Col 4:5), is translated “making the most of every opportunity” in the NIV, “making the best use of the time” in the ESV, “taking advantage of every opportunity” in the NET, “redeeming the time” in the NKJV, and “making the very most of the time [buying up each opportunity]” in the AMP.  The literal translation of the Greek phrase is “redeeming (ransoming or buying back) the time”, but let’s examine it a bit closer.

The Greek verb exagorazō means to redeem, buy back or to rescue.  It’s often used of buying or redeeming slaves from the marketplace.  It’s also used to denote our redemption by Christ from the curse of our sins.  Perhaps even more significant for our purposes is the use of the Greek noun kairon instead of chronosChronos is the general term of “time”, designating a measurement of time (days, hours etc), a season, time past, the course of time, indefinite time etc.  In contrast, kairon denotes a fixed or set time or span of time that is viewed as a special occasion, critical period or opportunity.  It is also used to designate a God-appointed strategic period of time that may never be repeated.  For example:

“The time (kairon) has come," he said.  "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mk 1:15)

You go to the Feast.  I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time (kairon) has not yet come (Jn 7:8).

You see, at just the right time (kairon), when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly (Rom 5:6).

…a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time (chronos), and at his appointed season (kairon) he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior (Tt 1:2-3).

We can see that the Greek phrase “exagorazomenoi ton kairon” in our verse means not just to redeem the time, but to redeem or make the most out of opportunities at the proper appointed times.  Thus, the timing of our actions is just as important as the actions themselves.  Paul tells us, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Gal 6:10).  God created time and is never in a hurry, we should get in step with God’s timing.  English Puritan John Flavel (1627-1691) remarked

The wisdom of a Christian is eminently discovered in saving and improving all opportunities in this world… God hangs the great things of eternity upon the small wires of times and seasons in this world; that may be done, or neglected in a day, which may be the groundwork of joy or sorrow to all eternity.  There is a nick of opportunity which gives both success and facility to the great and weighty affairs of the soul, as well as body; to come before it is to seek the bird before it be hatched; and to come after it, is to seek it when it is fled.

How do we recognize these opportunities so that we may act before they are gone, perhaps never to return?  We begin by understanding that God created time and all things are happening according to His pre-planning and will.  We also know that He is always working, so we must observe and distinguish what He’s doing and make ourselves available.  In order for us to recognize His work, we must “understand what the Lord's will is” (Eph 5:17).  We can better understand His will, character and nature by developing a close personal relationship with Him.

God communicates with us primarily through prayer and His Word, so we must spend much quality time in both under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  He may also choose to communicate through circumstances, extra-Biblical Christian literature, pastors and teachers, other people and other methods.  Take time to learn from, depend on, and be obedient to what God is saying.  The better we know God, the more our thoughts will conform to His and the clearer these opportunities will appear to us.  In addition, we’ll be better prepared to seize the moment and do the work that He has prepared for us in advance (Eph 2:10).

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Why Redeem our Time and Opportunities

Moving to the latter part of the verse (Eph 5:16), we are told why we should make the most of our opportunities, “because the days are evil”.  The Greek word translated as “evil” is poneros, from which the English word “pornography” is derived.  Because we live in a pornographic society, our minds are constantly bombarded with distractions from every direction.  In classical Greek literature, poneros could mean the condition of being exploited or to describe something as being bad, harmful, or useless.  Poneros was also used of wicked or evil in the sense of being immoral, or as a noun to describe someone’s desire to hurt or otherwise do evil to others. In the NT, it is often used of human wickedness in general (Mt 7:11), the condition of humans (Mt 12:35), human behavior (Col 1:21). the present age such as evil and wicked generation, age or days (Lk 11:29, Gal 1:4, and our subject verse Eph 5:16).

When Paul wrote “the days are evil”, he undoubtedly was referring to the evil days in a moral sense.  In addition, he could have had the coming Roman persecution in mind that would make opportunities fewer and more difficult.  This may have been the interpretation by JB Phillips who, in his Phillips NT Bible translated the verse as “Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days”.  During times of great persecution and other difficulties, our opportunities are often limited.

We can see certain parallels to our modern times.  The world in general continually seeks to prevent us from doing the Lord’s work.  The current Obama administration has led an unprecedented campaign to remove Christianity from all public venues.  Therefore, we must be ever vigilant to take advantage of our decreasing opportunities.

Additional Reasons for Making the Most of our Time and Opportunities

Time is precious and valuable.  Time was the first thing in creation that God made sacred.  Once it is gone, all the gold in the universe can’t buy back a single moment.  Each wasted moment is gone forever.  We can only learn from our mistakes and resolve to be wiser in the future.

Time is short and uncertain (Ec 12:1; Job 14:1-2,5; Lk 12:16-21; Ja 4:14).  The Roman philosopher Seneca (4BC – 65AD) once observed “We all complain about the shortness of time; and yet we have more than we know what to do with.  Our lives are spent either in doing nothing at all, or in doing nothing to the purpose, or in doing nothing that we ought to do.  We are always complaining that our days are few but acting as though there would be no end of them.”  From a temporal standpoint, Seneca is certain correct about human behavior, yet from an eternal perspective, we must disagree with regard to available time.  Adrian Rogers once said that “God has given us just enough time on this earth to accomplish all He has called us to do”.  Therefore, we must be about our Father’s very important work (Jn 17:18, Mt 28:19-20).  This work includes the spiritual (worship, witnessing, discipling etc), physical (providing for our families), recreational, and charitable (helping others).

The shortness and uncertainty of time not only applies to our individual lives, but to this present age as well.  Paul instructs us to keep the commandments and love one another in our understanding of the present time: The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light (Rom 13:8-12).

We are to be accountable to God for all we say and do, including how we use our time (Mt 12:36, Rom 14:12; 1Pe 4:5).  How we use our time has eternal consequences (Mt 16:27, 2Cor 5:10).  Only time spent on activities pleasing to God has any eternal value – all other is wasted (1Cor 3:10-15).

Time does not belong to us but to the Creator.  Since we’re not our own, but bought with a great price (1Cor 7:23), we should honor God by being good stewards of His time (Mt 6:19-21).  Christ gave us His all.  We owe Him more than we could ever begin to repay, but we should at least endeavor to give Him our best.

Robert Boyle (1621-1691), an Anglican-Irish chemist, physicist, inventor and philosopher, is known as the “Father of Modern Chemistry”.  Among other things, he left us Boyle's Law, a principle and formula that describes the relationship between the pressure and volume of an ideal gas at a constant temperature.  Like most of the geniuses that gave us modern science, he also was a theologian.  Regarding the concept of time, he remarked

Sand grains are easily scattered, but skillful artificers gather, melt, and transmute them to glass, of which they make mirrors, lenses, and telescopes.  Even so vigilant Christians improve parenthetic fragments of time, employing them in self-examination, acts of faith, and researches of holy truth; by which they became looking glasses for their souls, and telescopes revealing their promised heaven.  Jewelers save the very sweepings of their shops because they contain particles of precious metal.  Should Christians, whose every moment was purchased for them by the blood of Christ, be less careful of time?  Surely its very minutiae should be more treasured than grains of gold or dust of diamonds.

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How to Redeem the Time

Up until this point of the article, we have been writing as if all our readers are Christians.  Because Paul addressed our subject verse to believers, the primary applications of this article are likewise more relevant to the lives of believers than non-believers, although the latter can obtain some practical benefits from making good use of their time.  In the event that we are blessed with some non-Christian readers, we would be sadly negligent if we didn’t mention the one usage of time that stands above all others in importance.  If you are a non-Christian, we hope and pray that before you waste another minute, please make sure of your eternal destiny (see our article How to be Sure You’re Going to Heaven).  English Puritan Thomas Manton (1620–1677) once told of a Jewish rabbi who, upon being asked when a man should repent, answered “one day before his death”; but since no one knows what day that will be, he added “that is, presently, this day; it may be your last in the world: ‘Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation’” (2Co 6:2).

Now, as we look at methods of saving time and taking advantage of opportunities, keep in mind that all of this advice should be taken in light of our earlier remarks on God’s timing.

First of all, like most other endeavors, we must begin with prayer.  Prayer brings God into the activity so that we rely on His strength rather than our own (Is 40:28-31).  Prayer is actually a time-saver since it allows us to do our work God’s way first, rather than trying our method first before re-doing it right.  Ask God for wisdom (Ja 1:5) before starting a task.

We must learn from past miscues to avoid make the same mistakes over and over.  This is usually a tough one for me.  I can certainly identify with Paul’s words from Romans 7:14-25.  By regularly examining ourselves and developing increased reliance on the Holy Spirit, we’ll begin replacing harmful habits with healthy ones.

When we sin, we must immediately repent, confess and refocus.  I believe this ability is a prime reason that, even though David was an adulterer and murderer, he could still be called a man after God’s own heart (2Sam 12:1-23, Ps 51).  Unlike David, many of us double-down and waste additional time before wising up and allowing the Spirit to get us back on the right path.

We must consistently read and apply God’s Word to all parts of our lives.  Adrian Rogers often said that “when God say ‘Thou shall not’ He means ‘Don’t hurt yourself’; When He says ‘Thou shall’ He means ‘Help yourself to a blessing’”.  I’ve wasted much time in my life by following my own advice rather than God’s (Pr 3:5-6).

We must avoid excessive idleness, amusements, and worldly pursuits.  Since God created us, He understands that we will quickly burn out if we work constantly without rest and recreation.  The keys here are moderation, balance, and pursuing wholesome entertainment, hobbies etc.  I believe exercise, good nutrition and a good night’s sleep are forms of worship when done for the purpose of being able to give Him our physical best.  God set aside the Sabbath and Holy days so that His people might slow down and recharge their spiritual batteries.

We must learn to say “no” in certain situations.  We are to run the race by throwing off unnecessary weights and keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus (Heb 12:1-2).  When our eyes are fixed on Him, we can recognize which activities to take on and which ones to leave to others.

We should regularly examine our schedules and identify methods of improving efficiency, avoiding pitfalls etc.  Some set aside a few minutes at night to mentally go over the events of the day to determine things that could have been done differently.

Once we begin a task, we must use diligence to bring it to completion.  Experienced contractors realize the massive costs, including additional mobilization and de-mobilization, that can be accompany delays on a project.  For ministerial tasks, the cost of delays can be much more than just economical.  When we’re doing God’s work, we can expect opposition (Neh 6), but like Nehemiah, we must make every attempt to persevere and minimize any avoidable delays.

We’ll just acknowledge a few other methods that are probably familiar to many of our readers.  One helpful approach is to prioritize to avoid majoring on the minor tasks, and to choose the “best” over the “good”.  We should also avoid procrastination in beginning a task unless one strongly believes it not to be presently in God’s timetable.

Finally, I believe it greatly helps to set goals and plan our schedules in advance.  Of course, we need to set these after prayer, and be flexible in the case that God has something better in mind.  When we approach pending or ongoing task, we often attempt to finish a task as quickly as possible so that we can check it off the list and proceed to the next one.  While this might be the correct approach in many cases, a different strategy might be better in others.  For example, we may tend to focus on the task’s completion as the goal, but God might want us to focus on the process within the task.  For God, the process itself might be the goal.  Thus, we should attempt to align our focus and schedule with God’s.

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Final Thoughts

God’s Word, the Holy Scripture tells us to make the best use of our allotted time and opportunities.  This time is not our own, but is graciously allotted to us according to the Lord’s perfect will.  Thus this time is very precious and valuable.  Charles V (1500-1558) once said, “I have spent my treasure, but that I may recover again; I have lost my health, but that I may have again; but I have lost a great many brave soldiers, but them I can never have again.”  In response, English Puritan Thomas Watson (~1620-1686) remarked, “So other temporal blessings may be lost and recovered again; but, if the term of life wherein you should work for heaven be once lost, it is past all recovery; you can never have another season of grace for your soul.”

We are also accountable for how our time is used for the glory of God and the good of others.  We are not only to be good stewards with our treasures and talents, but with our time as well.  Doctor Luke recorded Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:13-38.  Among his remarks, he said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace” (Ac 20:24).  Paul made the most of his allotted time so that, near the end of his life, he could confidently proclaim, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2Tim 4:7).

Of course, the ultimate example of time management is Jesus Himself.  We might expect that someone with only three years to accomplish all that the Father required would be rushing frantically from task to task.  Yet Jesus, being in perfect communication and conformance with the Father, approached each task calmly and deliberately.  He budgeted His time on earth perfectly so that, in His High Priestly prayer during Passion Week, He declared to the Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (Jn 17:4).  Of course, there were a few tasks still to come, such as the Crucifixion, but they were as good as done.  Therefore He could proclaim all of the work given Him by the Father as done.  If only we could say the same at the end of our earthly mission.

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Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Kittel); 1985 by William B Eerdmans Publishing Company

The Biblical Illustrator; 1887, Public Domain

MacArthur Commentaries – Ephesians; John MacArthur, 1986 by Moody Bible Institute of Chicago

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