Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:16b “. . .because the days are evil.”
Paul challenged the Ephesian Christians to redeem the time because the society in which they lived was morally bankrupt. The whole present age is evil (GL 1:4), corrupted by its god, the devil. We must snatch from his hand those moments which yield themselves to holy and pious purposes.
Be neither surprised nor exasperated by the unfriendly environment surrounding us. Expect it. I remind us of God’s description of His people in Song of Solomon 2:2, “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” Thus God sees our situation. The world around us is thorny, prickly and irksome. In the midst of dreary, drab thorns, God sets His Church, the lily, a gorgeous flower. In God’s eyes, the ugliness of the thorns serve merely to enhance the beauty of the flower.
In our text, note that the reason Paul used for arduous toil, others use as an excuse for indolence. In the face of overwhelming evil, some give up and surrender. There is, in this world, a natural tendency away from the true path, and toward corruption. One thing the times pull us toward is discouragement. We can easily adopt a position of fear and defeat.
Perception makes all the difference. Adam and Eve were given everything, with one exception (GN 2:17). Having been denied one thing, they felt cheated, and sinned. Joseph was given everything, with one exception. Having been denied one thing, he saw it as a reason to be loyal (GN 39:9).
How we view our situation matters. What some see as a reason to quit is presented by Paul as a reason to work harder than ever. God would never have us lose hope and sing the blues in utter despair. “Courage will never sit down and utter its dirge in the hour of darkness” (Morgan).
The way to slow evil’s advance is to attack it. “Redeem the time,” take every chance to fight moral decline in our era. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (Edmund Burke).
Paul was not naive. He understood the pressure we are under, but expected us to resist and to overcome it. The obstacles erected against us are numerous and menacing, but our spiritual weapons are “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4).
We neither know nor show the extent of our power till we face and defeat a formidable opponent. “Hard and evil times, indeed, bring opportunities of a special value. . .because they have a great intrinsic worth. Nay, more, hard times, sorrowful times, times of temptation and difficulty, are themselves opportunities of pre-eminent value. Then, if ever, we have a chance of showing of what stuff we are made, of testing and proving the sincerity, the genuineness, of our religious life” (Cox, in BI).
Our present day demands and rewards a vigorous faith. When morals at large are this corrupt, Christians have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the value of upright conduct. “The very things that make it hard to be a Christian are the things which enable us to shine” (Morgan). The deeper the darkness, the more conspicuous the light as it shines. We presently have opportunity to make a strong moral impression on the world.
Some who have influenced history most were ones who had to shine in the midst of deep darkness. Elijah stood firm and unshaken among a people almost totally given over to idolatry. As much for, as his culture was against, the true God, he made an impact for godliness, thereby proving, “The Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few” (1 SM 14:6).
We need to heed David’s advice, “Fret not thyself because of evildoers” (PS 37:1). A dark cloud of doom once settled over Rome. Hannibal had invaded the land. The Romans were humiliated, forced to see their Imperial City under siege. When things looked their worst, the Roman Senate, to show how little disturbed they were and to show they regarded Hannibal’s deeds as mere bravado, put up for public auction the very spot of land on which the general’s tent was erected. Their plan was a master-stroke of genius. The purchase of this land by a senator gave heart and hope to the people. The senators knew the enemy would never set foot within the city, and that very soon Hannibal would have to retreat in haste–which is exactly what happened. When the victory seemed to be in the hand of the foe, these men wrested it out of his hands, and won an inspiring moral victory.
Let me encourage you. I do not know what the future holds for our country, but I do know Satan and his kingdom have been defeated. “Be of good cheer,” Jesus said, “I have overcome the world” (JN 16:33). We can have victory in “the world,” the very quarter where Satan’s “tent is erected.” We can lead a holy life in the midst of whatever perversion he throws our way. Obadiah stayed true in Ahab’s court. Believers dwelt in Herod’s house, and in Nero’s palace. Daniel stayed true in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace.
Believers, never be obsessed with numbers, and never be destroyed by what appears to be a hopeless situation. No matter how evil the times become, let us be found courageous, faithfully redeeming the time. “Stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13, NASB).
Eph. 5:17 “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what
the will of the Lord is.”
“Wherefore”–because the danger is so real, and the evil so bad–be sure we know where we stand. Make sure we are launching our assaults against evil on sure footing, from a valid base of operations. If we would be accurate in word and deed, we must first be accurate in thought.
In any vocation, success rests on well chosen and well kept rules. Every great artist, writer, or athlete owes their success to certain principles of action to which they adhere. What is true of these pursuits is true of our quest to impact our culture. We must closely adhere to the principles whereby we regulate our lives, and must choose those guidelines wisely.
Do not deem our own mental faculties or the counsel of others as infallible. Our guide must be “the will of the Lord.” To know His will, be alone with Him often, pray without ceasing, and know His Word, the Bible.
Nothing is more valuable in daily living than to have fixed principles to guide us. We need convictions, and one settled conviction for sure is of inestimable value–nothing good can result from anything which is against “the will of the Lord”; the only blessed, safe, true, and right life is one which absolutely follows “the will of the Lord” as revealed in the Bible.
Paul’s counsel in our text is needed today. If not a Bible-Christian, one will not be a survival-Christian. The world is polished, smooth talking. The only way to resist its tidal wave of filth is to have our feet firmly planted on bedrock, and for Christians, bedrock is the Bible. The blessed man, the one strengthened and nourished by God, delights in the law of the Lord, and meditates in it day and night (PS 1:2). “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy word” (PS 119:9).
I fear we often take the Bible for granted. Ironside once asked a crowd of 500 Christians how many had read the entire Bible at least once. Only two raised their hands. He said, “I was ashamed to have the devil see it. I was so thankful that there were not a lot of sinners to see it. They would certainly say, “Those Christians do not value their Bible very much.””
Ironside tells of an open religious forum which took place in Chicago. Clarence Darrow defended atheism, three others defended Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism. The latter three spoke first, telling why they believed as they did. Darrow responded, “Gentlemen, I have been very much interested in one thing. I notice neither Protestant, Catholic, nor Jew ever referred to the Bible. Evidently they no longer value that so-called Holy Book as they used to do.” He then declared he was an atheist because he had no use for the Book they had not even mentioned. Darrow was wrong in his theology, and died pleading for mercy from God, but he had one thing right–the Book is the essence of our faith. We have no sure rule to walk by but the will of God as revealed in Holy Writ. We must be willing to stake our lives on it. Oh! that we could say with Job, “I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (23:12).
The secret of Methodism’s early success can be traced to the handful of men who banded themselves together for godly living in the midst of evil prevailing all around them. Giving each other mutual support, love, and accountability, they agreed to regulate their conduct strictly and rigidly by Bible rules. This unshakable resolve “made Methodism a power; not a new retreat and home for recluse spirits and souls sick of sin and of the world; but a new source of blessed influence in a dry, cold age; a mighty agent for the revival and regeneration of a Christianity that had fallen upon, and, alas! yielded itself up to what were, truly evil days” (Candlish, in BI).
One reason we are losing the day in our own culture is because the Church is not speaking with conviction. It has been said the puritan age was an age of conviction whereas ours is an age of opinions. A conviction implies “case closed.” An opinion is open ended. For instance, conviction says it will abstain from sex until marriage; opinion says the same thing, until Mr. or Miss Right comes along. The Church often sends to our culture mixed signals, spouting human opinions rather than godly convictions. A proposal calling for fidelity for married people and sexual abstinence for single people was narrowly rejected by a body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at their recent 206th General Assembly. Gay and lesbian activists had attacked the plan as unfair. If the Church cannot speak straightforwardly for marital fidelity and sexual purity, what can we talk about? “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (PS 11:3)–nothing but watch the superstructure collapse as they seek to re-lay the foundations.