Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:16a “Redeeming the time,. . .”
“Redeeming,” a commercial term taken from the marketplace, refers to buying. “The time” is not a reference to hours and minutes, but rather denotes a fit time, an opportune moment. The Greek word points to a critical period, a special possibility, a fleeting chance which will soon pass.
“Redeeming the time” thus refers to buying up an opportunity. The metaphor pictures a wise bargain-hunter who is shopping for a scarce, valuable commodity known as “the time.” The shopper, showing keen business acumen, recognizes the right moment to buy. He knows to grasp the opportunity, to buy it while it lasts, because it will soon slip away.
Paul’s meaning in the phrase “redeeming the time” is well conveyed in Horace’s ancient, yet still popular, phrase, “Carpe diem,” “Seize the day.” The thought is also illustrated in Mordecai’s immortal words. Learning of Haman’s edict to destroy the Jews, Mordecai knew immediately who was their only hope. He sent word to his cousin, Queen Esther, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (ES 4:14).
Our present text, taken in context, is Paul’s way of saying we must make the best use of every opportunity to shine as light in the midst of a dark world. Opportunities of turning people to light are few and far between. We must be ever alert to recognize and catch teachable moments.
If lost people ask about certain moral and ethical issues, pursue their interest. Continue the discussion by letting them talk a lot. Ask questions of them, guide them toward spiritual contemplations. Take an interest in their lives. When they have troubles, go and offer sympathy, and try to help in some practical way. Out of this may grow the opportunity you need to win someone to Jesus. “Sickness, accident, death, misfortune, all these things are constantly happening to people and there we find our opportunity. When their hearts are tender, let us be there and let us be ready. Redeem the time, buy up the opportunity!” (Lloyd-Jones).
Even in the secular realm, people recognize the significance of opportune moments. Plato said, “If a person lets the right moment for any work go by, it never returns.” Napoleon said, “There is in every great battle a ten to fifteen minute period that is the crucial point. Take that period and you win the battle; lose it and you will be defeated.” What is true of physical combat is also true of spiritual warfare. There are critical moments in which the battle for an individual’s life may be won or lost forever.
Once to ev’ry man and nation,
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever,
‘Twixt that darkness and that light. (James Lowell)
There are special times when we can take care of business in the commerce of the Kingdom of God. “Every godless man is an opportunity for godly men. Godless men come into contact with godly men in the economy of grace in order that they may pass under the influence of their godliness” (Morgan). In special moments of sensed receptivity, we must seize the day.
Unfortunately, “life is full of too-lates; that sad sound that moans through the roofless ruins of the past, like the wind through some deserted temple” (Maclaren). An ancient Greek statue depicted Opportunity as a man with a large lock of hair on the front of his head, no hair on the back, and wings on his feet. The wings on his feet caused him to fly by swiftly. The forelock gave people the chance to seize him as he passed by. The baldness in back meant once he was gone, none could lay hold of him.
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries. (Shakespeare)
Since these truths matter in the secular realm, how much more important it is to acknowledge the seriousness of opportunities in the spiritual realm.
It might help if we try to see the big picture. Wise use of opportunities is part and parcel of a larger stewardship, the wise use of all our time. Time is not man’s property. It belongs to God. We are merely stewards of it, and must give an account for how we use it. Whenever Ignatius heard a clock strike, he would say, another hour is past that I have to answer for.
Jesus understood the stewardship of time. He filled His days with deeds of spiritual significance. Mark (1:21-35) described one day in particular which gives an idea of what Jesus’ daily schedule was like. One Sabbath Day, He taught in the synagogue, and healed a man with an unclean spirit. He then went to Simon’s home and healed his mother-in-law of a fever. At sunset, “all the city was gathered together at the door.” The townspeople brought to Him their loved ones who were sick and possessed with demons. After this busy day, Jesus was up the next morning “a great while before day” in order that He might find a solitary place and pray. Time belongs to God. We must be wise stewards of it.
Time’s supreme importance is enhanced by its connection with eternity. Time, a section carved out of forever, serves as the seed of eternity. Time defines the limits within which the work of salvation must be done. Everlasting destinies are determined within the confines of time. It is the chamberlain who opens or shuts forever the door to the Kingdom of God. In perpetual motion, like a mighty river, time ultimately bears everything into the boundless ocean of eternity, where consequences never change.
Thus, though time is precious in and of itself, its most valuable moments are those which present us with spiritual opportunities. These fleeting moments of everlasting destiny are the flower of time, the golden jewel, the rich diamond which gives time its greatest value.
These opportunities to share light in someone’s darkness are extraordinary gifts from God for which we are held to a special accountability. If misspent, precious moments to witness for Christ are lost, possibly never to return again. They must not be allowed to slip through our hands. Act immediately when the Holy Spirit opens a door of opportunity.
Capture present moments. Past moments are honored in the halls of nostalgia, future moments are relished in halls of wishful thinking. Present moments are deemed dull and trivial, but they matter. One moment in time can open the door to eternity. At such times, the moment is not measured by the tick of a clock, but by the deed we crowd into it.
Penetrate darkness whenever and wherever we can. “Work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (JN 9:4). Someday the swinging of the pendulum will cease. There will be no clocks in Heaven. Moments matter now. Seize the day.