The Wise Redeem the Time
Nick Esch, 11/24/2019 Cornerstone Baptist Church
Once I heard John Piper share the story of the time his father, who was a traveling evangelist, like a mini-Billy Graham, preached an evangelistic crusade at a little church. In attendance that day was an old man with a hard heart who the church had been praying for for years. He typically wouldn’t darken the door of the church, but for whatever reason, this time he came… And as the gospel was preached, the man’s heart was gripped by God’s grace and he was saved from his sins and given eternal life. But as he came forward and spoke with and prayed with the preacher, the old man cried out for all to hear, “I wasted it! I wasted it!”
That man knew exactly what God’s Word is going to show us today, that time is precious, and our time here is meant to be lived for Christ. As we’ve been seeing in the book of Ephesians, in and through the gospel we who have trusted in Christ have been united to Christ, and now our whole identity is in Christ. In Christ we are God’s beloved children; but now that that’s the case we are called to live out our new identity, and that means that we are to love like Christ. We are to live and love like Christ for the glory of Christ. And what we’ve been looking at over the past few weeks is how to go about doing that… And our passage today continues to give us insight into how to do that—how to live and love like Christ, for the glory of Christ; and it shows us that anything less than that is a wasted life. So with that in mind, look with me at Ephesians 5:15-17.
Ephesians 5:15–17 (ESV)
Verse 15 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise…” The idea behind looking carefully is paying close attention. And the Greek word translated carefullyhere could also be translated accurately… So, we are to look carefully, to pay close attention, and get and keep an accurate assessment… of what? Of how we walk… By walk Paul means one’s life and behavior. And here he’s talking about the Christian walk, the Christian life… that we are to watch ourselves carefully and take an accurate assessment of our behavior and make sure it lines up with our Christian calling—the Christian life we are called to live for God’s glory… Jesus said, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). And it’s this narrow and hard way that we are to walk on and stay on. And if we are to do that we must continually keep a close watch on our walk and give honest assessment of our walk, so that we can continue on the way to glory.
We are to do this as wise, not unwise. True wisdom always comes from God. And true wisdom is tied to God’s Word. As Proverbs 2:6 says, “the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding…” You see how it is what comes from His mouth, His Word, that brings knowledge and understanding, that gives wisdom? In Proverbs 3:19 we’re told, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens…” But of course we know that the Lord created by His Word. He said, “Let there be…” and there way. His Word and His wisdom go hand in hand. This is why Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” When we rightly revere the infinitely Holy God of the universe, and understand that His Word is power, and that He is revealed to us in His Word, then we are beginning to be truly wise, especially wise unto salvation and true knowledge of the Holy One.
In 2 Timothy 3:15 we’re told that God’s Word is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. And it’s interesting that Paul words it that way, because in 1 Corinthians 1:30 he says that it is because of God that we are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption… Jesus is God in the flesh and is thus perfectly wise. But, He’s also the perfect man who displayed perfect wisdom by perfectly living in line with God’s Word. He is wisdom personified in every way. And so in God’s Word we see what it is to be truly wise. And we see that we fail on many fronts. But we also see in God’s written Word God’s incarnate Word who is truly wise… The Word who is God who came down from heaven, took on flesh, lived the perfectly wise life that we have failed to lived, and died our death taking God’s wrath due us for our sin upon Himself, and then rose from the grave in victory so that all who will turn from their sin and trust in Him will be made wise unto salvation. And then after being made wise unto salvation through faith in Christ, we are enabled to walk as wise, not as unwise, because that’s who we are in Christ. And that means walking in obedience to God’s Word for the glory of God’s Son. But that might sound vague to you… You might be thinking, “But what does walking as wise look like?” And that’s what we see in the next two verses.
In verse 16 we see that, in part, the way we are to walk as wise is by, “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” I don’t really like the way the ESV lays this verse out. I prefer the old KJV here, that says, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” That’s how the verse is worded in Greek too. We are to redeem the time. This world and our days here are broken and evil. That’s why Scripture often refers to Satan as the ruler of this world. It’s evil; it’s by it very nature rebelling and going against God and His glory, following the lead of Satan himself. And if not for God’s grace our time spent here would be going down that same path. In fact, it once was. As Ephesians 2 says, “[We] were dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace [we] have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5). We’ve been redeemed by God through the grace of Jesus Christ. We were purchased out of our slavery to sin and Satan, and brought into life in Christ for the glory of Christ. And here in our passage we’re called to do something similar with our time here; we are to redeem the time.
The word time in verse 16 doesn’t just mean time in general, but a season of time; in particular, our season of time, in this life, in this world, between birth and eternity. When it refers to the days being evil, it’s telling us where we are during this time (the world), and what this time is leading to (the Day of eternity, the final Day, the Day when we will stand before God and give an account for our lives). So God’s Word is telling us, just as we were redeemed for the glory of God in Christ, so we are to take the season of life that we find ourselves in and redeem it for the glory of God in Christ.
Friends, this may be the most important thing I’ve ever preached on. This is something that the world gets so wrong, but we must not fall in with the world here… If we do it will lead to destruction… The world seems to hold to two contradictory beliefs: 1) That we will live forever, and 2) That death is coming and we have to do anything and everything we can to stay young and to avoid death. But, biblically speaking, both of these beliefs are wrong. God’s Word says, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Though in one sense we will all live for eternity, either under grace with Christ, or under wrath in hell, because we are sinners we will all die. So, it’s wrong to think otherwise. And it’s also wrong to think that we can somehow stay young and avoid death. As God says in Daniel 32:39, “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” God is sovereign over all; it is He who decides when and how we will die, and there is no escaping His sovereign hand.
So, in view of God’s Word and the errors of the world, what are we to do with our time? Well, in Psalm 90:12 we get some insight; there the Psalmist petitions the Lord, saying, “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” If we would walk wisely we must redeem the time; if we would redeem the time, the Psalmist says, we must number our days. Beloved, time is precious… Yesterday is gone forever, and the present is passing away before our eyes. But that should not lead us to despair, but to live with great intentionality while we do live. We are to recognize that our time in this life is a precious gift that is not to be wasted, but to be stewarded for the glory of Christ. Just as to look carefully means to take an accurate assessment, or to give an honest account, so we are to number our days, that is, to assess them and keep an account of them and to thus use them wisely, knowing that we only have a limited number of days, and that that number will run out without much, if any, notice…
Beloved, the days are evil, and time is precious. Time is precious because it’s short, it can’t be gained back. There are things we can lose or give in this life that may be returned or regained. We may lose all of our savings, but with hard work and a strict budget we may gain it back. We can pawn a family heirloom, but if we have the money we can buy it back. But that is not the case with time. Once it’s gone it’s gone forever. We all know this; that’s why so many of us look back over our childhood or over the past with such nostalgia. We know it’s gone forever, but something within us wants to go back and experience it once again. In those moments we didn’t realize how precious those times were, but looking back we see it because they’re gone forever.
But time is also precious because we don’t know how much of it we have. Just this week someone I know left this world; their time here ended… And we know that our time will come to an end as well. And this leads to the greatest reason time is precious: because when this time ends eternity begins. Our season here in this broken world is precious because our eternity depends on what we do with it. If we would have eternal life with Christ, in this life we must turn from our sin trust in and follow Christ. We must look to the person and work of Jesus as our only hope of salvation, and then we must, by His grace, commit ourselves to living for His glory: which means loving God and loving people.
As the missionary C. T. Studd once wrote, “Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” This gift of life, this gift of days, this gift of time is a gift that is to be stewarded well for the glory of Jesus. We are to spend this life preparing for eternity, and helping others do the same. We don’t know when our life will be required of us, but we do know that it will indeed be required… On that Day we will give an account for every second of every day that God has given us; and if we would hear, “Well done,” we must first trust in Jesus, and then number our days now, and redeem the time, and commit ourselves not to waste one precious moment, but to leverage them all for the glory of our God and Savior, King Jesus…
Because the days are evil we are to redeem the time, we are to make the best use of it; and the best use of it is to use it for the glory of God and the good of people. But again, like walking wisely, that may sound vague to you. Well, verse 17 helps us understand how to do this a bit more. It says, “Therefore do not be foolish,but understand what the will of the Lord is.” This verse is spelling out wisdom for us. As we saw, wisdom is directly linked to God’s Word, and to the Word who is God—to the Bible and to Jesus. To be foolish is to be unwise, to not heed God’s Word or to know God through the Son of God. As Psalm 53:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” But, we can acknowledge the existence of God, know about God and the Son of God, and even know God’s Word and still be a fool. We must not simply know God’s Word, but we must understand it. That’s the idea behind the will of the Lord here: the precepts and principles of the Word of God, His revealed will. We must know God’s Word, but we must also understand it, which means that we don’t just know what it says, but we know what it means and we are, by His grace, seeking to apply it… to walk it out.
So, what is our passage telling us? What is Paul telling the Ephesian church, and by extension, us here this morning? He’s saying that if we are live the Christian life, to walk wisely, we must redeem the time, which means knowing the Word of God, and applying it to every aspect of our lives, and living in line with it every second of every day. So first that means we must seek to know God’s Word… and not just know it in general, but to know it in such a way that it grips our hearts. So that starts with desperate prayer. We must beg God to open our eyes, open our ears, open our minds, and open our hearts to His Word. But then we must open His Word. We must be students of the Bible; not to master the Bible, but to be mastered by it.
Friends, understand, to be a Christian is to trust in the saving work of Christ, and to be in submission to the Lordship of Christ. As Jesus says in the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:18-20, His disciples are to observe all that He has commanded. And that doesn’t just mean the words that are in red. Jesus is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. And the Bible is God’s Word from beginning to end. So, since Jesus is God, the Bible is also the Word of Christ from Genesis to Revelation. So if we are to observe all that Christ has commanded, and properly submit ourselves to the Lordship of Christ, we must know and understand, that is know and apply and submit to the whole of God’s Word. Now, I’m not saying that we have to know the whole of God’s Word and be obedient to it to be saved, or to be a Christian. All we must do to be a Christian is repent and believe the gospel. But if we are to live as Christians, if we are to walk wisely, then we must know God’s Word and submit to it.
So I ask you, are you giving yourself to studying God’s Word? Now you might say, I would study God’s Word if I had time, but I don’t. And to that God’s Word says, “Redeem the time!… Make the most of the time!…” We don’t know how many days we are given, but we know we are all given 24 hours each day that we are to make the most of for God’s glory and the good of people. That said, we all must steward our time well, and arrange our schedule in such a way that we prioritize prayer and Bible study. If that means less sleep, either waking up earlier, or going to sleep later, then so be it. We need sleep, just like we need food, but we need God’s Word far more. As God’s Word says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). If we can find time to eat and sleep, we have no excuse for not finding time for God’s Word.
Now, I understand that some people have more free time than others, but we all have the same amount of time in general each day. We simply must make the most of it. You may have to rearrange things, or get creative to spend time in prayer and God’s Word, but it can be done. Most of you know that Jonathan Edwards is one of my favorite theologians from the past. He and his wife lived in New England in the 1700s. They had 11 children. 11 children… I can only imagine how busy she was. Well, she found that the only way she could find time for prayer and Bible study was to pull her apron over her head and hideaway in there. The kids knew that when mom had her apron over her head she was not to be disturbed. I’m not saying you have to do that, but do something. And understand, we need to do more than just read the Bible on our own, though we do need to do that…
We need to find time to Study God’s Word with God’s people: be that in group Bible studies, like the Monday women’s study, the Wednesday Bible study, the Friday men’s study, Sunday School, or informally in our homes, workplace, or wherever. We need the insight of and community of God’s people to help us properly understand and apply God’s Word. So, even when we study God’s Word on our own we would do well to look at the notes and commentaries of other saints. And above all we need to prioritize gathering with God’s people each Lord’s Day under the right preaching of God’s Word.
Honestly, before I was in fulltime ministry, when I worked a job in Dallas throughout the week, I struggled to find enough time for God’s Word. So what I did to redeem the time was listen to an audio Bible and sermons on my way to and from work, and even at work. I also started a Bible study at work; we’d meet before work or on our break. And I also kept a Bible on me at work at all times, and sought to share the gospel with at least one person each day. Which was really scary for me at first. Doing that kept me in almost constant prayer, and also encouraged a lot of people to discuss God’s Word with me, which helped me grow in the Word and witnessed to them.
I say all that, not so that you’ll imitate me, or Sarah Edwards, but so that you’ll do something. I’m not saying that this is the wayto be committed to prayer and God’s Word, I’m simply saying that there is a wayfor you to be committed to God’s Word and prayer. The New Year is right around the corner, which is a great time to start a Bible reading plan. Perhaps you should do that; or maybe you should start today. But, whatever you do, commit yourself to prayer, God’s Word, and God’s people. That’s fundamental to walking wisely, to truly redeeming the time and understanding and living in submission to God’s will. But this is all just the basic essentials we need to live the Christian life; the Christian life is so much more than this.
After desperate prayer and fervent Bible study, now we have to truly apply God’s Word; that’s what’s behind understanding the will of the Lord in verse 17—we have to live it out. And this means, as Ephesians 4-6 lays out that we must love, delight in, and treasure Jesus above all else, and from a heart of gratitude we must fight sin, pursue holiness, and display our love for God by sacrificially loving others. As Ephesians 5:2 says, the Christian walk is a walk of love; we are to walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us. And that means loving people, at great cost to ourselves, in such a way that we are loving them towards God. That means evangelizing the lost; telling people about Jesus and what He’s done to save sinners like them, and calling them to repent and believe the gospel. And it means discipling other Christians: helping them grow in maturity in Christ. And all that means opening our hearts, our homes, and our lives and giving sacrificially and joyfully of our time, talent, and treasure. Essentially what the faithful Christian walk looks like is what it looks like to be a faithful church member.
Beloved, time is precious; and our time here is to be spent preparing ourselves and others for eternity. We don’t have time to waste; we can’t waste a single moment on sin or on anything less than the faithful Christian walk: walking as wise, with lives that are so saturated with prayer and God’s Word that we are rightly applying the commands and the principles of God’s Word, able to discern the will of the Lord in every situation as we seek to joyfully live for the glory of God every second of every day. So, let’s give ourselves to living this life, a life for the glory of Christ. As Studd said, “Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”