Ephesians 5: Time

Posted by Laura Novey on November 24, 2023

How much thought do we really give to time? 

Time passes by so swiftly.  The seasons appointed for all things come and go (Ecclesiastes 3:1). I wonder if we skim over our days too fleetingly. Do the everyday rhythms of life drown out what’s most important? Our calendars fill up. Busyness creeps in. We blink, and our children are grown. We blink again, and a generation of loved ones has passed off the scene.  …and then another.  My dad died November 3 after five months on hospice. In times like these, we become more profoundly cognizant of the truth that the things of this world are transient, while the things of the next are forever (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).  The Lord has been impressing on my heart how earnestly He desires for His children to richly redeem this precious gift of time.

There is purpose waiting to be actualized in the moments that make up our days.  “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity [lit. redeeming the time], because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:15-17). Time is not meant to be squandered on the distractions of the world and the enticements of the flesh. Time is meant to be redeemed (Ephesians 5:16, Colossians 4:5). What does that mean?

The Greek word for redeem, exagorazó, is often translated “making the most of every opportunity.” However, that rendering only gives us a hint of its full flavor, and it risks being misconstrued. It’s not about cramming more into each day so every minute is accounted for and we skid in sideways, used up, exhausted, and cranky.  It’s not about grabbing at every prospect in efforts to scramble to the top. It’s not about being in constant motion, eschewing the time we need to rest, to rejuvenate, to slow down, to spontaneously connect with others, and to “sabbath” with the Lord. No, it’s none of those things. Exagorazó actually means — are you ready for this? — to ransom.  To rescue from loss.  Pause and let that sink in.  Exagorazó holds the connotation of fully purchasing something out of the marketplace.  It’s used in Galatians 3:13 to refer to what Jesus did for us:  He went into the marketplace of sin and purchased (redeemed) you and me out of it with His own blood. We were fully ransomed from the dominion of the “god of this world” who had held us in bondage (2 Corinthians 4:4).  Jesus paid the demanded price for us (exagorazó) and then set us free.

How, then, do we redeem time? We liberate it from the things our culture would have us waste it on. Time must be ransomed “because the days are evil.” That is, the course of this world, under the power of the enemy, vies to hold our time captive (Ephesians 2:1-3). If we simply settle into the pattern of the culture, we end up building our lives with perishable wood, hay, and stubble rather than seizing opportunities to construct something of lasting value with gold, silver and precious stones (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). Redeeming the time necessitates that a price be paid to bring about a good result.  How so?  Because it often involves choosing a path the world at large would not choose.  Just because everyone else does it — just because it’s an accepted societal norm — doesn’t mean it’s good, right, beneficial, or God-honoring.  Redeeming the time for things of eternal value is innately countercultural (1 Peter 4:1-6, 1 Corinthians 10:23-24). Ultimately, life involves a series of choices.  Our minutes can only be spent once, so if we decide to use them one way, we inherently sacrifice something else — that is, we pay some sort of price.  There are always trade-offs.  We can follow the mooing herd in how we use our time, or we can follow our Savior and respond to life differently. Are we giving precedence to the things of real value and significance?  Are we deeply investing in people and nurturing relationships?  Or are we taking time for granted? 

How did Jesus redeem His time on earth? He emulated whatever He saw the Father doing.  “The Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19-20). Jesus taught truth. He healed. He comforted. He encouraged. He served. He loved even society’s outcasts. His heart pulsed with boundless compassion for people.  Jesus also regularly took generous time to withdraw, be alone, rest, pray in solitude.  Is it any surprise that Ephesians 5 begins by exhorting us to “be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma”?  It entails allowing the Holy Spirit to renew our minds and align our hearts to beat in time with Christ’s…to value what He values, to cultivate eternal perspectives rather than temporal ones. Our day-to-day life choices can then flow more naturally from that foundation.  It means fixing our eyes on Jesus, just as He fixed His eyes on the Father, so we, too, can have the privilege of joining in the work God is accomplishing around us (Hebrews 12:1-3, Proverbs 3:5-6). It means saying,  “Your will be done, Father, rather than my own. Use this day for Your purposes.” It means remaining flexible in our plans and pliable as clay in the hand of the Potter (Jeremiah 10:23). It means being willing conduits of His Spirit to the world…being His hands and feet and heart and voice in the everyday grind of life until we breathe our last.  That’s how we redeem the time. 

“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

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