Over the last year our vocabulary has been enriched with numerous new words, including ‘self-isolation’, ‘pandemic’, ‘quarantine’, ‘lockdown’, ‘social distancing’, ‘Zoom’, and ‘working from home’. Through the media we are aware of the extent of significant disruption to life, to societies, and to economies around the world as a result of COVID-19. Large parts of the world have been turned upside down with life virtually grinding to a halt. Locally, we have witnessed isolated instances of disruption, with people frantically shopping, grabbing more than they need, looking after themselves. Depending on where you live, the disruption and inconvenience may be minor and relatively insignificant, whereas in other parts, the conditions imposed have been very disruptive. Through the eye of faith, and with the clarity that the Truth provides us with, the events arising from COVID-19 clearly demonstrate a time of “distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth” (Luke 21:25-26).

We may have witnessed varying degrees of hardship, both within and outside of the ecclesial world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But even if we haven’t, we have all in one way or another, been deprived of some of our freedoms and have been thrown into a ‘new normal’.

As new strains of the virus emerge and the pandemic never leaves the news, what are our plans—what are we looking forward to? Do we hope to stumble through this crisis unscathed, with no loss of life to our loved ones, and hope that everything ends quickly so we can just get back to our lives as before, to doing the things that entertain us and that we enjoy doing?

While it is not unreasonable to look forward to an end to this pandemic, perhaps our heavenly Father is wanting to show us how a little hardship can make us realise how thankful we should be for what we do still have, even in difficult times. Perhaps He wants us to slow down a little—to spend more time at home with our families and with our brothers and sisters, and less time at work or play. This is an opportunity to direct our attention to the more important things in life that are too often neglected in the mad rush of everyday responsibilities and distractions. It is possible that God is using this pandemic to give us more time to reflect on our priorities and how we might better redeem the time remaining in His service.

Consider your ways

In Haggai 1:5-7 we have a word of warning and an instruction that is really relevant to our times—to consider our ways: “Now therefore thus saith Yahweh of armies; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. Thus saith Yahweh of armies; Consider your ways.”

These verses emphasise the futility and emptiness of the time spent in much of our human endeavours and behaviours, and exhorts us to consider our ways—contemplate how we use our energy, how we spend our time.

In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul instructs the believers to be followers of God, to avoid the evils of the world and to instead pursue the things that are acceptable unto the Lord. He writes in verse 15 and 16 about the theme to our exhortation: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, REDEEMING THE TIME, because the days are evil.”

The exhortation to us is to be careful about how we use our time. Time is something that we really only have in very short supply—although as we’ve noted, during COVID times, you may find that you have a little more of it available. For my experience, I had a six-week stint of working from home in the earlier part of this year, with the children home from school at the same time. Activities outside of our home environment were also curtailed, and it gave me a little window into how much better life can be without the day-to-day distraction and demand on time and energy. Work continued relentlessly, but somehow some things seemed so much less cluttered.

Time is precious

I recently came across these words referred to by Brother Gary Cousens1, apparently quoting Brother Dennis Gillett2. He says: “To those suffering under stress, pressured and weary, the real solution appears to be clear. Relieve the pressure and ease the stress by a sensible re-arrangement of the timetable. Be drastic, be courageous, be honest. Face the facts squarely. It may mean losing something of the things which moth and rust doth corrupt but it will mean gaining something which is incorruptible and undefiled. Remember that very often spiritual stress has its origin in bodily stress. Ease the earthly burden, take another look at the rat race, start to sleep well and enjoy your food. Take an occasional holiday. Play with the children. Greet your partner with a smile and a kiss. You may well feel that the world looks better—your world and God’s world, and the Truth is something to be treasured and enjoyed.”

Time is a precious commodity. It can be lost, wasted, well-spent, kept or killed. There is no substitute for time. Time is a unique and universal element available to each individual in exactly the same amount. Each day of life brings a full bank of twenty-four hours: and the quality of our life, for as long as it lasts, depends directly on how we use the minutes that make up the hours as they tick away. Benjamin Franklin said, “Time is money” and also said, “Lost time is never found again”. Ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus said, “Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend”. And originating from around the year 1225 the phrase, “time waits for no one,” is believed to have come into common use.

But enough of worldly wisdom on the subject—the Scriptures are all that we are interested in. Psalm 90:10 says, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” and continues in verse 12, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”

The Psalmist instructs us in this Psalm to number our days. If, through God’s good grace, we are blessed with 70 years of life, that timeframe is but a short span on the scale of eternity. When we think that one day represents a mere 1440 minutes, sleep and work will consume two-thirds of this time, whilst eating and other life commitments will take up another 4-5 hours, leaving but 3-4 hours in the day for that which may be considered ‘free’ time.

Time is short

Elsewhere the Psalms continue to reinforce this very same message: Psalm 89:47 says, “Remember how short my time is”, and in Psalm 31:15 we are reminded that we should not even assume that we will enjoy seventy healthy fulfilling years, for as he says “My times are in thy hand”.

In our youth, this concept is almost impossible to grasp. However, as the years accumulate, or when we encounter the tragic reality of a life cut short, we are confronted with this reality of diminishing time—diminishing opportunity. As a child, old age appears to be a lifetime away—which is obviously true—but as old age is encountered, a lifetime is not long enough. It may seem to be unfair, premature, and potentially filled with regret at lost opportunity and misspent time. And that is why the Apostle Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians is so very important. Be careful how we use our time. Redeem the time! And when you think about it, living the life of faith is really about the right use of time. How we use it or waste it, is really at our discretion.

The apostle uses the word “redeeming” in Ephesians when speaking about time, meaning that we ought to use it to the best advantage, or as the ESV renders “making the best use of the time”. In the Greek it has the meaning of ‘to buy up’; figuratively, ‘to rescue from loss’.

The Apostle Paul instructs us to redeem the time, “walking circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise”. We are surrounded by so many time-saving devices compared with any generation before, and yet we constantly feel that we have no time to spare and use it as an excuse for many of our failings in our spiritual life and development, and our dedication and application to the things that really matter—the things that are incorruptible and undefiled. Using our time wisely as the apostle instructs us, means having the wisdom to make and strike a right balance in the use of time between the things of today and the things of eternity—between the spiritual and the temporal.

Time to redeem

In Luke 16 we read of the parable of the unjust steward. This parable deals with the behaviour and reaction of a steward, who has been entrusted with the care of his master’s goods. He was accused of wasting them and was called to account when he would no longer be steward. In response, he quickly called in those who owed his master and forgave part of their debt provided he received prompt payment. The crux of the parable is found in verse 8 of Luke 16: “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.”

Brother Roberts3 says this in his commentary on this parable: “It was good policy on the part of the steward to use his vanishing opportunity while it lasted, as to make it provide a future for him which it did not yield in itself. The point of Christ’s remark lies here, that the children of light – (those who embrace and profess the faith of the kingdom) – do not, as a rule, make a similarly wise use of their vanishing opportunity. They have only one life to live, and but for a short time in which to use the power and opportunities they may have as stewards of the manifold grace of God. And yet, in many cases, they live as if this life would last for ever, and if its one business were to provide for natural and personal wants”.

No doubt we can all think of people who we encounter in the world who are driven to succeed. They strive, slave, agonise, drive on and persist in their endeavours to succeed, often wearing themselves out, sometimes succeeding, other times not. Essentially the parable is saying, if only the disciples of Christ would put into their spiritual life the same devotion and persistence which unbelievers put into their ordinary everyday affairs!

A balance has to be struck between the claims of ordinary everyday life and the claims of the life of faith, in order to live the Truth truly. This is really the meaning behind the command to “redeem the time”. And, importantly, the balance is not supposed to be in a neat middle position—if you were to picture a pair of scales perfectly balanced on either side.

The word “redeem” is telling us to use time to the best advantage: and that means, strongly in favour of the cause of Christ—the scales need to be heavily weighted to one side. If we have a clear picture of what we are contemplating in striking the balance between the things which are transient and the things which are eternal, then we should logically be strongly in favour of the things that are eternal. This is the very same principle that should be evident in the way that we conduct ourselves when the Truth must be defended at all costs, and when we need to stand up and be counted. This conviction should be in our fabric and happen as a matter of course without a second thought, just as is evident in so many examples in the Scriptures when men and women stood for what was right and bore the consequences. We are confronted with these issues every day, where the transient things and the eternal are in conflict every day of every week, and we need to make decisions as to which way we will go.

The seriousness of these decisions is evident from the second part of the words that the apostle uses in this phrase: he instructs us to “redeem the time, because the days are evil”. No doubt the ecclesia would have considered this instruction as being unusual. They lived in a city that was prosperous, bustling, busy, rich and thriving. How could this environment be considered evil? What Paul is telling them is that there are conditions which are favourable to the advancement of temporal things, which at the same time are often disadvantageous to the saints. The point to stress now is that they were to redeem the time in the ordinary conditions of daily life in Ephesus, for the sole reason that “the days are evil”. The environment was not favourable to developing the life of faith. What concerned Paul was not some great crisis once every 20 years, but the things that were commonplace, everyday occurrences in life. And there is the lesson for each of us—to redeem the time, don’t let the opportunities slip by, unused and neglected.

We live in an era, as we noted, that has so many time-saving mechanisms, and yet we are so very time poor. So what is the cause? It’s probably no great mystery—we are simply doing more things. And the things that take up most of our time today can take many and varied forms. It may be our jobs or careers, family, leisure activities, or even our geographic isolation from the ecclesia.

We have responsibilities and obligations to our family and to our ecclesia and sometimes we seem to become easily exhausted, often wearied by trying to fit in too much. Jobs get so very demanding, often intruding on our time—above and beyond the working day. Time that used to be ‘free time’ is now spent on the things of home and family, creating more exhaustion and leaving less time for other responsibilities. Some of these are by choice, while others are not as readily able to be ignored. Regardless, they all rob us of the time which we ought to reserve for God, and instead, we are not making the most of the present, because our time is taken up by the transient, fleeting, meaningless things of life.

To be continued

References:

  1. https://studylib.net/doc/5305883/gary-cousens
  2. Bro D Gillett–He Healeth all thy Diseases–pg 59
  3. ‘The Parables of Christ’ by Robert Roberts, pp 35-36