During our lifetimes, the opportunities we are presented with are limited by time. And it is our response to the circumstances of life that can result in poor time management. Take, for instance, the lessons of Ecclesiastes chapter 3. Between verses 2 and 8 we are given fourteen pairs of opposites—for example, in verse 2 there is “a time to be born, and a time to die”—circumstances that are as far removed from each other as is possible. Essentially, the chapter is demonstrating the full extent, the full range of actions, circumstances, emotions, and behaviours that are possible in life—every aspect of human life is recorded. We are told in verse 1: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”.

In the Hebrew, the word “season” means “to fix, an appointed occasion, a stated time”. Brown-Driver-Briggs says “a set time”. The word “time” in the Hebrew means “a certain time”, as having a limit when compared to eternity. It is transitory and refers to a duration. So here in Ecclesiastes, we are presented with opposites across the whole experience that is life. On one side we have circumstances that are days of adversity, while on the other they are days of prosperity. We are told that there is a time to weep, a time to mourn, a time to rend, a time to hate—days of adversity, and in contrast there are days of prosperity—a time to laugh, a time to dance, to build up, to love. How should we react in each of these circumstances? We read of the answer in Ecclesiastes 7:14, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him”.

The wise writer of Ecclesiastes is telling us that we should be joyful in the days of prosperity but take the time to consider the day of adversity. Every event in life is an opportunity to consider the opposite of what we are currently experiencing; it is always a time for further reflection and growth.

Back in Ecclesiastes chapter 3, we also learn that there is no certainty about the outcomes of our work: “What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?” (v9). There is no certainty that a benefit will necessarily be derived from the things we labour in. Verse 10 goes on to state: “I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it”. So, life is an exercise, an opportunity for growth.

Times of adversity and prosperity

In Philippians chapter 4 the apostle makes similar reference to the extremes that all mankind are confronted with—these days of adversity and days of prosperity: “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things, I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (v12). But what is the key that the apostle describes to his disciples? It is explained in verse 13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”.

There are two types of events that occur in the life of a believer—events God causes to happen, and events that God allows to happen. The circumstances that we confront in our lives today are there as an opportunity for growth. The way that we react to them will determine if we wait on Yahweh and grow and be exercised by our experiences, or if we will expend our time and energies attempting to take matters into our own hands, being more concerned with the transient here and now.

Isaiah 30 speaks of the graciousness and mercy of Yahweh:

“And therefore will Yahweh wait, that He may be gracious unto you, and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have mercy upon you: for Yahweh is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for Him. For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem: thou shalt weep no more: He will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when He shall hear it, He will answer thee. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner anymore, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers: And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” (v18-21)

Here, Isaiah is instructing us that in times of adversity we should listen, and we should hear God’s voice: “this is the way, walk ye in it”. The life of a disciple should be lived in full recognition that God alone is in control; that our lives are like a vapour and that we can make no certain plans for tomorrow (cp James 4:13).

In the present day of plenty, we may be self-sufficient, feeling that we are in control of everything in our lives, able to make plans for the future, that it is our will that matters, and that we can come and go as we please. However, our lives are but a vapour—here today, gone tomorrow and consequently every plan that we make should be recognised as subject to the will of the Lord. Acknowledging this begins to put things back into true perspective.

We need to appreciate that the Scriptures provide us with some very specific warnings about a number of influences that can steal our time away. Let’s consider two of these—idleness and wealth.

Slothfulness and idleness

In Ecclesiastes 10:18 we learn that, “By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through”. In Ezekiel 16:49 we learn that the downfall of Sodom was “pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness”. The Hebrew word for “idleness” is “remissness”. Gesenius defines idleness as a “letting down or relaxing of the hands”.

In the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, contained in Matthew 20, the Lord speaks the parable of the householder, who goes out in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. In verses 3 and 6, the householder encounters labourers standing idle in the marketplace and encourages them to go into the vineyard. Thayer tells us that the Greek word here has the meaning “free from labour, at leisure—lazy, shunning the labour which one ought to perform”. This is the same word used in 2 Peter 1:8 rendered “barren”. It occurs in a context where Peter encourages the disciple to embrace faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and agape love—doing this would mean that they would be neither barren nor unfruitful.

And we, brothers and sisters, should heed these exhortations; not being slothful or idle, but being fruitful, conscientious, striving zealously for the things of the Truth; contending earnestly for the faith. The Apostle Paul instructs us to labour in 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord”. This is where our time and energies should be expended—in the work of the Lord.

Distraction of wealth

Secondly, the Scriptures warn us about the distraction and waste that wealth brings. We’ve already noted from Ezekiel 16 that “fulness of bread” contributed to the downfall of Sodom. In 1 Corinthians 10:23-24, the Apostle Paul exhorts that, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth”. We always seem to be able to justify our distractions and the possessions that we have in some way or another. But we should challenge ourselves—are these things expedient, do they edify? Or are they avenues that rob God of our time?

Christ warns us in Matthew 6:19-20: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal”.

Similarly, he warns us in Luke 17:28-31 of conditions that will exist at the time of his return: “Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back”.

The things that we accumulate through the buying and selling, planting and building, the ‘stuff’ of this world will all be left behind when we are called by our Lord at his return. The Apostle Paul in Hebrews 12 instructs us to “lay aside every weight”—the burden, the hinderance—and instead “run with patience the race that is set before us”. The wise man recognises that the days of opportunity are short. We may be blessed with fulness of years, or our days may very well be cut short. What do we do then with all of the stuff that we’ve accumulated? We certainly cannot take it with us!

More time

Contemplate for a moment, King Hezekiah. Isaiah 38 tells us that he was sick unto death and was told by Yahweh, “set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live”. Following his prayer to Yahweh, Hezekiah was blessed with recovery and a further fifteen years of life. In his writing after his recovery, he wrote, “I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years…For the grave cannot praise Thee, death cannot celebrate Thee, they that go down into the pit cannot hope for Thy truth” (v10,18). These are the writings of a man who recognises the finality of death, where there is no further opportunity to make right the wrong, no further opportunity to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven.

What did Hezekiah pray for? Wealth? Prestige? Possessions? Respect? Honour? At that moment, he had not the slightest interest in any of these—the only thing that was of any value to him at that point was more time, to prolong his days and to see his seed who would succeed him on the throne. Hezekiah was a king who walked before God in truth and with a perfect heart, doing that which was good in God’s eyes—essentially, he had nothing to fear from death. What about us? Think for just a moment, if we were to confront death as he did, what would we regret, what would we wish that we had done differently in our lives?

We noted that when the apostle exhorted us to “redeem the time, because the days are evil”, he used a word that has the meaning “to buy up for yourself” and it has the sense of trading a commodity available for sale. If we are wise, we will recognise the value of time, and the good use to which we must put it. We won’t squander or waste it, but will buy it up, paying for it by giving something in exchange—exchanging the profitless way of the world to one of profitable activity. The Apostle Paul argues that we should redeem the time because the days are evil.

Earlier in the chapter, Paul has spoken of the unfruitful works of darkness, that is, conduct and behaviours that have no place in the kingdom of Christ and of God. These things are certainly common to the modern world in which we live. To give undue time to these “evil things” is to waste time, to empty it of its value, to turn from the opportunities it presents, and to waste it in indulging the evils that Paul speaks of.

A scarce commodity

Time is a scarce commodity because we only have just so much of it. Our lives will inevitably be cut short by death or by the return of our Lord and Master. Regardless, the clock measuring the time of our opportunity is ticking. The wise man makes full use of the time that is available to him. And we, brothers and sisters, need to consider our ways and redeem the time.

If we are to do this effectively, and if we are serious about redeeming the time, then there is only one real solution, and that is to make some hard decisions. It will take contemplation, prayerful consideration, and courageous action by each of us. As Brother Gillett says, make “a sensible re-arrangement of the timetable. Be drastic, be courageous, be honest. Face the facts squarely”. We are strangers and pilgrims on the earth, instructed to “occupy until I come” and make full, fruitful use of our time of probation.

When we are confronted with choice—with options—our decision-making process needs to be tested against the principles of the Truth, particularly against the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our objective must be to make every moment full of activity and effort pleasing to God. By doing this, we buy up time, make it our own, extract the greatest good and store up treasure for the future.

Contemplate the example of our Lord. At one time he was approached by a scribe, desiring to become a disciple, who said to him, “Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest”. Our Lord’s reply reminds us of the example that he showed and the purposeful transient nature of his existence: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head”. Later, in that same chapter he also forcibly makes the point that “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God”. Our Lord, in his life, sets forward a perfect example of a purposeful life. A life of dedication focused steadfastly on doing his Father’s will, using every moment, of every hour, of every day to the service of his Father. His mortal existence was brutally cut short by wicked hands, but he knew precisely what his future was.

Let us examine ourselves and re-evaluate how we spend our time and carefully consider the nature of the labours we engage in. Let us commit to re-arranging our timetable, to redeem the time, buying up for ourselves time and then spending it wisely in His service.