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Redeeming the Time

When I was a kid I memorized a verse about time. And of course, it was in the old King James Version, but it’s Ephesians 5:16 and the verse went like this:  

Redeeming the time because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:16 KJV

And as a kid, I don’t think I really understood what that verse meant, but I think that might be a good verse for us to look at as we begin 2019. As we look around the world we live in today, it certainly seems as if our days are growing more and more evil. When I look at the headlines I’ve read over this past year, our world seems to be rapidly accelerating towards it’s impending doom. There is some very concerning stuff going on in the world – even right in our own backyard. And it’s very easy for us to get discouraged about all that stuff. It’s easy to get to the point where we just want to throw up our hands in despair and just hope that Jesus comes back soon.

But I don’t know that that’s the best response. I think God would have us do more than just that. Paul tells us here that when our days are evil, we need to redeem the time.

In our kids feature this morning, we learned that to redeem something means to buy it back. Jesus redeemed us. He paid the price for us (by dying on the cross) to redeem us (or to buy us back) from sin. The Bible talks about how we were slaves to sin, but now we belong to Jesus. That’s redemption.

And it’s a similar idea here when Paul tells us to redeem the time. We are to buy it back from sin (in a sense). Where the world spends their time for sin and evil – we are to redeem the time and use it instead for God – for good. Actually, if we zoom out a little bit and look at the verses surrounding verse 16, I think we get a better sense of that. Let me read verses 15,16, & 17 in the New English Translation this time.

15 Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is. 

Ephesians 5:15-17 NET

Redeeming the time means making the most of every opportunity for the sake Kingdom of God. It’s wisely understanding what God’s will is – his will for us, his will for this world, his will for our friends, family, and neighbors – and then taking advantage of every opportunity we have ensure that God’s will be done in every situation.

That means not being foolish with our 8,760 hours that we get this year – but it’s being wise with that time. Spending that time (or rather investing that time) in the kingdom of God. And I don’t think that means simply going to church once a week.

After reading all those statistics about how the average person spends their lifetime, I thought it would be interesting to calculate how much time we spend in church.

So I crunched the numbers, and assuming that you spend an hour at church once a week for every week of your life – as an 80 year old, you would have spent 173 days of your life attending church services.

And in some ways, that kinda seems a lot. 173 days of my life in a church service? That’s nearly six whole months of non-stop church.

But when you compare that with the other 28,662 days of your life – I guess it isn’t really a big percentage of your time. It seems pretty insignificant when you compare 173 days of church attendance with 8 years watching tv or 7 years just trying to fall asleep!

The reality is we actually spend very little of our time being here at church compared to the vast amount of time we spend at home, at work, or even just driving in our vehicles.

So I think it’s pretty safe to say that when Paul tells us to redeem the time, or to take advantage of every opportunity, he’s not just talking about those 173 days of our life that we spend at church. We are to be wise with all of our time – all 28,835 days of it. We are to redeem, for the sake of the kingdom, all 8,760 hours this year.

So what does that look like? I mean, we have to sleep – so there’s 33 years of our life. But what about the rest of our time? Can we redeem the time that we spend at work – can we use that time for the kingdom of God? Can we redeem the time we spend at school? Can we redeem the time we spend eating, or watching tv, or being with our friends or family?

What does it look like for us to make the most of every opportunity (every moment) for the kingdom of God? How do we live as those who are wise – those who understand what the Lord’s will is?

I think if we were to zoom out even a little further from those verses we just read, the rest of the chapter might give us some direction. So let’s back it way back to verse 1 and let’s work our way through the entire chapter. I’m going to read this in the New Living Translation now – Ephesians 5 – starting at verse 1.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:1-2

Now we’ll be cruising through this chapter fairly quickly, so we’re not going to do an in-depth study on every verse, but I think there are some great general principles that we can pick up even at first glance. The first of these is to imitate Christ by living a life filled with love as evidenced by sacrifice.

And that’s a bit of a mouthful so let me repeat that: We are to imitate Christ by living a life filled with love as evidenced by sacrifice.

In other words, one of the ways we can redeem the time and make the most of every opportunity, is simply by loving others. Putting aside our own agenda and our desires  – sacrificing perhaps what is best for us in order to do what’s best for others. That’s certainly what Jesus did for us. 

We just finished our Christmas series last week – talking about how Jesus put aside his divine privileges to become a man – a baby born in a barn – laid in a manger. The unlimited God of the universe confined and limited himself to be became like one of his creations – completely dependant on his earthly parents. And not only that, but as a sinless man later on in life, He allowed himself to be falsely accused and put to death on a cross – and he did that out of love for us.

We are to imitate that self-sacrificing love every moment of every day. We can do that at work, at school, at home, with our friends.  Whenever we choose to put others ahead of ourselves, thinking of them and their needs and desires before thinking of me and what I want – that’s redeeming the time in these evil days. That’s making the most of every opportunity.

We may not know every detail of God’s will for our lives – but we can know for sure that loving others this way is absolutely God’s will. 

So here’s a thought to ponder: How much of your 8,760 hours this year will be spent imitating God’s self-sacrificing love? Or to make it easier – how much of your day today will you spend doing that? How many minutes today will be spent putting the needs and desires of others ahead of your own? How much of your time today will you give up to care for, to encourage, to build up and to show love to the people around you?

The time you spend doing that is always time well spent.

Well, after telling us what we should do – Paul goes on to give us some examples of things we should not to do. Verse 3.

3 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. 5 You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

6 Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. 7 Don’t participate in the things these people do. 8 For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! 9 For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Ephesians 5:3-9

Those are some pretty pointed statements. Remember, he was writing this to the church in Ephesus – not to the heathen pagans. Paul knew that Christians would struggle with all this junk just as much as anyone else. 

I think this passage serves as a great checkpoint for us. Do we live as people of light? Or do we live more like people of darkness? Do we try to excuse those kinds of sins that Paul mentions? Sexual immorality – impurity – greed – do we take that stuff seriously? Or do we brush it off and make excuses? I think all too often we make excuses. 

But how are we redeeming the time when we live like that? How does that stuff do anything good for the kingdom of God?

Well, obviously, it doesn’t! Paul says let none of that stuff be among you. Don’t participate in those things. Redeeming the time means living as people of light in the midst of a dark world. There should be an obvious contrast between people of the light and people of darkness.

Paul goes on to say in verse 10:

10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. 12 It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. 13 But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, 14 for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,

“Awake, O sleeper,

    rise up from the dead,

    and Christ will give you light.”

Ephesians 5:10-14

As born-again believers, we have the light of God in us. We are to be the light of the world – we are to expose the deeds of darkness – not participate in them. Because if we, who are supposed to be the people of light, are exactly the same as those who are living in darkness, how is that making the most of every opportunity? How is that wisely using the time we have to make a difference in the kingdom of God?

That verse 10 is such a key in all this: Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.

For us to be light in this dark work – for us to redeem the time in these evil days – we first of all need to carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Because doing those things that please the Lord is what shines the light.

So do you know what pleases the Lord? 

Do you know the Lord well enough to know what pleases Him? Are you so in-tune with God through your prayer times and your times in the Scriptures, that in any given situation – at work, at home, with your kids, whatever it is – that you know what would please the Lord in that situation?

If not, then I would encourage you to make that a priority in this next year. We cannot be light – we cannot make a difference in this dark world – if we do not have a working knowledge – a personal relationship with the Light of the World. It’s His light that shines through us – and we only get that light by spending time with Him.

We’re like those glow-in-the-dark stickers. Have you seen those? When our kids sleep over at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, our kids always like to sleep in Uncle Roger’s old room because Uncle Roger had all these glow in the dark stars stuck all over his ceiling. But those stars only glow after being exposed to the light – and as soon as they are away from the light, they grow dimmer and dimmer. It’s the same way with us. We only glow after being exposed to the Light. If we are not consistently returning to the light again and again, we will only grow dimmer and dimmer.

“Awake, O sleeper,  rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

And that takes us to the passage we started with: Verse 15…

15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Ephesians 5:15-17

Again, Paul makes some very pointed statements. Don’t live like fools. Don’t act thoughtlessly. 

We should probably take those statements to heart. Pause to think about that for a minute: How did you spend your time in 2018? If Paul did a video review of your life in 2018, would he need to implore you today – Stop living like a fool? Stop spending your time thoughtlessly! 

If that’s the case – if there has been some thoughtlessness and some foolishness in your life  – then here’s how to change that for 2019. Verse 10 and verse 17 fit together hand-in-hand. v 10 says “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.” Verse 17 says “Understand what the Lord wants you to do.”

I think that’s why knowing the Scriptures is so important – because that’s what gives us the knowledge of God’s will. I mentioned last week that if you don’t already have a habit of reading your Bible daily – then this new year is a great opportunity to begin doing that. I’ve got a couple different Bible reading plans at the back table that you are welcome to pick up. Even if it’s just a few verses each day – daily spending time with God by reading his Word is critical to the life of any Christian who wants to, as Pauls puts it – “not live like fools, but like those who are wise.” 

We get that wisdom of understanding what God wants us to do by reading the Scriptures and by, of course, listening to the Holy Spirit though prayer – which is just what Paul writes next. He says in verse 18…

18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:18-20

Rather than be controlled and manipulated by wine or drugs or whatever else – (all which will ruin our lives) – Paul tells us to be filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit. That’s something we need to choose on a daily basis. Every day we make the choice either to pay attention and to submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives – or we choose to go merrily along through our day ignoring Him.

And that choice we make (one way or the other) will dramatically impact our ability to redeem the time and to make the most of the opportunities that God brings our way. It’s the Holy Spirit that empowers us to be light.

Paul is beginning to paint a pretty clear picture for us – showing us the vast difference between those who live in the darkness and those who live in the light. The difference between those who live like fools and those who understand what the Lord wants them to do. The difference between those who are controlled by drink, or by pleasure, or by greed or any number of other things – and those who are filled by the Holy Spirit.

There is a world of difference between people of darkness and people of light. And even though we live in a dark world – where the days seem to grow more and more evil – God has called us to live in this dark world as people of light. People who redeem the time and make the most of every opportunity for the glory and the kingdom of God.

So I ask you again – I challenge you – how will you spend 2019?

8,760 hours are yours to spend however you want this year. What would it look like for you to spend those hours as a person of light?

Maybe that’s too much to think about. A year is a long time – it’s hard to look at the entire year at once. But what about today? How will you spend your remaining hours today? You’ve got at least 12 hours left – how might you redeem those 12 hours for glory of God and His kingdom? How can you make the most of every opportunity today?

I want to conclude by reading those three central verses one more time, but imagine that they were written specifically for you this afternoon – that paraphrase might go like this:

Be careful how you spend this afternoon. Don’t spend it like a fool, but like someone who is wise. Make the most of every opportunity today. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do in every situation that comes your way. Ephesians 5:15-17 paraphrased

Those could easily be our daily marching orders. These would be great verses to read at the beginning of each day this year, because if we could remember to live each day like that, I think we’d have a lot of opportunities to spread a lot of light in our families, in our neighborhoods, and where ever we go. 

To go back to those statistics that we started with – we have (on average) 28,835 days of our life to be light in this dark world. I don’t want to be light only for 173 of those days – for that one hour a week at church. I want to be the light of God constantly – for those 4.5 years that I’m eating, for the 13 years and 2 months that I spend at work, and even for the 3 years that I spend on social media. I want to make the most of all of those opportunities.

And by the way – do you know where you’ll spend most of your time this year? Those 13 years at work and the 3 years on vacation are nothing compared to the time you’ll spend at home. You will spend more time at home with your family than anywhere else by far! It is there with them that you will have the most opportunities to shine the light of God.

And it’s on that note that I want to prime you up for next week’s message – actually next week we’ll be kicking off an entirely new message series. Today is kinda like prologue to it. You might have noticed that we didn’t get all the way through this chapter in Ephesians. In the rest of the chapter, Paul goes on to lay out some real practical instructions for how we live as people of light in our many different relationships. It talks about husbands and wives, children and parents, slaves and their masters – and so on… And so we’re going to look at all that – particularly the part about our family relationships.

Since each one of us will spend more time in our own houses than anywhere else this year, I think it’s fitting that we look at some very practical applications for how we do all this stuff that we just talked about – living as people of light, redeeming the time, making the most of every opportunity – specifically in our own homes.

We’re calling this series “The Church In Your House” and I’ll explain what I mean by that next week – but for now, I’ll just let you know that we’re going to spend the bulk of our time looking at how God has instructed us to be people of light in our own homes. This is really where the rubber meets the road, so I’m looking forward to a whole lot of real practical ways to put all this into practice in my home – so I hope you’ll be back here for that next week.

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