Redeeming the Time
Topic: Pauline Epistles Passage: Ephesians 5:15–5:21
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Perhaps you are familiar with the Latin phrase, “carpe diem,” which means “seize the day.” Its origin is attributed to the Roman poet Horace, who lived in the 1st-century before Christ. It was included in a line of one of his poems.
Two thousand years earlier, in the only psalm that he is credited with having written, “Moses the man of God” (Deuteronomy 33:1), after extolling the eternal greatness of the Lord, prayed with regard to his own finite nature, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
Perhaps Paul had one or both of those statements in mind when he wrote the passage we are looking at this morning. I remind you that when the apostle penned this letter to a young church hundreds of miles away he was under house arrest in Rome, where some days he must have thought that time was all that he had.
When looked at properly, time always equates with opportunity. You see, time in its generic form never changes. Although it may seem like it, it never speeds up and it never slows down. Our circumstances may change—and with them our opportunities may take on a new form—but the constant of time remains the same. Our days still have twenty-four hours, our hours still have sixty minutes, and our minutes still have sixty seconds.
That being the case, time is a precious commodity. To each of us is assigned an allotment determined by God’s sovereign decree. None of us knows in advance how many days we have been granted by our Maker. And once our time is spent, it cannot be retrieved. The adage is correct...we can never make up for lost time. Therefore, it is imperative that we invest it wisely.
Paul did not allow his days of detainment to be frittered away into depression and nothingness. It must have been difficult for him to have been kept away from the churches he had planted and apart from those to whom he had introduced the Savior. So what did he do when his unplanned change of venue and circumstances were altered? He used them for the Lord. And one of the ways he did that was by writing letters to those churches—divinely inspired letters, I might add—that have become a part of the New Testament.
While a weaker person might have bemoaned his situation and felt sorry for himself, Paul redeemed the time. He “bought up”—which is what the word “redeem” means—every opportunity to serve His God, Therefore, it should not at all be surprising that he exhorts us—regardless of our situations and circumstances—to do the same. To say it plainly, Christians have been called to redeem every day they have been given for the glory of God’s great name.
The apostle mentions two things that must be in place if that is to happen. In the first place, Christians are exhorted to be...
Walking in the will of the Lord (verses 15-17)
For the fifth time in the last chapter and a half of this epistle, the Christian life is depicted as a “walk.” As we have previously observed, one’s “walk” speaks of one’s manner of life. There is a way of life that should characterize those who are Christians.
In chapter 4, verse 1, followers of Christ are urged “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling” we have received. In the same chapter and verse 17, we are instructed to “no longer walk as the (unsaved) do.” Then in chapter 5—as was pointed out last week—in verse 2 we are commanded to “walk in love,” and in verse 8 we are to “walk as children of light.” Now here in verse 15, the latest command is to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.” Throughout this section, the apostle is urging us to make the most of our days for the Lord.
The King James Version puts it this way: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.” “Circumspect” means to be “cautious” and “vigilant,” taking care to guard our steps. We all know that making our way through life can at times be like walking through a minefield. If we are not careful we can in a moment be destroyed or badly injured. Paul is imploring us to be wise rather than foolish in the way we conduct ourselves.
Verse 16 adds to this caution explaining how to turn something potentially dangerous and destructive into something positive. “Making the best us of the time,” the text says, “because the days are evil.” There are a number of ways we might explain what is meant by “making the best use of the time.” Already we have used the word “redeem,” which is how a number of versions render it. The word Paul uses (“εξαγοραζω”) is actually a term that was used of “buying something from the marketplace.” It meant, therefore, “to buy up,” and more figuratively, “to make full use of something while it lasted.” It spoke of an opportunity that needed to be seized while it could, because it would not be there forever.
In 1723 and just before his 20th birthday, Jonathan Edwards compiled a list of seventy resolutions that he vowed to read weekly and sought to obey each day. The fifth item on his list read, “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.” Edwards understood the value of time, as well as the need to discipline ourselves if we are to make full use of it. That seems to be a “lost art” in our day.
The reason for the urgency of the apostle’s appeal is “because the days are evil.” Nearly two thousand years later, the days are still “evil.” Living in a culture where there is still relative freedom to practice our faith, we likely do not hear this with the same force that Paul’s original audience would have. First-century Christians—like many of our persecuted and sorely tried brothers and sisters in other places today—were experiencing persecution and opposition that threatened their very lives. “Evil” stood before them each and every day as a clear and present danger. Redeeming the time implies that its quantity is limited, so whatever service that we may render to God must be done with a sense of immediacy.
“Therefore,” Paul adds in arriving at the main point of this first section, “do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Whenever people talk about “the Lord’s will” today, it is generally thought of in terms of personal guidance and God’s immediate plans for their future. Within Paul’s letters, however, there is a different focus.
Although the Lord is deeply concerned with the personal dimension of His plan for our individual lives, never should we overlook the fact that there are greater things at stake than in having our path clearly marked out for us on any given day. “The will of the Lord” refers specifically to the eternal plan of God, and personally as the regulative principle that is to govern the Christian life. It may surprise you to know that the bulk of the Lord’s will has been clearly revealed in the Scriptures. Those personal and particular details that tend to we most tend to agonize over become clear only when we have yielded ourselves to what He has already revealed.
When Paul says that we are to “understand” the Lord’s will, the verb that he employs (“συνιημι”) refers to more than what might be called “head knowledge.” It speaks of the ability “to bring parts together in such a way as to make sense of the whole”...such as seeing how one passage of Scripture relates to another, and then another until “the big picture” becomes clear. It implies “reason,” “discernment,” and the ability to “gain insight.” And to take it a step further, we might say “to accurately apply.” Believers, then, are commanded to “understand” the divine will which God has already made known.
Therefore, when we petition the Father, saying, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (cf. Matthew 6:10)—as Jesus taught us to pray—we are asking to be put in the very center of His sovereign purposes. In fact, whether it is the failure to ask or the willingness to obey what the Lord has revealed results in what Paul calls a “foolish” course.
If Christians are to redeem every day they have been given and live it for the glory of God’s great name, they must be first of all be walking in “the will of the Lord.” But that will only happen as they are...
Being filled with the Holy Spirit (verses 18-21)
According to verse 16 through 21, this is absolutely essential if we are to redeem our days for God’s glory.
The apostle expresses this in a somewhat surprising way in verse 18, saying, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Some have labeled this verse, “the key to Christian living,” and that would be hard to quibble with. It would not be difficult to squeeze a series of messages out of this single verse.
The command to “not get drunk with wine” does not necessarily mean that the readers were consuming alcohol in excess. The negative injunction is there to set up the more prominent positive charge to “be filled with the Spirit.” Although the word “drunk” implies intoxication (resulting in what Paul calls “debauchery”), it is used here to speak of “control” or “influence.” In other words, when a person is “drunk,” he is “under the control or the influence” of the alcohol. The larger command which stands in contrast, therefore, infers that believers are to be “controlled” or “influenced” by the Holy Spirit. There are several observations that need to be made, so I urge you to consider the following.
In the first place, the conjunction “but” (“αλλα”) implies a very strong contrast. We have seen it twice already in verses 15 and 17. As we have observed over the past few weeks, Paul draws a very clear line in the sand regarding what is acceptable and non-acceptable Christian behavior. Here in verse 18, his point is that Christians need to make certain that they are being led by the Spirit of God.
Secondly, the word “filled” should not be thought to mean a measure of content or quantity. The Holy Spirit does not “fill” us as water fills a glass. Remember, the emphasis is on “control” or “influence,” and thus the issue is whether or not we are allowing God’s Spirit to be the governing influence of our lives.
Third—and, even though this may get a little technical, I ask you not to “tune out—the command to “be filled” is grammatically in the present tense, passive voice, and imperative mood.
- The imperative mood means that this is a authoritative command...it is not a tentative proposal or a helpful suggestion. It is obligatory, not optional. “Be filled.”
- The passive voice means that there is no technique to learn and no formula to recite. What is required on the part of the believer is a perpetual turning away from everything that grieves the Spirit (cf. Ephesians 4:30) and a trusting openness to God’s Word. We might, therefore paraphrase it this way: “Let the Spirit fill you.”
- The present tense implies continuous action. In other words, the fullness of the Spirit is not a once-and-for-all experience that we can never lose, but a privilege to be renewed again and again through our trust and obedience. So, we might now translate Paul’s command, “Keep letting the Spirit fill (or control) you.”
Just one more grammatical point before we move on. The command is in the plural. In other words, it is addressed to the entire Christian community. None of Christ’s followers are exempted. This is not something only for the “spiritually elite,” as if there were such a category. The fullness of the Spirit is available—and necessary—for all the people of God.
There is no Christian life apart from the abiding presence and ministry within us and through us. Repeatedly throughout this epistle, Paul will use phrases like “by the Spirit” (2:22 and 3:5), “with the Spirit” (5:18), and “in the Spirit” (6:18) [in each case “εν πνευματι”] to demonstrate the extent of the Spirit’s work in the life of the believer.
How often that work goes undetected by us. So, let’s be clear theologically. The Bible explicitly states that the Holy Spirit resides in every genuine follower of Jesus Christ. So, if you have repented of your sin—meaning that you have turned aside from it—and have entrusted yourself to Jesus’ finished work on the cross as sufficient payment for your sins, then you already have the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:9 makes that clear, declaring, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” In fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that He would send the Spirit to indwell us (cf. John 14:17), we have become “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19).
Therefore, my fellow believers, He lives within us! So the question becomes, not whether we possess the Spirit, but rather if we are allowing Him to possess us.
All of this, of course, begs the question, what is it that you are allowing to control your life? You may not be “get(ting) drunk with wine,” but maybe you are permitting other influences—and in some cases “addictions”—to rob you of the intimate fellowship with God that He wants you to experience. It is something He longs for, but do we? Being “filled with the Spirit” may mean having to re-order our priorities so that Jesus Christ truly has the pre-eminence that He deserves. Each day we are faced with choices regarding who or what we will follow.
How will I know when I am living under the influence of God’s Spirit? Verses 19 through 21 tell us that there will be obvious manifestations. I’ll have to admit to you that in reading those words I picture a local church gathering. I believe that Paul may have had something similar in mind. See if you don’t come to the same conclusion as well. Look at those verses again in order to see what the Holy Spirit produces when the people of God gather:
“...addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Please notice that “one another” is mentioned twice in these verses, suggesting that something mutual and reciprocal is taking place. Just maybe Paul is describing for us here what a “Spirit-filled” gathering of God’s people looks like. Four components are mentioned.
First, in verse 19, we will be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” All three of those terms are used in the Book of Psalms to describe a full range of spiritual conversation. Speaking to one another in words prompted by Scripture and the Spirit helps to create a “oneness” within the body, preparing our hearts for worship. I think that it’s unfortunate the way most church sanctuaries are laid out. Rather than engaging one another face-to-face during the service, we look at the backs of one another’s heads! I believe what the apostle is calling for here is fellowship...a genuine linking together of our lives with one another.
Second, still in verse 19, we will also be “singing and making melody to the Lord with (our collective) heart.” When Paul uses the term “Lord,” it seems that He is referring to the Lord Jesus. We can see this distinction more clearly in verse 20. I would suggest to you the component in view here is worship. When you and I gather for the “worship service,” our “worship” has an object. And that object is our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said that the Spirit would “glorify” Him and not Himself (cf. John 16:14), and that is what happens when His people gather for worship.
The third component is mentioned in verse 20. It is thanksgiving. Paul writes, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Such expressions of gratitude become our testimony of God’s blessing in our lives. The “always” and “everything” mentioned here render this all-inclusive. In other words, for the Christian, there isn’t a time when we shouldn’t be “giving thanks.” Many of us are hesitant to publicly share with the body the manner in which the Lord has blessed us, and perhaps my words may not persuade you differently. But at least give this some thought. Your testimony of thanksgiving—both for deliverance and from difficulty—just could be the encouragement one of your fellow-saints needs to hear...at that moment. And what’s more, it is a wonderful opportunity to give praise and glory to the One who has given you reason to be thankful in the first place.
The fourth component is found in verse 21, where Paul writes, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This is actually a “hinge verse” that connects the passage that we are looking at today with the one where we will be next Sunday. “Submission” is not a popular word in our self-absorbed society, and yet it is biblical. Paul employs it nearly two dozen times in his letters. The word (“‘υποτασσω”) was used in a military context where a soldier “subordinated” himself to one of a higher rank. There is some debate whether the “submission” spoken of in this passage is to be mutual or non-symmetrical. In other words, are believers to be “submitting to one another” in a reciprocal manner, or is the command to “submit” to those in positions of authority over us? Both interpretations are tenable. Regardless of which is the one Paul had in mind, the component of service seems clear.
All four of these components—“addressing,” “singing and making melody,” “giving thanks,” and “submitting”—are dependent participles founded upon the command to “be filled with the Spirit.” This is what a church gathering looks like when we are walking “in the will of the Lord” and when we are regularly and constantly being “filled with the (Holy) Spirit.”
Without question the most influential book—other than the Bible—that I have read over the past ten years has been John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life. As the title indicates, it is a book about “redeeming the time” that God has allotted us on this earth. In light of what we have seen this morning we may conclude that it is the will of God that we not waste our lives.
We all get one chance at life...one shot. That’s all. No more. And how we invest it will determine where we will spend eternity. We cannot go back and make up for wasted years and “lost time,” but we can resolve from this day forward to live every day for the glory of God. Paul’s point in this text is that we do that by “understand(ing) what the will of the Lord is” and by “be(ing) filled with the Holy Spirit.” Both of these, of course, presume the fact that you are a Christian, meaning that you have turned from your sins in repentance and entrusted yourself to Jesus Christ by faith. If you haven’t done that, then nothing else I say this morning will make much sense.
But if you have committed your life to Jesus, then you are aware that throughout this Ephesian letter the main challenge has been on conforming your daily behavior to what you have come to believe.
So critical is this truth that all three members of the Godhead have actively invested themselves in bringing us to spiritual maturity. We have been chosen for salvation by God the Father. Our salvation has been made possible through the Person and atoning work of Christ the Son. And the effects of that salvation have been applied to us—and continue being applied to us—by the Holy Spirit who lives within us.
It is imperative that we understand that the outworking practical effects of our new relationship with God are played out in our relationships with one another...that is, through the Church. As we were reminded in chapter 4 and verse 25, “we are members one of another.” This is the family of which we have become a part. Therefore when we read commands such as we find in chapter 5, we must realize that they are being addressed to the collective body, and not just to us as individuals. And while each of us is responsible to maintain the health of our own spiritual walk, it remains true that we are “our brothers’ keepers” and need to be looking after the well-being of one another.
Because we live in “evil days,” we must be “making the best use of the time.” Our collective gatherings are important because it is when we come together that we are able to fellowship with one another, worship with one another, show gratitude to one another, and serve one another.
Therefore, we need to be constantly encouraging one another to redeem the time. That is because, my friends, like sand in an hour glass...it is quickly running out. As Jesus warns us in John 9:4, “We must work the works of him...while it is still day; night is coming, when no one can work.”
Therefore, as we close, let me suggest a few general thoughts with regard to redeeming the time. As you consider them in the presence of the Lord, I trust that you will allow Him to apply them specifically to your situation and circumstances.
First, keep on the path of Scripture and let it be the foundation for living every day for the rest of your life. Read it, study it, meditate on it, memorize it, and commit to living in obedience to its every precept and principle.
Second, seek your happiness and fulfillment in God alone, not in the passing pleasures of this short life. Recognize that we do this best by investing in the lives of others for the sake of His great name.
Third, live with the realization that every day we have been given—indeed, every breath we take—is a sovereignly bestowed gift from God. We did nothing to earn it, but we are responsible for our stewardship of it...and one day—perhaps soon—we will give an account of how we invested it to the One who gave it.
Fourth, as counterintuitive as it sounds to those without Christ, let us bear it mind that it is better to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel than to waste them on empty pursuits. Let us, therefore, redeem the time for the One who gave His life to redeem us.