2.3 "Redeeming the time"
As cotton wool clouds drift lazily across the sky and life goes on in its petty routines, it is easy to miss the point that we are a planet tearing through space at a huge speed. And likewise it is difficult to appreciate the astonishing brevity of our human experience. God has existed from eternity, and the future Kingdom will exist eternally. The 6,000 years of humanity is an absolute pin prick in the spectrum of eternity. And our seventy years is even less significant. It is almost beyond belief that for the sake of our brief experience here, we have the hope of eternal existence. Our few millimetres of time here gives us the entrance to absolute eternity- if we use our brief time here aright. This is what " Redeeming the time" is all about. The relationship between infinite time and our few years of existence now is absolutely disproportionate. Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works out an eternal weight of glory for us (2 Cor. 4:17). It follows from this that every moment of our lives is being intensely used by God to prepare us for the eternity ahead. It is incredible that our probations here are so short- just forty years or so after our baptisms. It would seem more appropriate if we suffered for say one million years in order to prepare us for the infinite time we will one day enjoy, in which one million years will be as a moment. The point is, a tremendous amount of spiritual development and preparation is packed in to a very very small space of time. And from this a crucial conclusion follows: we must allow God to use every moment of our present lives as intensively as possible, to the end we might be prepared for His eternal Kingdom.
This is not only a choice which we ought to make; it is a duty and obligation which is logically required from each of us. It is unfortunate that most English (and other) translations mask the real force of the Greek words translated 'servant'; for they really mean 'bond-slave', a slave totally owned by his master, totally obedient, totally dedicated to his service. This is the logic brought out in Rom. 6: that before baptism, we were slaves of sin and self. After baptism, we changed masters. We didn't become free, but we became slaves of the Lord Jesus. " He that is called, being free, is the Lord's servant / bond slave" (1 Cor. 7:22). We cannot serve two masters; we are solely His. We are not only slaves, we are slaves whom the Master has come to know as His friends (Jn. 15:15,20). It is a great NT theme that we are the bond slaves of the Lord Jesus. And yet we are also to be slaves to all His people (Mk. 10:44), for the Lord Jesus is His people: they are His body. To serve our brethren is to serve the Lord Himself. The Lord Jesus expects us to relate to Him as bond slaves. He speaks of how a bond slave can be working in the field all day, come home tired, and then be immediately commanded by the master to prepare his meal and only then get his own meal- and the master won't thank him, but just expects it of him. And the Lord Jesus applies this to His relationship with us. The Lord of all grace is, by absolute rights, a demanding Lord. He commented that we call Him Lord and Master, and we say well, for so He is (Jn. 13:13). If we are truly the bond-slaves of the Lord Jesus, we have no 'free time' for ourselves. Neither will we expect to have time for ultimately our 'own thing'. The craze for personal and social freedom which sweeps the modern world will leave us untouched. Ultimate freedom and total independence is not for us. We will be able to understand why the Proverbs criticize over sleeping- an otherwise legitimate human activity (Prov. 6:11; 10:5; 19:15; 20:13). For we are to be " Redeeming the time" - not wasting it. We are bond slaves, who are willingly so. We have joined ourselves to the Lord (in baptism) in order to be His slaves (Is. 56:6). We love our Master, and are committed to Him and His cause 24 hours / day. And the Kingdom will involve the same; for quite simply " His servants shall serve him" in that age, continually and eternally (Rev. 22:3). We are " all things" to God; we are invited to conceive of His world-view as being limited by and to us (Heb. 2:8 cp. Eph. 1:22; 4:10; Col. 1:16,20). And if we are all things to the Father and Son, they should be all things to us. Our vista should be full of the things of the Lord. They are our 'all things'.
There are plenty of other Biblical reasons for understanding the urgency of our need to devote our time to the Lord. And not only our need to do this; we are His bond slaves, and therefore we by our very nature are entirely devoted to His cause. We must number our days, realize their number is only 70 years, and therefore apply our hearts unto wisdom (Ps. 90:10 cp. 12). " Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom" (Prov. 4:7). This is what we must cry after and lift up our voice for. Ecc. 9:20 teaches the sober fact that in the grave there is nothing, nothing at all, no work, no thought; and so now is the day in which to labour with all our heart in the thing we put our hands to. We may apprehend all this intellectually, and yet there is an inherent, clinging laziness which lurks within our nature. One simple reason why Israel failed to inherit the Kingdom in the time of Joshua / Judges was that they were simply " slack" , lazy, to drive out the tribes (Josh. 18:3; the same word is used in Ex. 5:8 regarding how the Egyptians perceived them to be lazy; and also s.w. Prov. 18:9). They were happy to receive tribute from them, and to enjoy what blessings they received. They were satisficers, not men of principle or mission; not real bond slaves. And for this, God rejected them and they never really inherited the Kingdom prepared for them.
" Redeeming the time"
In contexts regarding the evil of our surrounding world, Paul teaches us to 'redeem the time' (Eph. 5:15; Col. 4:5). This is a word classically used of the market place, in the sense of 'buying up' while the opportunity is there. Yet the context demands that this pressing need to buy up time be understood in the light of the evil world around us. Is it not that Paul is saying 'Buy up all the opportunities to gain back time from this world', in the same spirit as he told slaves " If thou mayest be made free, use it rather" (1 Cor. 7:21)? This means we shouldn't glorify the use of time for the necessary things of the world. If we must spend our time in the things of the world, as the NT slaves simply had to, then God will accept this as done in His service. But we shouldn't use this gracious concession to do all we can in the life of the world, justifying it by saying it is done 'unto the Lord'. This concession, in its context, only applies to those who by force of circumstances really must spend their time in the things of the world (Eph. 6:5-7; 1 Cor. 10:31). We must " break up our fallow ground" (Heb. 'plough the unploughed'), analayze ourselves from outside ourselves, and use our time and our “all things” to the utmost of their potential (Jer. 4:3; Hos. 10:12). We were created " unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10); we were redeemed that we might be zealous of good works (Tit. 2:14)- not that we might drift through life playing with our hobbies and with the fascinations of our careers.
Closer analysis of " redeeming the time" reveals that this is in fact a quotation from the LXX of Dan. 2:8, where Nebuchadnezzar tells the wise men that they want to 'redeem the time, because you know that [the decree for their execution] is gone from me'. There are other allusions in Col. 4 to Daniel: captivity, earnest prayer, thanksgiving, making manifest wisdom to the world as we ought to, walking in wisdom in the eyes of the world. Daniel and his friends urgently devoted every moment of their lives to prayer in order to redeem time, so that they would be delivered; and Paul took as it were a snapshot of their frantic urgency, and applies it to each of us, also living in Babylon. " The days are evil" , the world around us is insidious- and therefore we must redeem the time from it. Or it could be that 'the evil days' refers to the great and special day of evil, at the second coming (Eph. 6:13, in context; Ps. 37:29). In view of the coming of that day and the judgment it will bring, we ought to have a deep sense of the future we might miss, and the urgency of our present position; and devote ourselves therefore to redeeming the time. The sure coming of that day is an exhortation to the believer, " that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles... [for we] shall give account to him that is ready to judge" (1 Pet. 4:2-5). Peter's message is that there's no need to spend time living as the world does, tickling the desires of our nature- for we already spent enough of our time doing that. We are men and women living under judgment, and therefore should devote our lives to the service of God's will.
Really grasping all this will mean that we don't see the things of the truth as just a hobby or even super-hobby, affecting only our spare time. We are bond slaves of the most glorious Lord, living not only in service but also in friendship with Him. Our necessary labour, in daily work, parenting, caring for relatives, cooking, washing, indeed " whatever ye do" ... these things are an intrinsic part of the human experience, and must be done as if they are conscious service to the Lord (Eph. 6:5-7; 1 Cor. 10:31). There is to be no separation of our spiritual and secular lives. This is a fine art; not to just occasionally assent to the truth of this, but to actually live daily life in this spirit. But all these things are aspects of the curse. We shouldn't glory in that curse more than we have to. We are first and foremost the Lord's bondmen and as far as humanly possible, this must be the passion of our lives. The other things which are simply necessary as a function of being human, these we must do as if they are His service. But above all we are His servants. We were bought with a price, redeemed and purchased, in order that we might serve Him (Tit. 2:14). We are bought with a price, and therefore we should not be the servants of men (1 Cor. 7:23)- and this is in the context of choosing freedom from slavery to men. Our response to the atonement should be that we seek to redeem the time from this world, to use what conscious choices we have to serve God directly rather than men.
Seeing we must all serve the Lord (rather than men, if we have the choice) with all our strength and heart, the crucial practical question arises: how best can we maximize our use of time? How can we " redeem the time" in practice? There are plenty of books which seek to explain how to use time effectively, how to maximize ourselves- goal setting, self assessment, small scale objectives and the like... but personally, I wouldn't bother with these books. The essential thing is to understand Biblically that we are the Lord's bond slaves, to catch the fire of service and true devotion, of definite mission... and then the practical decisions will flow naturally. I hesitate to make suggestions which relate to private decisions in the lives of my brethren, whom I seriously try to esteem better than myself to be. So the following are only my own practical understandings of how to articulate the principles discussed:
- If you are fortunate enough to have a choice of careers, don't choose something which is bound to eat up all your heart, strength and soul. For they are for God's service. Be a minimalist. One who is " Redeeming the time" . Catch the spirit of the early believers, who didn't loiter in ceremonious salutations but ran the risk of upsetting social protocol in order to be on with the Lord's business; this is what was the great light in their lives (Lk. 10:4 is hyperbole). Don't fall into the trap of thinking that it doesn't matter if you choose a demanding career, because it's all done as unto the Lord. That gracious concession, in the context in which it was given, applies to the bare necessities of life. But we must redeem the time from the world, choose freedom from man's service with preference to that of the Lord.
- If you must have a television- and some of us simply choose not to- watch out for the tendency to let that box just eat up your time (and mind), especially when you're tired.
- Beware of hobbies. The reasoning runs: 'Life's so stressed, even spiritual life is: so you need to do something totally different to take a break'. There are no Biblical examples of God's bond slaves doing this. Can we match hobbies with bondservice? Are these the " good works" which the Lord died that we might bring forth?
- Develop the right daily habits. An hour or so serious reading / study; 10-15 minutes prayer morning and evening (as a minimum). " Redeeming the time" becomes a principle of daily life.
- There is a much repeated characteristic of God's servants: that they 'rose up early in the morning' and did God's work. In each of the following passages, this phrase is clearly not an idiom; rather does it have an evidently literal meaning: Abraham (Gen. 19:27; 21:14; 22:3); Jacob (Gen. 28:18); Job (1:5); Moses (Ex. 8:20; 9:13; 24:4; 34:4); Joshua (Josh. 3:1; 6:12; 7:16; 8:10); Gideon (Jud. 6:38; 7:1); Samuel (1 Sam. 15:12); David (1 Sam. 17:20; 29:11); Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:35; 2 Chron. 29:20). This is quite an impressive list, numerically. This can be a figure for being zealous (Ps. 127:2; Pr. 27:14; Song 7:12; Is. 5:11; Zeph. 3:7). God Himself rises up early in His zeal to save and bring back His wayward people (2 Chron. 36:15; Jer. 7:13,25; 11:7; 25:3,4; 26:5; 29:19; 32:33; 35:14,15; 44:4). Yet the above examples all show that men literally rose up early in their service to God; this was an expression of their zeal for God, in response to His zeal for us. I'm not suggesting that zeal for God is reflected by rising early rather than staying up late; but it wouldn't be too much to suggest that if we are men of mission, we won't waste our hours in bed. Get up when you wake up.
- Despise the things of this material world. Paul counted all as dung (Phil. 3:8), knowing that the things of this life are not worthy to be compared with the exaltation of the Kingdom (Rom. 8:18); realize that all the extra labour of longer hours, better paying jobs- is so often merely to buy more expensive foods that tickle the taste buds more, to live in a house not a flat, to have softer furniture and designer clothes, or (and this is a more powerful temptation) to do a job which we feel fits our intellectual and social level, even if we could do something less demanding.
- When you perceive an opportunity to do the Lord's service, respond immediately. See it as another opportunity for " redeeming the time" . This is a major Biblical theme. Israel were not to delay in offering their firstfruits to God (Ex. 22:29), lest their intentions weren't translated into practice. The disciples immediately left the ship, simply put their nets down and followed (Mt. 4:20,22); Matthew left his opened books and queue of clients in the tax office and walked out never to return (Lk. 5:17,18 implies). There is a marked theme in the NT of men and women hearing the Gospel and immediately responding by accepting baptism. In this spirit Cornelius immediately sent for Peter (Acts 10:33), and the Philippian jailer was immediately baptized, even though there were many other things to think about that night (Acts 16:33). Joseph was twice told in dreams to “arise” and take the child Jesus to another country. Both times he “arose” in the morning and just did it, leaving all he had, responding immediately (Mt. 2:13,14,20,21). Paul and Luke immediately went to preach in Macedonia after seeing the inviting vision (Acts 16:10); Paul " straightway" preached Christ after receiving his vision of preaching commission (Acts 9:20). Indeed, the records of the Lord's ministry are shot through (in Mark especially) with words like " immediately" , " straightway" , " forthwith" , " as soon as..." . He was a man of immediate response, Yahweh's servant par excellence. He dismissed the man who would fain follow Him after he had buried his father, i.e. who wanted to wait some years until his father’s death and then set out in earnest on the Christian life. The Lord’s point was that we must immediately respond to the call to live and preach Him, with none of the delay and hesitancy to total commitment which masquerades as careful planning. Note how the Lord told another parable in which He characterized those not worthy of Him as those who thought they had valid reason to delay their response to the call (Lk. 14:16-20). They didn't turn Him down, they just thought He would understand if they delayed. But He is a demanding Lord, in some ways. What He seeks is an immediacy of response. If we have this in the daily calls to service in this life, we will likewise respond immediately to the knowledge that 'He's back' (Lk. 12:36, cp. the wise virgins going immediately, whilst the others delayed). And whether we respond immediately or not will be the litmus test as to whether our life's spirituality was worth anything or not. All this is not to say that we should rush off in hot-headed enthusiasm, crushing the work and systematic efforts of other brethren and committees under foot. But when we see the need, when we catch the vision of service, let's not hesitate in our response, dilly dallying until we are left with simply a host of good intentions swimming around in our brain cells. Instead, let's appreciate that one aspect of the seed in good soil was that there was an immediacy of response to the word, a joyful and speedy 'springing up' in response (Mk. 4:5).