Monday, August 20, 2012

Redeeming Time

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16, NRSV).

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16, KJV).

This pair of verses, which comprise a single sentence, seem straightforward enough in our modern translations; be careful, be wise, be economical, because it's a tough world out there!  But a couple of those words have become watered down over the centuries, and it would be good for us to get back to what they used to mean.

Wisdom is solid: that message hasn't changed.  We know where to seek wisdom: from God's word and from more experienced people who have studied God's word: the church fathers, the saints, living and dead.

What about “careful?”  We have really watered down that word.  I think of someone not getting caught in a trap.  That's valuable advice, right?  Or, we're driving on a wet road, and to be careful we slow down a little, we watch out for squirrels darting out in front of the car, we try not to get in any trouble.  Drive slowly when you are passing by a cop by the side of the road.  That's why careful is becoming a meaningless word: we mean it conditionally nowadays.  Be careful WHEN...  If there seems to be no danger, just act recklessly like you've been doing!

A more accurate word is “circumspectly” which literally means to examine all possible consequences.  To inspect everything around yourself from all angles.  To be ACCURATE.  We've moved up from merely being careful, which means putting on a raincoat when its raining, to knowing what to do in all situations and POTENTIAL situations, not only being careful but accurate.  When you quote someone, you quote them accurately.  You don't summarize someone's position.  You don't make generalizations.  This is why “circumspectly” is followed by “wise.”  Wisdom is knowing what to do in ALL situations, not just dangerous or inconvenient ones.

The next word, phrase actually, is “making the most of the time.”  This is another one we have watered down.  This sounds like, “go for it!”  You only live once!  Make the most of what you have, because you can't take it with you!  Remember these clauses are all part of the same sentence.  What does making most of the time mean?  Not being lazy is a part of it.  Once again, we go back to the original translations of this phrase: “Redeeming the time.”

Redeeming something has two parts: we are sacrificing one thing to get another thing.  Here we are redeeming time, we are getting time, but what do we NEED that time for, AND what are we sacrificing to get that time?  Look at the sentence as a whole.  Being accurate in all we do, on the path we walk, and acquiring wisdom, both take time to accomplish.  We don't just go from being foolish to wise overnight.  We don't just go from being sloppy bulls in a china shop to accurate, exacting micrometers in a day.  These things take time, and that is what we need the time for.

What are we sacrificing to get this time?  Look at the last clause: for the days are evil.  This doesn't just mean that we are living in wicked times with temptations all around.  That is true, but in the context of the sentence, it means that our individual days become wicked, because that is the natural state of our days.  When we don't have accuracy, when we don't have wisdom, when we are sloppy and foolish: these attributes are due to idleness, and an idle day is an evil day.

We sit down to work on an important project on our computers and we suddenly find that we have spent all day on YouTube.  We are the most prosperous people in history.  We are also the most idle people in history.  Paul was talking about the idle days of his time being evil.  Our idle days are certainly evil.  What Paul is telling us in these verses is we are to sacrifice our idle time for holy time, in which we gain wisdom and accuracy.  How do we do this?

Last Monday was the commemoration day for Bishop Jeremy Taylor, who was chaplain for Charles I, and in his book Holy Living he writes, “God has given every man work enough to do, that there shall be no room for idleness; and yet hath so ordered the world, that there shall be space for devotion.”  Those who have less work to do, spend more time in devotion to God, while those who have more work to do, devote that work to God.  So, all day is devoted to God in some way.

Jeremy Taylor goes on: As long as idleness is shut out from our lives, there is little room left for temptation.  To a busy man, temptation and sin creep upon him by accidents and occasions; whereas, to an idle person they come in full body, with open violence.

Look to Jesus.  He was never idle: his work was devoted to God, and all other times he was on his knees in prayer.  When it came time for his sacrifice on the cross, it was, once again, a devoted work to God.  We model our redeeming of time on Jesus' redeeming of time.  The Spirit of Wisdom comes upon us and changes our hearts.  We repent of our idle time, we give up sloppiness, we abhor foolishness.  God's Holy Spirit grants us wisdom, accuracy in all we do, work and devotion time that we give back to the Father.