Redeeming the time (Ephesians 5: 16 AV)
Making the most of the time- buying up each opportunity - because the days are evil (Amplified)
Use the present opportunity to the full, for these are evil days (NEB)
Treasure every moment that you have. Ė (Jenny Brereton)
The phase "redeeming the time" was a metaphor taken from the merchants of the biblical days who diligently observed the right time and opportunity for buying and selling goods. As applied to opportunity it comes with the idea, firstly of making a sacrifice for it and then quickness in seizing it, and then wisdom in using it to the utmost (Ellicott). In this context the apostle Paul is saying that because of the days in which we live we need to be extra careful how we walk i.e. in our everyday Christian walk, our witness and testimony etc. (v15), and to make the most of whatever opportunities come our way. In a parallel passage in Colossians 4:5 he also says that we should conduct ourselves wisely towards outsiders, making the most of the opportunity (to them). The days of life in general are so exposed to evil as to make it necessary to make the most of every seasonable opportunity so long as it lasts. Paul's exhortation would have been of particular relevance to the Christians of those days because within 10 years or so Rome was burnt and many of the Christian companions of Paul were put to death. The probability that the lives of some of his readers in Ephesus would also have been cut short by persecutors in those evil days was another reason why it was important for them to redeem every possible opportunity. So it should be with us, we are today living in dark and evil days, and we do not know what tomorrow will bring so we should be all the more diligent to seize every opportunity that comes our way and to make the most of them when they arrive. This does not come without a price though. It costs in terms of time and being watchful and prepared for the opportunities as they come our way. If we are being continually diverted by the multitude of distractions in our busy lives or our pursuit of pleasure we will miss many opportunities. Those opportunities may never come our way again so we need to be especially diligent. How resourceful are we in seeking opportunities to witness for our faith? Are we looking out for such opportunities and praying that God will give them to us or do we run away from them because we are not as we should be or we have got too much on or our lives are too complex to be looking out for fresh challenges in our life. As we look at the life of the apostle Paul we see that he was a man who rarely missed any opportunity. When in Athens, for example, he diligently surveyed the land to see how the city was, observing that it was full of idols, but that there was one particular altar with an inscription "to an unknown god." This gave him an excellent opening for the gospel later on when he had the opportunity to speak in the Areopagus (Acts 17:22). Horace Butler, mentioned in chapter 1, who was a former missionary to the Congo, was also a person who very rarely missed an opportunity when it arose, and he saw Godís blessing in a wonderful way as a result of this. On one occasion during the war he was standing at a bus stop and he noticed a young Canadian servicemen standing there who looked rather sad, so he seized the opportunity of witnessing to him. The end result of this was that he not only led him to Christ, but that the young man in turn saw the whole of his family come to Christ, including three of his sons who eventually went into full-time ministry. On another occasion he was travelling back to the Congo and whilst in Zimbabwe some friends of his dropped him off at a bank in order for him to change currency. On his way up the stairs he noticed a young white man standing on his own who looked rather bewildered. He asked him if he was waiting for somebody, to which he replied that he wasnít, and Horace then said to him that he should be waiting for Jesus, which caused him to look somewhat taken aback by his comment. When he came out of the bank the young man asked him to repeat what he had said, and he did so. It turned out that he was a pastorís son from England who had travelled to Africa to get far away from his family and his Christian environment. He had only just arrived when Horace spoke these words to him The end result of this was that Horace and his friends invited him back to their house for lunch. After a while they gave him a pen and paper in order to write to his parents to tell them that he was now waiting for Jesus also. Such opportunities as these are ones that have to be seized when they arise; they are one-offs and will never arise again. I was interested to hear a famous Oscar winning songwriter by the name of Don Black being interviewed one day (famous for his song "Born Free") and he was asked the question how he was inspired to write many of his famous songs. His reply was that he gained inspiration from everyday events of life, such as listening to somebody's conversation in a cafe. What struck me was his statement that he was, in this respect, always on "red alert" for every such opportunity that may arrive. I do believe that this is how God wants us to be also, on "red alert" so that we too never miss an opportunity in our service for the Master and this should be a constant challenge for each one of us.
As we see above in the Amplified Version it has been translated "buying up each opportunity." John Wesley says that "we should save all we can for the best purposes, buying every possible moment out of the hands of sin and Satan; out of the hands of sloth, ease, pleasure, worldly business; the more diligently because the present are evil days, days of the grossest ignorance, immorality and profaneness." Mathew Poole speaks of "buying up the present time; parting with anything for the improvement of it to our spiritual advantage, or buying it out i.e. a rescuing, as it were, out of the hands of Satan and the world, which by distracting cares and tempting pleasures do occasion often the misspending of it." A further interesting thought is found in Jamieson's commentary where we have the idea of redeeming the opportunity and commanding the time as a master does his steward; that we should watch the time and make it our own so as to control it. We should serve not the time, but command it, and it shall do whatever we approve. This does present an interesting challenge to us - is time our master or is it our servant? Does it control us, or do we control it? My observation is that for many people if not most people time is their master and not their servant; they are continually being beaten by time. Time is the great enemy of our age. How often do people say to us that they are sorry but they just haven't got time to do this or that, to write to you or phone you, to visit somebody in hospital, to go to some important service etc., or even to pray and read Godís word? I once heard a pastor say to somebody in his congregation" I hope that you are praying for me, because I don't have time to pray." Without wishing to be unkind I don't really think that that person should have been a pastor! For a Christian there are certain essentials in their life, such as praying and reading Godís word, and that is especially so for a spiritual leader. As I have reflected on all this I have tried to think of an occasion in the New Testament where such an excuse was made, i.e. they didn't have time to do something required of them, and I have been unable to think of a single case. The problem that we have today is that even though we have a multitude of labour saving devices we have less and less time to do anything that is really important. When, however, you ask somebody how they spend their time it is quite amazing how trivial some of those things can be. Satan, I believe, ever wants us to be rushing around and filling our lives with irrelevancies, so long as he can keep us from the things that are really important in our lives. This is something that we will look at this in more detail in the next two chapters.