Jean’s Gospel: Redeeming the Time
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph 5:15-16)
Writing to the Ephesians, Paul said “the days are evil.”
It is easy to affirm this statement when one sees the savagery of evil visited on one’s community or nation, such as by war, terrorism or mass murder. But does this statement also apply to a place or time experiencing peace and prosperity? Is Paul’s statement always true, in all places, at all times?
Paul was not critiquing Roman imperial brutality or any particular conflict impacting the Ephesian congregation. His warning was not dependent on the relative prosperity, poverty, peace or conflict experienced by the Ephesian Christians. The days are evil, wrote Paul, because the world is under the influence of an evil spirit, which Paul variously names: “the prince of the power of the air” (2:2), “the devil” (4:27), or “the evil one” (6:11).
The evil, which the devil works in mankind, is sin, death and eternal separation from God. The devil works through hatred and anger, leading to manifest evil acts, as well as through pleasure and prosperity, leading to covetousness and idolatry. For example, one might imagine that the days are very good, as he reaps a bumper crop and considers himself secure for a carefree lifestyle, only to learn that same day that his time is up and his soul is required of him by God (see Parable of the Rich Fool, Luke 12:16-21). Therefore, we dare not judge the days as good or evil on the basis of our personal experience. The days are indeed evil, and evil can present itself unmasked for what it is or disguised as something that appears good.
Because of the manifold temptations from the world and the weakness of our own flesh (Matt 26:41), Christians, Paul writes, should not live carelessly, but carefully and wisely, making the best use of our time.
“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph 5:17)
To live carefully and wisely is to understand and live according to the will of God. His will is to save us through the Gospel of His Son: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (1:7-10)
God accomplishes His will in us as a free gift apprehended by faith: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (2:4-9)
We know God’s will and plan of salvation only because we have His written Word. Therefore, it is God’s will that we preserve, hear, read and digest His Word, by which the mystery of His will is made known to mankind, in which the gift of salvation is proclaimed to mankind, and through which His kingdom is being built and the devil’s is being plundered. We live wisely and make the best use of our time by joyfully hearing, trusting and keeping God’s Word and by supporting the ministry of the Word in churches and missions.
It is a great temptation and weakness in Christians to think that we have heard or learned enough from God’s Word, grow weary of hearing and reading it, and take for granted that we will always have it. Before long we become secure in our salvation and no longer want the Word, the Church, Her preachers or the Sacraments. The end result is a heart that was swept clean but is now empty. The unclean spirit which formerly dwelt there returns with seven other spirits more evil than itself, leaving the last state of the person worse than the first (see Matt 12:43-45).
Therefore, Paul warns us repeatedly against becoming smug or presumptuous, for example: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (Eph 4:17); “give no opportunity to the devil” (4:27); “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (4:30); and “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (5:5).
Paul also warns us that Christians face the devil’s schemes, which we cannot withstand without the armor of God (6:11). Therefore, we must abide in God’s Word, together with other believers, for as long as we live.
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 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.” (5:18-21)
Getting drunk (or high) is antithetical to careful, wise living. Debauchery is the abandonment of self-control, spiritual wastefulness and brings dire consequences. Rather, Paul writes, we should be filled with the Holy Spirit, which should manifest himself in the corporate and individual lives of Christians in the following ways:
- Addressing one another with Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs;
- Singing and making music with our hearts to the Lord;
- Giving thanks to God the Father for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; and
- Submitting ourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ. (This is a lead-in verse to the household codes of verses 5:22-6:9.)
In a similar exhortation to the Colossians, Paul writes: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in our hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:16-17)
The Colossians passage is particularly helpful for understanding how a Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit. He comes to us through the word of Christ (i.e., the Gospel). If the Gospel dwells in us richly, then so does the Holy Spirit.
May God our Father keep us in Christ our Lord and His Word; awaken us when we become spiritually sleepy; defend us against the schemes of the devil; enlighten us with the Gospel and fill us with the Spirit, that we might live vigilantly, redeeming the time, in these evil days; and grant us eternal life for the sake of Christ our Lord, who gave His life for us. Amen.
“God’s Word is our great heritage
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way,
In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant, while worlds endure,
We keep its teachings pure.
Throughout all generations.” Amen.
God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage, Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig, 1783-1872