If your pastor preaches a sermon on time stewardship, there’s one scripture passage you can pretty much guarantee is going to get mentioned: Ephesians 5:15-16. In fact, a phrase from that passage, redeeming the time, is a church buzz-phrase that’s mentioned probably more than the term time stewardship itself.
And for good reason!
Ephesians 5:15-16 (KJV)
“15See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
16Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
We see the same phrase in Colossians.
Colossians 4:5 (KJV)
Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.
What Does Redeeming the Time Mean?
To me, this is one of those strange wordings that makes my eyes get a little wider and my thinking a little fuzzier. What in the world does redeeming the time mean?
For perspective, let’s examine some other translations:
Ephesians 5:15-16 (NASB)
15Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise,
16making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV)
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
I think that other translations lose some of the interesting “flavor” of the King James Version (redeeming the time just sounds so much cooler than making the most of every opportunity), but they certainly phrase this passage in a much more understandable way. Redeeming the time can be seen as making the most of your time.
Why the Word Redeem?
Why does the KJV use the word redeem?
The Greek word used here is exagorazo – which in turn comes from two Greek words, ek (meaning from or from out of) and agorazo (meaning to purchase). Exagorazo appears four times in the Bible. We’ve already looked at two of those in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5. The other two are Galatians 3:13 (“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law”) and Galatians 4:5 (“so that He might redeem those who were under the Law”).
Exagarazo is a marketplace term. When you redeem someone from slavery, as Christ redeemed us, you are purchasing them – purchasing them out of (exagarazo) their slavery. You are paying the price to take them out of a bad situation.
The Concept of Kairos
What is it that is being redeemed in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5?
The Greek word is kairos, which means time. But not just any idea of time: Kairos isn’t about minutes and seconds and wristwatches and sundials. It’s not about the flow of time or a specific measurement of time.
Instead, kairos carries with it the idea of the right time – the idea of a pre-determined time or an opportune time. “How much time before lunch?” would not use the word kairos. “Is it time to have lunch?” would. One is speaking of time in minutes and seconds, where the other is speaking of a point in time.
Furthermore, kairos doesn’t have to be an instant. It could be a short window of time, like time to take a break. Or it could be a longer window of time, as in harvest time.
And in those examples, the kairos is the time where you better get moving. Those crops aren’t going to harvest themselves. It is the appointed time, the proper time, the slice of time where you have an opportunity – but that kairos is going to eventually slip away.
Redeeming the time, to exagarazo the kairos, you are purchasing out of slavery the fleeting opportunities that you are presented with. In other words, you “make the most of every opportunity” or “make the most of your time” as the NASB and NIV translations state.
But yet, in my mind, one question remains. Why the word redeem? Why not the word utilize or seize or work when referring to kairos? Why this imagery of purchasing from slavery?
I believe the answer to this is found in the very next phrase from Paul: “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Look at the important word because in this passage. Yes, we are to redeem the time – but we do so because the days are evil. The fact that the days are evil, Paul says, should lead us to be redeeming the time.
When Paul looked around at the world, he saw that he was living – like we are today – in evil times. Impurity, greed, idolatry, and disgusting sins of all types surrounded Paul, and they surround us.
So pervasive is the evil of these days that our opportunities to do good (our kairos) will slip away and be consumed by darkness unless we act. It’s as if we have to rescue and redeem these opportunities from the clutches of an evil world.
Picture a tug-of-war where opportunity (kairos) is in the middle, and we’re pulling one way while the evil days are pulling the other way. That’s not what’s happening here. Opportunity is not in the middle. Opportunity is not in neutral ground – it’s in hostile territory.
Because the days are evil, the opportunities we have to do good and to bring glory to God are already on auto-pilot on a course to be swallowed up by busyness and our worldly mindsets.
Because the days are evil, if we just “go with the flow” of our culture, we will lead wasted lives.
Because the days are evil, our sin nature is the default owner and decision-maker concerning these precious windows of time we have to make a difference on this earth.
The good news is that Christ gives us ample resources to rescue these opportunities from slavery. Through Him we see these opportunities, and through Him we act on them. The evil days don’t stand a chance with Him working through us.
Through Him, redeeming the time is possible.
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