Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Rosh Hashanah begins this week at sundown, September 20. A festival with multiple meanings, the Jews celebrate it as New Year’s (Rosh Hashanah means “head [beginning] of the year”). It also commemorates the creation of Adam and Eve. According to Jewish tradition, when God “blew” the soul into Adam, the sound made was like the blowing of the trumpet-like shofar, which in ancient Israel announced this festival (Leviticus 23:23-24). Rosh Hashanah is also considered the anniversary of the creation of the universe, which means that it commemorates the beginning of time.
While reading about time, I was reminded that it too has multiple meanings. One is that time is an asset, shared equally by billionaires and beggars. We all have 86,400 seconds each day, and since we can’t bank them (time can neither be overdrawn nor retrieved) the question for us is this: How will we spend the time we have?
The value of time
Understanding the value of time, Paul, in Eph. 5:16 (KJV), exhorted Christians to be “redeeming the time.” Before I unpack his meaning, let me share a poem about time’s great value:
Realize (author unknown)
To realize the value of one year, ask a student who has failed an exam.
To realize the value of one month, ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.
To realize the value of one week, ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realize the value of one hour, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realize the value of one minute, ask a person who missed the train, bus or plane.
To realize the value of one second, ask a person who has survived an accident.
To realize the value of one millisecond, ask the person who has won a silver medal in the Olympics.
Time waits for no one.
Treasure every moment you have.
You will treasure it even more when you can share it with someone special.
How is time redeemed?
This poem makes a point about time similar to the one Paul makes in Ephesians 5. In the Greek New Testament, there are two words that we translate as redeem. One is agorazo, which refers to buying something in the agora—the normal marketplace. The other is exagorazo, which refers to buying something elsewhere. Paul uses exagorazo in Eph. 5:15-16 (NIV) to exhort us to, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” I enjoy the King James translation, which speaks of “redeeming the time.” It seems that Paul is urging us to redeem the time outside the normal market exchange.
While we don’t use the word redeem much today, it used to be a common business term, literally meaning “to buy up or buy back.” If a person could not pay a debt, they could make arrangements to become servant to the person they owed until the debt was paid. Their servitude could also be ended if someone would pay the debt on their behalf. Debtors who were bought out of servitude this way were said to have been “redeemed.” (We think here of how Jesus redeemed us, but that’s another topic.)
Property could also be redeemed—just like we see in pawnshops today. On one hand, you could say Paul is telling us to buy—redeem—the time. On the other hand, since the context of Paul’s instruction is to be followers of God, we can also say Paul is seeking to focus our attention on the One who has redeemed the time for us. His point is that we don’t have time to waste by focusing on anything other than Jesus and the work he has invited us to share in.
Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Vol. 1) has this comment on Ephesians 5:16 (KJV):
“Redeeming” is exagorazō (ἐξαγοραζω), “to buy up.” In the middle voice as it is used here, it means, “to buy up for one’s self or one’s advantage.” Metaphorically, it means, “to make a wise and sacred use of every opportunity for doing good,” so that zeal and well-doing are as it were the purchase-money by which we make the time our own” (Thayer). “Time” is not chronos (χρονος), “time as such,” but kairos (καιρος), “time as regarded in its strategic, epoch-making, seasonable, opportune seasons.” The idea is not to make best use of time as such, which is what we should do in the sense of not wasting it, but of taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.
Because time is not normally viewed as a commodity that can literally be redeemed, we understand Paul to be speaking metaphorically, saying, in essence, that we are to make the best use of the situation we are in. When we do that, our time will have far greater meaning, significance and thus “payoff.”
It’s God’s gift
As a part of God’s creation, time is God’s gift to us. Some have more of it, and some less. Due to medical advances, good genetics and God’s blessing, many of us will live into our 90s and a few past 100. Recently we heard of the death of a 146-year-old man in Indonesia! But no matter how much time God gives us, as I mentioned in my August 30th letter, Jesus is Lord of time. Through the Incarnation, the eternal Son of God came from eternity into time. Thus Jesus experiences created time differently than we do. Our time, being created, is limited in duration, while God’s time, being uncreated, is unlimited. God’s time is not sequenced, as is ours, into past, present and future. God’s time is also of a different quality—a kind of time we cannot fully grasp. What we can (and should) do, is live in our time, secure in the hope of joining our Creator and Redeemer in his time, which is eternity.
Don’t misuse or waste it
When we speak metaphorically of time, saying things like, “don’t waste time,” we are implying that in some way we can lose the correct use of our precious time. This happens when we allow someone or something to make us use time in ways or for purposes we don’t value. It’s in this metaphorical sense that Paul speaks of “redeeming the time.” He is exhorting us to not misuse or waste time in ways that fail to contribute to what is valuable to God and thus valuable to us as Christians.
In that vein, when we refer to “redeeming the time,” we must remember that our time is redeemed or recovered first by God’s forgiveness through Christ. It then continues to be redeemed as we properly use our time to contribute to a growing relationship with God and each other. That redemption of time is God’s gift to us. When Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 5:15 (KJV) to “walk circumspectly not as unwise but as wise,” he is telling us to buy up the opportunities that time affords us in order to honor God.
On mission “between the times”
God has given us time to walk in his light, co-ministering in the Spirit, with Jesus, in advancing God’s mission. To do so, we have been given the “time between the times” of Christ’s first and second advents. Our mission in that time is to assist others in seeking and knowing God—helping them live by faith and love, secure in the hope that, in the end, God will have completely redeemed all creation, time included.
My prayer for us in GCI is that we will be redeeming the time that God has given us by faithfully living and sharing the gospel of God’s redemption in Christ.
Thankful for God’s gifts of time and eternity,
PS: At the time this is being posted, we await final word concerning our members in the Caribbean (impacted by Hurricane Maria) and Mexico (impacted by the recent earthquake). Initial reports from our pastors in Mexico City and Tlaxcala (areas impacted by the earthquake) is that our members, perhaps with a few exceptions, are OK. Please join me in praying for all who are in harm’s way as the hurricane continues, and as earthquake aftershocks occur. We will let you know of any financial needs that arise that we can assist with through the GCI Disaster Relief Fund.