To walk according to wisdom, we must first walk circumspectly (Ephesians 5:15a) and second we must not be fools (v. 15b, 17a).
Third, we must redeem our time (v. 16): Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. It is vital that we understand the word time as it is used in this text. There are two basic words in the Greek that are translated time. One is chronos (English, “chronometer”), which speaks of a time period which is not precisely known. Here in our text, however, we find the word kairos, the word which speaks of a more definite time, such as a date. The application is clear: God wants us to be concerned with decisive points of time and specific situations of life. In other words, God wants us to consider each and every moment to be an opportunity for growth, service, and witness. The fool wastes time, but the wise man invests it.
The Greek for redeeming (exagorazō) is a market term that literally means “to buy up.” The imagery here is vivid and vital. The root agora literally referred to the ancient market-place. The same word is used in verses that speak of Christ redeeming us, buying us out of the slave-market of sin (e.g., Gal. 3:13; 4:5). So, with the same imagery Paul is telling us that we are to “buy up” all our time and devote it God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones offers the translation, “Buying up the opportunity,” and one Greek authority says “to buy up intensively.” No one is wise who does not use his time for growth and service. Practical wisdom means we “buy up” and make the most of every opportunity for witness and service for our Lord. Just as a good shopper seizes on a bargain when he or she finds it, the faithful Christian recognizes an opportunity to glorify the Savior.
The well-known author and lecturer John Erskine said that he learned the most valuable lesson of his life when he was only fourteen years old. His piano teacher asked him how much he practiced each day. Probably thinking he would be praised for his efforts, Erskine replied that he usually sat down for an hour or more. But the teacher warned, “Oh, don’t do that. When you grow up, time won’t come to you in long stretches like that. Do your practicing in minutes wherever you can find them—five or ten before school, a few after lunch or in between chores. Spread it throughout the day, and music will become a part our your life.” Erskine said that he later applied that principle to his writing. He wrote nearly all his most famous work, The Private Life of Helen of Troy, on streetcars while commuting between his home and the university.
Others have done this in history. 19th Century English historian Thomas Macaulay learned German during a sea voyage. American inventor Robert Fulton was also a painter and invented the steamboat in his spare time, as did Samuel Morse the telegraph. The famous Scottish physician John Abercrombie wrote many valuable books with a lead-pencil while visiting his patients. Benjamin Franklin taught himself math, grammar, logic, and several languages while working in a printer’s shop. And the list goes on.
That is the meaning of redeeming the time. Each and every moment of the day is an opportunity. Missed opportunities can never be recaptured.
Why is this such an important issue? Because the days are evil. The Greek behind evil (poneros) which means “bad, causing disaster, dangerous . . . and ethically reprehensible.” In Greek literature, for example, this word was used to describe Hercules as ponērotatos kai apiston, “wicked and untrustworthy.” This word appears some 78 times in the New Testament and, therefore, speaks of “evil in a moral or spiritual sense, wicked, malicious, mischievous.” Our Lord uses it in Matthew 5:11 for malicious speech, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” He uses it to refer to false prophets, “which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves,” and that we will know them by their “evil fruit” (7:15-17). He uses it again in 12:34 in reference to the Pharisees, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” He also refers to Satan himself as the “wicked one” (13:19), as does Luke of King Herod (Lk. 3:19).
So, Paul’s readers clearly understood this Greek word. They lived in a horrifically wicked day, and so do we. It is because of the evil all around us that we must [redeem] the time.
There is one other principle involved in true wisdom, which we examine next time.