Making the most of your time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16)
It is common not to finish what we begin. Sometimes a symphony is unfinished, a painting uncompleted, or a project left half–done because the musician, painter, or worker dies. But usually it is simply the death of a person’s commitment that causes the incompletion. Dreams never become reality and hopes never materialize because those working toward them never get beyond the first few steps. For many people, including many Christians, life can be a series of unfinished symphonies. Even in the familiar opportunities of everyday Christian living, those who are truly productive have mastered the use of the hours and days of their lives.
Whether in the artistic, business, personal, or spiritual realm, no one can turn a dream into reality or fully take advantage of opportunity apart from making the most of [his] time.
Paul did not here use chronos, the term for clock time, the continuous time that is measured in hours, minutes, and seconds. He rather used kairos, which denotes a measured, allocated, fixed season or epoch. The idea of a fixed period is also seen in the use of the definite article in the Greek text, which refers to the time, a concept often found in Scripture (cf. Ex. 9:5; 1 Pet. 1:17). God has set boundaries to our lives, and our opportunity for service exists only within those boundaries. It is significant that the Bible speaks of such times being shortened, but never of their being lengthened. A person may die or lose an opportunity before the end of God’s time, but he has no reason to expect his life or his opportunity to continue after the end of his predetermined time.
Having sovereignly bounded our lives with eternity, God knows both the beginning and end of our time on earth. As believers we can achieve our potential in His service only as we maximize the time He has given us.
An ancient Greek statue depicted a man with wings on his feet, a large lock of hair on the front of his head, and no hair at all on the back. Beneath was the inscription: “Who made thee? Lysippus made me. What is thy name? My name is Opportunity. Why hast thou wings on thy feet? That I may fly away swiftly. Why hast thou a great forelock? That men may seize me when I come. Why art thou bald in back? That when I am gone by, none can lay hold of me.”
Exagorazo (making the most of) has the basic meaning of buying, especially of buying back or buying out. It was used of buying a slave in order to set him free; thus the idea of redemption is implied in this verse. We are to redeem, buy up, all the time that we have and devote it to the Lord. The Greek is in the middle voice, indicating that we are to buy the time up for ourselves—for our own use but in the Lord’s service.
Paul pleads for us to make the most of our time immediately after he pleads for us to walk wisely rather than foolishly. Outside of purposeful disobedience of God’s Word, the most spiritually foolish thing a Christian can do is to waste time and opportunity, to fritter away his life in trivia and in half–hearted service of the Lord.
Napoleon said, “There is in the midst of every great battle a ten to fifteen minute period that is the crucial point. Take that period and you win the battle; lose it and you will be defeated.”
When we walk obediently in the narrow way of the gospel, we walk carefully, making the most of our time. We take full advantage of every opportunity to serve God, redeeming our time to use for His glory. We take every opportunity to shun sin and to follow righteousness. “So then,” Paul said, “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10).
For His own reasons, God allows some of His children to live and serve far into old age. Others He grants only a few years or even a few weeks. But none of us knows how long or short his own allocation of time will be.
When I was a boy I had a friend who, like myself, planned to be a pastor. He often told me of his plans to finish high school, go to college and seminary, and enter the pastorate. But in the twelfth grade my friend was driving his canvas–top coupe down a street and the brakes suddenly locked, catapulting him through the car top and onto the street. He struck his head against the curb and was killed instantly.
The great sixteenth–century reformer Philipp Melanchthon kept a record of every wasted moment and took his list to God in confession at the end of each day. It is small wonder that God used him in such great ways.
Because the days are evil, our opportunities for freely doing righteousness are often limited. When we have opportunity to do something for His name’s sake and for His glory, we should do so with all that we have. How God’s heart must be broken to see His children ignore or halfheartedly take up opportunity after opportunity that He sends to them. Every moment of every day should be filled with things good, things righteous, things glorifying to God.
By the days are evil Paul may have specifically had in mind the corrupt and debauched living that characterized the city of Ephesus. The Christians there were surrounded by paganism and infiltrated by heresy (see 4:14). Greediness, dishonesty, and immorality were a way of life in Ephesus, a way in which most of the believers had themselves once been involved and to which they were tempted to revert (4:19–32; 5:3–8).
If a sense of urgency was necessary in the days of the apostles, how much more is it necessary today, when we are so much nearer the Lord’s return and the end of opportunity (see Rom. 13:11–14)?