“Walk circumspectly…redeeming the time” (Ephesians 5:15a, 16a)
A Christian is informed by God’s Word regarding his status before God in reference to all he is and all he has. All he is as a Christian he owes to God, so that he freely confesses from the heart, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (I Corinthians 15:10a). Moreover, all he has he owes to God; for all good gifts and blessings are bestowed upon a Christian from the storehouse of God’s grace. A true believer in Christ cheerfully acknowledges that “every good gift…is from above, and cometh down from the Father” (James 1:17a). Every genuine follower of Christ knows the answer to this question posed in Holy Writ: “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” (I Corinthians 4:7).
Because a Christian owes everything to God’s gracious bestowal of all spiritual and temporal benefits, he is only a steward of such gifts. What is a steward? A steward is anyone who takes care of another’s property and is held accountable for such stewardship. The chief qualification for being a good steward is the basic requirement of faithfulness (I Corinthians 4:2). Stewards must administer what is entrusted to them according to the owner’s will. They answer to their master. A Christian steward must ask himself on a constant basis such probing questions as these: “How conscientiously am I managing what my divine Master has given me?” “Am I doing all I can, by His grace, to use what I have been given to His glory?” “How dedicated have I been to doing things the way my Master wants?” “Have I been trustworthy in how I use the resources God has given me?”
These self-diagnosing questions cannot be answered honestly and candidly unless the steward compares his stewardship to the norm that God, the Owner, has revealed in His Word. God’s Word has all the steward needs to judge his stewardship as to faithfulness: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:16-17).
St. Paul, in these verses from Ephesians 5, informs stewards about God’s grace and gifts, which is our particular focus in our present article: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (vv. 15-17). Ephesians 4 begins with an exhortation for Christians to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith [they] are called” (v. 1b). Called by the grace of Christ’s Gospel, converted by the same through that good news of Christ’s righteousness imputed to sinners and His blood-ransom payment for all sin and guilt, Christians are to live as those who have been graciously redeemed from hell to eternal life in heaven. Their walk is how they think, speak and act; their life in this world but no longer of this world (Ephesians 4:17-5:12; cf. John 17:15). At the time of their Baptism, after they were made children of God by “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5), this walk was referenced in a very specific manner as they renounced Satan with all his works and ways and vowed to serve the only true God, the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, exclusively! This walk is also taught of God by a Christian father, whose stewardship of his children in their Christian education in the home is clearly delineated: “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). The pastor of a Christian congregation is to do all he can, by God’s grace alone, to support this Christian education by his pastoral instruction, using God’s Word as prescribed by the Master (I Peter 5:2; II Timothy 4:2). The pastor, entrusted with the spiritual care of Christ’s sheep and lambs (John 21:15-17), is held accountable for this stewardship: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account; that they may do it with joy and not with grief, for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17). Although the text before us (Ephesians 5:15-17) speaks to all Christians, young and old, our present topic applies it specifically to “Christian Catechumens” and speaks to their stewardship of their time and energy. While it is certainly true that God holds fathers accountable for bringing up their children in the Lord’s nurture and admonition, and pastors for feeding Christ’s lambs, each individual catechetical student is also directly responsible to God for his stewardship of time and energy devoted to his studies in and out of class (John 5:39; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Luke 11:28; etc.).
Catechism student: Do you walk “circumspectly”? What does that mean? Do you think, speak and act ever watchful to do what God, your Master, Lord and Savior, wants you to do? Do you take primary responsibility for your own conduct and for what you do with your life? Do you remember that God sees what you think, say and do? Certainly a child of God, according to the New Man of faith within him, desires to do that, even though his sinful flesh still influences him in the opposite direction (Romans 7:15-23; Galatians 5:17).
The text tells us not to walk “as fools.” A fool thinks and acts contrary to God’s will, ignoring it, denying it, disobeying it. The fool is really an unbeliever who opposes God’s will “because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8). A Christian catechumen is to walk, not according to his sinful flesh, as a fool does, but according to his regenerate nature: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. … For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:9a, 14). To be “wise” means to walk according to God’s will, in the context of our article using the best means to the desired end of learning God’s Word. Such effort by a Christian catechumen glorifies Him, the Master, by faithful stewardship of His gifts, specifically, of one’s time and energy devoted to study in the nurture and admonition of the Lord!
With God-wrought initiative and industry, as He works within the Christian catechumen “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13), the student wisely walks as one “redeeming the time.” To redeem means “to buy back.” What “time” are we buying back by walking in wisdom? In the Greek New Testament there are two words translated as time in our King James translation. The one is chronos, the linear “tick-tock” of seconds, minutes, days, months and years. This is the time measured by a chronometer (clock or watch), and it is said to “march inexorably on.” But here in our text, another word is used, namely, kairos. This word refers to special seasons that occur during chronological time, periods marked by memorable events that often have a lasting effect on a person. These times are opportunities to do what our Lord and Master wills by making the most of them.
Applying this to catechetical studies reveals how faithful an individual student has been, how wise his walk has been. Consider class time. As a catechumen, do you arrive prepared to hear, learn, actively participate, ask questions for your understanding, offer comments which edify your teacher and fellow students? Do you arrive physically ready to work? Have you the mindset that you are there to work and to learn, which requires a mind not tired or distracted and, a body not fatigued and listless? Are you an active student? Are you zealous to grow in grace and knowledge (II Peter 3:18)? Or do you come expecting the teacher to provide all the effort and energy to get something accomplished? Do you expect the teacher to do all the work to keep you awake, focused, and participating? Are you eager to be taught and also to learn, or are you in class merely as a passive listener”? And, if your class effort is lackluster, what about your home effort?
Faithful pastors admonish and exhort parents (fathers especially, as those chiefly responsible – Ephesians 6:4) not only to monitor the daily work at home but to prepare their children before the pastor’s instruction by actually doing the teaching of the basics at home (Deuteronomy 6:7). As a student, do you wait for your parents to “order” you to study? Do you place your study of God’s Word behind lesser things? Consider this stewardship instruction and promise: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). How much do you make of “the time” that you have at your disposal? Do you “redeem” the special opportunities you have each day to focus due attention on your study of the One Thing Needful? Or do you, like Martha, become distracted and even encumbered with other things? “Jesus answered and said unto her, ‘Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things; but one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
It is not only sad and shameful, but a sin before God, for a Christian steward simply to waste the opportunities presented to him to do his Master’s will (James 4:17). But our text tells us that more is involved here: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil” (vv. 15-16). The days — the basic units of chronological time — “are evil,” devoted to sin and Satan, subject to foolishness, and contrary to God’s will. The so-called “space-time continuum,” created by God, in which we live in as sinful creatures, has been under bondage to evil since the fall of mankind (Romans 8:20-21)! This bondage to corruption must not be what controls Christians: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the Law but under grace” (Romans 6:12-14).
Do you allow “the evil” (Romans 7:19) which, like a tyrant, rules the days of all unbelievers on earth, to interfere with your stewardship? How so? By allowing your rebellious flesh to deter, distract and frustrate your new man as he seeks to grow in the study of God’s Word! The flesh loves to avoid responsibility and procrastinates. “Hey, let’s spend some time ‘chilling’ — a little X-Box, a little TV, a little surfing the web!” “Dude, you need time to recover from school! Homework can wait; so can your Confirmation class assignment! You need to decompress!” And so on and so on. “So much to do, and no time to do it; so … skip it!”
Neglect and procrastination beget trouble when they “hatch” (James 1:14-15). Then your flesh resents the “guilt trip” parents and pastors bring to the table. This scenario grows more burdensome over time, and soon “the 800-pound gorilla in the room” cannot be ignored. Consequences come down on you. Your flesh gets even more incensed. “Man, this Catechism stuff is ruining all my fun! I’m a prisoner in solitary confinement! It’s just not fair!” Excuse me!! “Who and what should be motivating me?” you should be asking yourself. As a Christian you already know the answer: “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savor. …Wherefore be ye not unwise but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:1-2, 17). Having been made “wise unto salvation” (II Timothy 3:15b), you should be ashamed for allowing fleshly thoughts and attitudes to interfere with your stewardship of the “manifold grace of God” (I Peter 4:10)! You have been given “time” to “redeem” —wonderful opportunities every “evil day” (Ephesians 6:13b) to make the most of them to God’s glory and your own great spiritual and temporal benefit (I Corinthians 10:31)!
The power and motive for faithful stewardship is solely the grace of Christ, the dear Savior, who gave His all for us poor, miserable, guilty and undeserving sinners! “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” (II Corinthians 8:9; cf. I Timothy 2:5-6). A faithful steward of God’s gifts, moved by the Son of God’s sacrificial and saving love, asks: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” (Psalm 116:12). What is the answer given in Holy Writ? “I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all His people” (Psalm 116:13-14).
When you were baptized, you vowed to be a good steward in serving the True God exclusively. Pay that vow unto the Lord daily! Repent of your past failures and, by God’s empowering grace, say: “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). May God ever bless us in “redeeming the time,” especially as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior” by the faithful study of His Word.
— E. J. W.