Sermon: Are We Redeeming the Time?
Making the Most of Our Remaining Time
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 23-May-21; 81 minutes
I hope you are enjoying this Feast of Weeks or Feast of Harvest or the Day of the Firstfruits. Those are all Old Testament titles for this holy day and they tell us a great deal about the meaning of this day that we are supposed to keep every year. It focuses our attention, in these names, on the counting of weeks, the grain harvest, and the offering of firstfruits for acceptance by God. But when we get into the New Testament, this holy day is called something different. It is called Pentecost. It is a Greek term, which literally means pente-cost, count fifty or fifty counts, the way it is put together there in Greek, shorthand for counting fifty days, seven Sabbaths and one day to determine the holy day, which we are observing today.
Well, as we all know, and we know it very well, this church has made a big deal about counting these fifty days. If you ask anybody out there who is not in Church of the Great God to tell you one thing about this church that they know other than my dad's name, they will probably say, "Oh, they're the ones that keep Pentecost on the wrong day. (that is how they term it), on one week later." But I think most of them do not understand the importance of counting fifty days. If they did, they might have a different attitude toward it. I do not know, I cannot judge them.
But we see the counting of the fifty days as an essential duty of each Christian. It is actually a command of God that we count these days. Leviticus 23:15 says very specifically, literally, word for word, "and you shall count for yourselves." And it goes on to give us the instructions of how to count. You shall count for yourselves. It is not talking about the priests, not talking about the leadership, it is talking about Israelites, all of those who are going to keep the day—"you shall count for yourselves." We believe His command there is designed to teach us vital spiritual lessons in the framework of the larger meaning of the feast, which symbolizes God's cultivation and harvest of spiritual firstfruits.
There is something about this act of counting every year from the wave sheaf to the Pentecost, something that we can grow from, learn from, something that will help us to move forward, to be better Christians, to honor God more and more deeply. To me, that the New Testament name, Pentecost, singles out this part of the festival is not coincidental. I think God made sure that He called this name fifty count/count fifty for us as Christians. Under the New Covenant the festival's focus switches somewhat from the agrarian harvest and physical firstfruits offering, to the spiritual harvest via a personal relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit. So we have in Acts 2 Peter's sermon which is all about Christ and what He did and it is coincidental with the giving of the Holy Spirit. Put Christ at His place beside God as our Mediator and our High Priest, give the people the Holy Spirit, and big things, good things can happen.
And so we are told to count fifty, to consider this time, to recognize each day as we go toward the count because we are dwelling on this relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. That is the big thing we need to understand. In this way the counting part of the holy day comes to the foreground. It makes each of us accountable (pardon the pun, could not help it), to tally or to add up, not just the physical days from Wave Sheaf to the holy day, but also consider the spiritual process that we are going through, and to assess our progress from what we were when God called us to where we are right now, to assess our progress towards spiritual maturity. Are we actually maturing? Are we growing closer to Jesus Christ and God the Father through Him?
One of the things that it helps us to understand, if we look at it from a correct viewpoint, it makes us aware of how short our time is, because as we, let us say count down fifty days—we start at fifty and we count down all the way to the Day of Pentecost, start getting shorter and shorter and shorter. Most of us probably have the idea that we do it the other way around and that is fine if that is the way you want to do it. But if you count it down it makes it very noticeable that the time grows short as you get to single digits. It is almost here. This is where the time of our acceptance before God is growing closer and closer.
More than any other holy day on the schedule, on the calendar, Pentecost deals with time. It is based on counting days and weeks. And by extension, if you use the "day for a year principle," it deals with considering years and eras and epochs and ages of time. It forces us to contemplate how we, as mere human beings, must deal with time as opposed to God's infinite power over time. We have constraining, confining limitations and that is opposed to His infinite power over time. He is timeless. He "inhabits eternity," as it says in Isaiah. If we truly understand the intricacies of this holy time, this holy day, we come face to face with the alarming fact that we are taking a time test and the clock is winding down.
Remember taking time tests in elementary school, doing the multiplication tables or what have you? You have fifty problems. You got to get them done in, I do not know, two minutes or three minutes. You are scrambling to do it and you can hear the clock going tick, tick, tick, and you know the alarm is going to go off. "Time's up!" Well, that is a silly way to illustrate it, but that is what is happening in our lives. Time is ticking down. We only have a finite amount of time and we have no power over that time. From the outside at least we cannot change the time. Seconds are going to be a second long, minutes are going to be minutes long, hours are going to be hours long. Days, weeks, months, years, they are all going to be the same amount of time as we have defined them. But there is only so much of it left before Christ comes—or before we die. Got to throw that in there.
So we do not have any time to waste. We do not know how long it is going to be. Maybe years, maybe decades. I do not know. God did not talk to me like He talked to that guy in the movie Mark [Schindler] was talking about, Well, He did not really talk to him, but I do not know. I do not have that information. I cannot tell you if it is this Trumpets or a Trumpets fifteen years down the road. I do not know. You do not know either. We have to live on the assumption that it is soon because we can get hit by a bus tomorrow and that is soon. That is tomorrow and our time of our testing, our time of judgment, is finished. So we have got to make good use of the time that we have.
Twenty years ago I gave a sermon called "Why Count Fifty Days?" and I have been harping on it ever since. In that sermon, I posited that the fifty day count to Pentecost stands for a natural 50-year period of conversion. Moses says in Psalm 90:10, that we humans live about seventy years. Take away twenty years of growing up into at least a modicum of maturity, and that leaves you with fifty years of adulthood. Those fifty years of adulthood, more or less, generally, is the time that God can use to bring us to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Our individual period of judgment then is finite, limited. It is here today and gone tomorrow.
As I mentioned, it may not be that long. You may not get the whole fifty years, It may be five or ten. Some of us are not called when we are twenty and we do not die at seventy. Some of us get more. But the fifty years is just kind of a general thing. Some are young when they are called and they die young. They have just a short period to do what they are going to do, to show God that they are with Him in every way. Some are called very late in adulthood, in their sixties, seventies, eighties. And they also have a very short time to prove to God their conviction about what He is giving them, offering them.
No one's conversion, from baptism to death, is the same, but fifty years seems like a nice round figure. That is just how long we have on average to overcome sin, grow in righteousness, to produce spiritual fruit, and prepare for God's Kingdom. And when you are a kid and you are looking at fifty years from a kid's perspective, that seems like an awfully long time. When you got gray hair starting to grow out of your ears, you wake up with soreness that you cannot explain, you creak when you walk, fifty years feels like a horse race. Over in two minutes. It just so fleeting.
So we need to consider how we use these fifty years. From our walk out of Egypt to our ultimate acceptance by God, really we just have a mere handful of decades and they go by so quickly.
Through the rest of the sermon, we are going to consider this limited period of time we have, and especially our reaction to it. How do we react to the fact that we do not have a whole lot of time? God thinks in great epochs of time. We think in minutes and that is kind of the way things are. We think in small ways, God thinks in big ways, and we have to begin to think of things differently. Not that we want to waste any time, that is exactly the opposite of what I am saying. But we have to think about time, how it passes and what we are doing in it.
Consider that before the Passover there is a period that we use to evaluate ourselves for the Passover, examine our growth in the faith. You find this in II Corinthians 13:5. Well, that is something that is kind of a tradition of the church. I cannot find any place in the Bible where it says use the time leading up to Passover to examine yourself. But it is a good principle to do. But with Pentecost, there is one. It is called counting fifty days. It is there for a reason and we are commanded to do it. To count the days for yourself. It is not a mere exercise that does not profit. It is something that God put in there, for those who are perceptive enough to see, that we have to think about these days counting down to the feast, to the holy day. And we are supposed to be thinking about our progress towards God's harvest of His firstfruits. That is what the day is all about.
Jesus Himself was accepted on the day of the Wave Sheaf. But those who follow Him are accepted in the two Wave Loaves on the day of Pentecost. What does that mean between Jesus' acceptance and ours? How long have we progressed on that road? My question today is, how well are we using our time?
I mentioned Psalm 90 before. Let us go there. Now, Psalm 90, many of you who have been with us for several years know that this is my favorite psalm. I come here as often as I can. It is just full of interesting things and profundity. I like that word too, profundity. As I did earlier, Moses compares God's eternity and immortality and strength and power with our brevity, our mortality, and our weakness.
Psalm 90:1-12 Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. You turn man to destruction, and say, "Return, O children of men." For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night. You carry them away like a flood; they are like sleep. In the morning they are like grass which grows up: In the morning it flourishes and grows up; in the evening it is cut down and withers. For we have been consumed by Your anger, and by Your wrath we are terrified. You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your countenance. For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; we finish our years like a sigh. The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knows the power of Your anger? For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath. So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Within all this that we have read here is a comparison, not just of His immortality and our brevity, but also a comparison of His holiness and our depravity, our sinfulness. And we are justly consumed by His wrath and this thought terrifies us! It is a proper fear of the Lord to have that we are justly under His anger when we sin. I think even people out there who do not have much religion realize that they are sinful creatures. It is hard to get around it when they see the things that they do turn out so badly.
It says here that our sinfulness is wide open to His sight. That reminds me of Hebrews 4:13 where it says everything we are is open to Him. And man's lives pass in the blink of an eye. They are full of futility and grief and then they are gone. That is the end. You can understand why Solomon thought that human existence was so futile—vanity of vanities, all is vanity. We are here today and gone tomorrow. We are sinful creatures worthy of extinction. What good have we ever done? What have we ever built that is worthy? Yet God lives before and during and after and He never changes. He is always righteous and holy. We have no claim on Him. Only as His creatures and His love for us. And that is the only thing that is keeping us around: He has a plan and He desires the work of His hands.
I think in many ways Moses was far more wise than Solomon. Just my own little conclusion. So Moses, unlike Solomon, decided that rather than complain about all this, he presents the problem to God. He says, God teach us, teach us to number our days, teach us to make something of the time we have, teach us so that we may be wise in how we live. The Hebraism that is used here in verse 12 "number our days," or it could also be count our days, because the same word could be translated in either way, it covers more than meets the eye.
On its face it seems to suggest merely counting time, keeping track of time. But obviously here, it is part of Scripture, it means something more than just keeping track of time. In context it suggests something that I have already mentioned in terms of the Pentecost count. Counting down to zero. It is kind of the idea behind this, that the countdown is getting toward its end and we have to pay attention to the fact that the count is coming to an end. The numbers are getting smaller. So Moses asked God to teach him how to do this correctly. How do approach the fact that we do not have much time.
It implies recognizing the brevity of life and realizing that each day brings us that much closer to death. We are sliding rapidly toward the grave, where Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 9:10, no one can work. There is no work, there is no device, there is no knowledge, there is no nothing in the grave where we are going. Whatever we are going to do, whatever growth we are going to have, it has to happen now before the casket lid closes. So our window for doing anything good and profitable is closing and it is closing fast. You know, I am only 55, but it seems like just yesterday I was playing ball down in South Carolina, in West Columbia, and I was having the time of my life. But I have got four kids and two grandkids now. Where did that time go? It has just slipped by but it has not gone any faster than time has always gone. But to me it seems like it was just last week. I can barely lift a baseball bat anymore and swing it the way I used to be able to swing it.
But we really have to sit down and think about time, the time we have left, because we cannot count on anything. We cannot count on our genes. Maybe all your relatives died at the age of 95. They were hail and they went to bed one day and that was it. They died in their sleep. And you think, well I am going to follow the rest of my family in there and then you die at 61 of some sort of a cancer or what have you. You cannot even count on your genes to keep you alive for the time you may think you have. We do not know, we just know it is limited and we know that if we are going to get something profitable done, we better start it now and set up a system where we can get it done in the time we think we have, and not waste any time in the meantime.
So it is no wonder that Moses here concludes by asking God for the proper instruction about how to evaluate our lives for the purpose of gaining, building, and developing a heart of wisdom. That is the answer. Ask God to help us have a right perspective and to teach us how we can develop a wise approach to life. His life, the way He wants us to live. So we go to God and say, "Look God, You're infinite, You've lived for millennia. We can't even count eternity going that way and how long You have actually lived. And we know that You're immortal and You'll go forever the other direction. But we get seventy years or eighty, if we are strong. So teach me how to use this finite and very small amount of time so that I can have the greatest growth and please You and be acceptable to You."
Because God is interested. You will get a reaction from Him because God is interested in building a heart of wisdom in you. And if you are serious and convicted and you go to Him with this request He is going to respond. He will start building a heart of wisdom in you and you are going to have a hard time keeping up. Now, let me warn you, it probably will not be easy. Look how He has worked to build a heart of wisdom in some of the people in the pages of this Book. He says, "Hey, if you're serious about this, if you want to develop the mind of Christ, you're willing to bear your cross, you're willing to love Me more than all others, and devote yourself to My way of life, good, let's go. Let's get to work."
Because that is what God is in the business of doing. Jesus Christ's mandate from the Father is to build His church! And how does He do that? By preparing each individual stone in the building. So He is going to do the work. No wonder Paul said that He will complete the work in you. He had that much confidence in Jesus Christ's ability to do that. Of course He will, He is the Creator God and He is going to create a heart of wisdom in you, if you are really interested and convicted that you want this and will work with Him. So that is the good and profitable thing we need to be doing with the time we have left.
Now wisdom is the third tier, if you will, of spiritual growth. You have knowledge at the foundation, you have understanding of that knowledge, and then you have wisdom on top of that, or coming out of that, which is the practical application of God's revelation in one's life. So you may know the Ten Commandments and you may understand what they are all about, but God wants to see you going on to that third level where you actually live them, where you apply them in each and every aspect of life. Because what good is knowledge for knowledge sake? You might as well be a Gnostic. No, He wants us to take it beyond knowledge through understanding and to the actual application of these things in our lives. Wisdom, doing what is right. My dad has phrased it, skill in living. Remember that from his Ecclesiastes series? That is what we are here to do. We are learning the skills of living like God lives. So we need to take it up a notch or two. Not just to know, not just to understand, but to apply and to live it, live it all the time. So God's goal is that we live as He lives. Or to put it another way, that we always act or behave righteously, always act or behave the way that He does.
Now, if we wish to accomplish this during the time of our conversion, however long it is, we must learn to prioritize time properly. That is why Moses asked what he did: "teach us to number our days." That is prioritizing time. But note that he asked for God to teach us how to do that. You think, oh yeah, I have known how to count since I was five years old or whatever. So he obviously does not mean about counting. Teach us to number our days is very similar to what David said. We have to learn the fear of the Lord. He says that in Psalm 34:11.
There is something about this numbering our days that requires God's input for us to really understand it. In humans, learning to number our days is not an inherent skill. We do have the skill with the numbers and the fingers and toes if we want to count that way. But we do not have the insight that we need to do it right. That is, to prioritize our time. Without God's instruction in teaching us how to number our days, we are likely to spend our time on matters that are not profitable. For instance, we are likely to spend our time on distractions like my volcano watching. That takes hours of my time every day. Just ask Beth every time she comes by my computer, there is this volcano going off. (At least it is not coming out of my head.)
Another problem that we have seen in, not this particular church, but this era of the church, let us say from the late 20s, is heresies and that is actually true in every era of the church. But heresies are things that we can be very much distracted by and we could get caught up in them and spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about them, talking about them, trying to resolve them, or whatnot, and find ourselves way off because we are just stuck in this rut. That is one of the problems that the Ephesians church had. They were so gung-ho about finding false apostles that they went full bore into fighting the heresies, and God says, "Guys, you've lost your first love. You love heresies and fighting heresies more than you love Me." It is a distraction. It can take us off the path. It can require repentance, like He told them to do.
Some other matters that we get into are dead ends. Dead ends in doctrines, or dead ends in certain understandings of things where we have to eventually say, "We don't know!" But people rehash them and rehash them and just end up wasting a lot of time. This is the same sort of thing about uncertain matters. Various speculations, a lot of prophecy buffs get into this area, where they are constantly speculating about various fulfillments of prophecy, but they forget the real reason why we are here, which is to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Many of us go down rabbit holes. These are the conspiracy theorists among us and others, they just find something on the Internet and they just go whole hog into finding out everything about this certain thing, and they find themselves in Wonderland. I mean Alice in Wonderland with all those weird things that happen down there and they get off the track. And there is other various utilities. I just want to look quickly at what Paul says about these things. It is a warning in I Timothy 1.
I Timothy 1:3-4 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine [These were heresies they told them not to teach], nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith.
Titus 3:9 [he says something similar to Titus instructing him] Avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless.
They are not going to help you at all in developing a heart of wisdom, which is what we are told that we need to be doing.
So all these things are time wasters. They are not good when we are supposedly learning how to number our days. They take us off off the beaten path. But God must lead us. We have to follow Him and truly profitable pursuits. He tells us what is important and those are the things we have to follow. You have probably heard the saying, "keep your eyes on the prize." We have a goal. We are preparing to be His sons and daughters in the Kingdom of God. Anything that does not fit under that goal, we need to kick it out of our lives because we are not numbering our days properly. We are not prioritizing our time properly, if we get ourselves involved in them. Time is short. We do not have time to give over to those things. Let us go to Psalm 39 where David makes a similar request to Moses'.
Psalm 39:4 "Lord, make me to know my end [This is very similar to teach me to number my days.], what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am."
So he makes a similar request, but he puts a little different spin on it. His reason why he wants to know how to measure his time is because he needs to know how frail he is. Now why is that important? Moses touched on this a little bit too in the verses leading up to verse 12. The rest of the psalm, if we were to read it, explains that he understood that the things that had occurred to him were the result of God's work in his life. He understood that God had pushed all the buttons, He pulled all the levers. He had made David's life what it was. It had not been David's own strength or wisdom or heroism or intelligence.
Now we could say that some of his stupidity and his lusts and other things had gotten into him into certain situations. But God had guided him through all that and made him the man that he was as he came toward the end of his life. He understood that his life was going to end, and fairly soon. Yet he was still a weak sinner in need of correction. He admits this. He was learning through his experiences with God that even though he was king of all Israel and had been promised that his line would go on forever and that he was a man after God's own heart and he had all of these accolades and monuments to him or whatnot that he had, he was insignificant, especially in comparison with God. Just the same as Moses concluded. Here he says, "Look God, You've done everything for me. But I've come to realize that I'm frail, I'm insignificant, and I need to learn the why of all this." Why was he a vapor, as his son would put it in Ecclesiastes? Why is he a shadow? Why is he nothing?
Well, his answer is, I am nothing because God is everything. When we evaluate our lives against God's life as David did, we come to realize just how frail and insignificant we are. And that is good! That is the right attitude to have because it reminds us of our place before God. Recognizing our dependence on God, knowing that we do not have what it takes, makes us more willing to submit to Him. To say, "God, You know what You're doing. I don't. Tell me what I need to do." That is wisdom. That is the same thing Moses was asking for.
So if we put those things together, "teach us to number our days" and "help me to be humble and submit to you," we are going a long way to using our time properly because now we have fixed our attitude toward God. Now we know that He is in the driver's seat and we need to follow His lead. When we reach that point, realizing we do not have the answers or the strength on our own for this journey that we are on, then we are in the proper attitude to grow in godly character. Then He can start working with us because at that point He can start feeding us what we need and we are willing to accept it because He knows best.
Let us get another perspective on this in the book of Romans, chapter 13, from the apostle Paul. It is interesting (I will not make many anymore comment about this, but maybe you can mull it over in your free time), but this comes after he had talked about submitting to government in the first seven verses, and then he talked in the next three verses or so about loving your neighbor. Then comes this point.
Romans 13:11-14 And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
The apostle Paul supplies another reason to number our days and it is perhaps the most obvious and one that I have already talked about already. The time is short and grows shorter with every passing second. Definitely our salvation is nearer than we first believed. For me, that was 1984, so a long time ago. That many years have passed. And I am now nearer to my salvation than I was in 1984. That makes a lot of sense. It is logical, right? Time has moved on.
But on the other hand, any one of us, as I have mentioned, could die tomorrow. Do any of us know how much time God has allotted us specifically? Has He whispered in your ear, you are going to die at 84 on September 13? No, He has not said that. We do not know, not for sure. We hope we will live to be older and wiser and have all this time to change. But we do not know. As I said, the count to Pentecost, those fifty days symbolizing fifty years, is a round, general figure. We may only have five, or we may have twenty, or we may have one or less than one. You do not know. That is the point I am trying to get across. We do not know how much time we have!
The apostle, because of this, urges us not to waste a second of that time that we have left, because the day of Christ's return for you may be quite near. So he says, put on Christ. Get rid of all those other distractions, get rid of all those works of darkness, and put on Christ. Spend your time doing that. That is the only wise way to live when you do not know how much time you have.
One of the most dangerous things a Christian can do—it is a form of tempting God—is to assume that he or she has time and so procrastinates in overcoming a sin or growing in a godly virtue. "Oh, I can do that. That doesn't need to be done now." There are certain things that we can do that with, but with growth and godly character, it is not. It is something that if we find we have a problem, we need to tackle it immediately. We do not have time to waste.
There is a tragic occurrence that happened in the Chicago church back in the eighties. A young man, well liked, he seemed like he was a good person. I could see that in terms in the future he could maybe have been ordained, given sermonettes and whatnot, or who knows, maybe he had been called into the ministry. I do not know. But he seemed like a great guy. But he did something like this: He had a problem and it was between him and the ministry. He had told the minister that he would fast about it, and he said I will fast about it tomorrow. And so the minister said, that is good. I think you need to to get a handle on this and fasting before God is a good way to get in the proper attitude and you can start working on this. So they went their separate ways. But somewhere between that time and the time of the tragedy, he decided he was not going to fast that day. He would put it off for another week or so. And the next morning, if I have my story correct, he crossed a train track and was hit. Killed immediately—died.
Now, I do not know if that was a result of his tempting of God by putting off the fasting when he said he would, but it is a tragic incident to think about that. He had all this potential, seemed like a great guy, but he procrastinated, put something off that needed to be handled immediately. Did God respond that way? I do not know. It is a very serious thing to think about. I do not have all the answers. But the way it happened at the time, it sure did seem like it, that God had intervened in the man's life and said, no I am going to cut it off here because he is going down the wrong path and I do not want him to go any further down this wrong path.
I do not know, I am not his judge. It just seemed like it was that way because it was it was a bang, bang, bang series of events. "I'm going to fast." Then he postponed fasting for whatever his reason and he died. It just seemed like there was nothing in between. I will just leave that for you to to mull over because I do not want to draw any permanent conclusions from that since I am not his judge, as I have mentioned.
But let us go to Luke 12. We are dealing with the same God here. This is parable of the rich fool.
Luke 12:16-21 Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat drink, and be merry."' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul [your life] will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
This parable is mainly about covetousness, but the principle applies. When we grow self-satisfied and put off doing what is needed, that is, procrastinate, Jesus teaches that God becomes angry and may well react in fatal wrath. We put ourselves before Him. Now I am not saying this will happen every time, but it is a warning that we cannot waste time, that we cannot put off what needs to be done. I get the idea that God really hates complacency. He really hates assumptions and procrastination and self-satisfaction. I think they make Him angry. It is a totally wrong attitude to have before Him.
Now, if we would go back to our thoughts in Romans 13, Paul tells us what happens when we get spiritually sleepy. He says we fall into works of darkness. These are expressions of our carnal nature. These are the works of the flesh that we see in other places. This is when we descend into pleasing our flesh instead of pleasing God. And he tells us, that because time is short, because it is getting shorter all the time, we need to cast those works of darkness off completely.
This idea, "cast off," we need to understand the vigor that is in the phrase. This is like throwing something off of us as if it were burning or defiling us. When you have something on you that is burning, you throw it with great force, as far away from you as possible. That is what he is saying we need to do with these works of darkness. We need to get them out of us and as far away from us as possible. Here is one that will get you: consider how you would react if you woke up in the dead of night from a sound sleep and found a spider on your face? Would you cast that spider off with vehemence and urgency? You fling that thing off and start doing the spider web dance. Right? I mean, just walking through a spider web, we do that. That is what God wants us to do with sin. As soon as we feel it crawling on us, we throw it against the wall and hope it splatters, because sin is far more poisonous and destructive than a spider.
Notice, too, that Paul says that we are supposed to put on the armor of light. It says that in verse 12 there, the very end. Armor protects the body from contact with harmful exterior forces. So if you are a soldier, armor deflects the blows of sword or spear or knife or arrow or bullet. Other kinds of armor, we do not necessarily call them armor, but they are armor. They protect us from acid or poisonous gas or heat or fire or some sort of infection. Some kind of harmful environmental factor. The armor that we are supposed to put on, Paul writes, is the Lord Jesus Christ and all that He is in His character. He is our shield and our hiding place. Look at how David describes our God, the Lord, in Psalm 119. Well, if David wrote it. I have suggested that maybe Jeremiah wrote it, but who knows?
Psalm 119:113-120 I hate the double-minded, but I love Your law. You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word. Depart from me, you evildoers, for I will keep the commandments of my God! Uphold me according to Your word, that I may live; and do not let me be ashamed of my hope. Hold me up, and I shall be safe, and I shall observe Your statutes continually. You reject all those who stray from Your statutes, for their deceit is falsehood. You put away all the wicked of the earth like dross; therefore I love Your testimonies. My flesh trembles for fear of You, and I am afraid of Your judgments.
So the author here says that he runs to God, and in God and in keeping His commandments and doing what God wants him to do, he is protected, it shields Him. It gives him a hiding place from all his enemies. Whether they are real enemies in terms of people, beings, or whether they are ideas or what-have-you.
Psalm 18:1-2 [David says] I will love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
All those words, most of them, have to do with defense. That you run to God and you feel a great deal of of satisfaction and safety and security there because He is on your side, He will protect you. And this is especially true for us because He is inside us. He is in us and he protects our mind.
Psalm 18:3 [He says] I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies.
Psalm 18:30 As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.
So Paul tells us to put on the armor which is Jesus Christ—His character. That is what we need to be doing with our time: flinging away those spiders of sin and putting on the armor of light so that we can be safe and secure in His way of life. So if we clothe ourselves properly in Him, we will then, as Paul says, make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts.
I have got to explain this "make no provision." This is in Romans 13:14. This is the word pronoia. You remember pronoia? I mentioned it just a couple sermons ago in my sermons on Abraham and Isaac. Pronoia is often translated as providence, which is interesting, but it can be used this way. Pronoia normally means forethought or planning or premeditating. We are thinking ahead. So he says, do not think ahead about fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. He says, do not plan to do anything in terms of fulfilling your fleshly lusts. Do not premeditate how you are going to fulfill your desires, your carnal desires.
So what is he saying here? Obviously a godly person would not do these type of things, but what he is saying is do not waste time thinking about how to satisfy your flesh. Do not even think about it! Do not even let it get into your head. What does Paul say elsewhere? Colossians 3:2, we are to be "set[ting] our minds on things above, not on things of the earth," not on fleshly things, not on carnal things. This is no fantasizing, no daydreams, no flights of fancy about sinful acts. Do not even think about it. Do not even let it into your mind. Put them totally out of your mind as foolish, unbecoming, and potentially dangerous time wasters. Because again, even these little flights of fancy have a terrible potential to sidetrack us away from God.
Bottom line here: get control of your mind. Do not let it dwell on anything that is not godly, even in little fanciful flights of imagination. That is hard to do.
Let us get away from Romans 13. We have been here long enough. Let us go to Ephesians the 5th chapter. These little nuggets about using our time wisely are all over the Bible because time is so precious to us, and we need to get a good handle on our use of it. We are going to read verses 8-17. Here, Paul uses the same metaphors about light and darkness that he did in Romans 13.
Ephesians 5:8-17 For you were once darkness [awfully nice of him to say that], but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), proving what is acceptable to the Lord. [This is what we are supposed to be doing with our minds now that we are light.] And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness [there it is again], but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says: "Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light." See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Colossians 4:5 Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.
Paul exhorts us here to redeem the time because the days are evil. As I mentioned, this parallels in many ways Romans 13 but he comes at it from a different direction. In Romans 13, he focused on using Christ as armor, as protection. Here in Ephesians 5, he tells us to go on the offensive. That was defensive that he taught in Romans 13, now he is telling us to go on the offense and expose works of darkness with Christ's light.
His intention, which many people have misunderstood, is that we first expose these works of darkness in ourselves, or to ourselves. You know those secret sins that we may have—our hidden sins—those are the sorts of things that Christ's light should expose within ourselves. Then once we understand it and see it, we can see it elsewhere as well. And we have to use wisdom, of course, in exposing it to others because before we can correct others in love, we must have such things under control in ourselves. And if we actually do tell them about these things and it is still in us, then we brand ourselves as self-righteous hypocrites. So we need to first get the plank out of our own eye before we look at the speck in our brethren's eye.
Now actually the wording in the Greek, the way Paul writes it, implies that the righteous person's godly living exposes others by silent example. Did you ever hear light speak? Light is silent. Light manifests these things, these works of darkness without shouting, without any words. It just shines the light on them and they are seen. That is the kind of idea that we are talking about here. Not that we go around saying, oh, you're a murderer at heart and you steal and you're a liar. That is not what he is talking about it all. He is saying, expose those things in yourself, change your own character through Christ, stop doing these things, repent, live properly. And your example will expose things for others to see in themselves, not that you have to actually tell them that they are sinning.
I just wanted to go quickly to John 3, where something similar is said. This is after the born again section.
John 3:19-21 "And this is the condemnation, that the light [Jesus Christ] has come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."
So the light of Jesus Christ opens up, manifests, reveals sin that we are supposed to work on, get out, overcome, and then our light as a good example, you know, be the light of the world, that sort of thing can help others in the same way without our having to actually point out their faults to them.
Let us go back to Ephesians 5 where we were. In the second part of this from verses 15-17, Paul says to make the best use of your time because the world is getting no better. In fact, it is getting worse. There is no time like the present to conform to God's way, because it will only get harder to do so as the times get worse, as the world becomes more degenerate. So again, there is a warning here. Do not procrastinate. Do not let the world get more evil and pull you into its ways of doing things. Do not let it squeeze you into its mold. Do it now while the times are a little bit better than they will be, make it easy on yourself, handle it now.
So what does Paul tell us to do? What is his advice in these three verses? What he does here is give us, essentially, a three-step process of what to do to redeem the time, or how we are supposed to be to live in the time we have remaining. It is very easy to see these three points.
First, walk circumspectly, he says in verse 15. Now, the Greek word underlying circumspectly can also mean carefully or strictly. But circumspectly is a very interesting word. It literally means "to look around," circum-spect. Spect means to look, like inspect, and other spect words, spectacles, the things you look through. Well, circumspectly means "to look around." Walk looking around. It suggests surveying all possible consequences before deciding or acting on one's next steps.
So here you are, you are looking all over, you are trying to see it from every angle that you can before you take that step forward. You are walking as the soldiers talk about, you are keeping your head on a swivel. You are looking everywhere, you are trying to find enemies all around you. You are trying to see if this is the right way to go or that is the right way to go. Because the worst thing a soldier can do is to get tunnel vision, to get fixated on one thing, and he would be hit on his flank from somewhere that he was not expecting.
As a Christian soldier we are always walking in enemy territory. There are always terrible things going on around us. There is always distractions and pulls and temptations and we need to be walking through this life with our head on a swivel. One, so that we make right decisions, and two, so that we will not be blindsided by the enemy. Be aware, watch out, look around. Do not ever get too fixated on one thing because you are probably going to get knocked for a loop.
Paul calls allowing ourselves to get fixated or not to look around, foolish. And we need to be wise, we need to be careful and strict about how we walk through this life, and we need to be trying to improve every area of our lives, trying to meet the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. And if we do, we have the protection of Jesus Christ to keep us from being tripped up. He will protect our blind side, but we have to have that right relationship and be showing Him that we are looking out, looking around, watching our step.
Second, we need to redeem the time. The Greek word underlying redeeming is a exagorozo. It literally means to "buy out," "redeem," "to buy back," "to buy out." It is often used in secular Greek of the act of purchasing a slave with a view of setting him free. So you are trying to buy out his contract or his price so that you can therefore set the slave free, make him a free man. Vine's Expository Dictionary of the New Testament comments that in this context it suggests making the most of every opportunity, turning each to the best advantage since none can be recalled if missed.
Now this is interesting. Why did he say that? "None can be recalled if missed"? Well that is because the word time, redeeming the time, is kairos, which specifically means "season," buying out the season. Obviously it is a Greek idiom that we do not quite understand so we need to explain it a little bit. You know that when you go to the grocery store, at least it was this way in time past, that you could only buy certain fruit at certain times of the year, the season when they were ripening. If you wanted to get this certain thing in the winter time, you would pay up a lot of money to get it from some far off place around the globe where it was actually in season.
Well, this is kind of the idea that he is talking about. Remember, Jesus went to the fig tree and it was supposed to be the season for figs, or it was just about ready to start? Well, that is what we are talking about here. He expected something to be there on the fig tree because it was close to being the season. What Paul is getting at here is, if we miss a thing while it is in season, it is going to be a long time, probably another year or what have you, before it comes around again or it may never come around again, just depending on circumstances. Or, maybe for you, you do not last till the next season and you missed your opportunity.
So the idea that Paul is teaching here is, yes, use your time wisely. That is baseline of what he is getting at. And yes, make the most of your opportunities. However, he also urges us to gain or buy time by turning every day wasted time or time filled with silly, purposeless, or futile pursuits, into profitable uses of time. Understand what I mean? You cannot buy time, but you can change you in the way you use time so that in the times that you normally waste, you do something good and profitable and godly. That is how you buy time.
If you sit in front of the boob tube for six hours a day, well, that is a lot of wasted time. But say you cut that down to one hour, you have got five hours that you did not have before. You just redeemed time that you normally would have used in a fruitless way. Now you can use it for something good. You bought five hours of time just by changing the way you function, just by the way you prioritize your time. So we redeem the time by turning bad uses of time into good, godly uses. And we do this because the evils at the end of the age are mounting and showing us that time is short.
Third, he says in verse 17, understand God's will. Now note that this does not say know what the will of the Lord is, but understand what the will of the Lord is. This implies, as I mentioned earlier, going beyond intellectual awareness of its content to comprehending, not just what it means, but also how it applies to day-to-day living. So Paul implores us here to build on our knowledge the insight that comes from practical, consistent experience with God's way of life. It is unwise to know something and not use it. It is unwise to just sit on knowledge and do not use it for good.
That is what he means here. "Do not be unwise but understand what the will of the Lord is." Take your knowledge and understanding and use it. That is wisdom. Because the days are evil, our extended experience with practicing the will of God will pay great dividends as Christ's return nears, and it will also pay great dividends in the world to come. That is what we are being prepared for.
Let us finish in Philippians, just a couple pages over in Philippians 3. And if I can leave you with anything, this is probably it. If we take on this attitude of the apostle Paul, then we are on the road to doing the right thing with the time that we have. He says here,
Philippians 3:12-15 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected [he is in the same boat that we are at this point]; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us [the members of God's church], as many as are mature, have this mind [have this attitude]; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.
Now, let us note that the apostle Paul wrote this epistle from prison. He was confined. It was sometime in the early 60s, it might have been 60 itself. In that situation, his trial, and potentially the headman's axe, was hanging over his head. He did not know how things were going to turn out. He did not know how much time he had, but he resolved in this letter to the Philippians, publicly, to them, that he was going to finish strong, no matter how much time he had—whether it was one year, whether it was five years, whether it was ten years, it did not matter. He was going to finish strong, no matter what his circumstances, no matter how fearful he might be that he might be executed on the next dawn, he would finish strong. Knowing that his time was limited, he would not let down. He would press on, he says. He would reach forward, he would press toward the goal.
Maybe I should take a moment to explain this word press. It is not just press or press a button. This word means "pursue with speed," "drive forward with rigor," "hasten after with purpose," "push with zeal." You know this word is also used for the same kind of attitude that persecutors had against the church? Who was the chief persecutor? Who knew this attitude the most? The apostle Paul. He says, "I decided that I am going to pursue God's way. I'm going to finish strong with the same attitude of zeal I had in persecuting the church. I'm going to turn it around for good. I'm going to drive forward with rigor, press forward and finish my course strong. I'm going to channel all that aggression, all of that zeal, into doing good."
It was a character trait that could be flipped from this bad thing of persecuting Christians to a good thing in becoming more like Jesus Christ. Paul was not going to rest on his oars. He was not going to coast on his built up momentum until he died. No, he resolved to bend his oars with all his strength and hurtle toward the goal of the Kingdom of God.
As verse 15 says, if you are spiritually mature, you will agree, and with Paul, press toward the prize of eternal life in God's Kingdom.