“See then that you walk carefully, 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” (Ephesians 5:15-17 NKJV).
What does “redeeming the time mean? Most modern translations substitute something like “making the best use of time” or “taking advantage of every opportunity.” Those are accurate, but they show that the concept of redemption doesn’t mean much nowadays. For the Christian, it ought to mean a lot.
Does anyone remember S&H Green Stamps?
Time was when you’d make a purchase, and along with your receipt, the cashier would hand you some stamps. You’d take them home and paste them in a book. When you had enough books, you’d take them to a special store, where the price of everything was so many books of stamps. It was called a redemption center. You could redeem the stamps for a toaster or something.
Jesus is our redeemer. He paid for sinners’ salvation with his blood. Then, in a sense, he returned the sinners to a redemption center and exchanged them for saints. Except somehow the sinners and saints are the same people.
The kinsman redeemer in the Old Testament
God spoke to Moses, promising to redeem the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 6:6). Since his object in making humans in the first place was to make us according to his image, it stands to reason that he wants people to become redeemers.
Leviticus 25 contains the fullest explanation of what that means. If someone became so poor that he had to sell his land, or worse yet, sell himself into slavery, a kinsman (close relative) could pay the debt for him (v. 25, 47-49).
This process of redemption gave Israel an additional picture of how God acts towards his people. Isaiah builds an elaborate portrait of God continually redeeming Israel, culminating in 63:9: “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them; In His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them and carried them all the days of old.”
Another familiar passage in Isaiah, from the fourth Servant Song, describes Jesus’ work on the cross:
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6
Like the kinsman redeemer described in Leviticus, Jesus paid the debt we couldn’t and bought us out of our slavery to sin.
The biblical meaning of redeeming the time
In Ephesians 5:16, Paul tells us to redeem the time, because the days are evil. Here is an excerpt from the definition of the Greek word he uses for redeeming according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
EXAGOAZO, a strengthened form of “to buy,” denoted to buy out, especially for purchasing a slave with a view to his freedom. It is used metaphorically . . . in the Middle Voice, to buy up for oneself . . . [in Ephesians 5:16] “redeeming the time” where “time” is kairos, a season, a time in which something is seasonable, i.e. making the most of every opportunity, turning each to the best advantage since none can be recalled if missed.
The days are evil simply because Satan enslaved them at the same time he enslaved Adam. Jesus bought us back. Paul tells us essentially to buy back time by replacing evil days with good.
Living to redeem the times
I recently visited a Baptist church. The preacher used these verses from Ephesians as his text and presented five tremendous truths:
- Life is short.
- Eternity is long.
- Sin is ugly.
- Hell is real.
- Heaven is ours.
Here are some of my own thoughts on that outline:
The longest human life is nothing more than a blink of an eye compared with the entire sweep of time. And the entire sweep of time is nothing more than a blink of the eye compared with eternity. This world is like the front porch of a duplex, where someone spends just enough time to prepare to go into one apartment or the other.
Jesus identified both heaven and hell as places. (See John 14:2 for heaven and Matthew 25:41 for hell.) Think of them as the two apartments in the duplex. People will dwell—spend eternity––in one or the other. Not on the porch.
We don’t live as Christians just so we can go to heaven. Redeeming the time means to help Jesus destroy sin while we’re on the porch and to influence as many people as possible to qualify for heaven instead of hell.
Redeeming the time clockface. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Ruth in Boaz’s Field. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Christ the Redeemer. Some rights reserved by Sailor Coruscant
Last Judgment. Public domain, from Wikimedia Commons