See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16 (NKJV)
Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Colossians 4:5 (NKJV)
Notes on the Text
• Walk circumspectly means to exercise exactness in our walk. The King James Version translated this word circumspectly implying an acute awareness of our surroundings and applying prudence as we are about our business.
• Redeeming means simply to rescue from loss or ruin.
• Time translates kairos, the opportune time, the ripe moment. It is not chronos, which emphasizes time as a mechanism or movement.
• Evil means characterized or possessed of the trait of moral corruption and wickedness.
If you should ever be tempted to think these times are not right for you, or to long for another time — remember that the sovereign God has placed us here, in this time, to serve Him.
Among other things, redeeming the times means that we are to make the most of those unique opportunities the Lord gives. As we embark through the portal of a new millennium, there are challenges, which characterize our time, and opportunities, which grow out of those circumstances unique to our time. These challenges and opportunities confront every church, every pastor, and every Christian in the land.
What are the special circumstances of our time? And how do they cry out for our best efforts?
REDEEM THE TIME — WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR MORAL CLARITY!
Moral confusions abound. Charles Colson has stated, "America faces a crisis of moral authority. Sixty-seven percent of the American people said in one recent poll there is no such thing as truth. Seventy percent said there are no moral absolutes. Relativism pervades our culture. Every man does what is right in his own eyes. And they call this freedom ..."
Colson is right! Relativism has permeated the culture from top to bottom! Our countrymen have their feet firmly planted in mid-air. This represents a veritable sea-change on the American landscape. Within one generation, the public has come to accept the notion that there are no universals; you can't say there are things that are always wrong, or always right, in every case, and in every place.
Some mistakenly see this as a new thing. But, other people, in earlier times, have tried this very way of thinking. We don't have to wonder whether it works, if it is good or bad, if it is constructive or destructive! We know where this leads!
The Word of God is an absolutely dependable source of information and direction, and by telling us where a thing has led in times past, it enables us to accurately predict where it will lead in our own generation. What is at stake? Nothing less than the very survival of our land and people, our families, our nation, our home, our civilization! Our time is very like another in numerous ways, and it clearly illustrates where we are heading as a people - to sorrow, chaos, destruction, and death!
In the Old Testament book of Judges (19:1-21:25), a narrative passage tells about a time similar to ours, in which moral absolutes were overturned, and it describes the disastrous results. The section beginning in chapter 19:1 employs a common formula noting, in those days ... there was no king in Israel, ending, in chapter 21:25, everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
These two verses act as bookends to striking events. At their simplest level, the statements place the events in the time before the Hebrew monarchy. But, the intention is more than to just place the story chronologically; it is clearly to portray the character of the time as one of evil, anarchy, and chaos. It gives a commentary on why the times were as they were — everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
With no regulation upon behavior other than what each person thought was right by their own lights, it was inevitable that the "wheels would come off!"
Examining the three chapters between these "bookend" verses, we learn of an unnamed Levite who is returning with his concubine from Judah to his home in Ephraim. It is late in the afternoon when he reaches Jerusalem, where his servant suggests they spend the night. Ironically, the Levite refuses because this is a foreign city (Israel did not control Jerusalem until much later). He prefers to go on to Gibeah in Benjamin territory, where he expects greater hospitality among his fellow Israelites. Though he did not know it at the time, he would receive worse treatment from them than any foreigners would be likely to give.
In Gibeah there are no hotels, yet no one offers to take the Levite in, even though his servant, donkeys, and goods indicate his prosperity. Finally, as darkness descends, an old Ephraimite living in the town extends an invitation. Soon after he arrives at the old man's home, men from the village show up and demand that the Levite be given into their hands for their sexual use.
Incidentally, the perverted nature of their demand is indisputable. They command that the old man put his guests outside that they may "know" them. The word "know" here translates the Hebrew, yada, which is a euphemism for sexual intercourse (see Genesis 4:1, 4:17, 4:25, and 24:16). The old man, determined to protect his guests, offers the men both his own virgin daughter and the Levite's concubine for their sexual pleasure, indisputably showing that their demand was driven by sexual lust.
The sodomites refuse the old man's offer of his daughter and the concubine. Eventually, the Levite puts the concubine out of his house and the villagers spend the night molesting her.
By morning, the woman was dead. The Levite carried her body home, cut it ritually into twelve pieces, and sent the segments to the twelve tribes of Israel. The point of the grim parable was that if something were not done about the cancerous growth in their midst, no citizen, however remote his home, could live secure in his own land. Its point was not lost on his fellow Israelites. The ghastly spectacle, testifying to the enormity of the misdeed, electrified the social conscience of the other tribes, and they took swift, decisive, and drastic action.
In response to this macabre object lesson, an army of outraged Israelites assembled. The Levite told his story, and the armed men resolved to get revenge. First, they asked the Benjamites to give up the guilty men, but the Benjamites stubbornly refused, determined to defend their own.
A three-day battle resulted. For two days the Benjamites prevailed. On the third day, however, the Israelites divided their forces and drew their countrymen away from the city, and slaughtered them. The number of casualties made the nation fearful that an entire clan may be wiped out, and devious and peculiar provisions were made to get around an oath they had taken not to let their daughters marry the men of Gibeah.
As gruesome as the incidents were, some think that Israel was saved from further decline by the drastic events told in these chapters.
Now, think of our time once again. Given the condition of public opinion — 67 percent of the American people saying there is no such thing as truth and 70 percent that there are no moral absolutes — we should not be surprised at the lack of moral and ethical clarity, or the breakdown in the culture!
As we examine life in those dark times, we see a reflection of our own. Those terrible events were recorded to illustrate that "doing what is right in your own eyes," or moral relativism, is a recipe for disaster.
Political loyalties and political polls add to the confusion at this crisis moment in American history. There are high profile, public figures that identify themselves as Southern Baptists in America who represent Christians in general and Southern Baptists in particular as people without principle. We must make certain that we speak truly, clearly, and biblically in this environment.
Let me be clear, to propose that securing civil virtue is the purpose of biblical religion is blasphemous — but to deny that securing civil virtue is a benefit of biblical religion is blindness!
We contend for the truth that politics, law, and culture must be secured by moral truth.
If we are to have credibility and make a positive impact on this culture, we must aim to cultivate the morality of honesty, law observance, protection of the preborn, work, caring, chastity, mutual respect between the sexes, and readiness for marriage, parenthood, and family.
We reject outright the claim that, in any or all of these areas, "tolerance" requires the promotion of moral equivalence between the normative and the deviant.
While many, if not all "mainline" denominations go through mental and religious contortions to make homosexuality acceptable — we do not have that option! As biblical Christians, we will not negate either what God affirms or what He condemns! But neither will we adopt self-righteous attitudes, which diminish God's cleansing and forgiving grace.
What is needed? A new appreciation of the power of sin!
Sin separates and damns!
Sin is forgivable through the mercy of God in Christ! This hour not only requires candor, it requires compassion as well!
REDEEM THE TIME — WE HAVE AN OCCASION FOR BIBLICAL EXPOSITION!
Not only moral, but also spiritual confusion abounds! Jesus posed the question whether one asking for bread should be given stones as substitutes. Yet, that regularly happens from some pulpits in our land! While some preachers spend their time telling their listeners how to be healthy and wealthy, others how one can be a success, others how to augment their self esteem, and still others how to celebrate deviancy under the euphemism of sexual diversity, men and women hungry for eternal bread are given the polished stones which cannot ultimately satisfy, either in time or eternity.
We must make another point abundantly clear! Politics does not offer the ultimate answers needed. Knowing the consequences of human sinfulness, and the biblical prescription for that sinfulness, we resist the utopian conceit that it is within our power to build the Kingdom of God on earth.
Business as usual mentality, mediocrity, and the attitude of the hireling have no place in the ministry.
Several years ago, my wife, Sharla, and I took a vacation with two friends, making a motor trip around England. One afternoon, near sundown, we were looking at the epitaphs in a churchyard cemetery when the church bells rang indicating the beginning of the evening service. As we were about ready to leave the cemetery, we talked about it, and decided to go to the service. We went in, a little late. No one was there — just the four of us and the preacher, who had already begun preaching his sermon. After we left, I asked my friend, who attended school in Great Britain, why the preacher would preach to an empty church building. He explained that the church was tax supported and that the preacher was paid out of those tax funds, and that he was expected, for that pay, to preach so many sermons in each week. If he had not preached, even though no one came, and if the authorities learned it, he wouldn't be paid.
What a tragic view of preaching, and of the work of the Lord!
What matters is not that preachers continue to receive our paychecks — but that we stay on a quest for souls, and faithfully proclaim the eternal truths of the Word of God to them!
What is needed? A new emphasis on biblical preaching!
• Our Subject Matter — the gospel of Christ. Many things may seduce us to turn aside to some other topic or idea, but nothing else is sufficient!
• Our Motive — the constraining love of Christ. If we are not constrained to find others, and tell them of Christ's love and forgiveness, we are little different from the British preacher I described.
• Our Power — the Holy Spirit. Clever manipulation, efficient public relations, and psychological trickery are not kingdom principles - they are the principles of the world under judgment.
• Our Style — direct and simple. Paul referred to the trumpet that gave an uncertain sound - saying that such a trumpet blast did not enable its hearers to prepare.
A word of caution is in order. More efficient "selling" of the church has in some places resulted in the "selling out" of the gospel! Don't let marketing your church become marking down your message!
The New Testament describes the one without Christ as dead in trespasses and sins. A dead man does not need more effective marketing — he needs a resurrection!
Preachers, do not grow weary in this well-doing! When you stand before the great Shepherd, you will be glad for your faithfulness to the work of proclaiming the gospel!
Laymen, if you have preachers who are faithful to the proclamation of the Word of God, you ought to be supporting them! Don't add your voices with those perpetual critics of spiritual leaders and of the ministry! There is more at stake here than your preferences and prejudices!
Let this be our determination: Nothing more — nothing less — nothing else than the Word of God preached faithfully, directly, and powerfully!
REDEEM THE TIME — WE HAVE AN OPENING FOR SACRIFICIAL MINISTRY!
Lostness and alienation characterize our time. Violence, addiction, cruelty, injustice are found everywhere. Outbreaks of violence have occurred in our schools, even in the small towns of our nation. In every city, and many towns, our people live in insecurity and fear.
Our countrymen, young and old, have lost their way. This should not surprise us - the Scriptures say that every person is lost and alienated from God.
Do the churches of Jesus Christ have anything to say? Indeed, we do! God has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation — urging people to be reconciled to God. And this message transforms men and women who receive it. I have seen the power of Christ to change individuals, and to reconstruct entire families.
For every lost person we have a message: Christ receiveth sinful men, even me with all my sin - purged from every spot and stain — heaven with Him to enter in! Sing it o'er and o'er again — Christ receiveth sinful men!
We have the message — what we often do not have is willing listeners! They say we are too preoccupied with our religious clubs, our institutional goals, and our budgets. And they are right to a degree.
We can reach this generation when we see all men and women as made in the image of God, and deeply loved by Him — when we pour out our lives to get the message to those who need it!
Many of the wounds in our communities are self-inflicted. But that doesn't excuse us from dealing with them, and helping solve the life-strangling problems destroying people around us!
As the church and its people practice compassion and genuine caring, it opens a great door for evangelism and ministry that glorifies Christ!
What is needed? A renewed application of the principles of sacrificial service!
Let me tell you about an intriguing historical event. When the bubonic plague struck London in the late 1600s, the wealthy and privileged, including many physicians abandoned the city, and people were dying by the thousands. Puritans, who had for a long time been under the cruel sanctions of a hostile government and an established church, stayed in the city, and many others of them migrated there, to minister to the sick and dying. They administered such medical help as they had available, they bathed the fevered brows of the dying, they told them of the love of God, and comforted them with the promises of the Word of God, many of them at the cost of their own lives. When the plague had abated, and the privileged class returned, those believers who had been reviled and hated, were seen in a different light, the frown of the establishment was wiped away, and replaced with a new respect. They had opened a door for evangelism and ministry by sacrificial service.1
Under the frown of an increasingly hostile culture, we will not win the struggle by political means or public relations campaigns.
We must not set out to shout down the opposition to biblical Christianity. But we can by serving and by sacrificing, silence the opposition of many. I submit that we can purchase the right to be heard as we sacrificially serve those who despise us.
This is particularly the case in the matter of homosexual practice I mentioned earlier. We cannot customize the demands of the Scripture to make homosexual practice permissible — but we can illustrate God's grace by our sacrificial service. There are people in most of the towns, and all of the cities of our land dying because of their sinful choices. We are God's messengers of reconciliation to them — and their best hope!
If we will pour out our lives in sacrificial service for the benefit of sinners, we will be behaving like Christ, who gave His life up for those who despised and rejected Him!
As we approach the beginning of the new millennium, we have a grand and glorious opportunity both to PREACH and to PRACTICE the life changing truth of the Word of God.
Join me in committing to getting at, and staying at, it!
1 From Y2K: The Millennium Bug — A Balanced Christian Response by Shaunti Feldhahn, p. 114, 115.
From a sermon delivered to the Saluda Baptist Association, South Carolina, by Bill Merrell, October 19, 2000.