“Redeem the time, for the days are evil”.+
What is it to redeem the time? What does this suggestive phrase mean?
The first part of the sentence is partly explained by the second part. “The days are evil.” In other words, in the same way as biblical talk of Jesus redeeming people means Him saving them from sin, our redemption of time includes rescuing each moment from the domination of evil. If we see ourselves as involved in a spiritual battle, with the Kingdom of God advancing against the dark places, against the domain of Satan, we might consider human souls (and even human society and culture to a lesser extent) as the battlefield, the “territory” to be won by the armour and weaponry of faith and love, of prayer and God's word. But the battle can also be seen as fought across the field of time, across our lives' journeys, day by day, hour by hour. The more consistently and persistently we consecrate ourselves to God and his holy will, the more we change not only our own progress through time towards eternity but also that of the world around us.
The word “redeem” means to buy back, or to pay money so as to release someone or something from the former possessor. That is why it is applied to the practice of buying and then freeing slaves from their former owners. (Which still goes on, by the way, in Africa, where a number of Christians are still rescuing Christians and animists from enslavement to Muslims.) And that is why it is also applied to Christ's sacrifice for us, where he pays the debt of our sin Himself (as well as meriting eternity for us by his perfect obedience) in order to release us from its guilt and power over us.
How does this apply to us and time? After all, time that is gone is gone forever and the past cannot be changed. However, the present and the future are in our hands. Unless we cooperate with God in the now, we leave the present and future to the imprisonment of merely continuing the past, of being determined by the influences of the world, the flesh and the Devil. In other words, unless we redeem the time, we leave it to the muddied flow of fallen, corrupted nature. The days are evil because of the working out of the primordial and perpetual rebellions of created beings with free will. Those under God's grace represent His insertion of a different, more powerful dynamism, one which in its “working out” leads inexorably to final victory.
How do we redeem the time?
I have already said it is by cooperating with God. What are the specifics of this cooperation? The first one is a matter of basic attitude to time. We must see it in the context of eternity. St Paul said “this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forward to those things which lie ahead, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
As the words “press towards” indicate, we must also work hard for God and not waste time that should be in his service through laziness. This does not mean every moment that is not spent in prayer or religious or charitable works is therefore wasted. God intends us to set aside time for rest and recreation, hence his institution of a day of rest, the Sabbath, in the Bible. And it is the same Bible that encourages us to sleep properly: “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” And the same Bible that says even normal, everyday activities can be done for God: “whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus”. So, yes, we must set aside time especially for prayer, meditation on Scripture, doing good works and going to Church. But all that we do can be given a distinctively Christian character simply by building up the habit of remembering his presence and grace, of consciously living “under the shadow of [his] wings” (Psalm 36.7). Persistent, brief prayer throughout the day is the road to this habitual awareness of God. This does not mean we sin if we are not thinking religious thoughts all the time. The point is to know that He is thinking of us even when we are not explicitly thinking of Him. Some people may find this concept frightening or an imposition. But we neither can have or need a “holiday from God”. On the contrary, he is our resting place, as that quote from the Psalm indicated and as many of the Psalms do.
St Paul says in today's Epistle that we should have the wisdom to know the will of God. And that is so we can do it, obviously, as we have just learnt. Where and how do we find this wisdom? St James (1:5) tells us it is ours for the asking, if we ask in faith. That brings us back to prayer. God speaks to us through the Scriptures always, and much of the wisdom there is sufficient for decision-making if we apply it generally to our situation. (Not every decision requires a special divine inspiration, after all. God gave us a brain as well as a Bible.) He will also speak to us through other Christians, common sense and directly to our hearts.
“[B]e filled with the Spirit” the Epistle tells us. If we live full of God, we will clearly affect our times by touching and bringing healing to them with His eternal goodness. Allow me to quote something I have said before: “Paul makes clear in his letters that we can choose to be filled with the Holy Spirit in an ongoing way. Indeed, he exhorts his readers in Ephesians, “be filled with the Holy Spirit”, and the Greek means “be being filled”, it is the present continuous tense. He connects this exhortation with loving Christ and knowing His love for us, instruction to praise and give thanks to God, including in song, and to constant praying generally (Eph. 3.16f, 5.18-20, 6.18). Even in Acts, people who were “baptised with the Spirit” at Pentecost could be filled again later in response to fervent prayer (4.31). Being filled with the Holy Spirit does not have to mean a once-for-all, once-only experience.” So, prayer (including praising and worshipping God) and focussing our attention on Christ are again seen to be the key.
“[S]ubmitting to one another in the fear of God” is the last thing mentioned in today's passage. This reminds us that we cannot redeem the time from evil days unless we forego pride, the original sin that caused the days to be evil in the first place, and behave with humility and patience towards one another.
We can redeem the time, through God's grace, as we trust and obey, as we give ourselves to Christ and his Church, as we love God and neighbour and cover everything with persistent and devoted prayer. +