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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC, 10:45 am service, 2004-11-21

Text: Ephesians 5:15-17

In our present series of messages on the theme, 'Looking to the Coming of Christ' the most important question we have been concerned with is, 'How should we live now, in view of the soon return of our Lord Jesus Christ?' In answering this very practical question, we have considered thus far our need to be faithful, wise, watchful and prepared. 

One area of our life we need to consider carefully is our stewardship of time. Are we putting our time to good use in view of the limited time that is left for us until Christ returns? Should we continue to use our time in the same way that we have been using it all along, when we know that Christ's coming is getting nearer and nearer? Should we not rather treat time now as a precious commodity, and make every day, every hour and every moment count for the Lord?

This morning we want to learn from what God's Word has to say on our stewardship of time, and examine our lives to see if we need to make some changes to our use of time. It is generally observed that many Christians today, whether working adults or students, do have a problem with their stewardship of time. There are some whose time is so fully occupied with secular work and with the cares of this world, that they hardly have any time left for spiritual development, or for Christian service. And when they have some spare time on their hands, such as during their year-end holidays, or during their retirement, they would rather spend most of it on recreation and pleasure for themselves, instead of doing the Lord's business. 

On the other extreme there are also some Christians who may spend too much time engaged in too many church activities, that their work or home life suffers. They even neglect their loved ones, and become irresponsible employees or students. This is not a good testimony for the Lord. It may even lead the unsaved to conclude that Christians are irresponsible social misfits.

You need to find the right balance. On one hand, you need to spend enough time in building yourself up, and in preparing yourself sufficiently to live independently and responsibly in this world. The Bible tells us that as our Lord Jesus did not neglect His social responsibilities. He worked as a carpenter until He was about 30 years old, and wasn't a burden to anyone. On the cross, He ensured that His mother would be cared for by His disciple, John. And when He was growing up into adulthood, He did spend sufficient time in personal development: 'Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.' (Luke 2:52) For us, this means that we need to acquire enough learning, enough mental and physical fitness as well as social skills that we need for our own personal development.

But at the same time as you seek to develop yourself, you need to spend enough time in the service of God's Kingdom - so that your life will be able to accomplish whatever God wants you to do, and you will be a blessing to others. Instead of following the worldly trends of seeking after fame and fortune, you should be seeking first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

Finding the right balance between service to God and self-development is not easy. This is because life in this present age is more complicated than life in previous times. The demands of living in this present competitive age are very great - If you are working, there are always goals, standards, and deadlines that you are expected to meet at your workplace. You will have to balance this with your family responsibilities, and also with any social responsibilities you may have. With such great demands on us, it is not easy to balance our time. There will always be many things in the way, demanding our attention all the time. 

The question is: With such demands on our time, how do we exercise good stewardship of our time? The answer can be found in what the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians: We should '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.' (Ephesians 5:15-17). The first thing we observe here is a call to:

I. Walk Circumspectly

To walk circumspectly means to walk with care, looking before taking any step. Our missionary in Cambodia, Rev Moses Hahn, has mission outreach in Pailin, a town that is close to Thailand, and that was once the stronghold of the notorious Pol Pot regime. That whole area is infested with mines, and there are plenty of warning signs along the road, with pictures of people who died or who had their limbs blown off because they were not careful to walk circumspectly.

Dearly beloved, life is like taking a long walk across a minefield. And if we are not careful we may step on a min% and reap awful results. That is why we too must 'walk circumspectly.' We should not rush headlong into things that everyone else seems to be rushing into without thinking, for it may turn out to be something that will lead us into spending all our time on things that are worthless and even destructive. E.g. addictive pleasures, and immoral pursuits.

But how does a person walk circumspectly? How will we know which is the right step to take? Sometimes we have to make choices in areas that are ethically grey, and we wonder if we should get involved or not. If you look at our text of Scripture again you will notice that it says 'not as fools, but as wise.' We must therefore get wisdom. In the book of Proverbs 4:5 and 7 we see how important wisdom is for living: 'Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.'

This wisdom can be obtained with God's help, by spending time in the Scriptures. According to Psalm 119:105, The Word of God is a 'lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.' If we make the effort to know it well, we will be able to make wise decisions and sound judgments. And this will help us to spend our time wisely, in things that are fully worth all our time and effort. This brings us to the next part of our passage, which speaks of:

II. Redeeming the Time

To redeem the time is to make the most out of the limited time that we have. The phrase 'redeeming the time' can also be translated 'buying up the time'. There is a strong implication here that there is a limited supply of time. Therefore we ought to manage our time and opportunities in the same way that a shrewd trader or merchant would manage his business - always seeking to obtain maximum profits and gains out of every investment or his limited resources. And if a venture he goes into proves to be non-productive, he would not waste any more of his precious resources on it. 

Redeeming the time obviously requires us to do some planning and prioritising. We must prioritise our activities carefully, and decide which deserve more time and which deserves less time from us. Redeeming the time also means trying to save time whenever possible, so that no hour is ever wasted. It means remembering that we have only one life to live - and that soon it will be over. And only those things that we have done for Christ will last forever. To live the Christian life well, one must always remember that one day we will all have to give an account to the Lord of all the things we have done in this life.

Many people have wasted countless hours of their precious time on things that are not only sinful, but also futile. And when they give an account to the Lord, they can only express deep regret that they had not spent their time more wisely. But if we are careful to redeem our time and live circumspectly we will be able to look back on our life with the satisfaction that we had lived in a manner that is profitable for God's kingdom, and we will not be ashamed to give an account of our lives before the Lord. We would be able to say, like the apostle Paul: 'I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith' (2 Timothy 4:7)

Dearly beloved, please consider how you are spending your time now. What are the things that you are spending most of your time on? Are you using your time to accomplish everything that you need to do, or on things that you do not need to do? If you do not keep track of where your time is spent, you will find it difficult to accomplish everything that you need to do. You will always be complaining that you do not have enough time. The 24 hours of the day do not seem to be enough for you and you wish that you had a 36 hour day or 8 days a week. But the problem is not that you do not have enough time. The real problem is poor time management. 

If you find yourself unable to cope with all your responsibilities because of what seems to be a shortage of time, it means that you are not managing your time well enough. If the 24 hours of each day or the 168 hours of each week seem to be inadequate for you, then this is due to one of two causes: a. You have missed the will of God for your life (you are doing something He never intended you to do), or b. you are doing things inefficiently and not the way that God wants you to do them. 

We see an example of the first cause in Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 'Now it came to pass, askthey went, that He entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard His word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to Him, and said, Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And 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.' 

Many of us are perhaps more like Martha than Mary - so careful and troubled about many unnecessary things, and cumbered about much serving, and not taking t(e time to think whether what we are doing is really needful or not. We trouble ourselves with things that the Lord does not require of us nor expect from us. When you get so caught up with many serving, you need to quieten yourself and ask, 'How much of what you are doing does the Lord actually want you to do?' And as you allow God to speak to you through His Word and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, about all that you are doing now, you may perhaps be surprised to discover how many of them God does not expect you to do! What you need to do then is to let others take over these things, and to focus your energies on doing only those things that are God expects you to do. 

To do this, you have to learn to say 'NO' without feeling guilty. Of course the hardest person to say 'no' to may be yourself. We often have too little time because we give in easily to ourselves, and we refuse to let go of all the extra things that we indulge ourselves. But if you truly believe that God has planned your life, and that He has provided all the time resources that you need to fulfill your responsibilities, then you must be prepared to obey Him in refusing those activities and pursuits that are not of Him.

But perhaps you have already determined that everything you are doing is truly within the will of God for you to do, but you still find that you do not have enough time. Why does this happen? It is probably because you are doing things inefficiently - and that means that you are doing not them in the manner that God expects you to do them. 

For example, Moses was not doing things efficiently when he took it upon himself to judge every legal case that were brought to him (Exodus 18:13-18). He not only wearied himself out, but he also wearied the people who had to queue up for long hours just to see him! But thank God for Jethro, his godly father in law, who advised him on how to do things more efficiently by appointing qualified assistants and organising the people into different levels of groupings. After this, Moses only had to judge the most difficult cases that his assistants could not solve, and the people were happy that they did not have to wait too long for their cases to be heard and solved (Exodus 18:19-27).

So let us remember this to help us to be good stewards of our time: We should not only ensure that what we are doing is truly God's will for us, but ensure that we do it the way that God wants us to do it. And God's way is bound to be the most efficient way to do it.

III. Understanding the Will of God for Us

Now besides walking circumspectly and redeeming the time, there is one more thing we need to do for good stewardship of time. Verse 17 says, 'Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.' We must seek to know what God's will for us is, and do it. God has a special purpose for each of us to fulfill in life, which will contribute towards His whole grand eternal plan. Living the Christian life means finding out that particular purpose He has set for you, and then fulfilling it. You must conduct your life with a sense of mission. There must be a good reason why the Lord has placed you where you are right now, why He has given you unique gifts and bestowed you with certain abilities. You must always seek to find out what He wants you to accomplish with these things, and fulfill your mission.

Now, since God has a will for your life, He must have allotted all the time that you will need to fulfill that will. This truth is mentioned in Psalm 31:15 which says - 'My times are in Thy hand' God is like an employer who tells his workers: 'Here is the work I have assigned you to do, and here are the sufficient resources you will need to do it.'

We see this principle at work in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ when He was on earth. Within His 3 years of ministry He fulfilled everything that He came to do on earth - to preach the kingdom of God, train 12 disciples and to make atonement for sin by His death on the cross. And this is the way that you should train your mind to think from now on: There will be enough time for you to do everything that God wants you to do in this life.

Besides that you should also train your mind to discern when is the right time for you to do each thing that the Lord wants you to do in life. The Gospels show that our Lord Jesus Christ was always doing the right thing at the right time. For example, He did not begin His public ministry until the age of thirty. Why did He not start His public ministry earlier - in His teens or in His twenties? Because in God's perfect will for Jesus, those 30 years of development were absolutely necessary to prepare Him effectively for the 3 years of ministry after that. Our Lord Jesus had a keen understanding of when He should start doing anything that He came to do on earth. Early in His ministry when His own family members suggested that He should go to Judaea and reveal Himself to the world by doing miracles there, He said, 'My time is not yet come: but your time is alway readyn' (John 7:6) But later on, when the right time came, He did go to Judaea and perform many miracles there.

Let us always be praying that God will lead us each step of the way to do the right thing at the right time. With a sincere willingness to do whatever God wants you to do, you can ask Him 'Lord what wilt Thou have me to do?' And when He speaks to you through His Word and through His Spirit, be ready to respond, 'O Lord, Thy will be done.' 

We have thus seen that good stewardship of time requires us to do three things: w!lk circumspectly, to redeem the time, and to understand the will of God for our lives. There is one more part in our passage to consider. And this part adds a sense of urgency to all that we have seen: It is the last part of v.16 which says: 'because the days are evil.' 

Dearly beloved, let us be aware that we are living in evil days � the last days before Christ's return. These are the days already foretold in the scriptures. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 'This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.' Is this not a clear description of the present age we are living in?

The perilous times in which we now live, make it all the more urgent for us to be good stewards of our time. Everything that we do now must be carefully evaluated, lest we get ourselves caught up in the many self-seeking pursuits of the world, and in the self-glorifying spirit of this present age. Against all that, we must always remember that our ultimate purpose for spending any time is to glorify God. This should be the ultimate purpose for whatever you do. This truth is expressed in 1 Corinthians 10:31 'Whether therefore ye eat, orkdrink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.'

And so we should always reflect carefully on the ultimate purpose of the things we spend our time on. What are we doing them for? Some of us are perhaps seeking so hard to do well in our business and to climb up to the top of the corporate ladder. Are we seeking this to glorify God, or to glorify ourselves in the same way that the world is doing? Some of us want our children to do well in their studies and get into the very best class and we push them hard to achieve. We must ask ourselves why we want this for them. Is it for God's glory, or is it for self-glory?

Some of us are perhaps seeking to upgrade ou2selves with higher studies. Can you honestly say that you are doing this to glorify God? If your motive is to be of better use for the Lord to fulfill your God-given mission in life, then it may be the right thing to do. Acquiring more learning and skills is very valuable when that learning will make you wiser and more productive in serving God and your fellow men more effectively. But do not seek higher studies to be great in the eyes of men, and to add more degrees to your name, as this will only glorify yourself, and make you a plain follower of the self-promoting spirit of the world.

If you are upgrading your home, do it for the purpose of glorifying God by providing a home that is conducive for your loved ones in your family to grow up in good health and peace. But do not upgrade your home or lifetyle with the objective of improving your image in the world, to attain to a higher position of status in society, or to rub shoulders with those who are able to afford a vary high standard of living.

Dearly beloved, the bottom line is this: Seeing that the days we live in are evil days, we must be very careful not to spend our time unwisely in self-glorifying pursuits. Let us put these things away from ourselves, so that we will have more precious time to invest in good, wholesome pursuits that glorify none but our God.

Since Christ endures for all eternity, why not invest more time in deepening your relationship with Him? Since the Word of God abides forever, why not invest your time to grow deeper in your knowledge of God's Holy Word? Since lives that are saved will inherit eternal life, why not invest your time in earnest prayer for them, and in developing skills that will enable you to communicate the life-changing message of the gospel more effectively to them? And since the Church is the body of Christ that will be with Him forever, why not invest more of your time in participating in the life of the body, in building and edifying one another?

These things are worth your much more of your time than all the present time-consuming amusements you indulging yourself, like TV-watching, video-gaming, hobbies that are not edifying, and hours upon hours that some of us are spending in idle chatter over the phone or in endless on-line chatting. This applies to every one of us regardless of your age or condition in life. For no matter how old you are, you should put your time to good use. Please do not think that you are ever too old to exercise good time-stewardship.

I know of one dear sister in her late 70s who is now staying in a retirement home in Australia, but she uses much of her time to write encouraging letters to her friends and loved ones, as well as to missionaries who are serving God in other lands. One elderly sister in our church has been composing poems to cheer others. With the help of her friends she would get them typed, illustrated, photocopied and distributed to others. I think that many have been encouraged through her poems. 

Even if one day you become physically incapacitated and confined, you can still make good use of your time. A veteran missionary once told me that he attributes the success of his ministry to the prayers made by his dear aunt in his home country. Although this aunt of his had never been to the mission field before, and was confined to her room all the time because of the infirmities of her age, she knew everything about his ministry, and even all his coworkers and the native Christians who had come to know Christ through his ministry. All their names were written in her Bible, which she used daily in her devotions. She prayed for all of them as if she knew each ot them personallyn Her prayers have been used by God to avail much. 

If believers like her can redeem the time so effectively to do much for the Lord in these last days, there is no reason why we cannot do the same, while there is still time before Christ returns. And so I solemnly challenge you now to make a fervent commitment to exercise good stewardship of your time, to walk circumspectly, redeeming the time because the days are evil, understanding what the will of God is.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25