What is the meaning of 'redeeming the time' in Ephesians 5:16?In Ephesians 5:15–16, Paul instructs, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil." Other translations say "redeeming the time" (KJV, NKJV) or "making the most of your time" (NASB) or "making the most of every opportunity" (NIV). Colossians 4:5 expresses something similar: "Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of time." The Greek word translated as "redeeming" or "making the best use of" is exagorazo. Strong's Definitions explains it as, "to buy up, i.e. ransom; figuratively, to rescue from loss (improve opportunity):—redeem" (https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g1805/esv/mgnt/0-1/). We also see this word in Galatians 3:13 and Galatians 4:5 where it refers to Christ's redemption of us. So what does it mean for us to redeem the time?
Most simply, "redeeming the time" refers to stewarding our time in a way that glorifies God. Each of us has a limited amount of time on this earth (James 4:14), and we are to use it in ways that honor God (Colossians 3:17).
In context, Paul has been talking about what living the Christian life looks like. In his letter, he has spoken of spiritual blessings we have in Christ, the reality of the gospel and salvation by God's grace through faith, and that the gospel is intended for Gentiles as well as Jews. He has expressed several prayers for these believers, noting his gratitude for them and his desire that they will know the depths of God's love and power, and their hope in Him (Ephesians 1:15–23; 3:14–21). He told his readers, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1–3). He has told them about God's provision for the church and how He equips them for ministry and to grow in maturity. Paul tells the Ephesians "to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22–24). Among other things, he tells them to speak truth to one another, avoid bitterness, be kind, and forgive as Christ forgave them.
Paul writes, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:1–2). He specifically speaks against sexual immorality, being deceived by empty words, and partnering with "the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 5:3–7). Paul tells them instead to "Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8–10). Rather than participate in evil, they are to expose it. "When anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, 'Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you'" (Ephesians 5:13–14).
It is after this warning about staying away from the evil prevalent in the world that Paul counsels, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15–16). The "works of darkness" are "unfruitful" (Ephesians 5:11). Our time should be spent on that which is fruitful.
Paul further clarifies, "Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:17–21). We redeem the time by seeking the will of the Lord. We make the best use of time when we seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit, when we encourage one another in the Lord, when we worship the Lord and give thanks, and when we submit to one another.
To redeem the time is to intentionally walk in wisdom and in submission to God, seeking His will. Redeeming the time includes staying away from the sinful things of the world and instead walking in the ways of God. To make the most use of the time is to understand that the time we have is a gift from God and to steward it accordingly.
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