What Do I Do With My Time?, Ephesians 5:15-20
First United Methodist Church, August 26, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer
Scott's father was born on leap day, February 29, 1920. We only have a leap day every 4 years, so although Dad was on this earth for 93 years, he only had 23 birthdays. It was fun when he and our middle son celebrated their 21st birthdays in the same year. They kept saying they were going to go out for an adult beverage together and both pull out their ID's when they ordered, but as far as I know, that never happened. At least Grandpa never admitted to it.
We add February 29 to our calendars every 4 years: it has to do with lining up the astronomical and seasonal calendar. It seems to me that what we're actually doing is skipping over that day 3 years out of 4. I have to admit that there are some days that I wouldn't mind skipping altogether, or at least be able to have a do-over every now and then. Maybe you've had some days like that, too. Since that isn't a real possibility, perhaps our best option is to make the best of every day we've been given, and to give thanks for it, whether it's a good one or not so good. That's what our scripture lesson tells us this morning.
We've spent some time these past weeks in the book of Ephesians, a letter written by Paul (or his representative) to the Christian community in Ephesus, as well as to the other churches Paul built about 30 years after the resurrection of Jesus. The first apostles have died and other leaders are carrying on. The community has grown: new converts have streamed into the church in large numbers. Jews and Gentiles together, learning to worship together, forging a new path, living a new way, trying to be faithful.
Ephesus was a thriving city that drew people from all over. It was the center of a variety of cultural and religious activities. The city was sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and had easy accessibility and open acceptance of a wide variety of religions, faiths, beliefs and practices that were far removed from what Jesus had taught, putting new Christian believers at risk.
And so this letter urges these Christ-followers to be faithful…to remember their baptisms…to live like children of the light, to put off their old selves, and to be made new (4:22f). The writer says there are things in this world that will distract you, that will pull you away from who you are and from who you're called to be. And so, "be very careful how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil."
The letter could have been written to us, couldn’t it? Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Plymouth, the faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ… Be very careful how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
Yes, this letter could most definitely be written specifically for us. For you. For me. Today.
Be careful how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
I want to start our conversation on this text talking about "evil days," because I think we could spend a whole lot of time, each one of us listing out our own interpretation of what is evil in this world of ours. But I'm not sure that would be helpful. The thing is, each generation, each age, has its own brand of evil. Each generation is convinced that the world is falling apart and heading to you-know-where in a handbasket. Each generation has its own way of doing things that can be damaging to ourselves or to the environment.
There's a poster I’ve seen over the years that describes how the world is unraveling, that this generation shows no respect for its elders, and on and on. Of course when I’m looking for it, I can’t find it. As you read the statement, it sounds as though it’s been written recently, but when you read who it’s credited to, you discover that it was written during the Roman empire, or during the 1700s or something. It seems that many, many years ago, folks were worried about many of the same things we’re worried about today, certain that the younger generation and “modern” ways of doing things would bring about their premature end. (If you have seen what I’m talking about, please let me know so the puzzle can be solved!).
It seems that bad days have existed since Adam and Eve munched on that apple in the garden. And so perhaps what's important isn't so much our worrying over the evils in our world, but focusing instead, on how we live in the midst of that evil. How do we live out our days, how do we use our time, how do we make the most of who and what we are, how do combat evil by offering a positive influence? How do we create a healthy community even in the midst of difficult days? It seems that this is what is important. This is what will make a difference.
So let's look at these verses, and see what Paul has to say about making the most of the time we've been given.
He begins by telling us to be careful how you live (v. 15). The Greek word for "live" comes from the same root word as "behave" and "walk around." Throughout Ephesians, the writer urges people to live, to behave and walk around in a way that matches their new identity in Christ. Take off the old; put on the new.
He’s telling these new Christians (and us) to be who you are. Remember who you are. No matter who you're with, no matter what time a day it is, in no matter circumstance you find yourself. Be who you are…who you want to be…who you are becoming. Hang out with those whose values and lifestyles are ones you want to claim. That doesn't mean you should steer clear of folks who need a positive role model, it means that first you need a strong community to help you be who you are and who you want to be in order to take the next step and be helpful to someone else.
He directly follows that instruction, saying Be careful how you live. Be wise, not unwise. We tend to think that wisdom comes with age. But really, its experience that comes with age. Wisdom comes from what we've done badly, if we're willing to admit that we've done badly and learn from it. It's possible, too, to learn from other people's mistakes, though we don't always do that. We are a stubborn and stiff-necked people, and we have the tendency, too often, to say—that will never happen to me! But then it does, so we have this opportunity to learn.
In verse 17, Paul warns: Do not be foolish, but understand the will of God. This happens through prayer. This happens by listening to God. This happens when we humble ourselves to the will of God. "Not my will, but thy will be done."
In the prayer Jesus taught us to pray we say, "Thy will be done…on earth as it is in heaven." As he waited in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, "if you will, take this cup away from me…but, not my will, thy will be done."
It's not so easy to humble ourselves. We're not all that accustomed to it. We may have been taught that if we want to be successful in our lives, we need to be large and in charge. Humbling ourselves, following the will of someone else, may not be such an easy thing to do. But as Christ-followers, the first question we always need to ask when making a decision is this one: Which way, Lord? What do you want me to do? That's what disciples do. That's what Christ-followers do.
In verse 18, Paul says, Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit. It's kind of interesting, I think, of all the things Paul might have to say, that he talks about drunkenness. It's kind of a head-scratcher. There are bigger things he might have said, aren’t there? Like, Don't hit your sister. Don't lie, cheat or steal. Instead, he says, do not get drunk on wine, for that is debauchery [which is any excess that leads to the loss of self-control]. It's possible that the writer was speaking to a specific issue in Ephesus. Perhaps some folks were getting drunk as a part of one of the religious cults to make contact with spirits or something.
Paul contrasts drunkenness with being filled with the Spirit. Don't fill yourself with wine, but live under the influence of the Spirit. Ask God to fill your life and to guide you; don't muddy your thinking and impair your judgment. Fill yourself with what’s good.
How do we do that? The writer tells us, in vs. 19-21:
Do this, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts; giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…and submit to one another out of reverence for Christ...
Speaking in Psalms…singing…making music…giving thanks…mutually submitting.
That’s a Spirit-filled life. It is a reorientation of our personal compasses…it's being intentional about how we walk around…it's being careful how we live…
David M. Bailey was the son of Presbyterian missionaries in Beirut, Lebanon, studied classical guitar and started writing songs when he was 13. He moved throughout Europe and made his first studio recording in Germany, and returned to the US where he formed a folk duo called Bailey and Deasy. After college, he joined the business world and stepped away from music, until he was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor in 1996 and told he had less than a year to live. He left business and went back to music and began writing and performing. He lived for 14 more years, dying in October of 2010.
In 2000, he wrote a song entitled, "If I Had Another." He begins the song, asking himself what he would do if he were given another week of life as a gift. He writes about all the exotic travel destinations he would squeeze into that windfall week.
Then he asks himself what he would do if he had another day. He'd have a picnic in the mountains with his family, a rafting trip down a scenic river, or maybe stay home and write letters to all his loved ones, thanking them for their love and telling them he loves them, too, and remind them that true love never ends.
Then, what would he do if he had an hour? He says he’d make a pot of coffee, sit in the backyard and meditate on the beauty of a sunset.
And if he had another minute? This is what he’d do:
If I had another minute, I'd put my arms around my baby,
and hold her like I'd never done before.
I'd tell her not to worry, and promise I'd be waiting
when her time came to knock on heaven's door.
But then again I might decide to fall down on my knees
and thank God for the life I loved so dear.
I'd ask him to send peace to each of us, as long as we are here,
if I had another minute.
(and) If I had another second, I might finish this song…
Christians aren't people who want to skip anything God places before them.
It's all a gift. Don't waste it. Value it, treasure it, give thanks for it, and live it to the glory of God.