My text today is very short, only three verses. And the verses themselves are short. They are often overlooked because they are sandwiched between two passages that are very well known. The title of this message comes from the middle verse, which speaks of making the most every opportunity because the days are evil.
We need to hear what God is saying to us because we do indeed live in difficult times. The worldwide global economic crisis has cost trillions of dollars in lost wealth. People who only a year ago had reasonable prospects for the future have seen a lifetime of hard work wiped out. And with the loss comes rising uncertainty.
We don’t have a crystal ball to predict what will happen in six weeks, eight months or five years from now. The secret things belong to the Lord our God. And even on a small scale, we can’t predict what will happen when the stock market opens tomorrow morning.
How should we live in times like these?
Our text offers us three answers, each one filled with clear direction for the days to come. We face a strange situation in the world today, a seeming contradiction.
Things are getting worse. There are great opportunities for the children of God. Should we be optimists or pessimists, hopeful or hopeless, feeling the worse or hoping for the better? Should we be somewhere in between?
Let’s see how God’s Word helps us answer those questions.
I. Watch Your Step.
“Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15).
To “be careful” means literally to walk accurately or precisely. The King James uses the old word “circumspectly.” It has the idea of walking on a narrow path along the side of a steep mountain. Keep your eyes open lest you take a wrong step and plunge to your death.
Sometimes we are guilty of living too fast. We make too many snap judgments, too many hasty decisions, we speak too fast, we move too fast, we react too fast, we answer before we hear the question, we just keep on pressing the throttle of life forward because we’ve got too much on our plate and we dare not slow down. It’s even possible in the name of God to go too fast. We want to right the wrongs of the world too fast. We try to win the world too fast. Because we speak too quickly, our words are hasty and ill-timed. We go before we’re ready, speak before we have anything to say, teach before we’re taught, and build high before we build deep.
What happens when you hurry, hurry, hurry? You don’t watch where you’re going and you trip and fall. Most often we trip not in headlong pursuit of evil but in our headlong pursuit of good.
The answer lies not in buying a planner or getting organized, but in those ancient words of the Psalmist. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). When we slow down enough to get God involved, we discover that he can do more through us than we can ever accomplish on our own.
II. Redeem the Time.
“Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).
The King James Version uses the word “redeem,” as in “redeeming the time.” To us redeem is a salvation word, but originally it comes from the marketplace and means to “buy back” or to “purchase” something. You “redeem” something when you buy it for your own use.
You’ll note that the NIV uses the word “opportunity” instead of time. That’s because the Greek language has two basic words for time. The Cambodian word we have two words for that too. The first one is លទ្ធភាព and the second one is ឱកាស. One word refers to the passage of time in the sense that we talk about hours, minutes and second. “What time is it?” “It’s 6:22 PM. We’re leaving in eight minutes.” That’s one sort of time. The other Greek word refers not to the strict passage of time but to the moment of opportunity that requires action. It’s what Martin Luther King meant when he told the vast crowd gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on a hot August day in 1963, “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.” It’s that phrase-the fierce urgency of now.”
But that’s not all. Paul says there is a particular reason we must “redeem the time” and grasp “the fierce urgency of now.” Check that little phrase at the end of verse 16. “Because the days are evil.” Here’s another translation. “These are desperate times!” (Msg)
Paul writes these words while chained to the guards in a Roman jail. The emperor was a man by the name of Nero, a perverted excuse for a king. Before too long he would set fire to Rome and blame the Christians. Later he would order Paul beheaded. And Ephesus was a city wholly given over to heathenism. In Paul’s day it was the most important city in the Roman province of Asia. Located near the coast, Ephesus served as a center for international commerce. It was a prosperous, bustling, booming city. If there had been a Fodor’s Guide to Ephesus in the first century, it would have mentioned the famous Temple of Artemis. That was the glory of ancient Ephesus. We in the 21st-century have nothing on the ancient world. The people worked themselves up into a religious frenzy and then followed their lustful desires. One ancient writer said of the Ephesians, “Their morals were lower than animals.” Astrology, black magic, and sorcery joined with sexual perversion to produce a degraded form of idolatry that held ancient Ephesus in its grip.
Meanwhile clouds of persecution are rolling in on the horizon. As the gospel spread, it encountered opposition in the form of entrenched interests that saw Jesus and his followers as a threat. The crosscurrents of heresy threatened to undermine the purity of the gospel.
That’s what Paul meant when he said, “These are desperate times!”
What would he say today?
Evil days tempt us to despair, encourage us to give up, to say, “We can’t do it” because the day is dark, the hearts of men have grown cold, and there is nothing to be done. I for one refuse to think like that. Sometimes we give up too soon. “Day of moral corruption offer special opportunities for the prosecution of great enterprises for the kingdom of God” (G. Campbell Morgan). That’s good news. The things that make it difficult for us to live as Christians are the things that make us shine.
Hard times are blessings in disguise.
Days of moral compromise offer incredible opportunities for the gospel.
When the world around us seems to be going haywire, we have an incredible opportunity to display the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. The darker the night, the brighter the light shines.
III. Do God’s Will.
“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:17).
I have always been deeply moved when I watch the video of Martin Luther King’s final speech, the one he gave in Memphis on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated. If you read it in context, it is a remarkably hopeful message, given the pressure of those momentous days. And because we know what happened the next day, we tend to miss the optimistic tone.
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.
I am always struck by this simple sentence in his final paragraph: “I just want to do God’s will.” Those seven words summarize how we all ought to face the future, understanding the fierce urgency of now, grateful for the privilege of being alive for such a time as this, wherever God has placed us: I just want to do God’s will.
So, then, the final question. “Are you an optimist or a pessimist?” Both, but mostly an optimist because I know that God is in control of the circumstances of life. Sometimes the answer depends on where you are at the moment. It’s like being in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified. On Friday pessimism reigned. But on Sunday, as the truth slowly dawned that the Lord had risen from the dead, as that one great truth broke through, as they began to believe the best good news anyone would ever hear, sorrow turned to joy, grief turned to laughter, and despair gave way to hope.
We live on this side of the empty tomb!
So, yes, Christians are both pessimists and optimists, but we are much more optimistic and hopeful because though we see what is happening in the world around us, we know that Jesus Christ conquered the grave. And because he lives, we too will live.
When we see evil advancing in the world, keep in mind what Jesus said. “Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1).
And this is how we should live in light of these magnificent promises of God:
“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Let not your heart be troubled.
Watch your step.
Redeem the time.
Seek to do God’s will every day.
Why be a pessimist or a hopeless person when we’re living in the greatest days of history? Who knows but that we may be the generation that hears the trumpet call of God? Jesus may come back in our lifetime. If that is true, things will get better and worse at the same time. In any case, do not despair.