Our digital world is both a blessing and a curse for our growth in godliness. Today’s Christians have more sound, biblical resources at the tips of their fingers than all of our forefathers could have imagined. Through our phones, we can keep in constant touch with distant fellow Christians and benefit from the spiritual gifts of believers all across the globe. But our digital world can also hinder our growth, for godliness requires diligence and focus—qualities that are rare today. Godliness requires training, and training takes time. So in an age in which we always carry convenient distractions in our pockets, our growth in godliness will require us to reject the trivial and redeem every minute.
We are continuing to progress through our series, “8 Rules for Growing in Godliness.” In our last entry, we learned that we must ponder the brevity of life. We must diligently consider how short our lives are, confess how little we have done with our time, and acknowledge that we do not know how much time remains. With such thoughts fixed firmly in our minds, we come now to our sixth rule for growing in godliness: Redeem your time.
The Use and Misuse of Time
The value of any commodity is related to its availability and desirability. Diamonds are precious because they are both scarce and desirable; sand is cheap because it is abundant, and we don’t care to accumulate it. Time is the most precious commodity of all, for its supply is scarce and finite, and we all desire to have more of it than we are given. “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow”, says the psalmist (144:4). Time’s value derives from how much we desire to remain within it and how much we fear to run out of it. Of all we hold dear, time is most cherished.
Yet, just as the ownership of gold by no means guarantees the noble use of that gold, the fact that we are given time does not guarantee that we will make the best use of it. Like any other commodity and any other blessing, time can be used or wasted, improved or squandered. And too often we squander it. Sometimes we squander it by committing it to sinful passions and pursuits—pursuing illicit sexual pleasures or illegal forms of financial gain. Sometimes we squander it by dedicating too much of it to lesser, frivolous pursuits—precious hours spent on hobbies, entertainment, and endlessly scrolling through social media. Other times, we squander it by intentionally or unintentionally neglecting the matters of first importance—the nurturing of our souls through Word, prayer, and fellowship. Time can be wasted in a million different ways.
Paul lays down the challenge for all Christians when he says, “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). Time is precious and is to be received and redeemed—received in trust and redeemed to the highest possible purposes.
The Stewardship of Time
The fact that we enter and leave this world empty-handed reminds us that there is nothing we actually own. Rather, all we have has been entrusted to us by our Creator who made it, owns it, and distributes it according to his good pleasure and good purposes. Our bodies, our money, our marriages, our families are all given in trust. So, too, does God entrust time to us. We are not owners of our time, but stewards. We prove ourselves devoted stewards when we manage our time faithfully.
Just as money is endowed to a college to further particular programs or support certain kinds of students, time is given to us to accomplish specific purposes. We are to use our time to carry out the Creation Mandate, to subdue this earth and to fill it. Thus, we long to progress and mature, educating ourselves, settling into our vocations, forming families, building church communities, and so on. We are to use our time to carry out the Great Commission, to reach neighborhoods and nations with the good news of Jesus Christ.
But for us to be faithful in these tasks, we must also commit ourselves to growing in godliness, for our success in carrying out our mandate and commission depends on our Christ-likeness. Therefore, we must employ our time to putting to death what is earthly in us—“sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Equally, time gives opportunity to “put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness,” and every other virtue (Colossians 3:5, 12). Every day brings the opportunity to take hold of the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit and to join with him in working out our salvation through killing sin and fostering holiness.
Thus, we must use our time for self-examination, to ensure that we are trusting in Christ alone for salvation, that our deepest desires are for Christ-likeness, and that we are responding to his Spirit as he encourages us toward godliness. We must use our time for communion, to read and meditate upon God’s Word, to pray, fast, and worship. We must use our time for service, to plead for the souls of those who have not yet turned to Christ and to do what strengthens the weak, encourages the downcast, what draws back the wandering. We must use our time for rest, to confidently enjoy recreation to the degree that it refreshes us to continue on in the work God has given us.
Time is to be received in trust. As a master distributes money to his servants for safekeeping and gives to some lesser and some greater amounts, God distributes time to his people. Some are given more and some are given less, but all are expected to receive it as a gift from his hand and to put it to use for the furtherance of his purposes. Only those who receive it in trust and invest it well can expect to hear the master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
In former days, wax was used to seal important documents. In itself, a stick of wax had no great value or significance. But when dripped onto a document and stamped with a seal, suddenly it took on the highest significance. A mere piece of paper was transformed into the final will and testament of a great man, a brief dispatch into a king’s orders to his army. In much the same way, time takes its value from what can be written in it, from what it is meant to accomplish. Time is to be put to use in growing in conformity to Jesus Christ, first in our character and then in our conduct. God has so ordained it that we cannot hope to grow in character or conduct apart from the passing of time, for putting off the old man and putting on the new is the labor of a lifetime.
We are all given just one life. Time moves only forward and elapses in a manner known only to God. In the words of the hymn writer, “Time, like an ever rolling stream, / Bears all its sons away; / They fly, forgotten, as a dream / Dies at the opening day.” We are all borne away, but only after we have lived lives that are both heartbreakingly short and laden with the greatest significance. In the meantime, we must redeem the time.
The “8 Rules for Growing in Godliness” are drawn from the work of Thomas Watson. Here are the words that inspired this article: “Make conscience of spending your time, Eph. v. 16. ‘Redeeming the time:’ many persons fool away their time; some in idle visits, others in recreations and pleasures, which secretly bewitch the heart, and take it off from better things: what are our golden hours for, but to mind our souls? Time misimproved, is not time lived, but time lost. Time is a precious commodity; a piece of wax in itself is not much worth, but as it is affixed to the label of a will, and conveys an estate, so it is of great value: thus time, simply in itself, is not so considerable, but as salvation is to be wrought out in it, and a conveyance of heaven depends upon the well improving of it; so it is of infinite concernment.”