“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Eph. 5:15-16
There are ample exhortations in Scripture that indicate the Christian to be continuously fruitful–and that he or she is urged to “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). In fact, the original Greek of that clause in Eph. 5:18 is rendered, “Be being filled with the Spirit”; it’s to be a continuous, ongoing behavior in the life of a believer. In other words, a believers duty is marked by life-long service to God, until he is called home to heaven and when the words “Well done, good and faithful slave“, are hopefully heard (Matt. 25:21, 23). By perusing the Bible, one will see many stories regarding God’s servant’s service to Him, was a life-long endeavor that only terminated upon their death. For example, God used Abraham and Sarah who were both well-advanced in years [100 and 90 years old–Gen. 17:15-16]. Although well past the childbearing age, God blessed Sarah with the capability to conceive and give birth to Isaac, the continuation of the promised “seed” (Gen. 17:9). Abraham served God all the remaining years of his life and died at the age of one hundred and seventy five.
Moses was eighty years old when God first appeared to him in the “burning bush.” (Ex. 3:2). Obeying God’s call, Moses embarked on what would end up being a forty year “tour of duty”, as a faithful “servant of God”. God choose him and his brother Aaron [also in his eighties], to deliver His people, the Israelites, from Egyptian slavery and subjugation. Joshua, who faithfully served Moses, was forty years old when he spied out the “Promise Land” [Josh. 14:7] and was nearly eighty years old, when he had taken over leading the people [Moses died Deut. 34:5]. into the Promised Land. David, God’s “chosen” king of Israel and “a man after God’s own heart” [1 Sam. 13:14, Ps. 89:20, Acts 13:22], fought and won many battles for God and His people. He served God by loyally obeying His will until he died, having served as a great king of Israel for forty years (1 Kin. 2:10-11, Acts 13:22, 36).
In the New Testament, Paul faithfully and diligently served God his entire life, until the time of his execution (cf. 2 Tim. 4:6). During his first imprisonment he served the Lord by writing four inspired epistles [Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon]. Not to mention all the Roman soldiers and many more of Caesar’s household who heard the gospel and believed [Phil. 1:12-13]–at the time he was in his sixties. A few years later, Paul would be imprisoned a second time for his faithfulness to Christ, but this time he was treated harshly and executed, by the nefarious Roman emperor Nero. At the time of Paul’s death, he was old and ailing from a life of severe persecution (cf. 2 Cor. 11:23-27).
The elderly Apostle John was called to “write down in a book” [Revelation], pertinent visions of the future an angel of the Lord had revealed to him. (Rev. 1:19). John was elderly, perhaps in his upper nineties when God commissioned him to write Revelation.
The widow and prophetess Anna, who was of “great age”, eighty four “…she never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.” (Luke 2:37).
There are numerous other examples contained in both testaments, that illustrate the life-long faithfulness and commitment by God’s servants. Men and women “once called”, served Him for the duration of their lives. Such behavior coincides with the words spoken by Jesus: “He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it.” (Matt. 10:39).
Therefore, it would be errant for a believer to say, “I don’t have to work; I live by God’s grace.” or “I’m now ‘retired’ from everything [including God], time for a life of ease and relaxation”. According to the teachings of the Bible, either one of those declarations, if acted upon, would be perilous to ones relationship with God. The former could be considered laziness, unless there is an ignorance of God’s Word, which in that situation a thorough examination of the Bible will enlighten the soul to God’s truth. However, the latter could be “indolence” which is a form of laziness and can be extremely dangerous, because it is not intentional. As explained by grammarian, Morton S. Freeman: “[Where] ‘lazy’ implies unwillingness to work…[indolence] Implies a disinclination to engage in any activity that interferes with one’s comfort. An indolent person seeks not to exert himself but to relax as much as possible: ‘My indolent friend whittled twigs all summer.’” 1 Therefore, indolence can be someone choosing to not exert energy on anything other than desirable leisure activities.
The modern invention of “retirement”, 2 if one is not careful, can easily fit into the category of indolence. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, to “retire” is: “withdrawal from one’s position or occupation or from active working life“. The aim of many persons who retire is to do very little else other than what is desired and preferred. It may not be “whittling twigs”, but it is most likely some form of recreational activity, i.e. traveling, playing sports, doing hobbies, or partaking of various kinds of entertainment, etc. This is what the secular world glamorizes and advertises as deserved by those who “retire”. For instance, by watching television one is inundated with tantalizing commercials, designed toward self-satisfaction. self-exaltation, and solipsism. The exact antithesis of what the Bible teaches: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” (Phil. 2:3).
Unfortunately, many Christians fall hook, line, and sinker for the erroneous concept of what the world advocates, when that “golden age” is reached. Paul said: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15-6–NKJ–emphasis added). The MacArthur Study Bible states: “We are to make the most of our time on this evil earth fulfilling God’s purposes, lining up every opportunity for useful worship and service…Be aware of the brevity of life (Pss. 39:4-5, 89:46-47, Jas. 4:14, 17)”. 3
Dr. J.D. Watson explains the powerful meaning of the original Greek word, for the English word “redeeming” and how we are to apply it:
“[The word] ‘redeeming’ is exagorazδ, ‘to buy up’. As Christ purchased us out of the slave market of sin (e.g., Gal. 3:13, 4:5), Paul uses the same imagery to say that we are to ‘buy up’ all of our time and devote it to God. God wants us to be concerned with decisive points of time and specific situations of life, to consider each and every moment to be an opportunity for growth, service, and witness. The fool wastes time (Eph. 5:15), but the wise man invests it.” 4
Paul used the same exhortation to the Colossians: “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.” (Col. 4:5 NKJ–emphasis added). It would behoove us to contemplate the words of Moses: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). Notice that “redeeming the time” is tantamount to utilizing wisdom [Ps. 90:12, Eph. 5:16, Col. 4:5].
When we grow older some responsibilities may decrease, but our service to God should increase. Yes, time will free up, but we will have less of it: “…for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” (Rom. 13:11b). In that time, the temptation will be great to do what appeals to the flesh, but God’s will for our lives contradicts idleness and fruitlessness (cf. Jn. 15:1-10). Moreover, God requires a progression of maturity in the seasoned believer, “I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.” (1 Jn. 2:13, also v.14). An increase in a believer’s maturity and godliness as he or she advances in age, is what theologians refer to as “progressive sanctification”. In other words, unless there is a constant forward progress from the believer, backsliding is inevitable. C.H. Spurgeon said: “If you want to know how to backslide, the answer is leave off going forward and you will slide backward, cease going upward and you will go downward of necessity, for stand still you never can.” 5
Furthermore, man has no ability to execute future plans, apart from God’s mercy and grace: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.'” (Jas. 4:13-15). James states the mundane things that man so often enthusiastically pursues are temporal, just as he himself is temporal. In fact, James asseverates any plans that do not seek the will of God, are presumptuous and so he includes an indictment at the end of the passage: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (Jas. 4:17).
John MacArthur states: “…human relationships, emotions, possessions, and pleasures become sinful when they dominate thought and behavior, and especially when they detract us from the Lord’s work.” 6
Furthermore, Christians should never say ‘I’ve done it’, but rather say ‘I’m a doing It.”; in regards to doing the Lord’s work. They should not be content with having done past “good works” or relying on future plans of serving God, but rather having a present serving mindset. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23–emphasis added).
So then, how does the concept of “retirement” fit into a believer’s sanctification process? According to what Scripture repletely teaches, it doesn’t. John Piper commenting on the concept of retirement stated: “…there is no such thing in the Bible” 7 You might then ask, ‘how then can I serve God in my older years?
There are numerous ways one can “redeem the time” and do God’s will at the same time. Again, Paul lays the foundation on which mature brothers and sisters should build on:
“Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance. Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored.” (Titus 2:2-6).
Paul commands Titus to instruct older men and older women to teach godliness to those younger in the faith, both in the church and in the home. That is the Christians mandate and God’s will for their later years. According to John Piper: “Aging is a ripening for the kingdom.” 8 We see this played out in the life of Timothy. When he was only a child, literally. an infant, his mother [Eunice] and grandmother [Lois] “invested” their time and taught him the Old Testament Scriptures, which would make him wise for salvation (2 Tim. 1:5, 3:15). When Paul met young Timothy during his second missionary journey and heard good things about him, he requested Timothy’s company in ministry (Acts 16:2-3). Paul investing in Timothy paid off, because Timothy turned out to be beneficial to Paul and the church. He referred to him as “a beloved and faithful son” and a “true son of the faith” (1 Cor. 4:17, 2 Tim. 1:2). Furthermore, it was obvious that he taught and instructed young Timothy, as evidenced by the two personal letters he wrote to him [1 & 2 Timothy]. In fact, Paul made this type of sacrificial “investment” in numerous men who benefitted from his tutelage. It is biblical that older and mature believers, “invest” their time, resources, and energy, in those who are young in the faith–to pass the baton so to speak. So that one day, those who receive that baton, will be equipped to pass it to their future generation–a perpetual cycle.
Another way to be productive and glorify the Lord, especially in the later years, is to financially invest in missionaries, especially those on the front lines. We can offer resources to those laboring to bring the gospel to all ends of the earth. Paul for instance, relied heavily on the charity of numerous brethren, who not only splurged for his necessities, but willingly gave to the saints in need that Paul visited (2 Cor. 8-9, Phil. 4:10-18). Founder of the Baptist Missionary Society, William Fuller, supported William Carey’s numerous missionary trips to India. For over twenty years, Fuller’s organization faithfully funded Carey’s endeavors. At the beginning of Carey’s missionary excursions, he is particularly noted for saying to Fuller: “Well, I’ll go down, if you hold the rope.”
Furthermore, what we possess [including our time] is God’s property, so we should be trustworthy stewards of His property and spend wisely what He has placed in our care (1 Cor. 4:2). In fact, not only does God own all our possessions and our time, but He owns us as well, for we were “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). We are His property and therefore no longer slaves of sin, but rather slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18).
Additionally, I believe “redeeming the time” encompasses sacrifices from believers. The sacrificial service to God and doing His will. If you examine the ministry of Jesus Christ you will see that He could not stray one scintilla outside of His Father’s will [Jn. 5:19, 30]. His Father’s will was for Jesus to perform the work given to Him to do on earth [Jn. 17:4], which included being the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf (Jn. 19:30). He would suffer and die on the cross; the shedding of His blood was the “price” He paid in order to “redeem” us from the bondage of sin and death. Because of Christ’s unfathomable gift of grace and mercy, Paul beseeches believers to be “living sacrifices” for the Lord: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Rom. 12:1–emphasis added). Dr. John MacArthur points out: “The living sacrifice we are to offer to the Lord who died for us is the willingness to surrender to Him all our hopes, plans, and everything that is precious to us all that is humanly important to us, all that we find fulfilling. Like Paul, we should in that sense ‘die daily’ (1 Cor. 15:31), because for us ‘to live is Christ’ (Phil. 1:21).” 9
I close with the words of J.C. Ryle:
“Let us be willing to do anything, and suffer anything, and give up anything for Christ’s sake. It may cost us something for a few years, but great will be the reward in eternity.” 10 Amen!
1 Morgan S. Freeman, A Treasury for Word Lovers, iSi Press, 1983, pg. 115
2 Retirement, was incorporated approximately 120-130 years ago.
3 The MacArthur Study Bible, Word Publishing, 1997, pg. 1812–Footnote on redeeming the time.
4 W.D. Watson, A Word for the Day–[Greek]– AMG Publishers, 2006, pg. 241–Time [Redeeming the]–kairos
5 C.H. Spurgeon, Exploring the Mind & Heart of the Prince of Preachers, Kerry Allen, Fox River Press, 2005, pg. 223
6 John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 1 Corinthians, Moody Press, 1983, pg. 183–Commentary on 1 Cor. 7:29-31
7 John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, Crossway, 2009, DVD-disc 3–time marker between the 6:35-6:45 point
8 John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, Crossway, 2009, DVD-disc 3–time marker between the 5:45-5:55 point
9 John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary–Romans 9-16, Moody Press, 1994, pg. 146
10 J.C. Ryle, Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Vol. Two–Luke, Baker Book House, 1977, pg. 342