This verse, Ephesians 5:16 “Redeeming the time because the days are evil” gets some crazy interpretations. Let’s dig into mine.
The verse comes in the midst of Paul exhorting the Ephesian congregation to be wise, to keep focus. I’ve talked before about the nature of the challenges in Ephesus. But clearly it is a directive to do something. I’m going to cover all the (simplified) Greek at once:
“έξαγοράζω καιρός ότι ήμέρα είσί πονηρός”
“exagorazo kairos hoti hemera eisi poneros”
Exagorazo is fun. It is a compound word made up of ex, εξ, and agorazo, αγοράζω. Ex is a preposition that means “from” or “out of”, as in the source of action, the place from which you do something. Agorazo means a market or, more specifically, what you do there as a consumer (be that buying or loitering). Together they mean, literally, “do what you do in the market”: purchase something. Later it referred to paying a ransom or buying up a thing in such a way as to deprive others of the thing bought, but in the purist sense it means to do what you do at the market: buy.
Kairos simply means an expanse of time. It doesn’t mean an hour or a day or a year, it just means a quantity of time. So now we know we are to buy time.
Hoti is a causative conjugation, which just means because. So we are buying time due to some following reason.
Hemera is kind of fun, too. It means days, but that can be 24-hour days, sunrise-to-sunset days, or the days of your life. The first is literal days, the second is a time of acting openly or purely, and the latter is your journey. I would argue heavily Paul meant the latter: he is telling us to buy time because of something to do with the days of our lives.
Eisi is the plural of a third-person verb “to be”. So that word is “are”. So we are to buy time because of some quality our days have.
Poneros is where the real fun starts. It is, indeed, an adjective, but it does not mean evil. It is derived from the noun ponos, πόνος, which means a specific kind of pain: the pain of great desire. Ponos is rooted in the older noun peno, πενο, which means the daily toil to survive — the punishment assigned to Adam for his transgression — but most especially the toil of the extremely poor. You can see, then, that ponos defines the pain of desire that comes out in the pain of poverty. Poneros, then, describes the cause of that pain, namely the hardships, the dangers, and the annoyances born of working to fight your way ahead. You can see how that has a connotation of bad, as in “I’m hurting bad”, and from “bad” you can see the interpreters stretching it to say “evil”, but that’s not correct. The days aren’t evil. They are “busy”. We are called by Paul to buy time because the days are filled with annoyance, toil, risk, and desire.
That deserves a restating: the days of your life are filled with busyness, so buy that time back. He is telling us to make a conscious decision to live in every moment rather than get carried away in the rush of life, to stand firm against the tide of busywork.
Now you think I could leave it there, wrap up with a prayer and be done, but I’m not.
At face value that’s just an exhortation for mindfulness, for being aware of “now” instead of living in the past or the future. There is no point in being conscious of your time just to know what it is going towards. Paul was talking about a lot more than mindfulness here. He wants us to reclaim that time for a reason beyond just the fact it would otherwise be wasted. No, there was another intent there.
I wrote a post earlier this year about tithing. I felt the post was getting too long so I pulled out a thing the Spirit wanted me to say. I think it fits quite nicely here and I guess it’s why He permitted it to be left unsaid. It has to do with the thing most precious to you: your time. It’s subtle, so stick with me as I try to say it right.
What do you do to buy back that time? You obviously can’t literally pay for it, so what are you doing? I alluded to it earlier: you practice mindfulness. You focus your attention on what you’re doing and being present in that moment fully rather than to just relax into pattern. If that is payment then who is it payment to?
In every type of monetary transaction both sides gain. You get your thing (or service) and they get their money. This isn’t that. Paul says it’s a transaction, that we’re to buy back the time. But who gets paid here? Your focus pays back only to you; you’re paying yourself. And yet what you get out of it is a richer, fuller day. What does that mean?
You don’t have the ability to gift yourself time, so you cannot actually purchase it. It means you are being given time for paying yourself. This is where the subtlety of exagorazo matters. What did I tell you it means? “To do what you do in the market.” In a market you can spend money or you can save money. You can buy or not buy. You can pay or you can steal or you can ignore. In this case you are choosing to cease shopping and hold on to your “money” and as a result you get more buying power.
Did you catch it? Let me say it bluntly: you are getting paid, you are getting increase, for your mindfulness. What do you tithe on? That’s right: all your increase. So you owe tithe on the time you redeem, because it’s God Almighty, the God who Provides, the God of the impossible who gave it to you. He didn’t get anything out of that transaction, it was all for your benefit!
There is a thing I say to my employees every time they tell me how busy they are: there are 24 hours in every single day and you can use all of them (I’m not a particularly gentle boss…). That means for every day you redeem you owe God a tithe of 2 hours and 24 minutes. Now you should offer Him more, but that’s His due. That’s our duty to pay: not an hour every Sunday, but 2 and a half hours of every single day. Every one.
What does He want with that time? Praise, prayer, worship, obedience, growth, communion, fellowship, but above all discipleship. He wants to be with you and for you to draw near to Him. Because He is the most amazing, most beneficent, most Loving Father ever. He gives you time so you can give it back to spend with Him, and in that time with Him to grow, to benefit, to gain wisdom and power and Love and a sound mind.
Can you fathom the unending, unconditional, unwavering depth of that Love? Can you possibly push away from that transaction? You’ve never had a sale offered to you to beat that deal! And yet how often we choose the other path. How often we switch on autopilot and go through life with our brains switched off.
In Acts 1 Jesus told us exactly what He expected of us with our time; verse 8: “ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” He also said it in Matthew 28, verses 19 and 20, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all the things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” That’s not passive, that’s not when you get around to it. That’s the Great Commission: go do the Father’s work. Go disciple others. Go bring back the stray sheep. He shed His blood to cleanse humanity of its sin; the least, the absolute least, we can do is go collect His sheep! We should go bring home the missing voices, the lost children!
That’s a life worth Jesus dying for. That’s the only life worth Jesus dying for. So what are you doing with your days? What are you living for?
Father, thank You for this message, this inspiration, this motivation. I don’t know if I told it right, don’t know if it will touch them as it touched me. I don’t know if they’ll agree. But I trust You. I know You will guide them to get what You want them to get. I Love You so desperately.
I lived so long in the busy life, so lost in what I would be willing to do if only I had the time. Thank You for helping me see that absurdity, the absurdity of realizing if we shouldn’t treat money that way we shouldn’t treat time that way. For the realization that we replaced the Love of money with the Love of time, but that it’s still the root of evil, of the little lion’s temptations.
I don’t know if I can live up to my tithe of time. I’ll need help and guidance on that. But it is what I am living for, what I want the world to see when they see me: a man dedicated to Your work, to sharing Your Love and drawing together my lost brothers and sisters. It’s all that matters. That jarring dischord of missing voices always in my ear.
I believe I can make a difference. I believe through You one person can change the world. One prayer has stopped the sun. One prayer has brought rain. One prayer has raised the dead. One fervent prayer is all it takes. I will chase that prayer to my dying breath. In the glorious and mighty name of Your Word, and my Brother, Jesus Christ, I pray for every heart, every soul to run to You. Amen, and amen, and amen. You are my very heart forever. I Love You.