LCN Article
Redeeming the Time

January / February 2005

Douglas S. Winnail

How to turn good intentions into reality.

At various times in our lives we are filled with good intentions— when we are baptized, when we marry, or when we start a new job, a new year or a new semester of school. When we are married before God, we promise to keep a life-long commitment to our spouse, and to follow God's instructions regarding the marriage relationship. When we are baptized, we declare our intentions to live a godly life in preparation for entering the family of God. Returning home from the Feast, we are often filled with a renewed zeal to prepare for the coming kingdom of God.

Despite our best intentions, however, we are constantly faced with pressures that can stifle our good intentions. We may become bogged down in routines that work against the noble goals we hope to achieve. Every Christian must face the challenge, every day: how can we turn our good intentions into reality? Scripture gives us several vital keys!

Ancient Admonitions

God understands the challenges that Christians face. Nearly 2,000 years ago, God inspired the Apostle Paul to write to new converts in Ephesus: "For though once your heart was full of darkness, now it is full of light from the Lord…" (Ephesians 5:8, Living Letters). What, then, should Christians do? Paul explained: "Walk as children of light" (v. 8). Paul then described how to do this: "See then that you walk circumspectly [carefully and diligently in making wise decisions], not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15–16). The phrase "redeeming the time" means to "buy back" or "regain" the time we have available to us. It is also translated as "making the most of every opportunity" (20th Century NT) or to "make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days" (NT in Modern English, Philips).

The Bible repeatedly emphasizes that we must be careful and diligent when making decisions that affect the directions our lives will take. Moses and Joshua urged the leaders of Israel to "take careful heed" of the laws of God, because this would bring success in life (Joshua 22:5). Solomon wrote that the diligent will prosper, emerge as leaders and stand in the presence of kings, while those who make careless decisions and fail to use their time wisely will forfeit opportunities and have a difficult life (Proverbs 10:4; 12:24; 22:29). The Apostle Paul advised Christians: "Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest"—the kingdom of God, the Millennial rest—foreshadowed by the Sabbath (Hebrews 4:11). Paul also taught Christians seeking the kingdom of God to diligently examine themselves and to straighten out their lives—or risk losing the opportunity to be in the kingdom (Hebrews 12:12–17). This same approach of careful self-examination is also an essential part of personal pre-Passover preparation (see 1 Corinthians 11:27–32). The Bible clearly stresses the importance of periodically assessing the direction of our lives and evaluating whether or not we are making progress toward godly goals.

But just how do we transform good intentions into reality? How do we make progress toward physical and spiritual goals in a world that seems designed to work against us? How can we—in a world still ruled by Satan—stay focused on, and prepare for, the kingdom of God? How can we make the most of the time and opportunities before us? The Bible contains many helpful keys, which we should learn about and use!

Develop a Plan

Long ago, King Solomon discussed the importance of careful planning. He observed that "the plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty" (Proverbs 21:5). Solomon also wrote: "Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil" (Proverbs 4:26–27). If we do not think about where we want to go in life—and how to get there—we will probably find ourselves somewhere that we do not want to be! We must avoid being sidetracked or derailed from our intended goal by temptations and circumstances that we encounter along the way—roadblocks often thrown in our way by Satan (Ephesians 6:10–12).

The Apostle Paul taught that, in order to keep our focus on the things of primary importance, Christians should "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness" (Ephesians 5:11). Rather than focus on the carnal pursuits and drunken dissipation of this world's society, Christians should focus on "finding out what is acceptable to the Lord… therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (vv. 10, 17). Many sincere people wander through life, seeking God's will, yet Paul explains that we can find out and understand God's will if we read what is plainly stated in the Scriptures.

Jesus taught that we should "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [e.g. food, clothing and shelter] shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). According to the Bible, the major focus of our lives should be on preparing to rule with Jesus Christ in the coming kingdom of God (Revelation 5:10)—not on becoming rich or soaking up the temporary pleasures of this world. To rule with Christ in the kingdom, we must develop the mind, perspective and character of Christ (Philippians 2:1–11). This will require that we "overcome" our problems and shortcomings (Revelation 2:26; 3:5, 12, 21), that we "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18) and that we learn to bear the right kind of godly fruit (see John 15:8; Galatians 5:16–26). Jesus also said that "he who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). To be in the kingdom of God, we must not only stay on course—we must stay the course! These scriptures reveal God's will for our lives, and we can use this revealed information to formulate plans for living.

Do you have a plan for your life? What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year? Where would you like to be in five years or 10 years? What changes must you make in your life to be ready to rule with Christ in the kingdom of God? What would you like to do in the kingdom? What would you like to change that would improve the lives of others in the kingdom? What can you begin to do now to prepare for a meaningful role in the government of God? Think about these questions as you formulate a plan for your life. If we periodically evaluate our plans and our progress toward these God-given goals, we will grow in the right direction. However, there are still other biblical keys to consider.

Stay Close to God

The prevailing ethic in our secular society is that we do not need advice from anyone, and that we should do things our way—whatever we want, whenever we want! However, this is a tragically misguided philosophy. As human beings in a world influenced by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4), we need regular contact with God if we hope to stay on course and turn our good intentions into reality. Jesus understood His need for God's guidance and help (John 5:30). He taught His disciples: "I am the vine, and you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Paul touched on the same theme when he wrote that God "is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). This is why Jesus took time for regular, unhurried prayer to God at the beginning of the day (Mark 1:35). This is also why Jesus taught His disciples how to pray (Luke 11:1–4; Matthew 6:9–15)—so they could seek and maintain close contact with God. Jesus taught His disciples to follow the example of David and Daniel, who communicated with God frequently every day (Psalm 55:16–17; Daniel 6:10). These men understood that living a godly life—and dealing with the challenges of life—requires staying close to God in prayer.

Another key to staying close to God involves making time for regular study of God's word. David wrote: "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97). Showing that he savored the opportunity to study and think about the application of the Scriptures, David wrote: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path… I love Your commandments more than gold" (see Psalm 119:105, 127). David followed the biblical advice for kings, that "when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book… and it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes" (see Deuteronomy 17:14–20). David was a "man after God's own heart" because he took the time and made the effort to stay close to God. He knew that the way to develop the mind and perspective of God was through regular prayer, and regular study and meditation on the word of God. If we seriously desire to reign with Christ in the kingdom of God, as kings and priests who will teach and administer the law of God from Jerusalem (Revelation 5:10; Isaiah 2:2–4), we will find time to draw close to God by studying and learning to apply the laws of God.

Prepare for Your Mission

It is instructive to notice that Jesus did not call disciples just so they could be "saved." He called disciples to participate in a mission—to be part of a Work. He told His disciples: "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:18–22). He trained them and sent them forth to preach about the coming kingdom of God (Luke 9:1–2; 10:1). He sent them to work miracles demonstrating the power of the real God, to feed those God calls, to warn of coming events that would announce the end of the age and the imminent return of the Messiah (Matthew 10:6–8; Matthew 24; 28:19–20; John 21:15–19). He prepared them "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). That commission is still in force today. Jesus also described a need that is still current today, when He said that "the harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:37–38).

Later, as the Church grew and the need for more laborers increased, the Apostle Paul told Timothy: "This is a faithful saying: If a man desires [to serve in] the office of a bishop, he desires a good work" (1 Timothy 3:1–13). Paul then listed qualities to look for in potential servant leaders— including not only exemplary character, but the ability to teach the word of God. These are qualities that we can develop if we take the time and make the effort, and they apply to both men and women (see Acts 18:26). This is why Paul urged his audiences "not to strive about words to no profit"—not to become involved in theological arguments over petty issues—but rather to "be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing [able to explain] the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:14–15).

When the Apostles traveled from city to city, preaching the gospel, they explained the truths contained in Scripture. When Paul met various groups, he reasoned with them from Scripture, showing from Scripture that Jesus was the Christ (see Acts 17:1–4, 16–34). The Bible also mentions Apollos, "an eloquent man, mighty in the Scriptures" who "spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord" (Acts 18:24–28). Apollos was not born with the ability to explain the word of God. He made the most of the time and opportunity available to study and explain the Scriptures—and God used him mightily! The same needs and opportunities exist today. It has been said: "If you are preparing, opportunities will come!"

Another person who made the effort to prepare and be used by God was Ezra. Ezra was a priest who was "a skilled scribe in the law of Moses" (Ezra 7:6). Skills are developed over time by diligent effort. When Ezra learned that he was to lead a group of returning Jewish captives from Babylon to Jerusalem, he "prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel" (Ezra 7:10). Later we read that Ezra "stood on a platform of wood" and read from the Law before the congregation (Nehemiah 8:1–5). Ezra was assisted by other priests who "read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading" (Nehemiah 8:7–8). Ezra and his assistants were able to teach and explain the Scriptures because they took the time to prepare themselves for this mission.

The Bible reveals that in the coming kingdom of God, the laws of God will "go forth" from Jerusalem to all parts of the world (Isaiah 2:2–4; 11:9). Those who qualify to rule with Christ will teach all people how to live by the laws of God (Isaiah 30:20–21). We are also told that when Christ returns to set up His kingdom, He will marry a bride [the Church] who "has made herself ready" (Revelation 19:7–9).

Most brides preparing for a wedding have a plan—a long list of things to do to prepare for the wedding. Do you, as part of the potential bride of Christ, have a plan to prepare yourself to rule with Christ in the kingdom of God? Are you making the most of the time and opportunity you have now to prepare for that incredible opportunity? Are you making a diligent effort to live by every word of God? Can you show someone how to prove that there is a real God? Can you provide evidence that the Bible is the inspired word of God? Can you explain the fundamental doctrines of the Bible? Can you, from Scripture, show someone the true purpose of life? Can you explain, from Scripture, the true Gospel, which day is the Christian Sabbath, and why keeping the Holy Days is important? Can you show, using scriptural and historical evidence, how to identify the Israelite nations and other modern nations—and why this is important? Can you explain what happened to the true Church, and to the doctrines of the Church that Jesus Christ founded? Can you point out the benefits and scientific evidence that stand behind the biblical health laws? Can you explain from experience the wisdom of living by the laws of God? This is what teachers in the kingdom of God will be doing, and what many do not understand today! These are the fundamental "trunk of the tree" issues on which Paul taught us to focus—not the "twiggy issues" that consume the time of so many today.

We have been called to reign with Christ in the soon-coming kingdom of God—and the time to prepare is now! If we hope to receive a crown and be teachers in Tomorrow's World, we must make the most of the time and opportunities we have to prepare for this incredible future. Sit down and develop a plan for your life. Make out a schedule to study the Scriptures, and to study Church publications that explain the major doctrines of the Bible. Diligently strive to develop the mind, perspective and character of God, so you can be a light to the world around you. Ask God regularly for guidance, and study His word for help in developing a plan for your life. Notice the needs of humanity, and identify biblical principles that can be used to solve many of today's big problems. Prepare to be used by God in changing the course of human history. Do not let this incredible opportunity slip away. Make a determined effort to redeem the time!