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
Christ redeems us (Galatians 4:5, Titus 2:14) and we are to redeem the time (v. 16, καιρός) or moment. The Greek word for time here is not analog clock time, but the time of special events. Kairos time is like the time of harvest or the moment at which dinner is ready. It is a kind of fulfillment of time, a time of expectation, or the culmination of a process. A better English translation here might be moment. We are to redeem the moment.
Paul has been dead for millennia. So, this verse won’t have the same meaning for us that it had for Paul, but it will have a similar meaning and a similar application. But without wisdom, without discretion and discernment the application cannot be made.
To redeem a thing is to buy it back, knowing that ownership brings control. We do not have control of things we do not own. When you own a thing, you can pretty much do with it what you want, within the bounds of the law. When Christ redeemed His people, He purchased them. Or He purchased their debt. Whatever debts are owed by a company are transferred to the new owner. Christ purchased the debt that had been accrued by the sin of humanity by paying for it on the cross. He suffered the consequence of the debt—death. In a sense, Christ paid the debt holder—God. And the consequence of that debt payment is that humanity’s debt for sin is now held by Christ. He is free to collect it or forgive it. And He has forgiven believers, but unbelievers are still subject to collection.
The reason that Paul gives for redeeming the time is that the days are evil (πονηρός). The Greek word is consistently translated as evil or wicked, but literally means toilsome, painful, and difficult. This evil of the world is the consequence of sin (Genesis 3:17-19). The difficulties of this world are the result of Adam’s sin. And the moment that Paul had in mind is that which contributes to the momentum of Jesus Christ in history to reverse the curse of sin.
We often call this moment receiving Christ. While it is true that people receive Christ, it is also true that what is received is itself ancient and does not belong to those who receive it. Rather, they belong to It or Him. And while it must be received personally, the result of receiving it brings the receiver into social conformity with Christ over time. It is both personal and social (or corporate).
Thus, we see that life apart from Christ is evil in the sense of being toilsome, painful, and difficult. The cure for human toil, pain, and difficulty is the reception of Christ or conformity to Him, to His character qualities. As more and more people conform to Christ, the more they manifest the fruits of the spirit, which include integrity, honesty, and consistency—to which we can also add cooperation. These things then provide the necessary foundation in human character for the development of science and technology. The proper use of science and technology, in conformity to Christ, is to alleviate toil, pain, and difficulties—or evil (πονηρός).
To redeem the moment is to make the best possible use of our lives, in cooperation with Jesus Christ by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit through regeneration toward the fulfillment of God’s purpose for Jesus Christ. In the natural world everything is subject to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or dissipation over time—the increase of entropy, rot, and corruption. Thus, eternal life or sustainable life in the natural world is a matter of the reduction and eventual elimination of biblically defined corruption, personally and corporately. Indeed, this effort will seriously help solve most of the problems our world currently faces.
The accomplishment of God’s purpose for Jesus Christ is both the means and the end of true worship. True worship is more than mere corporate liturgical celebration. It includes this, of course, but for it to be true, it must issue from the lives of individuals who are making significant progress regarding the actualization of Christ’s character qualities, which are fruits of the spirit.
Those actually engaged in this enterprise compose Christ’s church on earth. And such a church is not limited to any particular humanly defined corporate entity. Nor does membership in any particular humanly defined corporate entity guarantee participation in Christ’s body on earth. However, saints recognize fellow saints and enjoy communion, fellowship, service, and study with other saints. To be Christian is to participate in Christ’s body on earth.
(from Ephesians—Recovering the Vision of a Sustainable Church In Christ, forthcoming, 2014)