“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
Remarkable it is how often the apostle speaks in this epistle of the walk of the children of God.
Already in the first part of the epistle (Eph. 2:2) he reminds them of what their walk was in times past, when they walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. But in Ephesians 4 and Ephesians 5, no less than five times he calls attention to what their walk should be. Listen to him! Writes he: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called . . .” (Eph. 4:1ff); “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind . . .” (Eph. 4:17ff); “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savor.” (Eph. 5:1, 2ff); “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.” (Eph. 5:8) And then in our text: “See then that ye walk circumspectly. . . .”
All these exhortations are obviously based on the doctrinal truth the apostle had so clearly expressed in this epistle. The apostle evidently assumes the inviolable principle, that doctrine and life belong together, and that the latter must flow out of the former.
Had not the apostle succinctly but beautifully set forth the truths that the saints had been chosen in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy and without blame before Him? (Eph. 1:4) Had he not shown unto them the truth of their redemption through His blood . . . ? (Eph. 1:7) Had he not declared with great finality the fact that they had been saved by pure and sovereign grace through faith, not of works, lest any should boast? (Eph. 2:8, 9) Did he not show them that they were entirely God’s workmanship, created unto good works, which God had prepared in order that they should walk in them? (Eph. 2:10) And did he not show finally that all of this, their being predestinated in love, their, being saved by grace through faith, their creation unto good works, was all unto the glory of God by Christ Jesus? Indeed, he did!
Hence, it is urgent that these saving truths be exemplified in their lives; that their walk be circumspect. And it is all the more urgent, because the days are evil.
See then that ye walk circumspectly!
As always in Scripture, so also here, one’s walk embraces his whole life; that life as it is lived in all departments of life in the outward sense of the word; but that life as it is motivated from within by spiritual principles.
Our life is indeed realized in many departments: the home, the church, the world. It is realized within different brackets of time: the age of childhood, the age of adolescence, the age of manhood, and old age.
Our walk then is our life as we live it in all these changes of time, in all these departments of life; and that, too, in the midst of this present evil world in which we are called to be lights.
However, when we speak of our walk in all the departments of life, we must be careful that we do not fall into the error of departmentalizing our religious life. This is done so frequently when we, for example, assume on the Sabbath an almost Pharisaic piety, but on the rest of the days of the week the mask comes off, and we live as does the world; when we are in the company of God’s people we talk and act like them, but as soon as we must rub elbows with the children of this world, we talk and act as they do. No! Our walk that is circumspect is what it ought to be on all the days of the week in the church, but also in the world.
See that ye walk circumspectly!
As wise, not as unwise!
Wise they are when they reckon with the reality of their spiritual status and calling. Unwise they would be should they fail to reckon with this reality.
Circumspectly, means exactly, accurately; with the implication of diligence. In no sense are they to deviate from the law of duty. Their calling has been marked out for them with great care in the Word of God. In line with that calling they are to walk. This surely implies severe spiritual discipline, allowing no occasion for loose living.
Such is the contents of the exhortation.
And the apostle also shows the way in which this exhortation shall be carried out.
Redeeming the time!
Time here must not be conceived of chronologically. The apostle is not thinking of time in terms of moments, hours, days, years, etc. Rather, he is speaking of time in the sense of opportunity, the occasion for doing or not doing something. This cannot mean however that time, chronologically speaking, is totally absent. For all our opportunities surely come to us in moments of time. Fact of the matter is that all of life as we live it here in the present world is caught up with the brackets of time. As Moses so pertly put it in Psalm 90, our days are seventy years, and, if really strong, maybe eighty years; but then cometh the end. The Infinite does not reckon with time, for with Him one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. But we are children of time, and for us time has a beginning and an end.
In the midst of all the years of our life, opportunities come to us. As Solomon expresses it in Ecclesiastes: “A time for every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”
As another before me so beautifully described it, “Time is like a train, it takes you past many beautiful landscapes which you see for the moment, and never see again. It takes you past the lovely stage of childhood, through the dreamy days of youth, through the struggling days of manhood, and then through the day when eye grows dim and powers abate, always fleeing on until it drops you off in the stillness of the grave.”
And the writer continues: “Time is the divinely allotted opportunity to accomplish those works which God has before prepared in order that we should walk in them. On the wings of time were your parents brought to you in your tender years in order that you might love and honor them, and be in subjection to them. Then in time you became parents, and treated so your children. On the wings of time the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned were placed on your door step in order that you could clothe, feed, give drink, and visit them. In time you meet your brother in Christ, and the enemy of God; you have the communion of saints, and experience the temptation of the world; you come under the preaching of the gospel, and you take notice of the philosophy that is false.”
These are the occasions, the opportunities that come to us as we walk circumspectly in the present world.
When we redeem the time, we actually take advantage of the opportunities. Literally, the apostle says: Buy up the time, i.e., buy them up for yourselves. And that means, as we said, to take advantage of them. Don’t let those opportunities pass by without using them, and reacting to them.
How necessary that is! And wonderful at the same time!
Childhood, that is the time for learning. How foolish to let it pass without using it to its fullest advantage! One learns, you understand, not merely to get a head full of knowledge, but to see all things in their proper perspective, in the light of the revelation and purpose of God. Many are the learned atheistic fools who sit in the seat of instruction, who have ruled God out of His universe. Most blessed is the knowledge of him who has learned to say: My God, how great Thou art!
Parenthood, that is the time for instructing. Most blessed opportunity it is, and often lost because we are too busy making our dollars and a place in the sun. Why did God make you parents anyway? Simply to feed and clothe the children He so graciously gave you? O, indeed, you missed the opportunity if you did not take the time to talk with them by the way, or as you lay down, of the wonderful works of God.
Brotherhood, that is the time to edify one another. O, indeed, there is time also for coffee and cake, but even that is time wasted if we have not shown to one another the good graces of our God which He has shown to us.
Temptation, that is the time to apply the Word of God. You remember that, when Jesus went out into the wilderness to be tempted of Satan, He said: It is written! This is what He expects you and me to do when the tempter comes to entice us.
And so we could go on and on. So many are the opportunities that come to us: the time of the preaching of the gospel, the time of the Means of Grace, the time when we should be hungry and thirsty after righteousness that we may be filled; the time for sickness and health, the time for prosperity and adversity, the time for courting and marriage, the time of truth and the philosophy of man, the time for work and recreation; all these and many more are the opportunities that come to us between the cradle and the grave. These we must use to their very best advantage in the fear of God, or we are not walking circumspectly, redeeming the time.
And the motivating reason which the apostle adds to the exhortation is:
Because the days are evil!
To be noticed here is the fact that already in the day when the apostle wrote this epistle he observed that the days were evil. One wonders what the apostle would say if he were to write the epistle in our time.
Evil the days are in more senses than one. When Jacob appeared before Pharoah (Gen. 47), and the king asked the patriarch how old he was, he replied: “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.” Undoubtedly the old man was quite cognizant that the evil of his days was not the evil brought upon him by the wicked in the world in which he was a stranger, but also the evils of his own sinful nature, and the evil actions which proceed from that nature. Solomon, looking at the world in the day in which he lived, exclaimed: “Vanity of vanities . . . all is vanity”; and again, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”
Contrary to the modern philosophy that there is a certain restraint of evil, due to a certain “common grace” of God, the world of darkness in which we dwell develops in sin and corruption. The days, that is, the time of our sojourn, the days in which we live in the present world, are becoming increasingly evil. And the end is not yet. According to Scripture, iniquity shall abound until it reaches its acme in the man of sin who must presently be revealed. We need not describe the evil days in which we live; you all know how evil the days are. It is screamed at you through all the news media, and you see it with your own eyes.
That is all the more reason why we should be exhorted to walk circumspectly, redeeming the time. This is not the time to walk carelessly and indifferently. Surely this is not the time to talk and act as the world, even though you become accustomed to its foul play. The very evil of our days should serve as an incentive to walk holily, to watch and to pray. To have on the whole armour of God, and to do battle against the evil, within us and around us. It certainly behooves the children of light to keep their garments clean, and to walk as children of light, even when that calling shall evoke the wrath of the evil one, bring sorrow and loss to ourselves.
It surely behooves us to look by faith to our Guide, and Captain of our salvation, Who has promised never to leave nor forsake us. And Who, when He shall appear in His glory, shall be able to say: Well done, ye good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of the Lord.