The word of the day is “redeem.” In our reading of Ephesians 5:9-19, St. Paul fixes his eyes on the horizon at the end of history, the coming of Christ in glory. As we wait for Christ to establish the New Age of His Kingdom, St. Paul urges his flock to “walk circumspectly, not as fools but wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil” (vs. 15-16).
In our reading, Paul urges his flock in Ephesus to live in the light of Christ’s coming. They are to be awake—watchful and alert and ready to greet the approaching advent of Christ. In Paul’s view, the Lord’s return is close at hand. Therefore, he advises his flock to “walk circumspectly,” They should “walk” as carefully as a hiker who climbs a steep, rocky trail in unfamiliar terrain (Strong’s #199).
We Live in a Foreign Country
St. John Chrysostom reminds us that we live in such foreign territory (NfPf 1:13). In this world, we are strangers and pilgrims (1 Peter 2:11) who belong to another and better country. Paul says that the “days” in this alien land “are evil” (vs. 18). The original Greek expresses that this present age is “evil” in the sense that it is full of struggle and hardship (Strong’s #4190, 207). Chrysostom says that “this world” is not evil in essence, for it is God’s creation. But what is going on in this current time is evil. The forces of wickedness in this world are causing pain, sorrow, and misfortune (NfPF 1:13).
The trials of life remind us not to get too comfortable with the affairs of this world. Chrysostom says, “Seek not honors, seek not glory, seek not authority, nor revenge but bear all things (NfPf1: 13). The aspirations of this life distract us from our hope. They are like the trivial things in a backpack that are not essential for climbing up a mountainous trail. These burden us with an extra but needless load of care.
Making the Most of the Time
Chrysostom says that we should cast these worldly concerns aside and so “redeem the time” (NfPf1: 13). The root of the word “redeem” means literally “to buy out” (Strong’s #1805). Thus, we are to “buy back” the days that God gives us on earth. We should take advantage of them and “make the most” of them (vs. 16 New American Standard Bible). Of course, that does not mean seizing the opportunities that “this world” offers, prospects that would entangle us in worldly affairs. The Orthodox Study Bible comments that “The goal is not to abandon this world, but to keep oneself in Christ and salvage as much as possible from the evil world” (OSB fn. on vs. 5:15-17).
We learn how we should rescue our days from evil from the context of our reading. Paul says, “Do not be unwise but understand what the will of the Lord is” (vs. 17). Nowadays, influences that tempt us to squander our time on trifles and trivialities constantly entice us. But the precious days that God allots to us are better spent studying the scriptures, the church fathers, the hymnody of the Church, and the Orthodox tradition. These resources teach us what the world cannot: the will of God and our purpose for living here on earth.
With Songs of Joy and Praise
Meanwhile, the trials and sorrows of this “evil age” need not dishearten and discourage us. Paul says that we should be “filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to God” (vs. 18-19). As we face the challenges of these rocky times, let us not grow weary or dispirited. But let us continue our journey toward the horizon of the Lord’s coming with songs of joy in our hearts and hymns of praise on our lips.
Today we commemorate the beloved St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Lycia +363 AD. The story of his wonderworking charity has inspired centuries of believers. But not many recall that before he was ordained as a bishop, Nicholas desired to become an ascetic in the desert. While he was on pilgrimage in the holy land and preparing to withdraw to the desert, a divine voice commanded him to return to his own country. There he joined the Monastery of Holy Sion, intending to spend his life there in prayer. Again God spoke to him, saying, “Nicholas, this is not the vineyard where you shall bear fruit to me.”
Nicholas left the monastery and went to Myra in Lycia. There he was ordained as a bishop. He continued the ascetic life. But he served his people with gentleness, charity, purity, and zeal. We thank God today that St. Nicholas indeed “redeemed” the time on earth that God gave him. As he served his flock, he took every opportunity to share the Love of God. (Orthodox Church in America, “Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia.” OCA Website).