Sunday, January 5, 2020 Brad Barrett
The beginning of a new year is a good time to reassess our lives. Maybe you like New Year’s resolutions. Maybe you don’t. I don’t generally make resolutions, although I like the idea behind it.
The beginning of a new day or a new year is timely to examine our lives. To set ourselves on a revised course. It might be a slight revision. It might be major.
If you are a follower in Jesus, it’s good and even necessary to regularly reexamine our lives.
Where are we headed? Why are we doing what we’re going? How do we know we’re doing the right thing?
We are beginning a 3-week series on Stewardship. We are stewards of our lives. Managers. Not owners. God is the Owner. He is the Lord. Master and Commander.
And entrusts us with all that goes on in our lives. He asks us out of love and respect for him to steward—to manage—our lives.
There are many, many passages that reflect this. Each one says it in a slightly different way.
But here is one that says it so well and so succinctly.
1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
To do it for his glory. That is tantamount to, “do it for his honor.”
Let everything you do—eating, drinking, speaking, listening, working, studying, marrying, parenting, entertaining, fixing, cooking, repairing, serving, resting—everything… everything…. do it to bring him glory.
To honor him. To lift him up high in your heart and to everyone around you. To thank him for who he is and what he has done. To love him more.
We lift him up because, fundamentally, he is worthy of it. We honor him with our very lives.
This is our Stewardship.
In this 3-part series, we will look at three areas of our lives in which we are to steward:
- Our time. (Today)
- Our money. (Next week)
- Our health. (In two weeks)
God is worthy of our attention.
So the Apostle Paul told us that in everything we do, it should be done to honor God.
All over the Scriptures, we find language similar to that. For example, in the Psalms one of the psalmist spoke of this.
Psalm 115:1–3 ESV
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
He is the Lord. He rules over all things. This is an awesome, even terrifying thought. We should tremble before this mighty Creator God.
We glory in things all the time… But it’s not always God.
We glory in ourselves. We want others to notice us, praise us, cheer for us, be impressed by us. As a pastor, that could even be my heart in the giving of a sermon. God forbid I do that, but I could.
We glory in our sports team… if they are any good at all. We glory in our money. We glory in our children. We glory in our good looks and talent and intellect.
Or, really along the same line of thinking, we are CRUSHED when we can’t find something to glory in.
The problem is not that we want to glory in something. That is natural and normal. The problem is that we glory in things that are way, way, way too small. They are too UN-worthy of such honor and acclaim.
There is only One Person who is deserving of all praise and honor: The Lord Almighty.
The One whom the prophet Isaiah calls, “Wonderful. Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace.”
Stewarding our Time
So now to our topic of the Stewardship of our time. How can we honor our great God with how we use our time?
Our text this morning is part of Ephesians chapter 5.
Ephesians 5:1–21 (ESV)
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
These two verses serve such an important background to our main topic today. In fact, we would miss so much if I skipped or under-emphasized these two verses.
In both vs. 1 and 2, there is a command and a motivation and/or reason behind the command.
Vs. 1 Command: Imitate God. Reason: You are dearly loved children of God.
Vs. 2 Command: Walk in love. Reason and the example: Love in the way that Jesus has loved you, giving up his life unto death to bring new life—born again life—to you who are spiritually dead before God.
I think about these verses often. And there are several others similar to this. They are often on my mind as I pray in the morning for the events in my day. And they are often on my mind as I pray each morning for you all.
Before we go on, I want you to notice a key word: WALK. Paul says, “Walk in love.” And back in chapter 4 he says “WALK” twice. “Walk in a manner worthy of your calling.” “Don’t walk like you used to in your pagan days before meeting Jesus.”
When he says, “WALK,” Paul is referring to the way you live. Your manner of life. The way you conduct yourselves. Clearly Paul and God are calling the Christians to walk in a certain way. A special way. A holy way. A loving way.
So in this next section, Paul gets specific. He launches into some specifics of this holy, loving walk.
What does a walk of love for God and people look like, this walk inspired by the love that Jesus had for us when he died as a substitute for our sins?
Paul now gives some commands that help direct the course and pattern of our lives.
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.
4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
Some commands about our morality, purity, and speech.
Paul is calling these Christians, “saints.” Saints literally means “holy ones.” Consecrated ones. This
is a term for every person who has believed in Jesus. This
is NOT some small, special class of Christians.
God is calling all believers in his Son to a holy WALK with him, imitating him as a child does with his Daddy.
5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
This is a serious warning. A walk in life consisting of darkness and evil will lead to destruction and harm.
7 Therefore do not become partners with them;
8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.
Walk as children of light
9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),
10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
Don’t join in with others toward such evil behavior. WHY NOT? Because you once lived in darkness, separated from God. But now you are in the light of God. You are in a whole new world.
In my former days before meeting Jesus, my walk in life was filled with immoral thinking and acting. Of drunkenness. Of lust and selfishness. Of idolatry. Of ignoring my Creator. I wanted nothing to do with God… except for a few times when I was in trouble and prayed. That life led to death.
Now, though, I am of a new and eternal kingdom. So it only makes sense that I walk in this new life. The life of light and truth. A life that pleases the Lord instead of grieving him.
What could possibly compel me to going back to a lifestyle of darkness and wrath?
He says in the last verse here: “Find out what pleases the Lord.” Discover the heart and thought and action that pleases your God and Creator.
11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.
The old way that many of us used to live is darkness. Some of the things that happen in the world shouldn’t even be talked about.
13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,
14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Instead of lives of darkness, futility, and hardness, live in accordance with your heavenly calling.
Wake up, Paul says. Wake up. Be alert. Walk in the light. Live according to the love of God, in a manner of love like the love that Christ has shown by dying for your sake to save your soul.
Now here are our key verses this morning.
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
For the fifth time in this short letter, Paul tells us how to walk. How to live our lives.
Not only do we walk in the light and truth, we are to walk in wisdom, not foolishness.
We walk in the Lord’s will, not man’s will.
We are to “look carefully then” how we walk. Be careful. Pay attention. Give time to thinking about your time. Consider your walk in life. Be wise, not foolish. Or to say it harshly, “Don’t be stupid.”
Don’t let the hours and days and months just slip by with little thought.
I’ve been pondering this in recent days, and honestly, on the one hand, this is unsettling.
If I actually consider how I’m walking, I might find out I don’t like the direction I’m heading.
That could be painful. And humbling. I don’t like to be wrong. I don’t like to be lost.
It’s comparable to some of us—probably more men than women—we don’t like to go the doctor. We know something is wrong, but it’s too humbling to go.
When I was a kid, my dad didn’t feel well for months until it finally got so bad he went to the doctor. He found out he had cancer, and he died 6 weeks later. I have wondered many times, what would have happened if he had “paid more attention” to his health months earlier?
But in view of being a saint, a Holy One of God, a beloved child adopted into God’s glorious family, a citizen of the kingdom of light now… in view of all that, I want to pay attention to my walk in life.
I don’t want hours slipping away. Wasted. Hours glorying not in God but in me. Days living without clear and loving purpose toward the God who loves me.
That would make me unwise, not wise. A FOOL. That is a painful admission.
17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Don’t be a fool, Paul pleads with us. Instead, we seek the will of the Lord. We ask, “What does he want for me and for life?” And we set our hearts to line up with his heart.
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Paul contrasts drunkenness with being filled with the Spirit. Drunkenness inhibits our processing life with clarity. Being filled with the Spirit is the opposite. We have the Spirit’s power and insight to think with great clarity and insight into life and people and tasks.
So back to vs. 15-16. How do we “walk carefully, not as unwise but as wise?”
This is not a one-time activity. To walk carefully doing the will of God, using our time to the utmost takes a lifestyle filled with some basic disciplines. You might wish like me that we could simply press an Easy Button. But living with these basic disciplines is a glorious walk by faith.
Let me throw out a few ideas. I’m not saying you have to do exactly what I or others do. But I do want to stimulate your thinking.
These first 3 are the most foundational.
Hear and read and study and discuss God’s Word. Having a reading plan may help you. I have used a “Read Thru the Bible in a Year” Plan for 25+ years. Experiment. Switch things around.
I also know that some of you have difficulty reading. Perhaps a diagnosed difficulty like dyslexia or some other difficulty. Keep working at it. It’s a good effort.
But also consider an audio Bible. I use that occasionally. What I’ll do is read it while the narrator is reading it. Both the seeing and hearing helps me.
Praying each morning for the day’s agenda
This is my habit. Each morning I pray through each meeting, each appointment, each major task, conversations I will have with my wife and others I meet or run into. I ask for God’s wisdom, encouragement, insight, strength. If I am running an errand, I ask him to go before me and prepare me for conversations with someone I meet. If I am replying to email, I ask for wisdom and grace. If I am serving my wife, I pray for cheerfulness and kindness.
Stay in close fellowship with other believers in a local church
Many of you are doing this, so well done. More than I can count or measure, you the church have helped orient my life. I see and hear you following the Lord. Stewarding your time for the glory of the God. And that inspires and corrects me. It reorients me.
Part of God’s will for us is to be engaged with the family of God. The church of God.
We find protection and wisdom and encouragement and correction through God’s family. And we learn from others.
Long term planning I’m not very good at. Some of you are much better than I. This can help by stepping back, examining all that we’re doing, and making adjustments.
Short term planning is helpful in our high-paced society.
Keeping a calendar. Examining how much we can and should actually try to accomplish.
Keeping a To Do list.
One caution: Though planning is good, we also honor the Lord by responding in faith when our time and life don’t go as planned. We plan, yet everything is covered by the prayer, “Lord, may your will be done.” If God wills it.
A week or two ago, I had my day all planned out. Then Annette had a request for me, and my immediate response was, “No, that messes with my plans.” I was convicted by the Spirit of my impulsive response. So I prayed. In the end, I felt I should serve my wife instead of worrying about “MY” agenda.
- Learning to carefully say yes or no. Do it with wisdom and thought.
We must not be mindless in our activity. Learning the discipline of thoughtfully saying yes or no is quite important.
Saying yes or no to work/professional/school responsibilities. Some of you may need to work harder at your studies or employment. You’re not giving God your heart in your work. Others of you may be working too much. You don’t know how or when to say no. And you are neglecting other important priorities in your life.
Saying yes or no in our Activities.
For you families, you may need to say no to some activities. The number of options for you and your children seems endless. While every family is different, the cultural trend is overbooking. And while some good may come of it, overall it can hurt the family and the marriage. You may be missing the will of God. The days are evil.
Have you clearly evaluated? Have you sought counsel? Have you earnestly prayed? You may need to make some decisions, saying no to some things. Your children may balk. Your friends may keep inviting you into more activity. Do you have convictions from God of what you need to do in your family’s life? Do you have courage to do what needs to be done?
- Finding tools
Find tools to help you.
Planning tools. Scheduling tools. Calendars. Tools that can help manage email, opportunities, blogs, Facebook, Instagram.
We are in an overwhelming time of information and opportunities.
As an aside, let me issue one caution here this morning. I am NOT talking about simply getting more stuff done. Overall, our culture is consumed by productivity. Cramming more things into our days, checking some of them off, and getting discouraged because we didn’t check more off.
This is not true for all of us, but I suspect a high percentage of us here fall into this.
I am not pushing more production. I am pushing doing God’s will. To consider carefully how you are living. This may or may not include more tasks.
For some of us, it may be we need to slow down. We may need to have fewer things on our Productivity List.
Confession: I have a propensity towards productivity for wrong reasons. I forget people. I forget God. I put my head down and work. In the process, I get selfish. I get me-centered. Anything not on my list feels like an inconvenience. Like when Annette asked me for help a week or two ago.
In short, I am living like a fool. I am unwise.
Maybe you have the opposite problem. You’re always with people, but you are neglecting key responsibilities in your life.
In either case, we are to use our time carefully. With wisdom, not foolishness. With clear-mindedness that the filling of the Holy Spirit brings to us.
Questions to Guide Us
So we have these disciplines. These habits and tools to help us assess the use of our time. But that takes us only so far.
I want to give you a sample list of questions to ask God, yourself, and others. Questions that can help assess, “Am I making the most of my time, not as unwise but as wise?”
Consider a set of questions like these: (This is not an exhaustive list.) When you are planning, praying, fellowshipping, reading, and working, ask questions like these.
Is my life ordered by “paying careful attention” to my walk?
Or am I too careless and mindless?
Ephesians 5:15 ESV Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise…
As I said earlier, you might find this to be a bit painful to examine your life. But it’s so good to take inventory.
Am I alert to evil?
Paul said we are to be:
Ephesians 5:16 ESV …making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
Evil in my heart. Evil in the world. Spiritual warfare. Or am I naïve and oblivious?
Jesus told us to pray like this:
Matthew 6:13 ESV And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
He clearly recognized evil in people and in the world. He is prioritizing for us an alertness to evil.
I pray this many mornings.
Does my walk glorify God? Or does it glorify me?
1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Does the pattern of my life honor him? Does my schedule today honor the Lord? Does this one activity enhance the beauty and glory of God? Or is it more about me?
As a very simple example, why do I offer up this sermon? Do I offer up a sermon to you to honor God and help his people grow? Or do I prepare and speak it because I want you to like me and “glory” in me? Same action. Very different motives.
Am I walking by faith each day and in each activity?
Romans 14:23 ESV But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Am I trusting God in each activity today? Can I recognize his presence and ask for his blessing in each part of my day and my life? Is there anything I want to keep to myself and don’t want God interfering with?
Am I seeking the will of God according to the Scriptures?
2 Timothy 3:16–17 ESV All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
The Scriptures guide us with greater clarity and insight and surety than our feelings. My feelings can lead me astray. God’s Word will not.
The world’s philosophies that we hear from politicians and advertising and the entertainment industry typically will hinder not help. Do I know the differences?
- What do the Scriptures tell me about work and career?
- What do they tell me about mission?
- What do they say about this life compared to the next life?
The Scriptures may not tell us the fine details for the use of our time, like how many hours to spend on this or that. But they give more direction to us than we might give credit for.
Do I consistently seek the Lord in prayer to do his will?
Don’t underestimate this. Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:10 ESV “… your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”]
This is often my prayer in the morning, even as it was this morning. “Lord, may your will be done in my life and in my wife’s life today. Whatever you want, may we walk in your will? Help us not to resist you. Help us to be alert to your Spirit’s leading.
Like Jesus prayed in the Garden before the crucifixion, “Not my will but yours be done.”
Do we ask God often, “What do you desire for me?”
Ask yourself questions like these. Again, this is not an exhaustive list.
But these and similar questions based on the Scriptures can help steer our lives into wisdom and the will of God. As an overall framework for our lives, as well as for day to day decision making, such questions can help.
And one final thought:
While some of you need to pay more careful attention to the Stewardship of your Time, others of you need to relax a little.
Some of you can be wound up tight, worried that you’re missing God’s will. You can get all wrapped up in the minutiae. I know what that’s like, because this is a temptation I face.
If this describes you, relax in the Lord. He loves you. He’ll lead you. He is the God of grace. There is no condemnation for you who are in Christ.
Let me wrap things up here now.
God is the Lord. He is Master and Commander. And he loves us deeply.
His call to us is one of love:
Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.