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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Carpe Diem vs. Redeeming the Time

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.--Ephesians 5: 15-17 NIV

The Passage of Time
Too often we read the above passage as basically a "Christianized" alternative phrasing for the Epicurean phrase, "seize the day," but are we just skimming over the differences between carpe diem and "redeeming the time" (KJV)?  Today I felt God directing me to delve into it and I thought I'd share my thoughts here.

God's Will vs. My Will

The ancient Epicureans, including Horace, who first penned the phrase carpe diem (seize the day), rejected supernatural or prophetic beliefs and opted to pursue "the simple life," a life lived only in the present.  They didn't look toward the future, but rather focused on creating virtue and peace within themselves, and avoiding pain.

The Epicureans guided their lives with their own perception of what was wisdom, that is, they saw the wise choice as the one that allowed them to avoid pain and instability in their individual lives.  This seemed right, based on the idea that it is better for our health and happiness if we stay out of every kind of trouble.  Isn't that what most people are looking for, today--a life without pain or too much drama, but rather full of peace, stability, and comfort?  It certainly sounds good, but is this the life the Bible instructs us to pursue?

Paul certainly emphasized the fact that we need wisdom to guide our lives and help us to "be very careful how [we] live."  Is this the self-oriented wisdom of the Epicureans?  The Bible says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (Proverbs 14: 12 NIV).  Biblical wisdom is not based on what "seems right."  It begins with an awe and reverence of God (Psalm 111: 10). If we truly fear the Lord, we want to know what He thinks is right so that we can do that.  And when we come to know God, we see that it is wisdom to take His advice and discipline (Proverbs 1:7).

If we seek to avoid anything that makes us uncomfortable, we will never get that kind of wisdom.  I would be lying if I told you that discipline doesn't hurt, or that learning to obey God and not yourself does not cause distress. However, there is a deeper reward. When we submit our plans to God for approval, and when we accept His direction and correction, we will never have to worry that we "did the wrong thing" or "somehow missed a turn back there somewhere."  As Solomon put it, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3: 5, 6 NIV).   Beyond just making the path ahead clear, God's judgment calls help us avoid deadly traps that our own judgment cannot see in our futures (Proverbs 6: 23 NIV).

When we read Ephesians 5: 15-17 again, we see that when Paul cautions us to "be [we] live," he doesn't mean that we should make judgments of what is right, based solely upon what looks safe to us.  Paul was saying that we should be careful to know and follow God's will, even if it means following God through great trouble.

Redeem the Time

In Ephesians chapter five, verse fourteen, we are instructed to "redeem the time" (KJV), that is, to "[make] the most of every opportunity" (NIV) in regards to our lives and the way we live.  This often translates into Carpe diem, that is, seize the day and use it completely; fill it up and enjoy yourself before you run out of time.

Remember that the Epicureans did not believe in a future or an afterlife; they lived in today, and gave no thought to what their decisions today could do to their life tomorrow.
On the Road of Life

When Paul wrote about time and our lives, he did not share their perspective.  If life were only about having fun and avoiding pain, why would Jesus warn us that if we follow Him, we will have trouble (John 16: 33), and men would hate us (Matthew 10: 22) because we know Him?  From his Christian viewpoint, all of our actions have eternal consequences; therefore, life is not about pursuing peace and happiness for ourselves, but rather it is about pleasing and obeying God.

Here, the concept of redemption really comes into play.  In a biblical sense, redemption means to pay the price for something or someone to bring it back from death, loss, or destruction, often by offering a blood sacrifice.  So if we are "redeeming the time" as the King James Version translated it, we are not just being opportunists or filling up our time with things that seem worthy.  In essence, we are translating our days from time spent on things that will perish, to time spent on things that will last.  Paul explains this concept metaphorically in 1 Corinthians 3: 10-15:
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (NIV)
It is important to note that if we have the correct foundation in our lives, that is, Jesus Christ, we can still escape destruction, even if all of our deeds were considered worthless in the end.  However, it is much better not to barely scrape by.

Am I saying that God insists that we only go through life doing "holy" and "serious" things, i. e. never get to have any fun?  I don't see proof of that in the Bible.  However, I think its clear from all of this analysis of Ephesians 5: 15-17 that we are not here on earth just to advance our own purposes, i.e. carpe diem.  We have important work to do, glorifying God in our own lives and teaching others about Him.

Despite what the Epicureans believed, we have a responsibility for the future, too.  At that time we will have to account for how we spent our time, especially since time is running out on this world, "because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5: 14).  The question is not, "have we enjoyed our lives," because we know that our future is filled with joy, so that there is no need to look back longingly. Instead, the question we should ask is, "Have we heeded the message, which is life?"