“Have you ever read a passage of Scripture numerous times, only to read it again and have a particular insight capture your attention and stir up your affections for the first time? As we enter into another year, allow me to share a phrase packed with Gospel implications that call us to exemplify the worthiness of Christ in the entirety of our lives. It is a phrase that I come back to at the beginning of each new year, and through which I can look back on life with encouragement at God’s transforming grace. Through this Scripture, I continue to be brought under conviction. The phrase is simple, but profoundly extensive. Here it is: “making the best use of the time…” (Eph. 5:16).
If we are honest with ourselves, none of us do this all the time. How often do we worry rather than pray (Phil. 4:6)? How often do we wear ourselves out by failing to rest in and rely upon Christ (Phil. 4:13)? How often are we quick to anger rather than quick to listen (James 1:19-20)? How often do we covet rather than give thanks for what we have already been given (1 Thes. 5:18)? How often do we consider only our own interests, and not what is best for others (Phil. 2:3-4)?
The results of not making the best use of time is not just a lack of productivity, but frequently strained relationships, emotional turmoil, and various physiological symptoms. In counseling, how do we instruct those who just “don’t have time” to do the homework when we have spent so much time to prepare for them? Is it not true that busyness can be a roadblock and a counterfeit for godliness (2 Th. 3:11)? Idleness often opens the door to idolatry, and even adultery, as with King David. Laziness leads to spiritual apathy.
So what is the remedy to a self-serving life in which we are prone to squander away the limited time, relationships, and resources which God has entrusted to us? It is not a technique, but a person! According to Hebrews 4:15, it is “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” The remedy to all idolatry, indifference, and idleness is Jesus! Therefore Hebrews 4:16 continues, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Is it not the person and work of our Lord Jesus who causes us to want to “make the best use of time”? Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” For us and for those we counsel, is it the love of Christ that compels us to no longer in vanity and self-exaltation live for ourselves. Rather, we must make the best use of time in living for Him, who for our sake died and was raised.
Is it bad to be busy? I suppose the answer depends on what is meant by being busy. Paul was, in a sense, a busy person, writing in 1 Corinthians 12:15 that “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.” He did not want to be a burden on those to whom he ministered, but rather offered himself as a living sacrifice to the Lord in response to God’s love for him and his love for others (Romans 12:1). Paul’s gospel-driven busyness is admirable, yet busyness separated from abiding in Christ is vanity. Jesus gave us a much needed reminder in the story of Mary and Martha that life is not all about what we do, but rather to whom we belong. As Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus delighting in His presence and his teaching, Martha was busy with serving. She even complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping out. What was the response of our Savior? In Luke 10:41-42, Jesus says “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” In John 15:5, Jesus said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
In making the best use of time, here are a couple principles to consider. First, our highest enjoyment is to be in our union with Christ. He must indeed be our all in all, or else all is for nothing. What motivates you to do the things you do? Is it the love of Christ that controls you, or has yet another idol of the heart distracted you from Christ, who is your supreme delight? Donald Whitney gives a great question that leads to the best use of time: “What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?” Second, making the best use of time means that we live in response to our union with Christ. In his exposition of 1 Corinthians, Stephen Yuille has summarized Paul’s exhortation to those in Corinth with this statement: “Your identity is in Christ, now act like it!” God has made us alive in Christ for the praise of His glorious grace and our enjoyment of Him. However, our enjoyment of Him is found not only in sitting and soaking in the Word of God, but also in our service of Him. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Since this is true, how are we to live in response to what God has done for us and called us to do in our service of Him? Using the word “abide” from John 15, here are five principles of how to make the best use of time.
A – Ambition The very fact that God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ leads to changed affections and a new ambition. 2 Corinthians 5:9 becomes the overarching desire of our hearts. “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” Positionally in Christ, we are altogether pleasing to God. Practically until Christ returns, 1 Corinthians 10:31 is our daily calling: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” But where do we find out how to bring glory to God in every activity of our day?
B – Bible We can not practically abide in Christ apart from His Word abiding in us. Deuteronomy 32:47 says that God’s word is “no empty word for you, but your very life…” To that end, Andrew Naselli wrote the following of John 15: “Jesus abides in you to the degree that his words abide in you, and you abide in Jesus to the degree that you obey his words. Every believer abides in Jesus to some degree, and that results in different degrees of fruitfulness.” Jesus said in John 15:14, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Making the the best use of time involves abiding in Christ through obedience to His Word. Yet in a world full of distractions and pressures, we all know that joyful abiding in Christ and obedience to His Word can be a daily challenge. That leads us to another principle of making the best use of time.
I – Intentionality Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Satan uses the things of this world to appeal to our flesh. Thus, we must guard our heart with great vigilance (Pr. 4:23), being careful to walk or conduct ourselves only in a manner that joyfully and boldly declares, “Christ is my all in all!” The very use of the time, relationships, and resources that God has given to us are to be used in such a way as to bring glory to Him. With that in view, J.C. Ryle asks the following: “What are you doing with your time? Every moment God gives you has in it a possibility of beauty or usefulness–as well as something to be accounted for.” Do you need wisdom in how to apply God’s Word to your own life in making the best use of time? Consider these additional words from Ryle, “No time is so well spent in every day–as that which we spend upon our knees.” Why not pray for the freedom to say “no” to those things which will keep you from being a faithful spouse, parent, church member, employee, and so on even as you pray for the grace to be found faithful with the particular gifts and calling that God has granted to you? Yet as we all know, great intentions only bring about regret apart from another principle of making the best use of time.
D – Discipline 1 Tim. 4:7 calls us to train ourselves for the purpose of godliness. Having determined what God has called you to do, make a plan to be faithful and keep after it. Share your intentions with loved ones, asking for their feedback and encouragement. Perhaps one of the most formidable examples of a disciplined person in my life was Bill Williams. Nearly every week he would take me out to lunch where we would recite to each other the memory verse of the week, what we had read each day, and with whom we were seeking to share the gospel. Through daily discipline, God’s Word abided in Bill to such a degree that through the sufficiency of the Scriptures he was able to bring real help and hope to those struggling with the temptations so common to man. A final principle in making the best use of time is keeping before us – eternity.
E – Eternity Why discipline ourselves for godliness? 1 Tim. 4:8 explains: “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” What greater joy could there be but to hear from the Lord Jesus at the end of this life, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:23). Spurgeon wrote, “Time is short. Eternity is long. It is only reasonable that this short life be lived in the light of eternity!”
With that in mind, here is one last question to dwell upon in your ambition to make the best use of time.“What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?”