What time is it?
When we ask that question, we think of the exact time, demonstrated I’m sure by the several of you who glanced at a clock when I asked the question. We live and die by clocks, which tell us when we need to leave to get to school and work, when we have meetings, when we have deadlines, when we need to eat, when it’s time to sleep.
Case in point, there’s nothing quite like waking up, feeling refreshed, only to discover that we have more time to sleep than we thought. And at the same time, there’s nothing quite like waking up, feeling exhausted, hearing the alarm telling us to get up! Sometimes, we’re working hard at our jobs, eventually wondering what time it is, finding that much more time has passed than we thought. Other times, especially when we find things boring or laborious, time passes much more slowly than we’d expect.
Time governs our lives. It sets schedules, it can make us happy or stressed, and it can feel liberating and tyrannical.
What time is it?
Paul knows what time it is. He speaks directly to the Corinthian church, telling them that the time has come and they must live their lives accordingly. They must make sure not to waste any time because the hour grows late.
Let’s hear Paul’s answer to the question, “what time is it?”
What time is it?
Without having to go look at his neighborhood sundial, he can tell you what time it is. For Paul, the time is clear: it’s just before Jesus returns.
In Paul’s world, Martin Luther’s old adage of how to live life is a reality, rather than a metaphor. Luther said we, as Christians, are to live life as if “Jesus died yesterday, rose today, and is coming tomorrow.” Paul’s words here call upon the church in Corinth to live that kind of life in the literal sense. He seems to fear that the Corinthians are unaware of the time, having no sense of the urgency that the current time creates. Paul literally thinks Jesus is coming tomorrow and, if not tomorrow, definitely in the days to come.
That’s great, but some 730,000 tomorrows since Jesus rose from the grave, it’s a little hard to believe that Jesus is coming tomorrow.
This evening, for many of us, we’ll crack open our inboxes and begin to mentally prepare ourselves for work tomorrow. But what’s the point of that if Jesus is coming tomorrow? If Jesus is coming tomorrow, there’s probably some stuff to get done before he arrives. Maybe get some affairs straight, confess some sins… Certainly, the parousia, the return of Christ, would make moot our labors over inboxes and other tasks at work that demand our attention.
But Jesus is almost certainly not coming tomorrow. Tomorrow will simply be day number 730,001 since Jesus rose from the grave.
For Paul, it’s only been about 11,000 days since Jesus rose from the grave, and he believes the time of the return is imminent. So, he says it’s time for the Corinthians to get their priorities aligned so they can focus on the mission, the great commission, to go and make disciples, witnessing from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. It’s time to get focused on Jesus first and everything else secondarily because Jesus is about to come back.
What time is it?
Paul knows what time it is. It’s time to get ready for the coming of Christ; living our lives accordingly.
Admittedly, this scripture can seem pretty pointless today. Some 719,000 days since Paul penned his words, what are we to do with a scripture from a guy who believes that Jesus was literally about to return 719,000 days ago? Obviously, there’s still plenty of time before the return of Christ, right?
Now here’s where you expect me to say, no, there’s not plenty of time. Jesus could come back any minute. Ticking clocks are very motivational. Just like on the commercials: act fast, call today, buy now! If we don’t act soon, we’ll lose the deal, just like if we don’t witness soon, if we don’t get going with the great commission, we’ll lose the opportunity because Jesus is about to come back. Right now is when you expect me to tell you that there’s NOT still plenty of time.
Except I’m not going to do that. Chances are pretty good that there’ll be many more tomorrows before the return of Christ arrives. Chances are very good that there’s plenty of time to do the things that God has called us to do. I don’t like a ticking clock anymore than the rest of us, and I don’t think God calls us to live our lives with a ticking clock mentality.
No, there’s something else to this scripture. Certainly, Paul meant it as a ticking clock for the Corinthians. Act now to save some souls before Christ returns! Move fast, for we’re running out of tomorrows to tell the world about Christ. Go quickly, for we must spread the gospel to as much of the Roman Empire as possible before the parousia, that fancy word for the return of Christ.
Paul meant it that way to his original audience. But, even though we’re 719,000 days removed from this letter to the Corinthian church, I think Paul has something instructive to teach us yet.
What Paul realizes is that time is limited. As we go through our days, repeating a similar cycle each day, it seems that time is limitless. Yes, we’re aware of our own mortality, but until that day arrives, it seems that there’s always more time. We don’t tend to think of time as a limited resource, to be spent wisely; to be spent like how we approach money.
And yet, even some 719,000 days removed, this is what Paul is teaching us: we only have so much time. Paul’s sense of urgency reveals a truth about the nature of time: it’s a limited resource that requires careful management. And while we might not feel an urgency about the imminent return of Christ, we can relate to the truth he reveals: time is a limited resource. And because time is limited, because we only have so much of it, we must make the best use of that time possible.
Having such wisdom will, as the Psalmist puts it, “teach us to number our days so that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” That’s the underlying issue at stake for Paul: what we do with our time matters, how we spend our time rings in eternity, the ways we engage with the limited time we have reveals our priorities. And for Paul, how we utilize this limited resource we call time should reveal Christ to the world, for Christ should be the first priority.
How do you spend your time?
If I live to be eighty, I have approximately 16,425 days left in my life, having already lived 12,775. Forgetting that it’s the 11 o’clock hour, the question Paul asks of me is whether or not those 16,425 days will make a difference in the world.
In other words, tomorrow, when I have only 16,424 days left, will Christ be a little better known in the world because I exist? Tuesday, when I have only 16,423 days left, will there be a little more love in the world because I exist? Wednesday, when I have only 16,422 days left, will the poor and marginalized of society be better off because I exist?
That’s the underlying question in our scripture. That’s what Paul’s asking of us. And that’s the real nature of the question we’ve been asking this morning:
What time is it?
Not what hour, but a question that asks us to take stock of how we spend our time. What does this moment, this time, in our life call for? What are we doing with our time to serve Christ, to make peace and love known to the world? Are we numbering our days, recognizing that time is a limited resource, to be spent wisely? Or do we spend it frivolously, simply running from one thing to the other, busy without a larger purpose?
Forgetting that Paul was wrong about the imminent return of Christ, Paul wants the Corinthians, and wants us today, to take stock of our lives, asking if our days, numbered as they are, will make a difference in the world. Paul echos Psalm 90:12, which prayerfully asks of God, “teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”
Applying our hearts to wisdom, properly using our time to reveal Christ to the world, is as simple as reflectively asking this question: are we managing our time, or is our time managing us?
When we’re busy, when we’re simply running from thing to thing to thing, almost mindlessly, our time is managing us and we fail to be faithful with our time.
If we’re running around from thing to thing to thing, only mindful of the minute to make sure we stay on schedule, our time manages us. We don’t have a game plan, we don’t have a budget for our time, we’re not treating our time as a limited resource, but rather we’re allowing the schedule to manage us, thinking there will always be more time to do the things we know we’re supposed to be doing in service of Christ.
That kind of busy lifestyle is the express lane to a dry and weary soul. That’s the fast track to a shallow spirituality. That’s the quick trip to distance in relationship with Christ. Being busy is not a label to wear pridefully, it’s the fastest way to spiritual death. Being busy is the best way to not make a difference in the world, because it deadens our souls.
God didn’t make us to keep up with the demands of life. God made us to thrive in spite of the demands of life. When we thrive, people notice, and that sets our witness, our example, that others want to emulate. But we cannot thrive so long as we are busy, so long as the clock tyrannizes us. We can only begin that thriving by managing our time instead of allowing our time to manage us.
How are you spending your time?
Time is limited. We only have so long in this life. How are we spending our time to make a difference? To make Christ known? Or are we spending it that way at all?
If, today, you find yourself busy, consumed by doing things, just trying to keep up, it’s time to take stock of your life. Are you spending your time in the ways God has called you to spend it? What is the first priority of your time? Making yourself known, keeping up with family and vocational demands, or making Christ known?
If, today, you find yourself not busy, the question yet remains: are you spending your time in the ways God has called you to spend it? What is the first priority of your time?
Those are hard questions. But they’re worth asking, with the courage to face the answers.
And to begin, I have a very practical suggestion. Make a journal of how you spend your time throughout this coming week. When the week is over, catalog the number of hours you spent doing various activities. Once you see that catalog of hours, prayerfully ask God if that’s how God desires you spend your time. This is no different than making a budget for our spending, cataloguing our spending from credit card and checking account ledgers and then prayerfully asking God if how we’re spending our money is how God would have us spend.
When we give God our time, when we see it as a limited resource, numbering our days, then we will indeed apply our hearts to wisdom; the wisdom of making sure that all the time we spend is in service to making the love and peace of Christ known.
What time is it?
I have 16,425 days left. How many do you have? God is teaching us to number our days. Let us apply our hearts to wisdom so that, despite the demands upon us, we can thrive in this life, making a difference in the world.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.