The Challenge of the 70’s
William McRae, formerly of Toronto but now serving the Lord at Dallas, Texas, gave three forceful messages at the Youth Convention held at Peterborough, Ontario, near the close of 1970. All present felt the impact of their challenge. We publish these in hope that our readers may likewise be impressed. This is the last of the series.
The challenge of the ‘70’s must not only be faced by dedicating our lives in an unconditional surrender to the Lord, and met in the power of a Spirit-filled life, but it must also be accepted by redeeming the time.
Following his speech at the Democratic Convention of 1806, a speech that made him three times the candidate of his party for the presidency, a friend said to Wm. Jennings Bryant:
“I suppose that many times before you had made just as able a speech as that and it was never remembered.” “Yes,” he said, “I suppose that is true, but that convention was my opportunity and I made the most of it.” Then he was silent for a moment as his great head rested against the cushion of the taxicab and the light of reminisence and retrospect came into his eyes. After a moment he broke the silence with these words: “And that’s about all we do in this, world, lose or use our opportunities.”
This tells the story of our life. We face a world that is as laden with ripe opportunities as a fruit tree with apples in early fall. Harold Lindsell, editor of Christianity Today, recently said, “It is an exciting time in which to live. Today may be the greatest opportunity for evangelical witness and advance if we seize the intiative and move forward boldly and unitedly.” More than one half of the people who have ever lived on earth are alive today!
Yet the evidence is irrefutable! Hosts of churches are without effective outreach, many new communities are without an evangelical church, hundreds of tribes are without the Gospel, and many countries are without much needed Bible Schools. It is still a fact that for every one person converted to Christianity, two are converted to Catholicism, five to Islam and nine to Communism.
Whatever else Bryant was, he was not a fool. He was a wise man. He used his opportunity! Such is our evaluation of any politician, businessman, salesman, speculator or athlete who uses every opportunity that presents itself. They are wise men.
It is for such wisdom that Paul pleads in Ephesians 5. He has been speaking of the conduct of believing Christians among unbelieving Gentiles and sums up his instructions in verse 15, “Therefore be careful how you walk” (New ASV). This care or diligence is to be directed toward walking not as a “fool,” but as a “wise” man. The portrait of a wise Christian is painted in verse 16. The course he follows is stated in the first phrase.
I. The Course …
He Redeems the Time
This is the course a wise Christian will follow. The “time” is an opportunity. It is not the normal word for the passing of time but a word which means a moment for a particular action, or “a critical epoch” or “a special opportunity which may pass.” It is so translated in Galatians 6:10; “As we have, therefore, opportunity, let us do good unto all men.”
The one who redeems these opportunities is a wise Christian. To “redeem” an opportunity is to grasp it, take advantage of it or make the most of it. Actually it is a secular word used for the redemption of a slave out of the slave market by one who pays the price of his redemption. It also is a theological word for the redemption of a sinner from the bondage of sin by our Lord whose blood is the price of redemption. These analogies strongly suggest that the opportunities given to a Christian to witness among the Gentiles are in the possession of another, and need to be redeemed or released or they will be misused (and wasted). Jerome suggested they are in the hands of evil men. Calvin thought they are in the grasp of Satan. In view of 1 John 5:19 and 2 Corinthians 4:4, perhaps it is safest to say they are in the control of both Satan and evil men and must be redeemed.
A. Often they are opportunities to speak for our Lord. The story of Acts is the story of wise men, redeeming opportunities to speak. When the apostles were asked, “What does this mean?” Peter grasped the opportunity to preach his great sermon of Acts 2. Thousands were converted and he redeemed the opportunity from the grasp of evil men. When Stephen was asked “Are these things so?” (Acts 7:1), he redeemed the opportunity from the grasp of evil men and spoke such a word that Saul never recovered! In the synagogue the rulers said to Paul and his company, “Ye men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on” (Acts 13:15). Paul redeemed the opportunity here as he did on Mars Hill (Acts 17:19) and before Agrippa (Acts 26:1). That is a wise man! He takes advantage of every opportunity to speak for the Lord. By doing so he releases that moment from the grasp of Satan and his followers who are intent upon abusing or misusing it.
B. More often, however, they are opportunities to live as children of light, in a dark world. Actually it is these opportunities that are in view in Ephesians 5:16 — times to walk not talk! This is the theme of Ephesians 4-6 — The Christian Walk. The three features of the walk of children of light stated in verse 9 are goodness, righteousness and truth. The first, “goodness,” relates to our personal character and is in contrast to evil passions. He is a wise Christian who grasps every opportunity to walk in goodness. Joseph was such a man. When he was propositioned by Pharoah’s wife, he redeemed the opportunity from the grasp of Satan and this evil woman, by walking in goodness.
The second feature, “righteousness,” relates to our social dealings and is in contrast to stealing, coveting, etc. She is a wise Christian who grasps every opportunity to walk righteously. Daniel did. In the midst of an ungodly society, he grasped the opportunity from the princess of Babylon by walking righteously. Under the closest scrutiny, no flaw was found.
The third feature, “true” relates to our obligation to self, others, and God and is in contrast to falsehood and hypocrisy. They are wise Christians who seize every opportunity to walk faithfully and sincerely. They follow in the train of Shadrack and his friends who redeemed the time from the king of Babylon by walking in truth. Their sincere behaviour in refusing to bow to the image, their faithfulness to the Lord, turned the tide in that day.
Did you notice that each of these men paid a price? Joseph was imprisoned, Daniel was cast into the den, the three Hebrews were cast into the fiery furnace. There is always a price to pay if an opportunity is to be redeemed!
But wait a moment! Did you notice that Joseph’s walk ultimately led to the physical preservation of Israel, that Daniel’s walk led to Darius’ acknowledgment of Jehovah, and the Hebrew trio’s walk resulted in Nebuchadnezzar’s acknowledgment of Jehovah as the God of Heaven and earth?
Do you see the point? We live in a world laden with wonderful opportunities to walk as children of light in goodness, righteousness and truthfulness. Those opportunities are under the control of the prince of this world and his subjects who seek to use them to destroy our testimony of our Lord. To be redeemed there is always a price to pay which in turn “purchases” victorious results for the cause of our Lord.
J. A. Broadus used to say that opportunity was like a fleet horse that pauses for one moment by one’s side. If you fail to mount him in that moment you can hear the clatter of his hoofs down the corridor of time. The opportunity is gone forever.
Such is a foolish man. The wise man takes advantage of every opportunity, not only to speak, but to live a godly life.
But our text continues with a phrase that gives the reason for such a course. It is “because the days are evil.”
II. The Cause…
The Days are Evil
If Paul’s days were evil, what shall we say of ours. We are witnessing a frightening resurgence of demonic activity in the rise of the occult with its spiritism, palmistry, E.S.P., telepathy, black magic, astrology and clairvoyance. Macleans reports that Canadians are going in for what is probably the biggest revival of astrology since the fall of Babylon.
Back in 1900 about 1 out of every 12 marriages in U.S.A. ended in divorce. In 1922 it was one in eight. Today it is almost one in three. Some countries issue more divorces than marriage licences. Now premarital sex is the norm. A large denomination this year officially approved extramarital sex. Homosexuality is no longer a shame.
The drug scene is absolutely terrifying. The spirit of lawlessness and revolution has permeated every strata of society. Yes, the days are evil.
Many of us feel for our country as Thomas Jefferson felt for his when he said: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever.” In a past generation Gresham Machen said: “America is running on the Momentum of a godly ancestry. When that momentum goes, God help America.” Someone recently said:
To our forefathers, the Christian faith was an experience.
To our fathers, the Christian faith was an inheritance.
To most of us, the Christian faith is an inconvenience.
To our children, the Christian faith will be a nuisance.
Because they are evil, they need to be transformed. That this is possible is established by Paul in Ephesians 5:11-13. Here is the process whereby darkness becomes light. There are three stages: First, there is exposure by the light of the Christian life; Second, this makes visible or manifest the darkness. When brought into the light, the deeds of darkness wither and die; Third, the result is that whatever is made manifest is become light. “Everything that becomes visible is light” (New ASV). Whatever is manifested takes on the nature of light. Certainly transformation is in view here. The testimony of Christian and Faithful in Vanity Fair resulted in Hopeful’s conversion. The unbelieving husband can be won by the chaste behaviour of a wife (1 Pet. 3:1).
“From an approximation of Babel, Geneva was changed into an anticipation of the New Jerusalem. John Knox, Father of Presbyterianism, praised Geneva as “the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on earth since the days of the apostles.” A. G. Dickens, a contemporary British historian, observed that Geneva, as a result of Calvin’s ministry, ‘became a clean and orderly town, in which the poor, the aged and the sick were well tended and where educational opportunity became excellent.’ Therefore Geneva is a good example of the relationship between doctrinal proclamation and social reformation.”