Redeeming the Time for the Weary Soul | What does Eph. 5:16 mean?

You’ve probably heard about the concept of “redeeming time,” a highly-touted rally cry from Ephesians 5:16. In fact, you’re probably so familiar with the phrase, you could list off a few ways to “redeem your time” through multitasking and time management skills. 

But we don’t have boundless energy. Some seasons are rough — or downright tiring. So what does “redeeming the time” mean for the weary soul? 

You want to be productive

It’s a no-brainer: You want to be a good Christian. You love Jesus. You want to do what the Bible says. Redeeming the time is no exception. 

Because really, who doesn’t want to be more productive with their time? To make the most of it. Get a little more done. Move forward a step or two.

It sounds great, simple even. But…you’re tired. Like, down-to-the-bones tired. There never seems to be enough rest. You wake up in the morning exhausted. It feels like you’re walking backward instead of forward, and each step takes a huge effort. Everything is demanding your attention, your focus, your energy. 

You can’t catch your breath. There’s no end to the tirade and it makes you feel like a failure.

Just. So. Tired.

Is it even possible to redeem the time? And how?


I didn’t even know what redeeming the time meant

To be honest, I’m not sure I could have answered that question until I started writing this post. Burnout — mental, emotional, and physical — is not foreign to me, so obviously I’ve missed what redeeming the time means in the past.

And yet, that phrase has been rolling around in my brain for a couple of weeks. Thus compelled, I started my pontification on the topic. Naturally, I did the first thing that came to mind: I asked Google. 

I instantly found dozens of posts written by Christian authors. Most gave a quick quote of the scripture, then threw out ways they multitask their day to make the most of their time. 

This seemed like a good answer, but like in my kids favorite book, Baa-Choo, it was a sneeze with an “Ahhh-” but no “-choo.” Downright unsatisfying.

So I looked at what my Bible says

At this point, I was a little irked with the canned answer, so I went straight to the source: the Bible. Let’s start with the right context:

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17, KJV)

The exact phrase “redeeming the time” is particular to the King James Version of the Bible. Still, it wasn’t enough for me to read the verses in another translation to pick which one I liked more. Since I spent my childhood trying to translate French to English and back, I know words have weaker, stronger, or different meanings when read in their original text. So I busted out my Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary to look up the words for “redeeming the time” in this section

Redeeming the Time – two words

Exagorazō is the word used for “redeeming.”  It is a strengthened form meaning “to buy,” often used to indicate “buying from slavery.” In the case of Ephesians 5:16, it is used in the middle voice, with the word kairos for “time.” Kairos is used to denote “a season,” as opposed to a measurement of time such as minutes or hours. Put together, the overarching meaning of the original words lends to “buying up opportunity [for oneself].”

Now, I’m no scholar, so I am simply sharing my humble opinion on this text. With the above dry explanation, my understanding leads me to believe “redeeming the time” is about awareness of the brevity of life and seizing the opportunity when it arises. 

The other point of this passage – which is often forgotten – is that redeeming the time isn’t the only directive. The other emphasis is the focus on our actions. Living as wise, not fools. Taking action, because we understand God’s will. And being diligent, because we live in evil times.

The consensus of redeeming the time

So far, I didn’t see any mention of multitasking, striving or heavy scheduling anywhere in the definition of this section of scripture. All I see is a call to use your time wisely. 

That could mean pushing yourself to make time to witness to unbelievers. Or it could mean simply inviting someone over for dinner. Or praying for a loved one across the country. After all, God only uses ordinary people in ordinary situations to reach those who need Him. 

For the weary soul, it could mean making time for rest. Spending time seeking Jesus. Or setting healthy boundaries. Redeeming the time might mean taking time to heal from past emotional or physical harm.

When I worked in youth ministry, many of the leaders – myself included – were serving while working normal jobs and taking college classes. We got tired. And by God’s grace, we remembered to tell each other, “God doesn’t send wounded soldiers into battle.”

This means His individual concern is for our relationship with Him. By no means does that make us stagnant. He might find ways to challenge us, ways we don’t think we can succeed in. But He can do that because the work is never accomplished by our power. The work is already done because Jesus Christ already finished it. We are just lucky enough to get to be a part of the journey.

So be at rest, tired soul

All of that to say, I believe Ephesians 5:16 isn’t a call to place the importance on ourselves; that through our actions we can determine what will affect eternity. Instead, it’s a call to awareness of our actions and the attitudes of our hearts. It’s about our individual relationship with God, not an invisible checklist.

What I see in this section of scripture is a gentle urging. It isn’t the tasks we accomplish that redeem the time, but the way we live. Because ultimately, the reception of time does not depend on us, but on God and His plan. And if we live in a way that we are constantly seeking Jesus, our time is already redeemed. And by His power — not ours — our actions can point others to Jesus. 

(And by the way, rest itself is a gift from God. Hallelujah!)

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