The word literal is complicated. According to one of the first definitions in the dictionary, literal means: “adhering...to the ordinary construction of primary meaning of a term or expression.” In other words, being literal can just mean saying what you mean to say, giving primary importance in the moment to...
I was reading a book recently that discussed our modern notion of time. The writer said that we have started to view time as a resource that we have possession of. We treat the minutes of our day much like we treat the dollars in our pocket, considering how we might spend what we mistake to be ours.
The writer says that this has produced “a kind of bondage to the clock.”
But what does Scripture have to say about this? What kind of language does God’s Word use concerning time?
The Days are Evil
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:16–17)
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul encourages us to make “the best use” of time. This is so crucial because the days themselves are evil. What does this mean? It could mean that the world we live in is prone to evil. It could also mean that without any redemptive activity, the time span of a day itself does not lead anyone to Christ.
And what then is the best use of our time?
God Entrusts Us with Time
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? (Matthew 24:45)
Before I speak to the best use of our time, I must point out where time comes from. I associated time with money at the beginning of this article, and that is a good way to think about it. We know that money is a resource trusted to us by God Himself. Why should time be any different?
In the verse above, we see that there is a master of the household who trusts his faithful and wise servant. The trust here is not only to give out the food but also to give out the food at the proper time. The master of the household grants his servant the power of deciding when to do things.
We too must view our time as entrusted to us by God Himself. He has given us these things, and He expects us to make the best use of them. So what is the best use of the time we have been given?
Time is Fulfilled in Jesus Christ
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
Although the days are evil, time can be fulfilled and redeemed. How? By repentance and by believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Why? Because the past prophesied Christ (and our past included the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ), the future is all about Christ’s glory and reign, and so the present must follow suit and be all about Christ.
So, “making the best use of time” means glorifying Jesus Christ and bringing others to Him!
Night is Coming
“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4)
What I want to highlight from this verse is the sense that some new kind of time is approaching. Jesus refers to it as “night” which is a scary thing if you consider that Jesus is the light of the world. So “night” then implies some new kind of time where the days are not only evil but completely dark.
The difference I am trying to convey is that in the first category, evil can be changed to good, while in the second category, the darkness is incapable of any change. Listen to Paul’s words in 2 Timothy:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1–3, italics added)
So, we must work to bring people to Christ now! And we expect the work to be very difficult because the “days are evil.”
“But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36)
I find this progression to be a very helpful picture of the story of time from a biblical perspective. It is day, but the days are evil. What comes after day? Night. And what happens to people at night? They get tired, and they fall asleep.
There is nothing wrong with getting good sleep! Jesus is certainly not advocating for us to pull all-nighters as if we were energy drink–charged middle school students. This is figurative speaking for how things will change regarding the world’s relationship with God. The days are evil, but work can still be done. Night is coming, where no work can be done.
For the individual Christian, Jesus is urging us to not fall prey to this change in the times. He says, “stay awake at all times.” Meaning, even if the whole world around you has abandoned the truth of the gospel, follow Christ anyway.
 Philip D. Kenneson, Life on the Vine (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 116.