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I put away my idols: Time

By Charles Qualls

Let me ask you a question. Do you have idols that you worship? You’ve been encultured, or some of you trained even, to say ‘no.’ But I’d say, ‘Not so fast.’ By the way, don’t worry. That question wasn’t a setup. You are in great company as you read this.

There are other people reading this column, and who heard the sermon on which it’s based. If you get out today, you’ll see other people around you albeit from a safe distance hopefully. Every one of us you’ll encounter are also idol worshippers.

We started a new June sermon series at our church this week called “I Put Away My Idols.” Some of you may recall a song from some time back with the same title. So we’re going to take a gentle, and I hope helpful look at some of our idols this month.

We’ll see if we can’t tuck a few of these idols away. The Scripture on which this week’s sermon was based was Ephesians 5: 15-21. The idol we examine is “time,” a quantity that so many of us guard carefully. Many of us build our lives around our limited time. We have the illusion of managing it. We have people who try to teach us to maximize it. In the end, no matter what we do we all have the same amount of it.

Some things attempt to waste our time. Selfish or dysfunctional people, tasks, distractions, choices we’ve made or unexpected circumstances will come along. They all can soak up our precious resources and rob us of our most addictive substance: time. The apostle Paul would point out, though, that we are plenty capable of wasting our own time.

Paul seems convicted here of one important thing. Our time that we so idolize and love actually is a gift loaned to us by God. Our time is not so much ours independently. The apostle had begun this fifth chapter of his letter to the Ephesian Church with a pretty simple instruction. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

When the Greeks talked about time, they used more than one word. Occasionally, one might refer to time using “chronos.” Your ear is attuned to our word “chronological” or “chronology.” This aspect of time was fixed. If someone asks you what time it is, that is chronos. Or, what time of day your church worships each Sunday. The other word they had for time was “kairos.” If you reflected back to the good ole’ days, that would be a more abstract and larger picture of kairos time. If you compared the era of the Great Depression to today’s global pandemic, that would be kairos.

Here, the apostle is focused on kairos. The larger glance at our “days,” the way we spend our time in general. Paul wants us to make the most of the little time we have in life. He says there is some baggage we need to stop bringing as we travel life’s journeys. He also commends some healthy ways of living in community that more closely reflect Christ. Those need to come on the journey with us always.

The implication is that many of the Ephesians, and by extension you and me, can waste time in general by living selfishly or harmfully. Instead, he appeals to us to live in healthier spiritual and interpersonal ways. In other words, to live in Christ-like community with one another. Fred Craddock, one of America’s most beloved pulpiteers, used to say that the longest journey we ever walk is the one between what we say we believe — or think — to what we actually do.

Now Paul says that there are some things, some ways of relating to others and to God, that we need to put in the past in order to use our time as we should. Our idolization of time may be less in a selfish hoarding of it, and more in assuming that it belongs to us in the first place. According to the apostle, God’s claim on time means it is supposed to be used living in ways that reflect the true God of our lives.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.