Recently, my CLA 2015 Outcomes Conference brochure arrived in the mail. It’s time to register. The theme for the 2015 gathering is “Time”. Upon learning that, my mind raced to a favorite movie quote from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and instructions the Apostle Paul gave the Ephesian Christians (and us).Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened. Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.
Whether you enjoy Tolkien’s masterpieces brought to life by Peter Jackson in our day or not, you get a sense from this scene that Frodo’s task (and ours) linked to tough challenges is all about having the right perspective: It’s about choosing what to do with the time given to us. I appreciate Gandalf’s counsel. He not only helps Frodo realize the choice before him; he expresses confidence in the humility and perseverance of the hobbit to complete his quest.
Paul shared a similar perspective with the Ephesians (and us). Let me put his words in their historical and literary context. Ephesus was the financial capital, the “Wall Street”, of the ancient world. The temple of Artemis was home to the goddess who watched over the riches of the kings of the earth. Her face, figure, and words like “Savior” were stamped on coins that circulated throughout the Mediterranean world. It was the equivalent of: “In Artemis we trust!”
Because Ephesus was such a key city, the Apostle Paul headquartered there from about 52-54 CE. Luke reports in Acts 19 that so many turned from magic and idol worship to Christianity that the renown of the goddess was at stake. His opponents drove him out of town. In a setting where riches had been linked to Artemis and money, Paul wrote a letter to the saints in Ephesus. Many think Ephesians was one of his last letters written from prison (3:1).
In the first half of the letter (chapters 1-3) Paul describes their position (and ours) in Christ because of the riches of his grace (1:3-14), reminds them of the riches of this inheritance (1:17-23), and celebrates the riches of Christ’s glory that can produce unimaginable outcomes (3:16-21). He realigns their thinking with regard to power and riches.
The second half of the letter (chapters 4-6) maps their practices. What they must do! They (and we) are to abandon the old life, embrace a new way of living and thinking despite the spiritual forces of evil at work. Paul writes:
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:6-16 (NRSV)
Humor me to wrap up this post with two thoughts. The first is about outcomes. Paul wants the Ephesian Christians (and us) to bear fruit (outcomes). So what’s his advice? Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. We must live differently from the world, find out what pleases God, and do it! To help us discern what is good, right and true, join me in attending the CLA 2015 Outcomes Conference.
The second point is about time and the choice everyone must make. Paul says: Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.
What will we do with the time given us?
Back in Ephesus, unwise people trusted in a false god and followed empty thinking that stockpiling riches was the answer to their problems. Will we? Or, alternatively, will we trust in the true riches we possess in Christ: “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe” (1:19)? The choice is ours and the clock is ticking.
Gary G. Hoag, Ph.D. (New Testament, Trinity College, Bristol, UK), serves as a speaker, consultant, and professor. Along with R. Scott Rodin and Wesley K. Willmer, Dr. Hoag authored, The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes(ECFA Press 2014), which was the featured book of the CLA 2014 Outcomes conference.
It’s time for you to register for the 2015 CLA Outcomes Conference. Select the ITI session, Academy courses, and workshops that will advance your leadership journey. The details are now available on the website. Take advantage of early savings and the CLA members advantage. All CLA members that register four people at the same time earn a fifth registration free. Don’t delay – secure your spot today!