This article is one of several we will be sharing as a tribute to men who helped educate and shape the lives of other men and women of Christ through their teaching in the church, in the seminary and in their personal lives. As the publisher of idisciple.net, I would like to thank the Lord for each of these men’s lives and pray that their work here on earth, on behalf of the God of the Bible, garner many eternal blessings.
Thomas V. Taylor – Thomas V. Taylor, STM, STD, is the retired Emeritus Associate Professor of Church History and Old Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. His teaching career in Biblical Studies spans 37 years. Tom is active in radio, writing, and conference ministries across the U.S.
Favorite Memory: Playing tiny harmonicas at the beginning of class.
Of Time and its Stewardship
by Professor Thomas V. Taylor
When I was a boy one of my favorite folk songs was “Grandfather’s Clock.” Do you remember it? I suppose what arrested me was the idea that it was “bought on the morn of the day that he was born” and ran continuously until the old man died at age 90. I often found myself singing it and ticking the minutes as they went.
There seem to be a lot of those minutes when you are a child. By the time you are a senior citizen, however, you realize how limited those minutes are. This is why we need to be concerned with time and its stewardship.
Time, says the dictionary, is the measurable period during which a process, an action, or a condition exists or continues. This simply means that time is a measuring device that accounts for periods of activity. Still not clear? Let’s just say that everyone knows what time is even though it may be hard to define. “Time” may refer to any number of things, but in this article we will view it as that measuring device that marks off periods of our lives.
Time has always been something of a mystery. Shelly, the English poet, described it as an “unfathomable sea.” And those who are readers of Tolkien will remember the passage in The Hobbit where the ill-fated Gollum gives a riddle to the adventurer, Bilbo:
This thing all things devours
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays kings, ruins towns,
And beats high mountains down.
The answer to the riddle is “time,” and Bilbo happened on to it just in the nick of time, so to speak.
The mystery of time is further expressed in biblical passages such as 2 Peter 3:8, where the apostle notes “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.” So we stand in awe of what time is even though we are not very certain how to define it.
The Bible says a lot about time in this sense. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us, for example, that there is enough of it for everything needed in life if we use it well. On the other hand, Psalms 39 and 90 outline its brevity, and Romans 13:11-14 reminds us that it is of less quantity than we may think. So the apostolic advice of Colossians 4:6 is to redeem the time, to buy it back so that it is of maximum use in the witness of the Lord. The Revelation letter tells us that time will not continue forever as we know it now. In the light of those things, it is important that we think about the role of time in our lives and how we use it day by day.
I am not talking, however, about quality of time and quantity time, terms which are contrived to make us think about the meaningfulness of particular segments. Nor am I discussing time management which may well have a place, but too often means prioritizing events according to what someone else thinks is important. What I am discussing is the way in which every day is important and within that day the minutes and hours need careful scrutiny with regard to our living. That may be a bit too severe, but it is the general idea.
Basically, Scripture presents time as three things:
1) Time is a gift from God for the benefit of mankind. Psalm 90 makes this plain. The Lord is the eternal God and the only refuge for His people (vv 1-3). In spite of their failures and weaknesses, He gives them “time” to live and enjoy His will (vv 4-9). The number of their days is spoken of as uncertain although “threescore and ten and if by reason of strength fourscore” is a general accounting of life span as envisioned by the Lord (v 10). As a gift it is shared with all, but the proportion (the length of your life) is uncertain (vv 11-12). Time is never a large quantity if measured in the light of the universe, but it is a gauge by which we judge our service and worship of God (vv 13-17).
2) Time is a possession. Gifts are to be received thankfully and used appropriately. They are to be treasured in honor of the giver. The gift of time gives us an opportunity to participate in the world God has created and to enjoy the sovereign will that sustains it. The better we use the gift, the fuller our participation. While time is not “material,” it is still ours and we possess it to that degree. This is the plea of Psalm 39, that we would know the number of our days and realize what our frailty is and thereby use what have wisely.
3) Time is also stewardship. This is seen in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5. The concept in these verses is that of “being the ones who buy back the time.” Redeeming time means claiming it from fruitless or meaningless purposes which will always take up time unless it is legitimately employed otherwise. We are told in 1 Corinthians 4:2 that what is required of a steward is faithfulness. This applies to time as well as to possessions and talents.
This is why procrastination is called “the thief of time.” By not doing what is needed and fulfilling the obligations when they are due, we “steal” from the time ahead of us! We will have to do those things “put off” at a later date and may not be able to do what ought to be done at that time. Good stewards take advantage of time and do what is at hand to do when the opportunity is there. Failure of stewardship in time is only one reason, but an important one, that our churches often suffer from a lack of servants.
One of my friends was in the habit of saying “I’ll be with you in a minute,” but this “minute” could stretch to half an hour at times. It makes one’s stewardship of time difficult. I remember when, in my earlier teaching days, I was five minutes late at a faculty meeting. Dr. MacRae, the president, looked at me benevolently and noted that it was good to see me but he was sorry I was thirty minutes late. I casually noted that I was only five minutes late. He observed that I was five minutes late for each of the six persons waiting for me and so I was really thirty minutes late in terms of time lost. Stewardship means the careful use of our time with proper consideration of that of others.
When it is understood what time means in this personal sense, our quest then moves to determining how to use it. I need it for my work, my church, my family, my personal life and probably some areas beyond these. I need to remember that there is enough time if I use it well. I have found the following principles to be helpful:
1) Following the teaching of Matthew 6:33, I need to use time for eternal endeavors. Many Scriptures touch on this, reminding us that we are not living for the present but for eternity. Time needs to be used in the witness of truth, the edifying of God’s people, the commitment to the church and the gospel. Perhaps every other use of time will find its place under the umbrella of this general concept, but I am thinking especially of the things we do for the Lord in harmony with His calling and the gifts He has given to each of us. Worship, witness, and service in general are all part of this economy of time.
2) The benefit of others is an important use of time. This includes the family and its needs as well as neighbors, relatives, strangers, and all to whom I show some benefit in the name of the Lord. I am not very enthused for parlor games, as we used to call them, but in the interest of others, especially our children, it is sometimes necessary to play them. Someone noted that love is really spelled “time.” That may be simplistic, but there is something to it. In my use of time, I need to look through the annals of the day and see how others are blessed as I share, give, and use time for them.
3) Personal fulfillment needs a share of time as well. It is a mistake to overlook this but we must not be selfish either. It takes some time to shine shoes, comb hair, and take care of a host of pesky subjects, but it is time well used if one does not have a Narcissus complex. We need time for rest and relaxation and every sort of good thing that builds our lives and enriches our honoring of the Lord.
Now it is not possible for me to suggest dividing the day to accomplish those ends. My point is that one must think about the time we have and live responsibly. If we do this, we will have ample time for the necessities of life including our devotional and practical life calling. While this is an individual matter, the principles are the same, namely, being good stewards of time.
One the other hand, wasting time is a critical loss. Perhaps there are few better examples in the Scripture of a time waster than that of the rich fool in Luke 12. He ambitiously used his time to accomplish earthly ends, but assumed he had a lot more time for himself than he had. He counted on many years but had only one night! If he had lived in the perspective of being a good steward of his time, it might have changed his entire life philosophy.
It is possible to press this to an extreme and carry a diary that gives a record of every minute. That would be absurd. But to disregard the gift of time and use it recklessly in the hope of a great increase in longevity—that also is absurd. Between these two points we must find ourselves faithful in honoring the Lord and in the stewardship of life.
NOTE: This article has been approved for reprint by Biblical Theological Seminary.