This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on November 27th, 2016.
It’s a common question. “What time is it?” A person may ask it in order to make it on time for an event or to know how much time is left before starting something else. The Greeks had two words for time. One word (chronos) was for the movement of time, and the other (kairos) was for the meaning of time. It is clear in this text that both meanings are relevant.
The Apostle Paul begins this passage with the phrase “besides this.” In general, he can be referring to his theological explanation of the gospel (Romans 1-11). This is his description of how God is at work in the world and in the church through Jesus Christ.
He also can be specifically referring to his ethical explanation of the gospel which begins in chapter 12 with a reference to giving oneself to God through spiritual worship, not being conformed to the world, and being transformed by the renewing of your minds. He then talks about having a humble view of oneself, the gifts in the body of Christ, and a list of virtues and attitudes that Christians should embody in their relationships and everyday living.
He begins chapter 13 describing how the gospel shapes a Christian’s relationship with government. Speaking to Christians living in Rome under government rule that presents Caesar as Lord, Paul says that government is ordained by God. Christ-followers are to respect and obey the government and pay taxes.
After explaining the Christian’s relationship to government, Paul focuses on another fundamental theme in the gospel—the commandment to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. To love your neighbor means to not be in debt to them and to not doing anything wrong to them. To love your neighbor means that one will not commit adultery, murder, steal, or desire what others have. To love one’s neighbor is to practice all the other commandments.
It is from this context of respect for government and love for neighbor that Paul challenges Christ-followers to pay attention to what time it is.
He challenges the Christians in Rome to know the time in which they are living. Paul’s message is not a surprise or a presentation of new information. It is his constant reminder, like the marketing principle that says a person needs to see or hear a message seven times before it becomes a conscious thought.
Paul describes the time as the arrival of our salvation. He understands this in a chronos understanding of time when he says, “salvation is nearer to us than when we became believers.” His readers were chronologically closer to their salvation than when they became believers. Then, he uses the imagery of night and day to illustrate the kairos aspect of this time. It is a time of the fulfillment of salvation.
Paul’s understanding of salvation is both individual and cosmic. God’s saving grace works in the lives of individuals, and it is at work in all of creation. God’s saving work is also a reality with a past (the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ), a present reality, and a future completion.
Paul wants Christ-followers to think of the times, not in terms of political elections, or the seasons of a sport, or the seasons of the year, or a school or corporate calendar—the very things that demand our attention and drive our daily decisions, choices, and relationships. The Christ-follower’s sense of the times centers on God’s salvation, which has to do with God’s daily, ongoing presence and work in people’s lives, in churches, in institutions, and through creation. It’s not a company’s profit, although that’s very important, or a team’s ranking, although that’s important, or an employee’s promotion, although that’s important too. It’s an awareness of and participation in God’s ongoing saving, renewing, redeeming, reconciling work in people and systems and cultures all around us.
This time to wake up does not come and go and come again. It is always this time. And since this is the time we are living in, how should the Christ-follower live in relationship to one another in the church world and with all of the people in the world?
Paul describes actions for believers to engage in. Speaking generally, we must “lay aside works of darkness,” “put on the armor of light,” “live honorably as in the day,” “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and “make no provision for the flesh.” Speaking specifically, we must not engage in “reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.” In preaching this text, one can explain and illustrate these six unChrist-like behaviors.
Think also about historical contexts. This kind of instruction was very appropriate to the first-century world as people were coming straight out of a pagan culture. In our 20th century culture of American Christendom, the church became a place for upstanding citizens. Evangelism happened more within the church as the faith was handed down within families. In the 21st century, with the demise of Christendom and the rise of the Nones, Christians and churches will be reaching out to more people who live in and are influenced by a more secular culture. Although this dark world existed more quietly and discreetly behind the scenes in the families and churches of Christendom.
The Apostle Paul ends with a positive affirmation and a negative command. The positive affirmation is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” That imagery fits well with our culture of body painting, tattoos, and putting on T-shirts and jackets with messages and logos. What does “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” mean in addition to or instead of wearing a shirt with a Bible verse?
The negative command is to “make no provision for the flesh.” This can be treated as an absolute and literal statement when “flesh” stands for everything that is wrong and evil. Yet, what does it look like for Christians to live in their flesh? What are some ways that personality, character, virtues and vices, addiction, mental health, and emotional intelligence intersect with one’s daily thoughts, feelings, decisions and actions that lead to putting on Christ, and living like one who knows what time it is?
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas, Little Rock, Arkansas
Tags: time, wake, sleep, works of darkness, armor of light, put on the Lord Jesus Christ