Called For Such A Time
By Rev. R. Reed
A message for this crisis time in which we live is found in Romans 13:11-14. It reads:
"And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof."
Here we have a blueprint for action spelled out for pastors and churches who, in the providence of God, are called upon to meet the challenge of a society in crisis. Is not this the situation in which we find ourselves today?
Paul is writing to the infant church at Rome. Roman society and civilization at that time were in a sad state of decline. The Empire was starting to break up. In earlier history it had had a relatively high standard of law and order, of political integrity, of moral behaviour, of civil obedience. But now the seeds of decadence, the seeds of lawlessness, the seeds of permissiveness, the seeds of self-indulgence, the seeds of greed, the seeds of ambition had taken root and sin was rampant in the society at that particular time. Edward Gibbon, the famous historian who wrote the classic, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, made that famous remark that the decline of the great Roman Empire came not because of opposition without but because of corruption and decay within.
That was the kind of society in which the infant church in Rome was cradled. The Roman Christians were living in times of social, political, economic, domestic and moral crisis, very much like the day in which we are living at this particular time.
In verse 11 above we read, "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." The Apostle Paul uses the word "time" twice: "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time..." In the original these are two different words. The first word "time"--"and that knowing the time"--means it is a special occasion; it is seasonable. It is not the usual or the normal word used for time. Literally it means a period marked by adverse or emergency circumstances, crisis times. Williams in his New Testament translated it: "knowing the present crisis." In writing to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul identifies the time as days of crisis, an emergency situation.
The second word, "Now it is high time to awake out of sleep...," means it is the moment for action. There is a sense of urgency, a sense of pressure. The hour is late, is what he is trying to get across. It is a call to action. Lenski in his commentary suggests that what Paul is saying here is, "The alarm clock is ringing!" as he writes to these Christians in Rome.
He gives us more details with regard to the situation as we read on. In verse 13 he says, "Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying." Obviously that is not a complete list, of the sins of that society. It is a summation. There are three couplets. It has been suggested that these three different classifications could include all sins; they cover the whole range of iniquities. All the sins of men may be classified in these three categories: word, thought and deed; body, senses and mind.
Not in Rioting and Drunkenness
In the first couplet he says, "Let us walk honestly as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness..." This particular aspect of sin involves bodily sins, rioting. The idea is that they were going wild, they were letting loose, they were carousing in ungoverned revelry. Gangs of people would go around completely indifferent to law and order. They would do what they liked, beat up whom they liked, tear down what they liked. Vandalism was the order of the day. Rioting is complete disregard for law and order. As we think of our society, we can identify with this, can we not?
Then, too, it says drunkenness--intemperance, intoxication, losing one’s self-control, drinking orgies. What is the number one social problem in today’s society? Alcoholism is what it is. Many people are enslaved by that terrible curse. Many times as a pastor I have been called upon to visit homes and see fathers and mothers completely captive to that awful curse, destroying themselves and destroying their homes, and destroying their children.
I am not suggesting that as Christians we are guilty of this, but one thing does bother me, and that is how Christians today are letting down as far as their standards are concerned. I am alarmed that now social drinking is an acceptable thing among Christians. Many young families today think nothing of these things.
It is time we wake up and listen to this call! Today’s society is in crisis, and we have been put here by the providence of God as the salt of the earth. We need to realize our calling and our mission for such a time as this!
Then there were sensual sins that are listed in our text: "In chambering and wantonness." Chambering means lewd behavior, no sense of modesty, lust, licentiousness, sensuality. He is talking about Rome about two thousand years ago, but he could be talking about our society. We cannot point a finger at the Roman society, for our society is no better, and we need to heed the call to action. The word wantonness means filthiness, debauchery. It is the ugliest word in the Greek vocabulary. They gloried in their shame. The filthier it became, the better they liked it. And what do we see in our society but exactly the same situation.
Not in Strife and Envying
Then there are the dispositional sins he mentions. "Not in strife and envying." The word strife means quarrelsomeness, contention, the love of arguing, the love to stir things up. What a sad thing that is today even among Christians. These things ought not to be. Jesus Christ must fill us with His love and compassion and the capacity to put those things behind us and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then Paul mentions envying. The word is envy, pride or jealousy--things of that dispositional order. What a deadly mischievous sin jealousy is! How it can get into churches and what havoc it can bring about in a congregation! How often do you find even Christians characterized by the very thing we have here: jealousy. They cannot abide seeing someone else having prominence or being used of God. They will do anything to discredit you, to tear you down, in the name of the Lord always--Pharisees.
So Paul paints a picture of a society that was seething and fomenting with evil. It was a critical hour. They were crisis days. Something had to be done, and there in the providence of God was this newborn church, this very colony of heaven upon earth in that rotten society. In writing to this infant church, Paul calls them to action. He gives a five-point program, a five-fold call to action for pastors, churches and Christians in a day of crisis, in an emergency situation.
Awake out of Sleep!
The first call we have is to awake out of sleep. Verse 11 says, "And that knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep..." My understanding for a long time was that Paul was urging them to action. He was trying to arouse them out of their laziness, their indolence, their apathy, their indifference, and saying, "Wake up because the time is so desperate and the hour is short as far as opportunity is concerned."
Dr. A. T. Pierson suggests that to understand what the Apostle Paul has in mind here you have to realize the figure he was using. He suggests it is a military figure. It relates to the Imperial Guard at that particular time, to one of whom the apostle was chained night and day. So he became familiar with the habits, the customs and the ways of the Guard. If they were not on public duty they were allowed out at 4:30 in the afternoon. They would put on their civilian clothes and go into society. They did not have to report back until reveille in the morning at whatever time it was, five o’clock or six o’clock.
They went out and spent the night carousing, a night on the town. They came back in the morning completely exhausted and worn out, and had to face the day and carry on with their duties. Dr. Pierson suggests that this is the picture Paul has in mind. It is not that they were lazy, but they were squandering their time. They were frittering away on lesser things, precious time to serve the Lord.
I wonder how true that is of many today who name the name of Christ. It is not that they are lazy, but they are worn out. They are exhausted in the pursuit of temporal things and the pleasures of this life. It is a startling summons, when you consider he is talking to Christians here, to believers, those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Obviously he feels that they need to be stirred and roused to a more spiritual and more watchful life.
I suggest kindly that as we look at the situation today, there is no time to squander on lesser things. This is no time to just fritter away the day of opportunity in the pursuit of temporal things and secular pleasures. Yet how often does the pastor find in the church today the response coming back, "I am too busy." But when you ask yourself, "Too busy doing what?" in nine cases out of ten it is not the work of the Lord, the things of Jesus Christ. Lives are cluttered up with the pursuit of temporal things.
We need to heed the call, knowing the time, the crisis situation. The hour is late. It is time we wake up. It is time we become serious and put away lesser things and get down to this business of living for Jesus Christ, and being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, having some impact on this decaying society all around us, and fulfilling God’s purpose in putting us here.
So many are content and happy like the church in Laodicea. We have need of nothing. We are satisfied the way we are. We are rich and we are increased in goods and we have need of nothing. Do not come here disturbing us. We like it the way it is (Rev. 3:17-18).
Oh, Christian friends, we must recognize the hour in which we live and realize that this is our day of opportunity! We were called into the kingdom for such a time as this and our God is sufficient. If that infant church in Rome could survive and become strong through the power of the indwelling Spirit, surely we in this day and generation can also have an impact upon our society as we heed the Word of God and get down to business and become serious regarding the things of the Lord.
Cast Off the Works of Darkness
The second call is to cast off the works of darkness. "The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light." The expression, "the works of darkness," would seem to be the activities that characterize those who know nothing of saving faith in Jesus Christ, those who are still in their darkness and know nothing about the regenerating work and the effectual call of God. They have not been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son.
It is saying to cast off those things that characterize those people. The words "cast off" mean divest yourself, excommunicate it, fling it away, throw it aside. There is some sorting out to do in our lives. This is the admonition the apostle brings to the church.
It is the same idea basically in Hebrews 12:1: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." To lay aside means to divest yourself of, to put off. The figure here is the athlete in contest, and the idea is that he would take off any superfluous clothing that would impede his progress.
The apostle says, "You are in a race. It is the greatest race under heaven and this is your time to run. Now put out of your life anything that would be an obstacle to you, that would impede your progress; throw it out and just wear the appropriate clothing to win the race and to be successful at the end."
Do we need that kind of call? It is a call to divest ourselves, to sort ourselves out of those things which, perhaps of themselves are not wrong, but they are weights. Maybe as far as others are concerned they do not appear to be too bad, but we know they are weights in our lives. They are holding us back, and we have to throw them out and get down to business for the Lord Jesus Christ. He is calling for a life of discipleship and commitment, to a dedicated, separated life.
In the army of the Lord, there has to be some sorting out. We have been called to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ. We must endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:3). The soldier’s purpose is to fight and to be fit to do it. As soldiers of the Cross, we must accept our calling seriously, and be in that position where God can use us for His glory. We must not be encumbered by lesser things which of themselves, perhaps are not wrong, but they are holding us back. Throw them out and know liberty in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We have the same motive in Colossians 3:5. It speaks about mortifying the deeds of the flesh or putting them off. We have this responsibility. There are some things we should throw out as well as some things we should put on, and the negative is as important as the positive.
Put on the Armour of God
"Cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light." What is the Christian’s armour? We are told in Ephesians 6. We have the loins girt about with truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet shod with the preparation of the gospel, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, the helmet of salvation.
Note in this list that there is no reference to a nightshirt, or a pair of pajamas, or an evening dress, or sportswear, or even academic finery. It says to put on the armour of God; be a soldier. And recognize this is a time for mobilization. This is a call to fight the good fight of faith using the weapons given to us by our blessed Lord. The call is to your knees, to pray, to seek God, to wait upon Him, to know the Word; and to be those who are filled with the Spirit to meet the crisis of the hour in which we live.
We need this rallying call today in our churches. We have far too many draft-dodgers in the army of the Lord. We need those who will go to the front and face the enemy and do battle in the strength of the Lord with the weapons of the Lord, of course. We have three fronts to fight on--the world, the flesh and the devil. Paul fought a good fight; he kept the faith.
We must remember that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. We are not to use temper, gossip, scheming, guile, politics, backstairs influence. That is out. We walk as those who are in the light. We are told in 2 Corinthians 10:4: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God...bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."
It is a call to walk honestly. "Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying." The walk takes in the whole of Christian life and deportment. It means to walk becomingly, to walk appropriately, to walk consistently, that your walk come up to your talk. It means to be consistent in what you say and what you do. We have the five walks in Ephesians: to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called (4:1), to walk not as the Gentiles walk (4:17), to walk in love (5:2), to walk as children of light (5:8), and to walk circumspectly (5:15), that is, carefully as we go about our business.
Put on Christ
Then finally, it is a call to put on Christ: "But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." There are some things we must put out of our wardrobe, but here is one thing we must put on. Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ. Envelop yourself in Him, bedeck yourself in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not Christ in us so much but we in Christ, knowing something of the crucified life, knowing something of the life that is surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Spirit, that He might live His life through us to the praise of the glory of His grace.
We do not hear much about the crucified life these days, what it means to be crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me (Gal. 2:20). When a man is crucified, he does not look around; his face is set in one direction. He is facing that way. He has been called of God and there he stays to do a work for his blessed God. A crucified man does not go back. He is committed. It is settled. He has no plans of his own. He is not making up his mind what he is going to do. The Lord has made up his mind for him and he is subjected to that authority. We must know something of dying unto self, the crucified life, and living in Jesus Christ, the resurrected life.
The hour is an hour of crisis. The time is pressing. Now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed. Some think the Apostle Paul believed in the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ when he said that. Others feel that he meant that the apostle, looking at the situation and seeing the storm clouds gathering, realized that persecution was soon coming upon those who named the name of Christ, and in the normal course of things it would not be too long before those Christians would be thrown to the lions and crucified upside down and enter into the fullness of their salvation.
Oh, friend, who knows what is ahead? We look at our society and we see what is happening. The hour is an hour of crisis. It is time for Christians to heed the call. Awake out of sleep! Cast off the works of darkness! Put on the armour of God! Walk honestly! Put on Christ! God help us to hear!
Abridged from The Gospel Witness. Used with permission.