William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Threat Of Time (Romans 13:11-14)

13:11-14 Further, there is this--realize what time it is, that it is now high time to be awakened from sleep; for now your salvation is nearer than when you believed. The night is far gone; the day is near. So, then, let us put away the works of darkness, and let us clothe ourselves with the weapons of light. Let us walk in loveliness of life, as those who walk in the day, and let us not walk in revelry or drunkenness, in immorality and in shamelessness, in contention and in strife. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ as a man puts on a garment, and stop living a life in which your first thought is to gratify the desires of Christless human nature.

Like so many great men, Paul was haunted by the shortness of time. Andrew Marvell could always hear "time's winged chariot hurrying near." Keats was haunted by fears that he might cease to be before his pen had gleaned his teeming brain. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:

"The morning drum-call on my eager ear

Thrills unforgotten yet; the morning dew

Lies yet undried along my fields of noon.

But now I pause at whiles in what I do

And count the bell, and tremble lest I hear

(My work untrimmed) the sunset gun too soon."

But there was more in Paul's thought than simply the shortness of time. He expected the Second Coming of Christ. The Early Church expected it at any moment, and therefore it had the urgency to be ready. That expectancy has grown dim and faint; but one permanent fact remains--no man knows when God will rise and bid him go. The time grows ever shorter, for we are every day one day nearer that time. We, too, must have all things ready.

The last verses of this passage must be forever famous, for it was through them Augustine found conversion. He tells the story in his Confessions. He was walking in the garden. His heart was in distress, because of his failure to live the good life. He kept exclaiming miserably, "How long? How long? Tomorrow and tomorrow--why not now? Why not this hour an end to my depravity?" Suddenly he heard a voice saying, "Take and read; take and read." It sounded like a child's voice; and he racked his mind to try to remember any child's game in which these words occurred, but could think of none. He hurried back to the seat where his friend Alypius was sitting, for he had left there a volume of Paul's writings. "I snatched it up and read silently the first passage my eyes fell upon: ' Let us not walk in revelry or drunkenness, in immorality and in shamelessness, in contention and in strife. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, as a man puts on a garment, and stop living a life in which your first thought is to gratify the desires of Christless human nature.' I neither wished nor needed to read further. With the end of that sentence, as though the light of assurance had poured into my heart, all the shades of doubt were scattered. I put my finger in the page and closed the book: I turned to Alypius with a calm countenance and told him." (C. H. Dodd's translation.) Out of his word God had spoken to Augustine. It was Coleridge who said that he believed the Bible to be inspired because, as he puts it, "It finds me." God's word can always find the human heart.

It is interesting to look at the six sins which Paul selects as being, as it were, typical of the Christless life.

(i) There is revelry (komos, Greek #2889 ). This is an interesting word. Originally komos ( Greek #2889 ) was the band of friends who accompanied a victor home from the games, singing his praises and celebrating his triumph as they went. Later it came to mean a noisy band of revellers who swept their way through the city streets at night, a band of roysterers, what, in Regency England, would have been called a rout. It describes the kind of revelry which lowers a man's self and is a nuisance to others.

(ii) There is drunkenness (methe, Greek #3178 ). To the Greeks drunkenness was a particularly disgraceful thing. They were a wine-drinking people. Even children drank wine. Breakfast was called akratisma, and consisted of a slice of bread dipped in wine. For all that, drunkenness was considered specially shameful, for the wine the Greek drank was much diluted, and was drunk because the water supply was inadequate and dangerous. This was a vice which not only a Christian but any respectable heathen also would have condemned.

(iii) There was immorality (koite, Greek #2845 ). Koite ( Greek #2845 ) literally means a bed and has in it the meaning of the desire for the forbidden bed. This was the typical heathen sin. The word brings to mind the man who sets no value on fidelity and who takes his pleasure when and where he will.

(iv) There is shamelessness (aselgeia, Greek #766 ). Aselgeia ( Greek #766 ) is one of the ugliest words in the Greek language. It does not describe only immorality; it describes the man who is lost to shame. Most people seek to conceal their evil deeds, but the man in whose heart there is aselgeia ( Greek #766 ) is long past that. He does not care who sees him; he does not care how much of a public exhibition he makes of himself; he does not care what people think of him. Aselgeia ( Greek #766 ) is the quality of the man who dares publicly to do the things which are unbecoming for any man to do.

(v) There is contention (eris, Greek #2054 ). Eris ( Greek #2054 ) is the spirit that is born of unbridled and unholy competition. It comes from the desire for place and power and prestige and the hatred of being surpassed. It is essentially the sin which places self in the foreground and is the entire negation of Christian love.

(vi) There is envy (zelos, Greek #2205 ). Zelos ( Greek #2205 ) need not be a bad word. It can describe the noble emulation of a man who, when confronted with greatness of character, wishes to attain to it. But it can also mean that envy which grudges a man his nobility and his preeminence. It describes here the spirit which cannot be content with what it has and looks with jealous eye on every blessing given to someone else and denied to itself.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible