‘Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.’
The statement that “Time is money” is ascribed to Benjamin Franklin, and highlights the value of Time in that it can be ‘spent’ in endeavours that will produce works of financial value. I want to suggest for the purpose of producing fruit for the Kingdom of God we can rephrase that to “Time is Love”. This idea came to me recently when I was preparing a talk on, what is generally known as, the Parable of the Good Samaritan passage in Luke 10.
Jesus is speaking to an ‘Expert in the Law’ (i.e. the Old Testament Law’) and makes up the Good Samaritan story to teach him what it actually means to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself ‘ as required by the second Great Commandment’. The story is about a Jewish man who is mugged by some bandits on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho and is left lying on the road half dead. There are two key issues brought out by the Parable. The first of which is that there are no limits to whom should be considered our neighbour. The second is the ‘Cost’ that may need to be paid to love the neighbour, and it is this second that I wish to focus on because of its relevance to the mission of the western church in the 21st century.
We are told that the Samaritan ‘hero’ (shocking to Jesus Jewish audience) of Jesus’ story goes out of his way to help the Jewish mugging victim by applying healing materials to his wounds and then taking him to an inn, and paying for his stay, and for him to be looked after. A key point is that this costs the Samaritan in terms of Time, Inconvenience and in Money. My point here relates to Time.
All the statistics available indicate that the Australian Church is locked into a catastrophic, long entrenched decline both in terms of membership/attendance and its gospel influence on society. i.e. its ‘Saltiness’ (Matthew 5:13). Most leaders appear to largely ignore this, and most church congregations seem to be ignorant of it. (See ‘Something Completely Different” in the Resource section of this site for more on this). A major aspect of Jesus’ expectation of Christians is to ‘Love their neighbour’, and not the least important component of this is to seek to lead them to a saving faith in Jesus. If Christians fail to zealously attempt to do this for our ‘neighbours’, whoever they might be, then we are simply failing to love them.
The reality is, as it has been throughout the last two thousand years, that the church is at war with the ‘forces of darkness’. However, in Australia it is a war that is being lost, and badly. If there is to be any chance of this situation being reversed then the church needs to be put on a war footing.
When the second world war broke out the participant nations went onto a war footing, where ALL the resources of the nation were turned over to the war effort. This included how the nation’s people used their Time. Men, in the majority, were conscripted to be front line soldiers, women were employed in factories in place of the conscripted male work force, so disrupting their previous family life, and physical assets, factories etc, were retooled and redesigned for wartime purposes. For example this included the luxury liner the Queen Mary which was stripped to its bare bones, its luxurious fixtures and fittings removed, and turned into a Troopship for 10,000 plus soldiers. All this meant that people had to use their Time very differently compared to peacetime.
The comparison with the approach of the current institutional Australian church is stark. It is in a wartime situation, a war it is losing, yet continues to act and deploy its resources as if it were peacetime. Ninety percent or more of the resources, both human and financial, available are devoted to running the standard local church services and associated ministries. In addition a very smal percentage of the discretionary time of church members is devoted to ‘Loving their neighbour’ in terms of seeking to bring them to Christ. A diagnostic question that might expose the truth (or otherwise) of this claim would be to ask every church member ‘How many ‘neighbours’ have you ‘loved’ by being instrumental in bringing them to Christ?
One of the key lessons of the ‘Good Samaritan’ story is that loving your neighbour involves considerable expenditure of Time, indeed ‘Time is Love’. Even if for the moment we leave aside the continuation of the chronic failed missional strategies still pursued by churches, it is this Time or rather the lack of, factor that is a major contributor to missional unfruitfulness.
In contrast to failing traditional one-off ‘Event’ and short term evangelism strategies, in order to connect with members of a society that is, and increasingly so, culturally alien to the ‘church’, requires Christians to spend considerable time on a regular basis in the places where the unchurched normally meet. This time consuming approach is the only way that the quality relationships which enable the drawing of people to Christ can be built.
The task before the ‘Church’, in whatever form, is nothing less than the re-evangelization of Australia. It is a task of daunting proportions, but to fail in it consigns Christianity to ongoing decline to a greater irrelevancy in the national conscience than it already is. It will be in fact a massive failure ‘To Love’.
The church in Australia is in a Crisis for it losing the War against the pagan forces conquering the land. ‘Crisis’ however, appears to be a word that dare not speak its Name, whether by its leadership or by the membership. The stark reality is that ignoring it will not make it disappear, nor will comfortable Sunday church attendance and lounge room bible studies. To paraphrase John Cleese, we simply, and urgently ‘MUST mention the War’, and respond by redirecting all available resources to the battle, not the least of these being the God-given time of Christians.
This will require the clearing of diaries to free time for Missional activity, the removal of activities (family, sport, recreation, pleasure etc) that consume Time, for as the apostle Paul says-
‘No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs’ (2 Timothy 2:4)
Many will say this is harsh, over the top, excessive, unreasonable. So be it, but the War is clearly being lost and to reverse the tide of the battle requires a far greater application to the Missional Task of the God-given resources already in the possession of Australian Christians. A major one of these is ‘Time’.
‘Time is Love’ and a failure to spend it for the Mission to save the lost, our neighbours, is a failure to love them, which is, as shown by Jesus linking together the two Great Commandments (separate in the Old Testament), a corresponding failure to ‘Love God’.
Time is Love – and it’s ‘Time to Love’