Word studies can bless those who study God’s Word

What made me want to study Greek and Hebrew in seminary was faithful preachers during my college years who sometimes gave us the meaning of a word in their sermons.  Not too much, of course.  It’s easy to overdo this.  And nothing very technical.  The guy in the pew does not care a whit about the aorist tense or pluperfect whatever, or that Josephus used this in one way and Herodotus another.

Pastors should do this sparingly, but when they do it wisely and well, a word study can enrich Bible study and inspire the hearers.  (I suggest no more than one word meaning from the Greek or Hebrew per sermon.  The average worshiper can absorb only so much, and we must not presume upon their kindnesses.)

Here are a few from Pau’s Letter to the Philippians…

“…so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10).

The word “sincere” here is rich in meaning.  Our English word comes from the Latin “sin” meaning “without” and “ceres” meaning “wax.”  Without wax.  We’re told this refers to the shoddy practice of sculptors in the past.  While working on a piece of art, the marble might develop a crack.  Rather than discard the piece or try to repair it, the unscrupulous artist might fill it with wax.  It looked great and fooled the buyer….until he built a fire in the room where the piece was being displayed.  The heat melted the wax, and the fraud was discovered.  A truly sincere person is someone without wax, we would say.  Someone who can take the heat.

We used to speak of certain people being “plastic,” meaning a cheap imitation of the real thing.

In this verse, the Greek word for “sincere” is heilikrines.   Heile comes from helios (sun) and krino means tested or judged.  So, the idea is “sun-tested.”   Many years ago, a man might buy a suit in a store with artificial lighting.  Once he took the suit outside the store, he might see that the workmanship or quality or material or color was not what he had in mind.  So, a sincere person is someone who can stand the light.  Light-tested.

Lawmakers speak of “sunshine laws” which are intended to put a stop to secret sessions of committees during which they plan their open meetings.  Turn the light on.  Our Lord said, “Men love darkness rather than light” for a very good reason: Their deeds are evil.

Christians are to be people of the light.  “Children of the light” in I Thessalonians 5:5.  Jesus said, “There is nothing covered that will not be revealed; nothing hidden that will not be known.  What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light” (Matthew 10:26-27).

“…standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel….” (Philippians 1:27).

The word “striving” is synathleo, found only here in the New Testament.  Syn = together and athleo = to be an athlete, to contend in games.   Think of a team working together.  Eleven men line up on the football field, take their positions, and then follow their quarterback, their captain-on-the-field.  That’s a great picture for the Lord’s people operating in unison and harmony.  Each one plays a different position, and if he’s not in his place or does not follow his leader, the enemy breaks through and nothing good happens.  Everyone striving together for the faith of the gospel.

As the D-Day planning team broke up their final meeting in 1944, historians tell us that General Eisenhower’s final words were “Gentlemen, it’s one team–or we lose.”  The armies of numerous nations were represented in that room.  Yet they had to work together to overcome a common enemy.

Speaking of unity…

“…make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Philippians 2:2).

United in spirit; intent on one purpose (NASB). First, “united in spirit.” The Greek sympsychos, found only here in Scripture, literally means “together-souled.”  The idea is harmonious, united in spirit.   Then, “intent on one purpose.” Literally the Greek means “the one thing minding” or “thinking the one thing.”

Imagine a crowd of people from many backgrounds, but completely unified.  Their hearts beating in unison, their minds set on one purpose.

In Jesus Christ we are to be “together-souled” and “together-minded.”  There is no place in the Kingdom for the silly divisions and partisanships we often joke about in our denomination.  “Where you have two Baptists, you have three opinions.”  God is not amused.  Jesus prayed that “they all may be one, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me” (John 17:21).  If we are to convince the world that Jesus is Lord, God’s people must practice unity.

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

The verb katergazesthe means “to work on to the finish,” or “carry on to the goal.”  (Incidentally, I recommend Word Meanings in the New Testament by Ralph Earle, published by Baker Book House in 1987.)

In preaching this, pastor, I suggest you not try to pronounce katergazesthe.  The congregation doesn’t need that.  (Smile, please.)  Here is what Dr. Earle says on the word: “While Christ purchased our salvation and offers it to us as a free gift, yet there is a part that we must do if the salvation is to be completed in our case.”  He quotes from Dr. A. T. Robertson, who authored a series of books on Greek word studies a century ago: “(Paul) exhorts as if he were an Arminian in addressing men.  He prays as if he were a Calvinist in addressing God, and feels no inconsistency in the two attitudes.  Paul makes no attempt to reconcile the divine sovereignty and human free agency, but boldly proclaims both.”  Earle adds: “We should pray as if all depended on God and work as if it all depended on us.”

If you get a chance to study the Greek or Hebrew languages, pastor, go for it.  But remember our caveat above, not to overdo in sermons what you learn in these word studies.  Sharing too much from the original languages might end up convincing your people their English Bibles are untrustworthy, and you do not want to do that. 

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