It’s All Greek: Be Perfect

One of the men who followed Jesus, Matthew, wrote down a series of Jesus’ teachings in a passage we now know as the “sermon on the mount”. During this discourse, Jesus makes a curious statement that, without proper context, can leave a person feeling helpless:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. -Matthew 5:48

There are those who take this verse, and others like it, to mean that it is possible to actually be perfect. To never sin. To do everything you are supposed to do and abstain from everything you’re not supposed to do. Really, what they’re saying is to mature so much in your faith that you don’t need grace any longer. Those sorts of people live in guilt much of the time instead of freedom.

But if that’s now what this verse means, what is Jesus really saying here when he tells us to “be perfect”?

In the Greek language, some scholars say there are around 17 different words that translate as “perfect” in English. The one used most often in the New Testament, including here in our verse, is the word teleios.

Teleios means to be whole or complete, to be fulfilled or brought to an end. It’s what Paul uses when he writes, “For [now] we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

We see in teleios a Greek sense of restoration. Of making something complete or whole that currently is not. A parallel to the Hebrew idea of shalom.

We talk a lot at Emmaus about the Hebrew idea that in the original state of creation, there was this peace, rest, wholeness, balance, and harmony. Those qualities are all wrapped up in the complex word shalom. When the first humans broke faith with God and introduced sin into the world, shalom was shattered and ever since God has been working to restore pockets of it to His creation. Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection was the ultimate act of restoration and reconciliation toward that end.

So in this teaching from Jesus, we see an invitation not to follow rules or adhering to a strict moral code, but to allowing God to restore that shalom in us. To come to God and allow him to make us a new creation, with the qualities he intended from the foundation of the world. Just as God the Father is whole and complete and fulfilled, Jesus invites us to be remade, reborn into that.

Be whole, just as your Father in Heaven in whole.

Be who God intended you to be in his original creation before we humans ruined it all. Be a sneak preview for people of what life in the Kingdom is going to look like someday when the partial passes away and the perfect comes.

It’s All Greek: Be Perfect

One of the men who followed Jesus, Matthew, wrote down a series of Jesus’ teachings in a passage we now know as the “sermon on the mount”. During this discourse, Jesus makes a curious statement that, without proper context, can leave a person feeling helpless:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. -Matthew 5:48

There are those who take this verse, and others like it, to mean that it is possible to actually be perfect. To never sin. To do everything you are supposed to do and abstain from everything you’re not supposed to do. Really, what they’re saying is to mature so much in your faith that you don’t need grace any longer. Those sorts of people live in guilt much of the time instead of freedom.

But if that’s now what this verse means, what is Jesus really saying here when he tells us to “be perfect”?

In the Greek language, some scholars say there are around 17 different words that translate as “perfect” in English. The one used most often in the New Testament, including here in our verse, is the word teleios.

Teleios means to be whole or complete, to be fulfilled or brought to an end. It’s what Paul uses when he writes, “For [now] we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

We see in teleios a Greek sense of restoration. Of making something complete or whole that currently is not. A parallel to the Hebrew idea of shalom.

We talk a lot at Emmaus about the Hebrew idea that in the original state of creation, there was this peace, rest, wholeness, balance, and harmony. Those qualities are all wrapped up in the complex word shalom. When the first humans broke faith with God and introduced sin into the world, shalom was shattered and ever since God has been working to restore pockets of it to His creation. Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection was the ultimate act of restoration and reconciliation toward that end.

So in this teaching from Jesus, we see an invitation not to follow rules or adhering to a strict moral code, but to allowing God to restore that shalom in us. To come to God and allow him to make us a new creation, with the qualities he intended from the foundation of the world. Just as God the Father is whole and complete and fulfilled, Jesus invites us to be remade, reborn into that.

Be whole, just as your Father in Heaven in whole.

Be who God intended you to be in his original creation before we humans ruined it all. Be a sneak preview for people of what life in the Kingdom is going to look like someday when the partial passes away and the perfect comes.

It’s All Greek: Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain

In our first installment of the It’s All Greek series, we learned that “filthy language” is language that tears people down and that Paul invites us into the life-giving act of building others up. This time, I want to look at another passage that most people equate with language that in actually has nothing to do with it.

In Exodus chapter 20, God is speaking to Moses and delivering what is traditionally known as the ten commandments. The third of these in English is this:

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Everyone I’ve heard teach on this verse has equated “taking the name of the Lord in vain” to using “God” or “Lord” as an expletive. But is that really what’s going on here?

The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. In that beautiful language, the verb translated here as “to take” is nasa’ and literally means “to bear” or “to carry”. And the phrase translated “in vain” is shav – literally “falsely” or “with emptiness”.

So all together then, we have “Don’t bear the name of the Lord falsely” or “Don’t carry the name of the Lord with emptiness.” Gives it a clearer meaning, doesn’t it?

Almost all of the laws and commands and regulations that God tells Moses here and in other early accounts of Scripture revolve around one thing: being different than their neighbors who weren’t following Yahweh. This was a preview of what was to come in Jesus — God’s people displayed they were God’s people by living changed lives. It was God’s purpose then and it’s God’s purpose now. So what he’s telling Moses here is simply – don’t you dare call yourself my follower and then not display it in your life – I’m telling you you’re going to bear my name… don’t make that empty and meaningless.

That’s a much deeper meaning and makes so much more sense with the context of all these other commands. Bearing the name of Yahweh, or Jesus, means that we allow them to change us. And our changed lives attract others to begin carrying the name of Jesus as well.

Unfortunately, we are guilty of breaking this commandment far too often. As an intro to a once-popular DC Talk song says, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” A Barna Research Group study surveyed Christians and non-Christians across 152 different items, and their results were pretty telling. They found no discernable difference between Christians and non-Christians. People following Jesus were no more likely to help a homeless person and no more likely to correct a cashier when they got too much change back, just to name a couple of the 152 items.

In short, there’s a lot of people taking the name of the Lord in vain around here. Is it any wonder people look at the church collectively and don’t see anything compelling to be a part of?

This isn’t about shaming people, though. It’s about challenging those of us who have taken the name of Jesus to experience the joyful, abundant life he has to offer. It’s not about trying to force yourself to do more good deeds – that’s betraying the whole point of life. It’s about allowing Jesus to change you from the inside out.

And when you carry the love and life of Christ to those around you, you bear the name of the Lord truly and in all fullness.

And finally, let’s deal with the issue of using the Lord’s name as an expletive. Even though this verse has nothing to do with that, it still seems like a strange practice to me. When was the last time you used the name of any other loved one to express an obscenity? Try it – “Oh, my Shelly!” It not only sounds utterly ridiculous, but to use the name of someone you love in a negative way like that just feels wrong. So why should it be any different with a God that you are in love with?

It’s All Greek: Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain

In our first installment of the It’s All Greek series, we learned that “filthy language” is language that tears people down and that Paul invites us into the life-giving act of building others up. This time, I want to look at another passage that most people equate with language that in actually has nothing to do with it.

In Exodus chapter 20, God is speaking to Moses and delivering what is traditionally known as the ten commandments. The third of these in English is this:

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Everyone I’ve heard teach on this verse has equated “taking the name of the Lord in vain” to using “God” or “Lord” as an expletive. But is that really what’s going on here?

The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. In that beautiful language, the verb translated here as “to take” is nasa’ and literally means “to bear” or “to carry”. And the phrase translated “in vain” is shav – literally “falsely” or “with emptiness”.

So all together then, we have “Don’t bear the name of the Lord falsely” or “Don’t carry the name of the Lord with emptiness.” Gives it a clearer meaning, doesn’t it?

Almost all of the laws and commands and regulations that God tells Moses here and in other early accounts of Scripture revolve around one thing: being different than their neighbors who weren’t following Yahweh. This was a preview of what was to come in Jesus — God’s people displayed they were God’s people by living changed lives. It was God’s purpose then and it’s God’s purpose now. So what he’s telling Moses here is simply – don’t you dare call yourself my follower and then not display it in your life – I’m telling you you’re going to bear my name… don’t make that empty and meaningless.

That’s a much deeper meaning and makes so much more sense with the context of all these other commands. Bearing the name of Yahweh, or Jesus, means that we allow them to change us. And our changed lives attract others to begin carrying the name of Jesus as well.

Unfortunately, we are guilty of breaking this commandment far too often. As an intro to a once-popular DC Talk song says, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” A Barna Research Group study surveyed Christians and non-Christians across 152 different items, and their results were pretty telling. They found no discernable difference between Christians and non-Christians. People following Jesus were no more likely to help a homeless person and no more likely to correct a cashier when they got too much change back, just to name a couple of the 152 items.

In short, there’s a lot of people taking the name of the Lord in vain around here. Is it any wonder people look at the church collectively and don’t see anything compelling to be a part of?

This isn’t about shaming people, though. It’s about challenging those of us who have taken the name of Jesus to experience the joyful, abundant life he has to offer. It’s not about trying to force yourself to do more good deeds – that’s betraying the whole point of life. It’s about allowing Jesus to change you from the inside out.

And when you carry the love and life of Christ to those around you, you bear the name of the Lord truly and in all fullness.

And finally, let’s deal with the issue of using the Lord’s name as an expletive. Even though this verse has nothing to do with that, it still seems like a strange practice to me. When was the last time you used the name of any other loved one to express an obscenity? Try it – “Oh, my Shelly!” It not only sounds utterly ridiculous, but to use the name of someone you love in a negative way like that just feels wrong. So why should it be any different with a God that you are in love with?

It’s All Greek: “Filthy” Language

One of the things I love doing when I study Scripture is looking up the meaning of words in Greek or Hebrew – the languages in which the books and letters of the Bible were originally written. Those two languages are so rich and beautiful that by comparison it makes English look, well, ugly. Understanding the meanings of these rich languages will help draw us closer to the heart and character of God.

The first passage I want to look at in this series comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. In this letter, he exhorts the church to rid themselves of “things such as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other.” (Colossians 3:8-9)

Paul sets this passage up in verses 3 and 4 by mentioning the Greek word zoe twice. Zoe is one of three Greek words that are translated as “life” in English, and it means true, vibrant life – the life Jesus offers us.

So Paul writes about this life that we have with and in Jesus, and then he begins an exemplary list of some of the things that rob us of that life. In other words, this list doesn’t read as much as a list of rules as it does an invitation to experience vibrant zoe.

In that list is an interesting phrase: “filthy language”. This passage has long been used to justify why Christians aren’t allowed to use swear words, but that simple explanation rings rather hollow in light of the depth of the rest of the passage. To understand what Paul was saying here, let’s look at the Greek.

The phrase “filthy language” is a single word in Greek, aischrologia. That word comes from two root words – aischros and logos. Logos is simple – in this context it simply means words, something spoken. Aischros has a connotation of “dishonorable” or “dishonest”. That shines some light on what “filthy” means in our passage.

To shed more light on this, aischros is the same word used in Titus 1:11 when Paul wrote of false teachers who were teaching “for dishonest gain”.

So in our passage, Paul is saying to get rid of dishonorable or dishonest language. (The NASB translation comes closer by translating it as “abusive speech”.) This makes a lot more sense in context with the passage, sandwiched as it is between exhortations to not slander and to not lie. Paul’s intention in listing these three things together seemed to be to say “Don’t talk bad or lie about other people, because that will rob you of life. Find the joy of building others up instead of tearing them down.” In other words, a much more beautiful explanation than simply, “Don’t say ‘ass’.”

However, this isn’t an invitation to start swearing up a storm, either. I’d venture to say most swear words are used while speaking dishonorably about someone. These sentences from Paul are invitations to embrace the vibrant life found in Jesus – and part of that means understanding how our speech can rob us of that.

It’s All Greek: “Filthy” Language

One of the things I love doing when I study Scripture is looking up the meaning of words in Greek or Hebrew – the languages in which the books and letters of the Bible were originally written. Those two languages are so rich and beautiful that by comparison it makes English look, well, ugly. Understanding the meanings of these rich languages will help draw us closer to the heart and character of God.

The first passage I want to look at in this series comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. In this letter, he exhorts the church to rid themselves of “things such as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other.” (Colossians 3:8-9)

Paul sets this passage up in verses 3 and 4 by mentioning the Greek word zoe twice. Zoe is one of three Greek words that are translated as “life” in English, and it means true, vibrant life – the life Jesus offers us.

So Paul writes about this life that we have with and in Jesus, and then he begins an exemplary list of some of the things that rob us of that life. In other words, this list doesn’t read as much as a list of rules as it does an invitation to experience vibrant zoe.

In that list is an interesting phrase: “filthy language”. This passage has long been used to justify why Christians aren’t allowed to use swear words, but that simple explanation rings rather hollow in light of the depth of the rest of the passage. To understand what Paul was saying here, let’s look at the Greek.

The phrase “filthy language” is a single word in Greek, aischrologia. That word comes from two root words – aischros and logos. Logos is simple – in this context it simply means words, something spoken. Aischros has a connotation of “dishonorable” or “dishonest”. That shines some light on what “filthy” means in our passage.

To shed more light on this, aischros is the same word used in Titus 1:11 when Paul wrote of false teachers who were teaching “for dishonest gain”.

So in our passage, Paul is saying to get rid of dishonorable or dishonest language. (The NASB translation comes closer by translating it as “abusive speech”.) This makes a lot more sense in context with the passage, sandwiched as it is between exhortations to not slander and to not lie. Paul’s intention in listing these three things together seemed to be to say “Don’t talk bad or lie about other people, because that will rob you of life. Find the joy of building others up instead of tearing them down.” In other words, a much more beautiful explanation than simply, “Don’t say ‘ass’.”

However, this isn’t an invitation to start swearing up a storm, either. I’d venture to say most swear words are used while speaking dishonorably about someone. These sentences from Paul are invitations to embrace the vibrant life found in Jesus – and part of that means understanding how our speech can rob us of that.