Thursday, January 2, 2020

When a Word is Worth a Thousand Words

We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. However, the same can be said about words themselves. Not only is this true of those who love writing, but it is very distinctly true in relation to the breathed-out words of God. I often find in my prayer-journaling that one word of Scripture can easily take a thousand words or more of pondering and meditation.

Over the Christmas break I have been struggling through how to obey by faith God’s instruction to, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”[1] This is God’s plan for reconciling with him when we are caught in spiritual adultery with the world.[2]

My problem is that I feel like an utter failure at not only doing this, but even knowing HOW to do it so that I am real in the doing and it is real in the fulfilling.

With all that in mind, I began my time with God by starting with the first word, “submit”. I immediately began to wonder if the grammatical breakdown would tell me something I was missing. It had the sense of, “Oh no, is this another ‘plural’ I’ve been trying to apply as a ‘singular’”!?

Sure enough, not only is that the case, but unfolding the word in each aspect of its grammatical properties blew me away with how much God is telling me/us. It is very encouraging.

So, first of all, the definition of the word, “submit”.

Submit: to be submissive v. — to be or become inclined or willing to submit to orders or wishes of others or showing such inclination.[3]

Already, just from the definition, this word is telling us to let ourselves become willing to submit to God’s orders or wishes regarding the issue of our adulterous activities with the world and our corresponding animosity towards him.

Even if we already knew that, look at how the different grammatical qualities of this word help us appreciate it all the more.[4]

The grammatical breakdown of “submit” in the original Greek of the New Testament is: verb, aorist, passive, imperative, second person, plural. Let’s look at how each quality helps us understand God’s expectation.

Verb = an action

This means that submitting to God is something that will be evident in what we do. Of course, it is very fascinating that one of James’ themes in the book is that our faith shows itself by what it does and that faith that does not “do” is dead.[5] Our response to what God says is not complete while we’re still thinking about it, but only when we have done the thing required.

Aorist = (ingressive) stresses the beginning of the action or entrance state

Don’t worry, I had to look that all up to understand what it means. The sense is that, the aorist is not focused on the tense of “submit” (whether it is past, present, or future), but the aspect of “submit” (in this case leaving it as a simple action). The focus seems to be on “just do it” without limiting it to when it should be done. The expectation would seem that, if Father just told us to submit to him, we would submit to him, and we would know we have done it when we have done it.

Passive = the subject undergoes the action of the verb

Since we, the church, are the subject of this exhortation, this already tells us that this is something we bring on ourselves rather than on others. Agapè is something we can only express by doing unto others,[6] while submit in the passive is something we surrender to ourselves. We are not trying to get someone else to submit to God, but to get ourselves to submit to him.

Imperative (with the aorist) = a task expected to be completed

While the aorist stresses the beginning of something (get started on submitting), when it is combined with the imperative it means that the task we are to get going on is expected to be completed. No dawdling. Get started and don’t stop until you’re finished.

Second person = you  

James is not telling us what he is going to do, but what we are going to do. In the single word, “submit”, it is clear that the expectation of fulfillment is on us. If we’re the ones submitting to the world’s deceptions; we’re the ones who let ourselves repent (change our minds) and have the faith that submits to God instead.  

Now here is where that notorious problem with English comes in because we tend to interpret “you” in the singular and try to do these things all by ourselves. However, the Greek regularly brings out that the “you” is not singular and that is why we have so many problems trying to do what we are told!

Plural = you who are the group addressed

This is actually the biggest part of the lesson to me. My focus cannot be on how I do this, but on how we do this. The problem was that the church itself was committing adultery with the world together, so they had to corporately turn this around together (corporate repentance + corporate faith).

It isn’t that we can’t individually do this while our church culture continues its adultery with the world. Rather, it is a picture of our Father’s will in the matter, which is that the whole body would actively enter a submissive relationship with him once again. As it is possible to have healthy parts of our body while all the rest is suffering with a disease, that is never the best choice for each part of the body. It is best for everyone that the whole body is in a state of health for the good of all.

I just checked on the other verbs in this sentence and both “resist” and “draw near” are “verb, aorist, active, imperative, second person, plural”. That means that they are identical to “submit” except in switching from passive to active.

So, since submit is the only verb that is passive, it sounds like it means that, once we have surrendered to Father’s will and let ourselves submit to him, we then become active in resisting the devil so he will flee from us, and in drawing near to God so he can draw near to us.

It must be noted that, when God calls us to draw near to him, it is talking about the God we have offended with our adultery. And yet, when we return to him from that adulterous relationship with the world, we will find his overwhelming grace drawing near to us in agapè rather than bending us over his knee for a behind-the-shed spankin’.[7]

Does this make you wonder how much of our freedom to resist the devil so he will flee from us when we are together, and draw near to God so he will draw near to us when we are together, is resting on our willingness to let ourselves be churches that submit to God together?

Up to this point, my word processor says I have used 1373 words to ponder and share this with you. A word from the Lord is so picturesque that it is truly worth thousands of words of meditation and prayer to attach to him in what he is saying and doing, and join him in his work with all our hearts, souls and minds.

Right now, joining Father in this work of submitting to him means getting started right away to let this take over my full being right now, and encourage all my relationships with fellow believers to do the same together.

© 2019 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8


Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)

[1] James 4:7-8
[2] James deals with this in James 4:1-10 where he describes “friendship with the world” as “enmity with God”, and reinforces this with the synonymous expression that being “a friend of the world” makes us “an enemy of God”. Any churches that live this way together are “adulterous people” (vs 4).
[3] The Bible Sense Lexicon
[4] I had to look this all up, so it was probably as new to me as it will be to most of you.
[5] James 2:14-26
[6] Agapè is that distinctive love of the kingdom of God that actively pursues what is best for others in the sight of God (rather than what we would like to get out of the relationship).
[7] The parable of the Lost Son shows the repentance that changes its mind about what it loves from loving the world to loving a home with Father. As the son drew near to his father, he discovered his father was running down the driveway to draw near to him. Definitely not what he expected.

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