5 Greek words every Christian should know

Kallie Skaife reveals how understanding the language of the New Testament has deepened her relationship with God

Over the years there have been times when my life came to a desperate standstill and days arrived that were seemingly impossible to live.

There were times of despair, of loss of income, of loss of health, of irreparable damage on our house (caused by the 6.1 Athens earthquake of 1998), to mention but a few. Each time I was desperate for a living word to come, a single word from God, that would bring hope again.

When it did, I would cherish these words; scribble them down, pin them up, sometimes for months, chew them over, savour and digest them.

Here are five words that have marked my journey so far.

 

Πίστις

1.       Faith

I was raised in a provincial northern Greek town, the daughter of two medical doctors, called and anointed, greatly loved and esteemed by the community. I was very proud of them yet suffered from the fact that they were not available as much as I needed them, and I grew with the pain of their absence. Ours was a Christian home, where there was a healthy fear of God and an honouring of his precepts. It was a privileged home and we were richly blessed, yet dysfunctional in areas that God was not permitted to touch.

Shy, introverted by nature and by nurture, I was a child who carried sorrows and silent tears within. My yearning was for close relationships and my earliest memory of inviting Jesus into my life was when I was seven.

Whether due to my temperament or my overwhelming loneliness, every time my emotions were drained and I was unable to respond to God with my feelings, I felt cut off from him. I recommitted myself several times, in turmoil, ever unsure of my salvation.

One night, when I was 18, ready to leave home for university abroad, I came across a verse in my daily reading. I knew it by heart but, that night as I read it, the verse came alive in a fresh way. God was speaking to me.

“For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7, NKJV, my emphasis). The word ‘faith’ –Πιστις or Πιθτις in Greek– is derived from the verb πείθομαι, meaning ‘I am persuaded’. It is defined as: the persuasion or assurance of the truth of a claim, fact or possibility, regardless of whether it can be proven.

In a split second I knew its truth and meaning. I was saved, and it had nothing to do with how I felt!

That sleepless night was spent enjoying the presence of my Father, giggling in my heart as this word brought faith into focus.

What I regarded before then as faith were the beliefs of my mind, the convictions of my soul and the determinations of my will. These had to be constantly measured and pumped up by declarations, verses, conferences and other efforts to persuade myself about the things I believed. But now I realised faith is not earned. It is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is the decision to believe that God is who he says he is, and does what he says he will do, even when all that is seen and experienced screams the opposite. A small quantity like a mustard seed is enough. By faith I was saved.

Studying the life of those who received a word from God, I discovered that in order to experience it, it had to be embraced first, beyond understanding, defying common sense. Sarah was to bear a son at 90, Mary was to bear a son by the Holy Spirit and Peter was to walk on water! So every time an impossible word reached me, I learned to silence my common sense; it was the gate into God’s realm where impossible becomes possible.

Λόγος

2.       Word

In the New Testament era, the word Λόγος ‘logos’ was used to mean ‘speech expressing language, thought, principle, logic, reason, or command’. It is commonly translated as ‘word’.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the ancient Greeks defined logos as “the active rational and spiritual principle that permeates reality”. They called it “providence”, “nature”, “god” or “the soul of the universe”. Plato defined it as “the transcendent divine mind”.

John, the great interpreter of Jesus’ teaching, did not simply imply that the word is the revelation of that which Jesus proclaims, but interpreted the logos as inseparable from the person of Jesus. His gospel opens with: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).The word is a person. The word of God (mentioned 400 times in the Old Testament), revealing God’s activity, mind and power, according to John, “became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14, NKJV).

The very fact we humans are able to speak our thoughts and express our feelings with language is evidence that we are made according to his image (Genesis 1:27).

 I have loved reading and memorising the word of God since my childhood and many times I tried to understand and unlock it by reason. But, as Spirit only witnesses to spirit, I found no greater thrill in life than when a word was spoken in my depths by his breath. For every word that becomes alive within us by his Spirit becomes flesh and dwells within us.

Πνεύμα

3.       Spirit

The Greek word for Spirit isπνεύμα (pneuma), which means “wind, blowing of wind, breath”.

A few months ago, I came to a new understanding that touched my life by bringing a fresh aspect of the Spirit to my attention. Having studied biology, I’ve long been intrigued by the way our body has been designed and how it is a demonstration and an enacting of divine principles. What drew my attention lately is that, as in the physical domain the words uttered by our mouths are produced by air exhaled from our lungs through our vocal cords, so in the spiritual realm the words of God come out of his mouth by the exhalation of his breath, his Spirit!

As there can be no voice produced without breath, no utterance can leave the mouth of God that has not been breathed by his Spirit.

The Spirit is the breath of God that gives utterance to his words. This was the first time I truly understood why the Spirit and the word are forever inseparable in this mystery of the incredible oneness of our triune God.

We came into being through God’s breath, we were born a second time by his breath, and our lives are sustained not by bread but by every word that comes from his mouth which is uttered by his breath (Matthew 4:4).

Αγάπη

4.       Love

In New Testament times, four different words were used for love: Φιλέωω (fileo) means to lovewith kindly affection, to befriend.

Έραμαι (erame) is to be in love with, desire eagerly, long or lust for.

Στέργω (stergo) is the mutual love between families – parents, children, siblings.

Αγαπώ (agapo) means to love sacrificially (derived from ‘αγαν’ – very much, too much – and ‘άπτω’– to fasten, bind, join, engage with one, cling to, grasp, kindle, set on fire).

The verb αγαπώis rarely found in the vast range of Greek literature that precedes the New Testament. It seems that this word was chosen to redefine and express the kind of love that Jesus commanded and demonstrated: the enemy-embracing love, defined by sacrifice.

“God so loved...that he gave...” (John 3:16) – not his riches, but himself, even unto tasting death for every person. For “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The love that boasts: “Death to me – life to you!” Searching my depths, I realised that loving those who love you isn’t difficult, but what a steep climb it is to reach the standard given of blessing, praying for and loving your enemies – those who live to harm you; who cannot and want not to repay you! I had to come to terms with the fact that learning to love God’s way is by loving the loveless. “This is love: not that we loved God” – after all, we have 1,000 reasons to love him – “but that he loved us” (1 John 4:10).

It crushed me over the years to discover that, although my deepest longing was to be genuinely loved, my capacity to love in God’s way was so very small. As was my willingness to love. Love is an act of the will. That explains why it is not an exhortation but a command.

I began to practise putting aside my initial feelings and choosing to love, as I could not escape the fact that my love for God can only be measured by my love for the people planted around my life.

And, every time I still fail to love in God’s way, I find encouragement in the way the Lord accepted where Peter was in his capacity for loving the beloved Master. Note how the Greek words in this passage from John’s Gospel, change: “‘Simon...do you love (agapo) me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord...you know that I love (fileo) you.’...‘Simon...do you love (agapo) me?’...‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love (fileo) you.’...‘Simon...do you love (fileo) me?’... ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love (fileo) you’” (John 21:15-17).

The Lord comes and meets me, as he met Peter, in the place where I am, and accepts the love that is in my capacity to give him, without the demand of reaching his own standard of loving me.

Νυμφίος

5.       Bridegroom

The Greek word for bridegroom, Νυμφίος (Nimfios), is derived from the verb νυμφεύομαι (nimfevomai), which means ‘I take a woman for myself’. Quite a few years ago, when life appeared structured and secure on all scores, I found myself outside an emergency ward, with my husband on a stretcher. What was perceived as an ephemeral bug was assessed as a possible last-stage cancer.

Standing alone outside an MRI unit, hoping against hope, fishing out every verse on healing, trying to twist God’s arm, pumping up my faith by declarations, a cry of despair was voiced: “Lord, I know you can. Heal him and I will bow down and worship you.”

Then a little whisper surfaced in the commotion within me: “And if I say no, will you still worship me?

Am I bigger than my blessing to you?”

“Lord, I’m scared to death to carry on alone,” I replied.

“I am a bridegroom! Am I not as much as a man to you?”

Life, and time stood still.

I had walked with him many years, yet I hardly knew him beyond who he is for me! I was shocked to find where I was.

I found my response to be: “Lord, you are worthy to be praised, even if you do not give me what I want. Show me who you are that I may love you from the start.”

The doctor reappeared with a smile: “Wrong diagnosis – condition treatable!” But the great news was insufficient to silence the questions God had asked of me.

Back home, with my husband fully recovered and my life shaken to its foundations, the reality of the bridegroom came into my focus.

I became aware that the search for someone’s delight to affirm my existence from the day I was born was, without knowing it, a search for God. I searched for him in the face of my earthly father, then my husband, then my children, then career, even ministry. Misplaced search, unquenched thirst!

We get to know him initially as Father, then, if we allow, as a teacher, a friend, even a close brother. But, in essence, he was from the beginning, and will forever be, a bridegroom. He chose to be our eternal bridegroom, and longs to be met and loved as the bridegroom. “He who has the bride is the bridegroom” (John 3:29, NKJV).

All other relationships can be unilateral – a mother can love a hateful son, a teacher a disrespectful student, but the union of two people requires thrill from both sides. This is the love for which one “leaves his father and his mother and clings” (Genesis 2:24, NRSV) to the beloved. It is ‘first love’, a reference not to time but of reckless quality. The love that can say: “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, with or without, I am yours.”

Was my commitment to God to be less than that to an earthly man? Was it to remain forever “for better, for richer, for health, for blessing”? Quietly and imperceptibly a longing was birthed within me: “I want to know you as a bridegroom, I want to love you with first love.”

God's living words

Directly after this we were ushered into a period of a few years where, from affluence and independence, we learned to trust God for one day at a time in all areas: health, finances, job, as well as emotional, spiritual and family life. It was a period of silence, but his silence was pregnant, as always!

For as we were left pondering his questions, they pushed us to seek him above answers, solutions, directions and blessings. His questions searched, weighed, exposed, purified and healed. Without us knowing, the years of silence and questions became the very years of our preparation for our work now among refugees and trafficked people.

Discovering and loving the bridegroom, through loving those who are touching my life, became the focal search of my life. The developing of an inner ear that can detect his spoken words to me became a thrill, and the entering into it by faith became an adventure and a challenge.

Allowing God’s living words to become flesh within me over the years, I am being drawn progressively into his realities, leaving behind mine, slowly becoming the person that I could never be, doing at times the things I could never imagine doing. For through God’s words his nature is imparted to us.

Kallie Skaife was born and raised in Greece, before moving to London where she acquired her teaching certificate, as well as an English husband! After 15 years in England, they moved back to Greece, where Kallie taught Greek language and Greek history. She considers the past 20 years the best of her life, as she has the privilege of working among Muslim refugees who have been flooding Athens, witnessing an exodus that is a massive and ripe harvest. She is involved in translating devotional books into Farsi and in her spare time she paints and writes.

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