I’ve recently rediscovered the joy of reading the ancient scriptures in their original language. My Koine Greek is a little rusty, but I’ve dusted off my Greek New Testament and have been referencing it, along with some Hebrew, whenever I come across English words or phrases that seem a little shallow. Sometimes I have a hunch there’s a richer meaning in the author’s original words and I want to understand them more fully.
If you don’t know Hebrew or Greek that doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t accessible to you. If you simply read it at face value and that will be vastly more than enough. But there is a richness of meaning when you can dig a little deeper into the original text. The human authors who God inspired and worked through lived in a particular time and place and culture. Understanding what God meant, and by extension what their original words meant, are, in my estimation (and that of many scholars) the key to faithful interpretation and application of scripture for today.
But it’s not just about that. It’s about finding the beauty and mystery behind these words that have the potential to sink deep into our souls and transform our lives. Sometimes even just googling, “koine greek for love,” for example, can unlock a richer, deeper meaning. If you do that, you’ll find out that there are four different, distinct words used that we translate as “love”, each having beautiful, different meanings. Our word love is pretty shallow compared to their ways of talking about “love.” We say we “love” our closest friends or our spouse or God and then use the same word when we say we “love” donuts — which is true of course, but I hope not in the same ways!
It was in this spirit, then, that I was wonderfully re-awakened today to another concept that our English Bible doesn’t quite communicate. There is a Greek word that John uses in what we know as “chapter 15” of his account of the life of Jesus that is really amazing. It appears in the passage where Jesus is telling us that He is the vine and we are the branches. This particular word is usually translated as “abide” or “remain.” Jesus says, “Abide in me and I will abide in you.” The Greek word is μένω. It certainly can be, literally speaking, translated as abide or remain. But it was also used in a number of other ways that show us the richness of what Jesus was saying here. Some of the other uses of μένω include: dwell, stay, live, last, endure, continue.
There is a closeness, a proximity, a presence, an intimacy here. Jesus is not telling us, “obey and you’ll get my love and live good lives.” That is what religion says. Instead, he is inviting us deep into a relationship, a nearness to him. He does, to be sure, connect obedience with this μένω sense of intimacy. There is something about obeying his commands that is interrelated to our closeness. But, he also adds right in the same invitation and teaching, that his command is this: love one another.
You might be saying, “Ok, so that’s some neat Greek. What do I do with it?”
I’ll share what it has meant to me. I have made it a daily practice to spend, with very few exceptions, at least an hour each morning in “μένω” with the Triune God. This time is, for me, centrally about getting in the “presence of God.” Not duty or religion. Not checking a box. Not trying to do something that will make my life better.
Even though I love variety and adventure, I do like rhythm in my days and weeks so I try to have some good, healthy rituals. My mornings usually include some combination of reading scripture, prayer and journaling, at the least. But some mornings I listen to music, or just stare out the window at the trees and sky and grass and flowers and listen to the birds. Some mornings I take a quiet walk or read a book that stretches and challenges me. The point is not the what, it’s the who. Intimacy is not found with objects and rituals or even nature. These things are conduits. Pipes through which flow the love and beauty of the Living God, drawing us ever closer.
I have experienced in very real, tangible ways the difference this makes in the way I live, in the “fruit” my life bears on a given day. The words of Jesus in John 15 have been some of the most real to me over the years. When I am “abiding, remaining, dwelling, enduring” with him daily I am kinder, gentler, purer, wiser, and most of all, more loving to those around me. When I am not, the opposite is true. I’m a bad lover and father and friend and kingdom partner and caretaker of the piece of creation God has allowed me to watch over.
I long to daily experience nearness to God the Father, connection to Jesus the Vine and intimacy with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. As we “abide, remain, dwell, endure” with him in response to his beautiful invitation to be close every day, a life of peace, joy, love and true adventure unfolds before us. It’s not a life of ease, per se. He never promises that. But it is the “life that is truly life.” A life that bears truly good fruit — for us, for those we love, and for the world. Taste it; you’ll see.