• Kevin Archer

Finding grace in grammar...

As an English teacher, having to deal with aspects of grammar has been part of my professional life for over thirty years. I appreciate that for many the mysteries and vagaries of how language is organised lack direct appeal and in the age of texting and social media communication they seem to have little relevance. My experience has taught me to be curious, however, and not just take at face value words and how they are connected.

I am not a Greek scholar but I have developed some insights over the years while studying the new testament and over the last couple of weeks a phrase in Paul's letter to the Philippians has intrigued me. It is found in this passage in chapter 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Firstly, the greek word translated 'near' is rooted in the word agkos meaning bend as in the bend of an arm. While the preposition can relate to 'near' as in either place or time, I feel the former suits better, so you get the almost literal sense of 'the Lord is at hand' or 'at your elbow'.

Secondly, there is the question of whether the phrase links to what precedes or follows it. I have seen it presented as relating to Let your gentleness be evident to all with the sense that somehow our conduct is being watched over or monitored, and the oft-quoted Do not be anxious about anything even starting a new paragraph. Now, we know that the chapters and verses we find in the Bible are a much later addition - well-intended but not always helpful. What fewer realise is that most scholars believe that punctuation as we know it was not there in first-century greek and that the whole text was written in capital letters - therefore our practice of marking a new sentence with a capital letter does not apply. So what we are presented with in English translations is sometimes a matter of interpretation. For me, the Lord is at your elbow belongs far more powerfully with what follows: Do not be anxious about anything.

So what does all this suggest? For me it underlines the closeness of Jesus at all times in the power of the Spirit, and here specifically Paul would have us realise this and bring all our concerns to him, appreciating how 'at hand' the Lord is.

Again for me, this resonates with John's record of Jesus' last supper discourse when he speaks of the Holy Spirit as the paraklete, the one called alongside to help. Jesus says, I will come to you. It brings to mind how the resurrected Jesus, who has walked alongside the pair on their journey to Emmaus and broken bread with them, suddenly appears later alongside them on that first day as they tell their story to the gathered disciples, as if unable to keep his presence in the room invisible any longer. It makes me think of the statement in Luke 5:17 which says, as Jesus taught, the power of the Lord was present to heal them. There is an amazing reality of intimacy and closeness which, if we open our eyes, can make all the difference in our lives and in the lives of those with whom we connect.

Let's discover this week the amazing grace that brings the presence, power and peace of God so very near to us.