By Daniel Bobinski
Note: In March of 2020 I decided to use this space to focus on God’s greatest command. If you’re connecting with this series for the first time and would like to read the earlier columns on this topic, I encourage you to visit Christian Living’s website to read the whole series. Visit https://www.christianlivingmag.com/columns/
Every day of our lives on this earth presents a fresh opportunity to imitate Christ. That concept is clear throughout the New Testament:
- Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6)
- Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24, Jesus speaking)
- I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (John 13:15, Jesus speaking)
Dozens if not hundreds of other verses address this, but in truth, we can’t do it on our own. When one asks God to come into his or her life, and asks for the Holy Spirit to dwell within, if we are sincere in that request, God provides. The 13th and 14th verses of the first chapter of Ephesians spell this out:
[Y]ou also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
It is God’s Spirit dwelling within us that equips us with the capability of living out God’s greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” God’s Spirit also enables us to live out the second greatest Commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
If you’ve been following this 2.5-year exploration of the application of agape love (as defined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13), we have finally come to a Greek word that is translated the same in every English translation I came across. Every other Greek word Paul uses in his definition of agape gets translated in various ways in different translations – except this one. The Greek word Paul uses is elpizō (pronounced ‘el-PID-zo’), and in English versions of Scripture, it’s always translated as hope.
Love the Lord
The greatest commandment says we’re to love the Lord – so what does it mean to elpizō God? Perhaps the best explanation comes from the Strong’s Concordance, which, in the religious sense, tells us elpizō means, “to wait for salvation with joy and with full confidence.”
Having joy and full confidence of salvation is definitely an attitude to adopt, and yes, Paul tells us that we’re to always do this! And why should we have joy and full confidence of salvation? Because in the Apostle John’s first letter, he said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” John doesn’t write so you can maybe expect eternal life, but so that you can KNOW you have eternal life! And to John’s encouragement we can add the elpizō – having joy and full confidence of salvation.
After reading all the places where elpizō is used in the New Testament, if I could add my own words to the Strong’s definition, I think the phrase “eager anticipation” also has validity.
Love Your Neighbor As Yourself
This takes us to the second greatest commandment: to love our neighbors as ourselves. To me, the application of elpizō provides a perfect solution to the problem we sometimes hear about – that too many Christians walk around acting like they just sucked a lemon. I, for one, don’t perceive Jesus to be a perpetually austere, stoic preacher who never cracked a smile. Quite the contrary – he was hanging around with quite a few fishermen, and I envision these guys regularly elbowing each other and joking around quite a bit. They would have needed to connect with Jesus on a personal level, and being straight-faced and humorless wasn’t going to do it.
No, I imagine that Jesus, being in very nature God, had quite a bit of elpizō in him. That means he had joy and full confidence of salvation, and that joyful confidence would have rubbed off on others.
If you’re guilty of looking and acting like a lemon sucker, you’re not alone. I remember seeing videos of myself when I was overseeing an operation, and I was blown away by how serious I appeared on the screen. It shocked me, because I thought I was coming across more personable – but the video did not lie. It looked like I’d just had lemons for lunch.
Inviting the Holy Spirit to help me express more joy as I go about my day has been a lifelong prayer; and although I definitely have much room for growth here, I also know that God has helped me in this area.
So, if we are to answer the question, “How do we love our neighbor as ourselves?,” one answer is to let a joyful confidence take hold in our hearts, because out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, and our words affect our actions and attitudes.
By doing these things, we increase our capacity to love the Lord and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Bonus: It sure beats feeling like or coming across like a sourpuss.
One more thing. If anyone needs a reason for having joy and full confidence of salvation, all we need to do is deeply contemplate 1 John 4:19, which says, We love because he first loved us.
Dr. Daniel Bobinski is an award-winning and best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at [email protected] or (208) 375-7606.