Monday, February 28, 2011

Eusebeia


Recently, I spent a lot of time in the book of 2 Timothy. While I was reading it daily, I expected to discover some application of Paul’s letter on which I could elaborate. That didn’t happen when I expected it even though Paul’s words filled my daily meditation. Today, some weeks hence, the word eusebeia came to mind. Half of the New Testament appearances of the word occur in Paul’s two letters to Timothy. 

Eusebeia (yoo seb i ah) is a difficult word to understand. I’m using the transliteration of the word rather than the typical English translations. It sometimes helps to fill a word with meaning without the bias of popular English translations. 

Like many Greek words eusebeia is a compound word. The first part of the word, eu, means good. Euaggelion, translated gospel, literally means good news. The prefix eu gives the meaning of the root a superlative connotation. The gospel isn’t just news, it’s good news! Likewise, eusebeia is a strong word. The root of the word, sebeia, means reverence. In 1 Timothy 2:10, Paul uses a similar word, theosebeia, meaning clearly, reverence for God. The opposite of eusebeia, asebeia, is used frequently referring to irreverence or impiety. 

My own best translation of eusebeia is sincere reverence. In Paul’s writings in 1 Timothy he uses eusebeia in these ways:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all [eusebeia] and holiness. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV)

Beyond all question, the mystery of [eusebeia] is great:
He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.
1 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be [eusebeian]. For physical training is of some value, but [eusebeia] has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 (NIV)

[eusebeia] with sufficiency is great gain. 1 Timothy 6:6 

Note: The word often translated “contentment” is actually better translated sufficiency. One might be content to do nothing, but the meaning of this word is hardly passive. The actual meaning is closer to “work with what you have” hence, “be sufficient”. God told Paul, “my grace is sufficient;” God didn’t tell Paul to stop and be defeated as we might understand “be content”. Rather the message of sufficiency is to always press on.

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, [eusebeia], faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good [acknowledgement offering] in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NIV)

From Paul’s writings we see that eusebeia is powerful. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection serve as the prototype of eusebeia. Paul tells Timothy that physical discipline is good, but training in eusebeia is better because it holds “promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

For the believer, eusebeia holds power: Power to live peaceably among men, power to endure in faith, power to be sufficient regardless of resources, power to take hold of eternal life, power to live in fellowship with God.

At the root of this power is sincere reverence for God. In 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul speaks of the great mystery of eusebeia. He then gives us a poetic synopsis of Jesus’ life and ministry. In fact, Jesus absolute obedience to the Father completely encapsulates eusebeia. Jesus was not only obedient in actions; his heart was to do the will of the Father. (Luke 22:42)

Eusebeia is among the attributes Timothy was admonished to pursue. It might predict external conduct, but at its heart is a knowledge and reverence of God. Therein is the power of Christian faith – reverently seeking God’s will above all else.

I said earlier that I had been studying in 2 Timothy. In this letter Paul uses eusebeia only once.

There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of [eusebeia] but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
2 Timothy 3:2-5 (NIV)
Eusebeia, or sincere reverence, was never used to describe the unbelievers. Consequently, Paul is describing the church in the last days. 

Look at 2 Timothy 3:2-5. How much do you see around you? How much do you see in your own life? What are you going to do about it? What can anyone do about it? 

. . . flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, [eusebeia], faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.

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