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Small words

April 2006 | by Michael Austin

Isn’t writing wonderfully ingenious? I’m thinking about man as being creative – in particular, using his God-given ability with words.

Though fallen in Adam, man being made in God’s image retains this awesome gift. He is able to employ sequences of visual symbols to share ideas and thoughts – to facilitate communication between minds.

And how grateful we are that God himself has spoken and caused his word to be written down. The original autographs of Scripture are ‘the very words of God’ (Romans 3:2).

In these snapshots we are looking at how small words in the Greek New Testament can have big meanings. This is a parable of the Christian life as well. You may, like me at times, feel small and insignificant but God is able to use us in ways that bring glory to him!

Necessary new birth

Last month we looked at kata, which means ‘according to’. Now let’s look at another small word from the Greek New Testament. Dei is a strong little word that carries the idea of an action being necessary. Sometimes it refers to a moral obligation, at other times to a logical consequence.

But in some places it communicates the idea of a conditional (and sometimes an absolute) necessity. In other words, this action or event must occur. Think about these examples.

Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, ‘You must(dei) be born again’ (John 3:7) express a great necessity. Nicodemus should not be surprised. A spiritually blind man, whatever knowledge he might have, cannot see the kingdom of God. The new birth is an unavoidable necessity if he is to see!

In this example it is a conditional necessity. Is Nicodemus able to produce this new birth by an exercise of his will? No, he is blind and has no such ability. He must be born by an agency beyond himself. This birth comes from God, mysterious as the wind. He graciously imparts the faith that looks to the crucified Son of God for salvation.

Snake in the desert

Next consider these words of Jesus: ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must (dei) be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him’ (John 3:14-15).

Here Jesus announces beforehand the absolute necessity of his crucifixion. There are no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’. The eternal purpose of God in redemption admits of no alternative.

There is no ‘Plan B’. Just one perfect plan is sufficient, in which the Son of Man making atonement for our sins is the focal point of saving faith. There is no other remedy for the deadly plague of sin.

To fulfil the awful Old Testament type, Christ must be lifted up in this specific way – ‘as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert’ (Numbers 21:4-9).

Dei is an encouraging word in a world of uncertainty and confusion. It strikes through the fog with a radiant beam of divine assuredness – this must be so!

Rest in it. Be assured that God will most certainly accomplish his saving purpose through the crucified, risen and eternally exalted Redeemer. But if you haven’t yet looked to him, you must!