“But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.” (2 Corinthians 8:7–8)
Words and their meanings have lexical, not to mention historical significance. In every culture and with every language, we must be mindful to use words carefully and not to allow the meanings of words to get lost in the relativistic vocabularies of those who could care less about the next generation and their understanding of words, their meanings, and the truths they represent.
Sometimes, words themselves don’t necessarily lose their meanings but die the death of one, two, or a thousand qualifiers. We often qualify those words that we care about simply because we care about the concepts those words represent. Throughout history, our faithful forefathers have fought and have sometimes died for the sake of the truth behind a word. How often do we find ourselves having to qualify words because of how others, who are careless with certain words, have abused them? For instance, the Magisterial Reformers of the sixteenth century found it necessary to qualify the words Scripture, faith, grace, and Christ. The word alone became necessary because the church had begun to abuse and misuse the meanings of those words by adding to them other concepts and meanings, which made the words themselves virtually meaningless.
While we need to be careful to protect and retain the right use of words, especially words that possess eternal significance as given and defined by God’s eternal Word, we also need to remember that God Himself qualifies words for us as He has communicated His eternal truth through real men and through real words that have real meaning.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 8, the word earnest appears more than in all of Paul’s epistles combined. Although we don’t want to make the hermeneutical mistake of interpreting a text based on the frequency of a particular word, it is sometimes helpful for us to consider the use of a particular word as it appears in a text. In coming to this chapter, my eyes were quickly drawn to Paul’s frequent use of the qualifying words earnest (sincere, eager) and genuine (legitimate, authentic).
In Corinthians, as in all of his letters, Paul was genuine and earnest as he sought to communicate the eternal truth of God to his recipients. Paul speaks of their “genuine love” and “earnest care” in order to underscore their lives, actions, and heart motives as real and true. In other words, the depraved-but-justified Corinthians were not simply playacting the Christian life. They were earnest in their care and genuine in their love as they had demonstrated in the manner of their service to Christ and His Church.
Certain words need no qualification; other words, in the course of history and in the course of their abuse, require qualification; but all words have meaning. Every day, whether with our friends, our spouses, our children, or with our God in prayer, let us delight to use words that help express our true sincerity, earnest care, and genuine love. For just as we qualify words for emphasis, so our one, true Lord has often qualified His words to us. But make no mistake, He has qualified His words to us not primarily for His sake but for ours that we might know our status and future before His face, who we are in Christ, how He has called us to walk in the Spirit—with earnest care, genuine love, and true faith in the one, true, triune, Almighty God “who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).