Updated: Jan 30, 2021
I’m studying for a Greek quiz tonight. Yep. Ancient Greek. Perhaps because I’m a glutton for punishment — but more because of a sense of calling — I’m plodding through my second semester of Koine Greek at the beginning of a journey which I hope will lead to a Masters of Divinity degree. This homeschool mom-ing, Bible Study teaching, pastor’s wife-ing (yes, I’m making up words) gal who never feels like she can keep up with her responsibilities is in seminary now too.
This evening my studies brought me to a familiar passage in scripture.
“Οἱ πατέρες, μὴ ἐρεθίζετε τὰ τέκνα ὑμῶν, ἵνα μὴ ἀθυμῶσιν.”
That’s Greek for,
“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21)
The word “ἵνα” is generally translated “in order that; that; so that,” but when combined with “μὴ” it becomes an idiomatic phrase which can be translated “lest” (or some equivalent, as the author of my textbook explains).*
However, as a beginning Greek student I am not yet in the habit of reading "ἵνα μὴ” as an idiomatic expression, and as a modern individual I am not much in the habit of using the word “lest” (outside of scripture). Given these realities, my mind more naturally read the verse as, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, in order that they may not become discouraged.” I learned in my studies that the dependent clause at the end of the sentence indicates purpose. A good father would not — indeed, should not — set out to discourage his children. His purpose ought not be discouragement; therefore, he ought not provoke them.
This struck me to the core. Why? In an utterly ironic turn of events considering the fact that I am currently teaching through a Bible study by Jennifer Rothschild called Take Courage, I have found myself fighting wave after wave of discouragement.
These studies can be so timely.
I’ve stood before my dearly beloved students twice this week (since I lead a group on Tuesday night and another on Wednesday morning) and boldly spurred them on with the truth and hope of scripture only to come home and find myself more discouraged, frustrated, and exasperated than usual. What I am teaching is true through and through, firmly grounded in scripture and what I believe to the core. Let no woman in my class think the teaching isn’t true or doesn’t work.
I am applying each and every principle in the teaching to my life. Unfortunately, I am also (this very evening) dealing with the distraction of a few especially disappointing and overwhelming circumstances, and my usually cheerful disposition has been clouded by questions like, “Why, God?” and “How could you let this happen?”
As I simultaneously fought back tears and tried to maintain my focus on my studies (not a fun or easy combination), the Lord seemed to shine a spotlight on the text: “ἵνα μὴ ἀθυμῶσιν.” “…in order that they may not become discouraged.” Then my Lord spoke to me.
“As a good father, I do not purpose to discourage my children.”
Of course! The Good Father gives the best parenting advice there is: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Why would he say it? Because he knows how to be a good father. He may have allowed some trying (may I say 'heartbreaking?') circumstances to come my way — and I certainly didn’t see them coming — but he is not provoking me to discouragement. I may feel exasperated, but God is not exasperating me! He is waiting for me to trust him and rest in him while he works out solutions which I cannot yet see…and he is with me to wipe my very real tears in the meantime. He is asking me to lift my swollen eyes to him and accept the challenge to press on with him to whatever the future may bring.
Yes, the enemy would love to see me drown in exasperation. The Father of Lies pens missives of defeat, but my Good Father urges me onward in his letters of love.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
“I lack nothing…he refreshes my soul…for [he is] with me; [his] rod and [his] staff, they comfort me…Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:1, 3, 4, 6)
Sometimes the circumstances of life really do bring us down. Sometimes life really is hard. But giants need not be discouraged. Our Good Father lifts us up. To God be the glory!
*Mounce, William D., Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, Fourth Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2019), 359.