Word of the Week
October 1, 2022
Amachos: Leave Your Weapons Behind
Not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
1 Timothy 3:3 NIV
When Paul laid out the guidelines for choosing a church leader, he didn’t ask for a resume or the results of an aptitude test. Instead, he sketched the character qualities that are most important of all.
Partway through the tally of character traits, we find “not quarrelsome.” If you ever serve on a search committee for a new pastor for your church, you will want to check his doctrinal positions and analyze his track record at other churches. But don’t forget to ask whether he is quarrelsome.
One of our readers asked a practical question about this verse. How does a pastor find the balance between being a pushover who fails to stand strong in the faith and a contentious person who just loves a fight?
Let’s take a closer look at the Greek word Paul uses for this concept.
In Greek, the phrase “not quarrelsome” comes from a single word: amachos. The “a” at the beginning means “not,” and it is attached to the word machos, which describes a fight or quarrel. So a leader should be a “non-fight” kind of person.
By the way, this is not just a prescription for leaders. Titus 3:2 speaks to all believers when it tells us to “slander no one, not to be contentious, to be gentle, showing every consideration for all people.”
Amachos appears only in these two verses in the New Testament, so we have to dig a little deeper to clarify its meaning.
We learn more by investigating the noun machē that forms the core of the word. In classical Greek, machē was a description of physical combat, usually military conflicts. It’s no accident that the Greek word for “sword” was machairos. We are talking about the kind of skirmish where swords are drawn! The military theme runs through the uses of this word in the Septuagint Old Testament as well.
In the New Testament, swords are replaced by words, but the conflict is still intense.
- Paul recounted his turbulent arrival in Macedonia: “troubled on every side—conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5).
Not that Paul was afraid of a good fight. He spoke often of “fighting the good fight” and putting on the spiritual armor against the attacks of Satan. However, he never used the word machē for this kind of godly warfare.
- Machē is the kind of quarrel that emerges from “foolish and ignorant speculations” (2 Timothy 2:23).
- It falls into the category of “foolish controversies and genealogies and strife . . . about the Law” that Paul labels as “unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9).
James summarizes it well: “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the sources your pleasures that wage war in your members?” (James 4:1).
The ”quarrelsome” person is one who instinctively jumps into an argument over the wrong issues for the wrong reasons. He or she majors on the minors and wants to win an argument rather than winning a person.
What is the right way to fight?
Take a cue from Jude 3. The apostle Jude wasn’t searching for a battleground. Fighting didn’t give him pleasure. In fact, he says that he was trying to “write you about our common salvation,” when he discovered a situation so serious that he had to change his plans. False teachers had infiltrated the church and were trying to corrupt the whole congregation.
Jude responded with the compact letter that bears his name, appealing to Christians to “contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all time handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). The word he chooses for contend is NOT a form of machē. Instead, he uses the word exagonizomai, taking the usual word for running a race, wrestling, or engaging in hand-to-hand combat – adding an extra syllable to the front to dramatize the extreme effort involved.
This is not shadow boxing or play acting. It calls for the determination needed to defeat the assault of the enemy on the Lord’s people. When we engage in this kind of combat, we are not fighting for our own satisfaction; we are serving the King by protecting His people.
You can learn more about biblical quarrels by examining the corresponding Greek verb machomai, “to fight, quarrel.” It occurs in John 6:52; Acts 7:26; 2 Timothy 2:24; and James 4:2.
Words that describe character qualities are often hard to define clearly. They tend to be nebulous and hard to pin down. Particularly when you find a word that only appears in a list of character qualities, you will often want to (1) check the etymology of the word to see if you can study one of the smaller words used to construct it; and (2) look at the context of each place where it is used, observing the other ideas that are linked with it.
You can dive into a deeper study of the Greek word most often used for healthy competition by going to the Word of the Week article on agōn. Simply go to ezraproject.com/blog and look for the article for April 24, 2021.
Do you plan ahead for making charitable contributions each year? You may even have the spiritual gift of giving. If you do, you’ll want to read next week’s word study to learn exactly HOWto exercise that gift.
©Ezra Project 2022