Word of the Week
September 3, 2022
Hēgeomai: Diagnosing Reality
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.
James 1:2 NASB
Trials come in all shapes and sizes.
The neighbor’s dogs are barking at 2 AM.
The mailbox is full of bills again.
The doctor says, “I’m sorry, but it’s malignant.”
You miss the nail and hit your thumb . . . again.
Such moments never spark automatic joy. I am consistently tempted to grumble or worry, to let my imagination run wild or yell in pain. When I miss the nail, my first impulse is never to holler “Hooray!”
Yet James instructs me to consider it all joy when I encounter a trial.
What could be more counter-intuitive? And it must have seemed just as outlandish to his original readers. After all, human nature hasn’t changed much since the first century.
The key to understanding this command rests in the word consider.
The Greek word is hēgeomai, usually translated “consider, think, suppose, deem to be.” It talks about our thoughts, not our emotions. And that’s why James 1:2 makes sense.
Our emotions may tell us to scream in frustration, but our minds have the option of doing something else. We can choose to look at the facts and make a careful diagnosis of the situation. And when we figure out what is happening, we may choose a completely different response.
Hēgeomai almost involves a combination of two things: the situation and the diagnosis. You encounter something, and you decide how to think about it.
My granddaughter and I see a frog on the sidewalk, and I think, “We need to get rid of that nuisance.” She thinks, “This is fun – let’s play with it!”
Rain starts to pour down and the crowd at the baseball game is disappointed: No game today. A few miles away, farmers are grateful: the crops are getting water.
You can see the same two-part pattern in the New Testament uses of hēgeomai.
- Acts 26:2 – Paul leaves his cell for a hearing before king Agrippa. Is this good or bad? Paul considers himself fortunate to plead his case before someone who understands Jewish laws.
- Philippians 2:3 – Christians must choose how to think about each other. Paul urges us to consider the others as more important than ourselves.
- Philippians 2:6 – When Jesus thought about equality with the Father, He did not consider it something to hang onto.
- Philippians 3:7-8 – When Paul thought about his natural advantages, he considered them to be loss compared to the gain of knowing Christ.
Hēgeomai often implies that you are swimming against the stream, choosing to view something in a way that runs counter to your natural instincts of the opinions of the crowd.
- 1 Timothy 6:1 – Slaves are told to consider their masters worthy of honor, even though most slaves viewed them with fear and resentment.
- Hebrews 11:11 – Sarah considered God to be faithful, even though she had waited long years for Him to keep His promise of a son.
Sometimes people are wrong when they diagnose a situation.
- Hebrews 10:29 – Judgment awaits the person who looks at the blood of God’s covenant and considers it to be something unclean.
- 2 Peter 2:9 – False teachers consider it pure pleasure to engage in wide-open reveling.
- 2 Peter 3:9 – Some people look at the way God keeps His promises and consider Him to be slow. In reality, He is merciful, delaying judgment to offer people time to repent.
What is the point in James 1:2?
God calls me to choose how I will view the tough moments in life. Instead of falling prey to my feelings, I am going to look at the truth. God tells me the real nature of trials, and I will believe what He says.
The verse tells me one of the many results of a trial: It enables me to build endurance. God uses the problem to make me stronger.
Complaining about trials is like going to the gym and complaining about the weight machines. “How could these people be so sadistic, getting me to spend time on contraptions that make my muscles hurt?” On the contrary, each machine is designed to strengthen a particular set of muscles. Even though they make you hurt, they make you stronger.
And that’s a good thing!
The word hēgeomai has a surprising side – a set of uses aimed directly at leaders.
New Testament writers sometimes turned the word into a participle: “the one who hēgeomai’s something.” Whenever this form appears, it is translated “leader, ruler.”
Here are the verses where this feature appears:
Matthew 2:6 – Messiah
Luke 22:26 – compared to the one serving
Acts 7:10 – Joseph ruling Egypt
Acts 14:22 – Paul mistaken for Hermes, the Greek god – literally “leader of speaking”
Acts 15:22 – Judas and Silas were leaders in the Antioch church
Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24 – church leaders
How could hēgeomai have two such different meanings?
It’s not unusual. The English word plot can mean either a scheme or a section of land. But it’s intriguing.
And it suggests that one role of a leader is to help his people know how to consider it. Good leaders frame reality for their followers. Winston Churchill came to power as England was facing a situation that seemed hopeless. Invasion appeared imminent. But Churchill helped his nation see that they were looking at a long struggle that would eventually end in victory.
As a leader, you have the responsibility to help your followers see the truth about their situation. That means seeing it from God’s perspective.
And as a person, you have the responsibility to see each episode of life from God’s perspective, not allowing your wild emotions to rule you, but choosing to adopt the divine view of the situation.
We sometimes talk about the three enemies of the believer: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Next week, we’ll try to discern what the Bible means by “the flesh.”
©Ezra Project 2022