Word of the Week
November 18, 2023
Hieroprepēs: Living in God’s Presence
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers . . .
Titus 2:3 NIV
Have you ever walked into an empty cathedral and found yourself instinctively whispering?
Something about the stained glass windows, the vaulted ceiling pointing heavenwards, and the elaborate woodwork triggers an automatic feeling of reverence. You know you’re in a place of worship, even if no one else is in the room.
Reverence comes naturally when you are in a cathedral, but it seems odd to read the word in Titus 2:3 – “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior.”
This verse comes in a passage where Paul devotes ten verses to a catalog of character qualities like self-control, love, and steadfastness. He addresses men and women, young and old – even slaves – listing the attitudes that should constantly characterize their behavior.
We carry our character qualities with us wherever we go. We exercise self-control all the time, wherever we go. That’s why you might pause when he tells the older women to be reverent. Does that mean that they go around whispering all the time?
Hardly! Just try whispering as you go through the checkout line at Walmart.
A closer look at the Greek word for reverent is in order.
In this verse, Paul uses the Greek word hieroprepēs. It is not a common word. In fact, this is the only time it appears in the entire New Testament.
The best way to understand this word is to look at its etymology, the way that it was constructed. It comes from a combination of two other Greek words:
- Hieron – something sacred, consecrated to a god – most often a “temple.”
- Prepei – appropriate, fitting
Put the ideas together and you get “appropriate for a sacred place or temple.”
Earlier secular Greek writers used it describe the way a priest or priestess should behave as they were going about their duties, carrying out the rituals of worship. It was a serious business to work in a shrine dedicated to a deity, and a wise priest would be careful to remember that a god was involved.
Pagan shrines didn’t contain genuine gods, of course, though demons might be involved (see 1 Corinthians 8:4; 10:20).
Imagine, however, the moment when a priest would enter the Tabernacle erected by Moses in the wilderness. What would it be like to step across the threshold of the Holy Place to refill the oil in the sacred lampstand, or to place the day’s allotment of bread loaves on the table of testimony? The gold of the furniture would blend with the rich tapestries of the walls, permeated with smell of the daily incense that could be used only at the altar at the rear of the space. Beyond that, you would do work with the keen awareness that the ark of the covenant was just behind the curtain – that the glory of God was behind that curtain. In the wilderness, the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire made it clear that God was in that place, with the fiery focus of His presence just a few feet away from the spot where you stood.
How would you behave?
Certainly not frivolously. Nadab and Abihu disregarded God’s instructions and were incinerated for their willful carelessness! They acted as if God wasn’t there – and paid the price.
When Paul wrote the book of Titus, his audience lived hundreds of miles from Jerusalem, and they would probably never see the Temple in their lifetime. It would, in fact, be destroyed in just a few years.
So what did he mean?
We will glorify God most when we remember that we are living in the presence of God – and act like it.
We do not need to go to a temple to enter the presence of God. He is present everywhere. In fact, if you are a Christian, your body is a temple.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19)
The reality is that we live in the presence of God at every moment.
When we remember that fact, we live in awe. We live in holiness. We live in joy.
As Psalm 2:11 describes it, we will “worship the LORD with reverence, and rejoice with trembling.”
At every moment, we are in the presence of the King of the universe.
Response: Build regular reminders of God’s presence into your daily routine.
Start the day with prayer and Scripture.
Set the alarm on your phone to remind you three times a day: “Thank God” or “God is here.”
Close the day with a look back and a grateful prayer.
Read Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.
End each activity by asking God, “What next?”
… and add your own response.
How can you expand this study to uncover deeper insights? Try this project: go deeper into the two Greek words that were combined to form hieroprepēs:
- Hieron (“temple”) and hieros (“sacred, belonging to the temple”) can be used either for the Temple of God in Jerusalem (Acts 3:10; 4:1; etc.) or pagan temples (1 Corinthians 9:13). Hiereus, the Greek word for “priest” stems from the same root. You can learn much from looking up the verses that mention “priest” – you can even use an English concordance to find the passages.
- Prepei – to be appropriate or fitting. Read the seven passages where the New Testament lists things that are appropriate in various settings: Matthew 3:15; 1 Corinthians 11:13; Ephesians 5:3; 1 Timothy 2:10; Titus 2:1; Hebrews 2:10. In each case you will find two things that belong together.
Q – Titus 3:4 talks about God’s kindness and love which resulted in our salvation. Verse 5 talks about the Holy Spirit. But when I get to verse 6, some versions say, “whom He richly poured out upon us” and others say “which.” One translation sounds as if God pours out the Holy Spirit; the other might better mean that God pours out His kindness and love on us. Which is right?
A – This is one of Paul’s long sentences where you have to pay close attention to the details. In Greek, the first word in verse 6 is a pronoun which can be translated either way in English: who or which. Pronouns usually refer back to something earlier in the sentence, and Greek has some extra features to help you match words correctly. Greek nouns and pronouns can be spelled several different ways, giving you a detailed description of how the word is being used.
Here’s the basic rule: a pronoun and the noun it describes normally have matching descriptions. In this particular verse, the Greek word matches the word “Spirit.” It doesn’t match the Greek words for “kindness” or “love,” so it means that God has poured out the Holy Spirit on His people. Since Scripture clearly teaches that the Spirit is a person, not a thing, I prefer the translation “whom” in this passage.
Do you ever hesitate to pray because you know how badly you’ve messed up this week? Like Adam and Eve, we have the urge to hide from him. The Lord invites us to approach Him with a completely different attitude, best captured in the Greek word that we will study next week.
©Ezra Project 2023