Word of the Week
May 14, 2022
Kopos: Such a Bother!
Yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she wear me out.
Are you bothered by interruptions? A researcher at the University of California, Irvine reports that the typical office worker gets interrupted every 11 minutes – and it takes an average of 25 minutes to get back to your original task after each interruption! No wonder you can never catch up!
On the other hand, consider the perspective expressed in the Anglican Digest:
When you are exasperated by interruptions, try to remember that their very frequency may indicate the valuableness of your life. Only the people who are full of help and strength are burdened by other people’s needs. The interruptions which we chafe at are the credentials of our indispensability. The greatest condemnation that anybody could incur—and it is a danger to guard against—is to be so independent, so unhelpful, that nobody ever interrupts us and we are left comfortably alone.
How should we deal with the constant demands that get in the way of our own agendas? As always, we can get a proper perspective by looking at God’s Word. As usual, the Greeks had a word for it.
When your New Testament talks about being bothered, the Greek word behind it is probably kopos (used 18 times) or the matching verb kopiaō (used 23 times). Both words mean the hard work that wears you out.
- Paul says that the hard-working farmer is the one who deserves his share of the harvest (2 Timothy 2:6).
- Jesus sat by the well in Samaria because he was wearied from a long morning’s hike (John 4:6).
It seems an appropriate term to describe a mother of preschoolers or a middle manager juggling constant questions and putting out fires.
However, it is not necessarily bad – just strenuous. The apostle Paul used the word to describe the demands of his ministry as an apostle (2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:23, 27). He commended the Thessalonians for their kopos motivated by love (1 Thessalonians 1:3) and reminded them that he had invested long hours of kopos, working to cover his expenses and expending himself in serving the church (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). In fact, he encouraged the Corinthians by reminding them that their kopos in the Lord was not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
We all find that serving God can be demanding. We all get tired. But it’s a good kind of fatigue.
On the other hand, there are several passages where kopos is coupled with a verb that changes the picture. Whenever it appears with the verb parecho, the combination means “to trouble, to bother” someone. It’s one thing to work hard yourself; it is another to make trouble for someone else. Each use of this combination is negative.
- When a woman broke an expensive jar of ointment and poured it over Jesus’ feet, the disciples (especially Judas) launched a barrage of protests. What a waste, they thought. But Jesus halted their complaints: “Let her alone; why bother her? She has done a good deed to Me” (Matthew 26:10; Mark 14:6). They were hassling her, making her life difficult. The Lord scolded them for meddling in a matter that was none of their business.
- Closing his epistle to the Galatians, Paul exclaimed, “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brandmarks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). The attacks launched by his law-loving critics were a distraction, and he had scars to prove his loyalty to the Master.
The remaining uses of this combination appear in two of Christ’s parables – and they take a starting turn.
One parable described a man banging on his neighbor’s door at midnight, asking for three loaves of bread. The groggy neighbor naturally replied, “Do not bother me!” (Luke 11:7). The kids were all down for the night, and nobody wants to wake the baby at that hour. But the man persisted, and the guy eventually got his bread.
The other parable centered on a corrupt judge who continually ignored the pleas of a widow who wanted him to rule against her legal opponent. She showed up in court every day until he gave in: “Because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she wear me out” (Luke 18:5).
In both parables, a needy person bothers someone who can meet their need. Their demands were a nuisance, but they were genuine. They pursued their requests even though it was causing trouble for the one who could grant their requests.
Notice the point Jesus was making in both parables: The first parable came immediately after His disciples asked for instruction on how to pray. He told the second parable “to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1). These parables teach us about bothering God in prayer.
The drowsy neighbor and the unjust judge wouldn’t help until they were sufficiently bothered to move into action. God invites us to ask for what we need, and He makes it clear that we never need to worry about bothering Him too much. He can handle our “pestering,” because we never diminish His resources. The divine attitude is, “Go ahead and ask – it’s no bother to Me!”
When you study Greek words, pay attention to combinations like this one. The word kopos has a clear range of meaning that involves strenuous effort and resulting fatigue. But the combination of parecho and kopos has a specific flavor. Many Greek dictionaries will mention combinations like this, and it is worth your while to pay attention to these notations.
The parable of the unjust judge in Luke 18 contains another vivid word picture when he complains that this widow is going to “wear me out.” The Greek word used here is hupopiazō, used in classical Greek for striking someone under the eye – literally, giving them a black eye. The only other place the word appears in the New Testament is 1 Corinthians 9:27, where Paul says, “I buffet my body and make it my slave” like an athlete training for the Olympics – perhaps the boxing competition? The unjust judge uses figurative language to describe the effect of the widow’s persistence: “She’s just beating me up!”
People talk about the “signs of the times,” speculating about the direction events are taking us. But the Greek word for “sign” goes in a different direction. Next week we will take a look at it.
©Ezra Project 2022