Using a Dictionary to go Deeper

When I first started teaching Bible study, I used Jen Wilkin’s Women Studying the Word to teach basic Bible study skills. One resource she highly recommends and one I kept encouraging women to use was a dictionary. Not a Greek or Hebrew dictionary. Just a plain old English dictionary.

Most of us will never learn Greek or Hebrew, but if you’re using a good word for word translation like ESV or NASB, you can be confident in using an English dictionary to look up the meanings of the words the translators have carefully chosen. And doing this can lead to even deeper study and more penetrating application. Let me give you an example. Consider this verse from Ephesians:

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

Ephesians 4:31

If I put you on the spot and asked you to define malice could you do it? Sometimes we assume we know what words mean when we really don’t. As a result, we may read through the list of sins in this verse too quickly, thinking most of them don’t apply to us. Malice? Me? I don’t think so.

So let’s look it up in the dictionary. Malice is the desire to inflict injury, harm or suffering on another either because of a hostile impulse or out of deap seated meanness.

Now that we have a thorough definition of the word, we can go back and expand on what Paul is getting at. Paul is asking us here to put away any desire in our hearts to inflict harm or suffering on another person. Now, we may have no desire to physically harm someone else, but let’s ask some questions that may cut a little deeper.

If you’ve been going through a string of afflictions, do you secretly wish your “seems-to-have-it-all” neighbor would experience their fair share?

As your peruse through your social media and see young perfectly toned thighs and stomachs, do you scoff and wish that someday they’ll experience the frustration of a menopausal body that stubbornly hangs onto every ounce of fat?

What about those with whom we disagree on politics or the way our culture is developing? Do you harbor unseen hatred towards them, hoping they’ll receive judgment, instead of imitating our Lord who said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”

Malice seems to come in many shapes and sizes. Using a simple tool like an English dictionary allows us to slow down and ask sharper questions. And that helps us make even better application as we study the Word.

Now I think I’ll go look up the word clamor.

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