Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Thursday, July 27, 2006


“Big words” normally mean lots of letters and a surplus of syllables. I will use “big” in its frequency of use and its influence on society. I will use wide in its breadth of definition, that is not precise English. There are many wonderful words in the languages of the world. Some of these words have precise definitions like the word “kind.” Because of this preciseness, the word is not a “wide” word. There are other words that are “big,” “wide” and are NOT wonderful. “Sin” is one of those words. However, there is a word whose definition is “big,” “wide,” and it I is still wonderful. The word is GRACE.

Before we start to tell you about this word, let us look at the definitions of the word “definition.”

The dictionary defines “definition” as:

Definition #1: A statement of the meaning of a word or word group or a sign or symbol.

Definition #2: The meaning of a word from the context of a paragraph or a story or a lecture.

There are many such examples from the books of L.M. Montgomery.

Definition #3: An agreed upon meaning of a word within a certain group of people.

They know what they are talking about, but others who have in their understanding a dictionary definition or a contextual definition of the same word, but who are not in on the agreement, do not know what they are talking about. They will think that they know.

“But an August afternoon, with blue hazes scarfing the harvest slopes, little winds whispering elfishly in the poplars and a dancing splendor of red poppies outflowing against the dark coppice of young firs in a corner of the cherry orchard, was fitter for dreams than dead languages.”

Anne of Avonlea

Both “scarfing” and “outflaming” are two invented participles made up of two legitimate words “scarf” and “flaming.” The definitions are clear from the basic words and the context. Harvest is a legitimate word if it is a verb or a noun. Here it is an adjective. However, the definition is clear. “Dancing” is a legitimate word, but it modifies “splendor” which should not make sense, but it does.

Two people invited to dinner could agree, before they arrived at the dinner, that the main dish would be called “garbage.” At the table they would say things like this to each other, but in the hearing of the hostess, “Please pass the garbage,” or “Boy, this garbage tastes good.” The hostess, because she knows the standard meaning of “garbage” might be offended. She was not in on the agreement.

This happens in religion frequently. The Mormons, Christian Scientists, Jehovah Witnesses and Muslims all speak of Jesus, but have different definitions of who He is from each other and from the Bible. However, if we do not know that each group has an “agreed upon” definition, we might think that they are talking about the same person we are talking about.

Now let’s look at that wonderful word “grace” primarily from the context of the Bible. Second: Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary:

Definition #1: Grace??? 1(a) unmerited divine assistance given man for his regeneration or sanctification.

Definition #2 vt 1: to confer dignity or honor on; 2: adorn, embellish.

This is derived from the contextual definition.

First, let’s talk about the contextual definition. This is difficult because there is a lot of context. I will quote enough from each occurrence of the word to give some, if limited, meaning. I will group the quotations in an order based upon common sayings. If I leave a quotation out it will be because there has been enough repetition in that group.

The Source of Grace

• Luke 2:40
• John 1:14
• John 1:16-17
• Acts 15:40
• Acts 20:24, 32
• Romans 1:7
• Ephesians 2:5, 8

For Whom is this Grace?

• Titus 3:7
• Ephesians 3:2, 7, 8
• II Corinthians 12:9
• II Corinthians 1:2

Modifiers of Grace

• Acts 4:33
• Acts 6:8
• Romans 5:15, 17, 20

Rejection of Grace

• Jonah 2:8
• Galatians 5:4
• Hebrews 12:15

Relationship to Mercy, Faith, and Love

• Acts 18:27
• I Timothy 1:14

What Does Grace Do?

• Acts 15:11
• Romans 3:24
• Romans 5:21

Agreed upon definitions are O.K. for small societies using “in” words. They are not legitimate for words of world-wide import. We should then stick to the dictionary definition, contextual definition or common usage if the common usage is language wide.

We will not consider “grace” as in “saying grace” before a meal. It is, though, in common usage. Nor will we consider “grace” as a name or “grace” as in “gracious living.” These are spin-off definitions. There are others as in speaking to a duke or a king in a kingdom, “Your Grace.”

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