“Hope” is Greek to me

Sometimes in translation, words take on slightly different meanings than may have been intended by the writer. This could be the case in the following passage:

having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the HOPE (emphasis mine) to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” – Ephesians 1:18-21 ESV

The word “hope” in English implies a degree of uncertainty. We hope our boss gives us a raise. We hope our team wins the Super Bowl. We hope our mom pulls through the surgery. In most uses of the word “hope” in English, we’re not confident in the outcome.

The same word for hope in the Greek language is used about 80 times in the New Testament, as in the above passage, each time using this same word or root which is “elpis” or “elpo”. In the definition of this word, it’s not based on the circumstances, but on certainty. Here’s an illustration to help you understand the “hope” the writers of the New Testament likely intended:

Imagine there’s two people hired to do the same job, mucking out horse stalls. They are to start at 6 am and work until 4 pm. It’s a long, hard day seven days per week. Both workers will get paid once per year. Let’s say that the first worker will be paid $10,000 for his work. It’s not a lot of money, but he needs the job, so he agrees. The second worker is offered and accepts the exact same role but will be paid $1,000,000 at the end of the year. Which worker would you expect to show up with a smile on his face each day? Which one would greet his boss with a smile every morning? Which worker has “hope”?

The circumstances are the same – same working conditions, same job, same hours, same boss. The difference is the second worker has a hope of certainty of the great reward he’ll get at the end of the year. So even in difficult conditions, he can endure it and even remain positive through it as he focuses on the future prize.

What is the hope God is calling us to? And what is His inheritance?

The hope referred to here is in ”the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints”. What could God possibly inherit? Don’t you think God already has everything and if he doesn’t he sure has the means to get it? The verse says his inheritance is “in the saints” – not saintly people as that was a term used for those who believe in God, which can also be used to describe current day believers – us – we are those saints. We share in this inheritance.

This is the hope we are called to – we get the $1,000,000 at the end of the year and SO much more! And how much we must bear this in mind while we trudge the difficult road throughout his present world, that our “elpis” or hope provides us with the expectation, trust and confidence that we can now and will even to a much greater degree in the future, share in the King’s inheritance.

Our hope is not to be based on circumstances but on certainty – a certainty that Jesus is Lord of all, he rules and reigns and he will care for and provide for us now and forever. Amen!

Inspired by a sermon by Timothy Keller