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by Hugh Whelchel
Help Is a War Cry
We Are Desperate and Empowered
“Help” is a word of desperation. It’s what we say when we think we can’t go on. That’s not the case for the biblical writers, though. For them, it’s a war cry.
The psalmist said: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1–2).
In the ancient world, people thought the gods dwelled on the hills. The author of the Psalms looks to the hills, not to flee, but for aid. He then acknowledges that his help comes from Yahweh (the LORD), who made heaven and earth. What is there to fear on earth if everything in it is God’s?
But here’s where it gets interesting: God empowers us to do his work. That means that his gifts and abilities become our gifts and abilities. That’s what Paul talks about in his first letter to the Corinthians (emphasis, mine):
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
The Greek word for helping (ἀντίλημψις, antilaempsis) only occurs this one time in the New Testament. The ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Septuagint, gives us some clues about its meaning. It renders Hebrew words meaning “shield” (Ps. 89:18), “helmet” (Ps. 108:8), “strong arm” (Ps. 83:8) and “strength” (Ps. 84:5) as antilaempsis.
How the Septuagint translators understood antilaempsis suggests that it means much more than “helping.” In many ways, “helping” is a war cry: look to the hills where God comes from and pick up your shields—the spiritual battle is at hand.
We often think of the gift of helping as something we move up from. You start by cleaning tables and making the coffee, and then you graduate to higher spiritual gifts.
We All Need Protection and Strength
But cleaning up messes is not a spiritual gift for kind people. We’ve been misappropriating the label of helping. We need to use the term properly, which may require a vocabulary shift to “protecting.”
Antilaempsis is about protecting others by pointing them back to Christ. We all need restoration, and we all need protection and strength. Understanding this term as the psalmist used it, and as Paul repurposed it, shows that we need to invest in people who have the gift of strengthening others.
This adapted article is posted courtesy of Bible Study Magazine, published by Logos Bible Software. Each issue of the magazine provides tools and methods for Bible study as well as insights from people like John Piper, Beth Moore, Mark Driscoll, Kay Arthur, Randy Alcorn, Barry Black, and more. Originally published in print: Copyright Bible Study Magazine (Nov–Dec. 2011): pg. 43.