“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 my eyes to the hills from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psa 121:1–2 ESV).
In the ancient world, people thought the gods dwelled on the hills. So the author 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 in the earth if everything in it is God’s?
But here’s where it gets really interesting: God is all about empowering us to do His work. That means that His gifts, His abilities, become our gifts and abilities. That’s what Paul talks about in his first letter to the Corinthians:
“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” (1 Corinthians 12:27–31 ESV).
Like the word Paul uses for healing, the Greek word for helping (antilaempsis) only occurs this time in the New Testament. The ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament gives us some clues about its meaning, though. The Septuagint renders Hebrew words meaning “shield” (Psalm 89:18), “helmet” (Psalm 108:8), “strong arm” (Psalm 83:8), and “strength” (Psalm 84:5) as antilaempsis. (There’s also an obscure reference in Psalm 22:0, but since it’s in a superscription of the psalm, it’s difficult to know how to translate it.)
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—for the spiritual battle is at hand.
The gift of antilaempsis is about protection. This makes sense: the gift of healing, mentioned just before is about restoration—restoring people to faith in Christ and helping them grow in Him. The person with the gift of healing is the person who restores people to faith, and the person with the gift of helping protects them on their faith journey. Of course, both gifts involve pointing people back to Christ—like everything in the Christian faith.
We all need restoration. And we all need protection and strength. Who do you know that seems to naturally protect people? Who do you know that looks at a situation and says, “I could be their strength by pointing them to the ultimate strength, God?”
We often think of the gift of helping as something we graduate from: You start by cleaning tables and making the coffee, then you graduate to higher spiritual gifts. We find the person willing to clean up our messes and say, “Oh, you must have the gift of helping.” Here’s some news: If you’re following Jesus, you need to be cleaning up messes. This isn’t reserved for the people who are kinder than you. That’s not a spiritual gift. We need to stop abusing the kindness of other people, and start helping out. We then need to use the term “helping” properly, which may require the vocabulary shift to “protecting.”
While we’ve been misappropriating the label of helping, we’ve also neglected to invest in the people who have the gift of strengthening others.
What needs to change in your church for people who strengthen and protect other people to have a place? How can you help them live their gift?
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