Writings by Cole Huffman

Turns of Phrase

How about a selection of favorite lines in Scripture? To keep it brief I’ll exclude the wisdom literature—Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon—as the Bible’s best turns of phrase are plentiful in those books. Here are some I like:

“Behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Crescendo of the creation narrative. God’s sheer delight in his working and its fruits. Stars. Rocks. Waters. Aardvarks. People. It was all very good. Poetry in motion really.

“I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to myself.” (Exodus 19:4) Out of the house of slavery. The law, given to Israel through Moses, begins with grace in power. Eagles don’t flap in the air. They soar. Wind is their servant.

“So shall they put my name on the people.” (Numbers 6:27) Exclusive naming rights cost companies millions of dollars. God’s people get what is priceless free of any charge against us. He makes his face to shine upon us at infinite cost to Himself.

“Who am I and what is my house that you have brought me thus far?” (2 Samuel 7:18) Speech for when you are speechless over the goodness of God in Christ to you.

“How will you compete with horses?” (Jeremiah 12:5) What God says to the shepherd tired of the sheep biting. What God says to ministers who confuse their glass jaw for a weary heart. Get up off the mat and get back to it. Even on our worst day we’re probably never as worn and torn in the work as we like to think we are.

“Let them put a clean turban on his head.” (Zechariah 3:5) A high priest covered in filth. An angel sent to dress him in clean clothes. Zechariah asked for the man to also get a new turban. Only an observer to the scene, not there to speak into it, Zechariah couldn’t help himself. Let grace be so thoroughgoing! Like when Peter asked for Jesus to wash his hands and head too, not just his feet (John 13:9).

“A friend of sinners.” (Matthew 11:19) Jesus leans these words meant to topple him up against each other to build us an onramp, a gangway to his mercy new every morning (Lam. 3:23). And renewed every evening too—for the word Jesus used elsewhere to invite sinners to himself conveys the sense of inviting an honored guest to dinner. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”

“When he came to himself.” (Luke 15:17) The Proverbs 29:1 moment for the prodigal: “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.” His stiff neck bent. His head bowed. Eyes open. Embraced.

“The ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18) I saw in the news where the British government recently appointed a Minister for Loneliness to combat widespread social isolation. As Meister Eckhart put it, “God is at home. We are in the far country.” We are here to point the way home.

“Truthing in love.” (Ephesians 4:15). Gospel diplomacy. Also rendered “speaking the truth in love.” I remember an observation of Marvin Olasky’s: that truth without love is like sodium without chloride. It’s poison, not salt.

“The power of an indestructible life.” (Hebrews 7:16) What puts the cred in Jesus’ king-of-kings and lord-of-lords credentials. I think by contrast of the life John Mellencamp’s song describes, about the guy who “wanted love with no involvement, so he chased the wind, that's all his silly life required, and the days of vanity went on forever, and he saw his days burn up, like paper in fire.”

“Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) I started my list of selected favorite phrases with the behold in Genesis 1:31. Remember? Behold is obviously exclamatory but awkward in modern English, so we tend to read past it. And yet, the Bible is essentially bookended by creational beholds: in the song of creation in Genesis 1, and the presentation of a new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21. Behold is a God-word charged with grandeur. It’s the lightning streak from the start to the finish of Scripture. Awesome. God is at His happiest when He is making new things (cf. Gen. 1:31; 2 Cor. 5:17) and making all things new.

This shortlist of favorite phrases is in consideration of the role beauty and goodness can play in our witness. Evangelical witness is often drawn to the watertight argument or explicit invitation to faith after we’ve commended the truth plainly to consciences. As David Skeel points out, even Christian artists sometimes write or paint or sing as if all the tensions of our existence have been resolved.

We need to utilize the “golden apples” (Prov. 25:11) more. The Bible is full of beauty and goodness in its phrasings, yet in a way that is true to reality. “The ministry of reconciliation,” for example, is beautiful but also communicates that there is a real gap between people and God. Same with “all things new.” Many have a yearning deep within to experience this but cannot manufacture it on their own.

Beauty alone doesn’t redeem anyone. But it signals. It calls. The beautiful turns of phrase in Scripture—as we find them, meditate on them, and deploy them to our neighbors—these can catch the heart and penetrate its defenses, creating room for truth-in-reality to find a seat in someone and, if not immediately convincing, maybe outweigh their resistance over time through faithful presence.

As another favorite phrase has it: “My word shall not return to me empty.” (Isaiah 55:11)

Posted by Cole Huffman at 3:46 PM
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