Thursday, March 21, 2013

Paid in Full


Working through Paul's letter to the Jesus believers at Philippi, I came across a Greek verb that caught my interest: apecho. It is a compound word, made up of apo and echo. The first part, apo, is a preposition that literally means “off” or “away.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance says that, “in composition (as a prefix) it usually denotes separation, departure, cessation, completion, reversal, etc.” The second word, echo, means to hold or to have.

Apecho has a number of meanings and uses. Thayer’s Greek Definitions shows these:
1) have
     1a) to hold back, keep off, prevent
     1b) to have wholly or in full, to have received
     1c) it is enough, sufficient
2) to be away, absent, distant
3) to hold one’s self off, abstain
But it is one use in particular that interests me, one that is commonly attested in ancient Greek documents. It was frequently used in a commercial sense, as a matter of accounting, specifically as a receipt to acknowledge that payment in full had been made. In A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich), the first entry under apecho has it as a commercial term, to “receive a sum in full and give a receipt for it.”

That is how Paul used it in Philippians 4:18, speaking to the believers at Philippi as partners in the ministry of the gospel. They had a relationship of “giving and receiving” (v. 15; the Greek words were commonly used of credits and debits, or expenditures and receipts). He brought them the gospel and discipled them in the faith; they sent him out with financial assistance and other support to carry the ministry to other cities and regions. In his letter to them, Paul acknowledged the gift they recently sent him when he was under house arrest in Rome for preaching the gospel: “I have all,” is how the NKJV puts it. The NIV and ESV bring out the meaning more precisely: “I have received full payment.” The NRSV says, “I have been paid in full.”

We can find apecho used with this same significance elsewhere in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, where Jesus says:
Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have [apecho] their reward. (Matthew 6:2)

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have [apecho] their reward. (Matthew 6:5)

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have [apecho] their reward. (Matthew 6:16)
Jesus chastises the hypocrites (used of actors or stage players) for the showiness of their giving, praying and fasting. They are engaged in a bit of theater, to be seen well by others. And that is all they will receive for their efforts. God has nothing for them — they have already had their payment in full, the paltry praise of men. Luke’s parallel account of Jesus’ Sermon records this:
Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received [apecho] your consolation. (Luke 6:22-24)
For those who love and trust and serve their riches, there is no reward for them in heaven. They have already received their payment in full, in the uncertainties of material wealth.

We have already looked at Paul’s use of apecho in Philippians, but he uses it again in his letter to Philemon. Philemon had a slave, Onesimus, who ran away to Paul for relief from his master. Paul then brought Onesimus to faith in the Lord Jesus, just as he had earlier led Philemon to the Lord, and Onesimus proved to be a great help in Paul’s ministry. Legally, however, Onesimus needed to be returned to Philemon, his master. So Paul wrote this letter, desiring that Philemon would now receive Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother in Christ.
For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive [apecho] him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave — a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 15-16)
In receiving Onesimus as a brother in Christ, Philemon would be gaining much more than he would from having Onesimus as a slave, and in this way he would be “paid in full.”

One other thing I find interesting about this word is this: In the “negative” instances, where the hypocrites have their reward and the rich who trust in their riches already have their consolation, there is no more that is coming. No more reward and no more consolation.

On the other hand, in the “positive” instances (Paul’s use of apecho), there is the sense of full receipt plus more besides. In Philippians 4:18, “I have received full payment and even more” (NIV). And in Philemon, “That you might receive [apecho] him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave — a beloved brother.” That speaks to me about the abundance the grace of God brings.



There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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