Language—particularly the English language—is a living, growing thing. New words appear with regularity; a welcome development for our communication—and thus our relationships—for it is enhanced and flavored by many of the new words. Sadly, however, languages also see individual words slip into disuse. With time they become, not just conversational oddities to throw into dialogue for variety, but dinosaurs whose skeletons remain buried for long ages unbeknownst to most of us. This is not only sad, but perilous because words are the carriers of life—of ideas, of thought, of meaning. When we lose a word we run the risk of also loosing those ideas, thoughts, meanings—yes, and even the truth—which they have served to carry from person to person for long generations.
This danger is especially perilous in matters pertaining to our faith. Jesus came as the Word, speaking God’s words. The Holy Spirit moved apostles and prophets to pen the very words of God. Words are important. Words are primary.
Much has been made in recent years about people being visual learners. Words, we are told, are passé. It is images which communicate! The age of propositions has passed and the age of sound bytes and .jpg, .bmp, and .tif images has arrived!
Like most delusions there is some truth in these matters. While it is not my purpose here to extol the virtues of word-based communication, I simply assert that we will never outgrow the primacy of words in communication both from and with heaven, not to mention one another.
To this end I wish to unearth a word which, it seems to me, has fallen upon hard times in our understanding and dialogue regarding faith in Christ. Of course some archaic words have passed off the scene only when replaced by other, newer, more hip words and expressions who serve as carriers of the idea, thought, meaning and truth of the former word. I’m not here to champion the Edsel over the Acura. I simply wonder if it may prove beneficial to dig around in our verbal bone yards to see if perhaps there is anything important we’ve buried with some of the words we’ve laid to rest.
Image by ADiamondFellFromTheSky
To that end, consider the word deportment. Now there’s a word you don’t hear much anymore! But that was not always the case. In times past this English word was used to describe some things that are very important in the New Testament description of the Christian life—some things that may be less significant in our current western understanding of being a Christ-follower.
If you are astute you may already know that the word “deportment” is not found in most of our modern English language translations. In that regard it is rather like the word Trinity, which likewise does not appear in our Bibles. Yet both are English words that do describe something vital and precious in the Scriptures. Several older and more obscure English translations employ the word. Here are a few examples.
“In like manner also that the women in decent deportment and dress adorn themselves with modesty and discretion, not with plaited hair and gold, or pearls, or costly clothing” (1 Timothy 2:9, Darby Bible Translation)
“Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in deportment, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12, Webster’s Bible Translation)
The fact that the word deportment appears in older translations and is missing in our current translations simply highlights that a word which was once vital in describing our faith has been lost.
Here’s another example:
“… that the elder women in like manner be in deportment as becoming those who have to say to sacred things, not slanderers, not enslaved to much wine, teachers of what is right” (Titus 2:3, Young’s Literal Translation)
The NIV renders this same passage “reverent in the way they live.” The adjective “reverent” speaks of that which befits what is sacred to God. This attitude is to show up “in the way they live.” This word describes the demeanor, behavior—or we could say—deportment of a person. It describes outward presentation and action, but only as it arises out of a state of mind and a way of thinking (D. Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles, 192). Thus, according to Paul in this passage, older women are to have come to a certain state of mind that is pervasive of all they are and do. Such women do not compartmentalize life but see each part of their lives as holy to the Lord.
What Paul called for from older women in Titus 2:3 the New Testament demands of all who call themselves Christ-followers. Outward action, attraction, and adornment arising from a mind renewed deeply by the Spirit of God through the Word of God are what deportment is all about. It means that everything about us outwardly must be controlled by what is true within us by God’s grace. Deportment calls for an inside-out orientation to life. It affects the way we dress ourselves, the words and the way we speak, the countenance on our faces, and our every interaction with the people we encounter. In short, deportment involves everything about whom and what we are. Deportment describes the total-life lordship of Jesus Christ in the experience of one who claims to be his disciple.
My guess is that the word deportment fell out of favor in a time when there was little spiritual reality inside those who called themselves by Christ’s Name and they found themselves with little left of their religion except some brittle rules about external demands and taboos. The answer, I believe the New Testament would tell us, is not simply to drop the external, but to renew the internal. The need is to see the Holy Spirit so ablaze within our hearts that everything else about us is consumed in the holy inferno. When that takes place deportment will once again be a holy obsession of God’s people, by whatever word we name it.