[Editor’s note: today’s post is an excerpt from the upcoming book Go Small: Because God Doesn’t Care About Your Status, Size, or Success by Craig Gross and Adam Palmer]
Let’s talk about language for a minute. Not swearwords or anything like that—I mean the actual words we use every day. Let’s take, as a case study, the very ordinary word silly.
When I tell my young daughter that she’s being silly, what do I mean? Generally I would say something like that to her if she’s goofing around and having fun and just being the little girl that she is.
If I were to tell my wife that she’s being silly, what would I mean then? Besides inviting a whole lot of heated feedback from my strongly opinionated wife, I might mean that, in whatever conversation we happen to be having, we have different opinions about what we think is important—and that hers is wrong.
But here’s the crazy thing about the word silly: it took a very, very long road to develop either of those meanings, or any of the other ones we assign to it today. Did you know silly started off with a religious connotation? In the Middle Ages, which is around the time the word first surfaced, if you told someone they were silly, you were giving them a compliment by saying they were obviously blessed by God or very pious, which certainly adds a different spin to a phrase like silly Christians, doesn’t it?
Eventually, some people focused more on the goodness aspect of silly—if you were a devout believer who was blessed by God, then you must be very good—and so silly began to take on a meanings that related to innocence. A silly child wouldn’t be one who was hamming it up in the back of the car or singing into her hairbrush—it would be more like a thoughtful, wide-eyed child who embodied purity and unspoiled kid-ness.
But, as is usually the case with a word, years of using silly in this way eventually led to a blunting of that focus on innocence and goodness; some English speakers shaped the word into something more like harmless, like a passive child who didn’t talk back at the dinner table. And from there, it was only a short step to start using silly to mean someone who should be pitied. That silly child just sits there and doesn’t have any drive or ambition.
Once you start dumping negative connotations onto a word, it’s tough to turn it around to mean something positive again, and that’s exactly what happened with silly. By the 1500s, silly carried the weight of weak or feeble; and once you’re using a word to call people weak in the body, it’s easy to start applying that to their minds.
Silly was shaded the color of foolishness, which outside of being knocked silly is pretty much where we find it today, though with far fewer teeth. While people probably started using that foolish business with the intent of it being a real insult, silly has morphed into a harmless type of foolishness.
From blessed to foolish, with a lot of stops in between.
Language can be a silly thing. (Tweet This!)
The point is, we all have ways we define things, and those definitions can be colored in by many different factors. Even today, a word like chips can mean two very different things, depending on whether you live in the United States where chips are a crunchy thing you snack on, or whether you live in the United Kingdom or Australia where chips are fried potato wedges that accompany fish or hamburgers. That’s a geographic factor.
That same word, chips, can conjure up different images depending on your upbringing or income level. Just ask for descriptions of chips and you’ll get different answers from a schoolchild (they’ll probably offer up potato chips), a baker (chocolate chips, anyone?), or a gambling addict (poker chips).
And yet, despite all these facets of linguistics, our culture seems to have an all-purpose definition for the word extraordinary. Or for the word success. Or, especially when it comes to doing things for Jesus, words like big or important. While those words can field a lot of different specifics, we tend to see them all in the same light.
But when it comes to something as monumental as the kingdom of God, those words are all painfully, woefully inadequate descriptors. They don’t even come close. Not by a long shot. They’re drops in the ocean of God’s ideas of success and importance, of what Jesus would call big or extraordinary.
Because what looks big to us can be incredibly insignificant to Jesus. And what we think is nothing—a simple smile and a compliment, for example—can be the very thing Jesus uses to rescue someone from a seven-year life of making pornography.
We’ve gotten it all wrong.
Nothing is too small for Jesus. (Tweet This!)
Nothing can be so big and important that it impresses Him.
With Jesus, everything is one size fits all. And that size is the size of His kingdom.
The sooner we learn this, the better—especially when it comes to the ways we do outreach.
This work by One Size Fits All – Go Small is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at https://xxxchurch.com.