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A Beautiful Mind (# 6)
by David Smith
... whatever is lovely ... think about such things." (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

Here's a new phrase for the day. Are you ready? Catch.

Hapax legomenon.

No, that wasn't a mega-typo. Yes, there really is such a phrase (it's Greek). Yes, it's worth troubling yourself to know. But no, you probably won't get to use it very often (unless you allow foreign words when you play Scrabble).

Just understand what it means. "Once read." As in "you'll only see this one time."

Now God's Spirit used nearly five thousand words to make up the vocabulary of the collection of writings we now call the New Testament. Some are used hundreds of times. Others appear only dozens of times. And a handful of them appear only once. They are (go ahead, try out your new phrase) - hapax legomenon.

Which leads me to this observation - the word behind the translation "lovely" in Philippians 4:8 is a hapax legomenon. What is that word? Prosphiles. Yes, that's Greek, too (not just to you). Yes, it's better known as "lovely" (aren't you glad?). No, I don�t know if you can legally use it in Scrabble.

But now why on earth would God's Spirit choose to use such a lovely word as this word for "lovely" only once in Scripture?

I don't know. What I do know is it's a beautiful word that conveys a truth that's easy on the eyes and necessary for our heart. So let me illustrate the meaning of this word by noting its usage in two places outside of Scripture, in the Apocrypha.

In handing out advice as to how to conduct oneself in the midst of a congregation, one writer says:

Endear yourself to the congregation ..." (Ecclesiasticus* 4:7 NRSV)

Or as the New Jerusalem Bible puts it:

Gain the love of the community." (Ecclesiasticus 4:7 NJB)

You probably guessed it - "endear," or "gain the love of," is prosphiles at work.

Or think of it as it appears in another passage.

A wise person endears himself when he speaks ..." (Ecclesiasticus 20:13 REB)

The New Revised Stand Version puts it thus:

The wise make themselves beloved by only few words ..." (Ecclesiasticus 20:13 NRSV)

We all know what the writer is talking about. We've all known people whom we esteemed highly and who were very dear to our heart. As they walked up to the lectern before the congregation, before they even spoke a word, we were ready to give our heart to them. Why? Because they were beloved in our eyes. And why did we hold them in such esteem? Probably because of some knowledge we had of their character or habits which we deeply respected or appreciated. Perhaps we were spiritually indebted to them in some way. In any case, they had "gained our love."

Do you catch the drift? To think about "lovely" (prosphiles) things is to dwell on things that are beloved. They are matters that are terms of endearment to people's hearts. They are the things that make people truly lovely.

Now go fill your mind with such. Be beautiful in mind and thereby, become beautiful in life.


. . . whatever is lovely . . . think about such things." (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

Father in heaven, You alone are beautiful. But make my ways beautiful by working through me. Help me to be attracted only to thoughts that are lovely and to ways that are not offensive, but pleasing. Pleasing to You, and if possible, pleasing to others. Not just once, but always. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

* - The book of Ecclesiasticus is also known as Sirach.

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