Figures Of Speech

It seems to me that we ought to pay more attention to how we say what we say. If not, we may not say what we mean to say, or we may say something no one understands. Understand?

Some people have told me that neither language nor grammar is important any more, as long as you get your ideas across--as long as you communicate! I think that's a part of the pinko Commie plot for our beloved Country--to confuse our language so we can no longer communicate with each other. But, unintentionally, we give them an awful lot of help. Already I see a lot of evidence of that happening, very successfully. If we do nothing about watching our language, one day soon we will be like the folks God surprised at the tower of Babel. Suddenly, they could not understand each other. Or we may be like the children speaking the language of Ashdod. Their parents couldn't understand them anymore. When we approach that point, our Country will fall. Our religion may already have fallen.

I'm afraid we may have already passed the point where our Father can't understand what we're talking about.

To help us get back on the right track, I remember what Miss Fuller drilled into my head and backside in Sophomore English class. Don't mix metaphors!! At the time I wasn't sure exactly what a meta was for, let alone how to mix them. But before I got out of her class in my Junior year, I understood.

Figures of speech are so common in our conversation that we use them daily, rarely being conscious of them. Figures of speech are poetic references that use different methods of comparing two or more things so that we can understand one or the other better. It's the greatest way of teaching other than by example.

Free English Lesson

The two most common figures of speech are the simile and the metaphor.

A simile (SIM-uh-lee) is a comparison of two unlike objects using the word like or as. A metaphor (MET-uh-for) compares two unlike objects without using like or as.

A couple of quick examples: "A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine," is a simile you've probably heard from Florida. However, if I were to say, "Orange juice is liquid sunshine," then I have cleverly used a metaphor instead. Each of these figures of speech finds something about orange juice that is like sunshine and makes a comparison of that single point.

The two next most common figures of speech are similes and metaphors extended to make longer comparisons of several points of similarity. Let's take an example of each. "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." This is an "extended simile." Using "like" or "as," it draws attention to several points of similarity between a hidden treasure and the kingdom. Both the treasure and the kingdom are valuable, both are worth going to some trouble to obtain. Scripture calls this extended simile a "parable."

"I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit...I am the vine and you are the branches," come from John 15, and is an extended metaphor, called an allegory. (There is an excellent example in Gal. 4:21-31.) Several points of similarity between Jesus and the disciples and a vine and branches are pointed out, omitting like or as.

What Jesus Used

In these four figures of speech, we can find most of Jesus' teaching. Some say that makes Him hard or impossible to understand. That was not accidental. In Luke 8, He said that he spoke in parables (and by implication, other figures of speech) so that the disciples could understand but that his meanings would be masked from others.

We need to be careful as we study these figures of speech to make the comparisons that inspired writers and Jesus made and those comparisons only! When we start stretching them to include other points of comparison that God did not make, then we start to teach error.

Confusing Mixtures
Say "What?"

We can also teach error unwittingly by mixing any figures of speech--not just metaphors.

Try these: A rolling stone is a penny earned!
                Let sleeping dogs gather no moss!

Simple, you say? How about "church member?" It seems to me this is the most often mixed metaphor I have heard during my years. It sounded all right to me until I went looking for it in scripture. Paul didn't say we are "members of the church." Then who did?

In teaching about the diversity of spiritual gifts and their functions, in I Cor. 12, Paul compares the gifts to each one in a figure of speech (either a simile or a parable--he uses "as" in v. 12) to the functions of various body parts. In verses 12, 14, 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, 26, 27 he refers to individual people as "members of the body." Today, our common expression would be "body parts," or "parts of the body."

Christians are not really body parts, are they? No, but metaphorically, we can understand our interrelationships with Christ (the head) and with each other (other parts) better when we make this comparison. A "body part" is what the word "member" means in this figure.

Now the assembly (ekklesia) is a whole 'nother thing altogether. An "assembly" is another figure of speech. Jesus used it to make a comparison (Mt. 16:18) between the people He would establish and an ordinary assembly of people. Christians are not really an assembly, are they? No more than I am a big toe and you are an ear!

Jesus used the everyday, ordinary word for "assembly" and taught us that His followers were going to be like a group of people who come together (assemble) in some place for a specific purpose. The fact that "assembly" is a figure of speech is what allows Luke to speak with a straight face about the "scattered assembly" in Acts 8:1. (When you think about that one, it must be a figure of speech, because in reality it could not exist. It's a little like "jumbo shrimp," "fast food," "Federal Budget," or, as ex-soldiers sometimes say, "Army Intelligence.")

I've heard very intelligent men in the past try to explain the "assembly assembled" and the "assembly unassembled." Never could understand it until I realized that "assembly of Christ" is an excellent figure of speech.

There are others.

Vine and branches Jn. 15
The Way--Acts 24:14
(Spiritually) Circumcised Jew--Rom. 2:29; 3:30; 4:12
Descendants of Abraham--Rom. 4
Those who have been crucified, died, been buried and raised from the dead with Jesus--Rom. 6:3-5
Dead (to sin), yet alive (to Christ)--Rom. 6:11
Slaves of Righteousness/Slaves of God--Rom. 6:15-23
Free in Christ Jesus Rom. 8:1-3
Walk following the Spirit--Rom. 8:4
God's Children/Sons/Heirs--Rom. 8:12-25
Grafted Olive Branches--Rom. 11
Members/Parts of Body--Rom. 12, I Cor. 12; Eph. 4:16
Assembly of God--1 Cor. 1:2
Spiritual men/Babes in Christ--1 Cor. 3
Plants, planted and watered and fruitful--1 Cor. 3:5-9
Fellow-workers with God
God's field--1 Cor. 3:9
God's building--1 Cor. 3:9-15
God's Temple--1 Cor. 3:16, 17
Servants of Christ--1 Cor. 4:1
Stewards-1 Cor. 4:1
Kingdom of God--1 Cor. 4:20
Lump of dough--1 Cor. 5:6-8
Members of Christ--1 Cor. 6:14-20
Temple of Holy Spirit--1 Cor. 6:19
Racers/runners--1 Cor. 9:24-27
An assembly/with factions--1 Cor. 11:17-22
Members of a body--1 Cor. 12:12-31
Babies/Mature people in Christ--1 Cor. 14:20
A letter of Christ, written on human hearts--2 Cor. 3:3
New Creatures--2 Cor. 5:17
Farmers, sowing seed--2 Cor. 9:6-11
Soldiers at war--2 Cor. 10:3-6
Pure virgin, betrothed to Christ--2 Cor. 11:2
Children--2 Cor. 12:14
Sons/daughters of God--Gal. 3:26-28; Gal. 4
Abraham's descendents/heirs--Gal. 3:29
Adopted Sons--Eph. 1:5
Fellow-Citizens with Saints--Eph. 2:19
God's Family (household)--Eph. 2:19
Holy Temple Building--Eph. 2:20
Growing from Children to Maturity--Eph. 4:13-15
Light in the Lord--Eph. 5:8, 9
Assembly, Christ as Head Eph. 5:22-33
Soldiers, dressed for War--Eph. 6:10

Can you imagine trying to understand someone telling you that she is an adopted Soldier in the family of God; a letter from Christ, written on the sure foundation; a pure virgin, sowing seed; a baby in the race toward heaven; a light of the descendants of Abraham; a stone in the family of God; a lump in the kingdom of God; a citizen planted and watered in God's field; a nose in the assembly of God; or dead in the family of God (can you mix some more?)?

This is how much sense it makes to tell someone you are a "member of the assembly (the church)," or ask, "which assembly (church) are you a member of?." Remember, "member" means "body part." Does it make sense to you anymore to tell someone, "I'm a leg in the assembly (church) over at Westside." Or, "Which assembly (church) are you a nose of?."

See what I mean?

It seems to me we ought to learn what we are, and then talk about ourselves that way, accurately. What happens is that we mix our figures of speech and either 1) no one has the foggiest idea what we're talking about, or 2) they get the wrong message from us about what we mean, or 3) we haven't the foggiest idea what we're talking about.

From now on I'm going to try to keep my figures of speech straight, because I just don't want to be thought of as a wart on the nose of the virgin bride of Jesus' assembly in the footrace of the Army of God - "a member of the church."