In the Star Trek movie, First Contact, one scene plays upon the contentious relationship between two of the regular characters, Worf and Riker. Worf, in command of the Defiant, a powerful, state-of-the-art warship that is a fraction of the size of the iconic Enterprise, beams on board Enterprise. Riker greets him with a taunting smile and delivers a back-handed compliment. “Tough little ship,” he says.
Worf replies with a scowl, “What do you mean little?”
The word “by” is a tough, little word. It is powerful. When unpacked, it is found to mean:
- Identifying the agent performing an action.
- The means by which something is achieved.
- To go past or along.
This word, by, is perhaps the crux of today’s devotional, which is built around Galatians 5:16. If we don’t properly understand its meaning, we miss the point entirely.
Let’s take a look at the verse from the ESV:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
I have read that verse many times and, until recently, never gave it proper consideration.
My first thoughts are of a walk in a dark forest and being led by a beam of sunlight filtered through the canopy. That is not right, for that indicates that while I am walking, that light guides me. While that may be a nice thought, it is not, in this case, correct. It is more than guidance.
To understand the word by, we must take a look at the Greek word that is translated in to the English word. The word by is added to the translation to account for a variant of the word pneuma. That word is Greek for spirit, which -in this verse – means Spirit of God.
The word as found in this verse is pneumati, the ending indicates it is connected to another object or person; here the Spirit is connected to the one walking. The question is, how is the Spirit connected to the walker.
By example, we see the same word used in a few different ways:
Matthew 5:3 “poor in spirit…”
Mark 1:8 “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…”
Ephesians 1:13 “sealed by the Spirit.”
Throughout the New Testament, we see that the first two English variations of the word, by, apply most often: the acting agent or the means by which action is taken. It is also fair to say that the word can also mean, “along side” or “together with.”
So let’s take a look at the Galatians 5:16 again with a better understanding of those definitions:
But I say, the Spirit is walking for you and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
But I say, allow the Spirit to power your walk, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
But I say, walk alongside the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
But I say, walk together with the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Any one of these alternative definitions give us a more complete understanding of holiness. It may only be achieved through the might of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.