Can you turn a phrase? Have you ever added your contribution to the “roses are red” collection of sentiments? Has your inadvertent rhyme elicited the “poet and didn’t know it” response? Poetic pro, or not… most of us have at least some appreciation for artistic beauty.

Art brushesBeing a songwriter myself, I consider poets to be my artistic kin, even though I am not sure I fit entirely within their ranks. Yet I do understand that human creativity, however it is expressed, reflects that same quality originating within the Creator: our capacity to build and shape and design comes from the One who did the very same in order for us to even be here.

But did you know you are God’s poem?

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (niv). Another translation says, “For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (nrsv).

“God’s handiwork,” or “what God has made us,” are both great renderings of the original Greek term: a noun derived from the verb meaning “to make or do.” That Greek noun is poíēma, from which the English word “poem” developed. This word is rare in the New Testament, used only twice by Paul, here and in Romans 1:20, where he talks about God’s natural creation, also His “poem,” which is designed to demonstrate His character to all the world.

Why is this important? Well, the verb poiéō (“to make”) is actually used quite a bit in the New Testament (568 times), yet poíēma shows up only these two times. Greek verbs, with the right ending, can also be used as nouns. Let me give you an example in English: if I take the verb “to walk” and add “ing” to the end, I get the participle “walking.” Then if I add an article (“a,” “an,” or “the”) to the front, I get the makings of a noun. In English we have to add another word in order for it to make sense, but with this process I can take a verb (“to walk”) and turn it into a noun (“the walking one” or “the one who walks”). Now, several of the occurrences in the New Testament of the verb poiéō (“to make”) are in participle form. So why this special noun, poíēma?

Actually, the verb is fairly generic. It covers a lot of ground. But when it came to discussing these things which have been made, three words arose in Greek: poiētés, poíēsis, and poíēma. The first word focuses on the maker, or “poet.” The second describes the actual effort of making the creative work, and the third is, of course, the work (“poem”) itself.

poiētés Maker, “poet”
poíēsis Act of making
poíēma

That which has been made, “poem”

I think Paul, in Ephesians 2:10, is honing in on artwork of the artist, so that he can get his readers to then see their purpose. If we have been fashioned by an artist, we must ask, “Why?” And he tells us: we were made, in fact re-made through salvation in Christ, to do good works, which God prepared ahead of time… and I love the translation of the nrsv here: “to be our way of life.” This represents another beautiful Greek word here which has the sense of “walking around.” And we know that idiomatically, even in English, but particularly in ancient Biblical thinking, “the walk” represented “lifestyle.”

So what is the point of this language lesson? Sometimes there are precious nuggets buried beneath translation that are not easy to access, but are so rich and wonderful to study. But, primarily, we as artists need to see God in that light—he is the source of our art because he is the Artist… the Poet… the Sculptor… the Musician. We can benefit from that knowledge by following his example, but even more, we are told that we are actually the results of his artistic work—and we were made with purpose.

Respond

Set aside a few minutes and respond to these truths artistically. Write a poem, draw or paint, sing a song, sculpt with clay… do whatever lines up with the artistic expression that God has placed most dearly on your heart. Would you share with us your handiwork?

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