Yes, I knew that word would get your attention! I came upon it while preparing to preach this week on the Apostle John’s second letter.
To repristinate means: To restore to the original condition or position; to revive; to renew. Something that we might do with the paintwork of our house or with piece of art that has become grimy over the years. A few coats of paint make a house look in pristine condition and a restoration job on a piece of art reveals its original vibrant colours.
To repristinate words means to return them to their original factory settings. The problem with some words is that they get stuck in no-man’s land. The meaning has been cut off from its original meaning and its present usage has been blunted or distorted by overuse or improper use.
The words that the Bible commentator Howard Marshall suggests need repristinating in 2 John are the words “truth” and “love,” both of which are used five times each in a letter of thirteen verses. Truth and love are both really good words. They are central to our understanding of the Christian faith, but the words have been allowed to lose their distinctive impact.
Is there a way of giving fresh life to these valuable words?
What strikes me about the way that John uses them is that they work well together and are perhaps best understood in relationship with each other.
John talks about walking in truth and love. I get the image of a pair of shoes with the word ‘truth’ written on the back of one and the word ‘love’ written on the back of the other. Step by step, truth and love walking together supporting and harmonising with each other. This is not always the way we think about them.
Some people talk about truth in a cold way. It is almost as if they are hopping on one foot, the one with the shoe that has ‘truth’ written on it. Some truth-telling takes no hostages! Some talk about truth loses its sense of Christian charity. What has been forgotten is that truth needs to be communicated in the context of a relationship of faithful love. It is not primarily about getting my point across, putting people right or fighting for the cause. Truth is the currency we use when we don’t want language to be devalued.
Some people speak of love in a sentimental way. Again, it is as if they are hopping on one foot, the one with the shoe that has ‘love’ written on it. Some talk about love loses its Christian clarity. What has been forgotten is that love is best communicated in a community that is committed to truth. At times we have to stand up and be counted, take painful decisions, and even speak words that could potentially offend others. Love is the choice we make to suffer loss in the service of God and others.
It is in grasping the interdependent relationship between truth and love that we begin to see their true colours. Perhaps this is what Paul had in mind when he encourages to Ephesian Christians to engage in “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
Now if there was a biblical phrase that needed repristinating; this is it!
This is a phrase that can mask cruel words delivered by a smiling assassin. Yet if we do a factory reset on them, they help those who speak to honour all the contours of both truth and love.
One of the things I like about the Apostle John in his letters his ability to combine breath-taking tenderness with penetrating honesty.