How to Be Hilarious
by Pastor George Van Alstine
Our English word “hilarious” comes directly from a similar word that is identical in Greek and Latin—hilaros. It describes a kind of joyful feeling that lifts a person’s spirit and creates a sense of freedom and lightness.
This word is used only two times in the Bible, both in the letters of Paul. In each of these teaching passages, Paul is referring to Christian service activities that we might be inclined to do grudgingly, or at least unenthusiastically. Instead, says the apostle, we should make a conscious effort to do them in the spirit of hilaros, with joyful abandon.
The first passage is in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, where he is encouraging believers to put into action whatever gifts God has given them:
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. (Romans 12:8)
He’s saying, it’s not enough to have a gift; the important thing is to use it., and to use it in a positive , aggressive way. In the case of the gift of “compassion,” it should be done in a light-hearted, joyful way. Other translations describe this gift as “showing mercy,” “doing deeds of charity,” “helping people in need.” So if we serve at the Bad Weather Shelter, give a dollar to a person looking for a handout, or take in a teenager whose parents have thrown him out, we shouldn’t do it with a sigh, or with gritted teeth, or with a feeling of resentment for the intrusion. We should be hilarious about it.
The other passage is about giving our money to the work of the Lord. Paul teaches the Corinthian believers how to have the right attitude in their stewardship:
Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
We’ve probably all heard this saying, “God loves a cheerful giver,” but it is usually applied in a rather anemic way, meaning, “God doesn’t want you to grumble and complain about the money you put in the offering plate.” Actually, the word hilaros goes beyond this. We’re supposed to be downright jubilant that we have an opportunity to show God our appreciation for this tangible way to say Thank You to him. God really loves a hilarious giver, one who laughs all the way to the bank to draw out every penny of his savings to give to God’s work.
Isn’t that hilarious?
One other interesting linguistic connection: The English word exhilaration comes from the same Greek/Latin root. Is your Christian life kind of humdrum and uneventful? Want to put some spice in it? Want to experience some genuine exhilaration? Try a little hilarious service to others, or some new level of hilarious giving?