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Greek Word Study - Pre-Eminent

Pisistratus would have made a great presidential candidate. He was “extremely smooth and engaging in his language” and “a great friend to the poor.” In fact, the great lawgiver Solon said if anyone could just banish the “passion for pre-eminence” from the mind of Pisistratus, no one would be a more virtuous man or more excellent citizen. He became tyrant of Athens in 561 B.C., but was driven from power five years later because of his one fatal flaw: the “passion for pre-eminence.”

In the next century Athens saw another political star shoot across the sky. Young Alcibiades, raised by Pericles and taught by Socrates, had one prevailing drive in his character: “passion for pre-eminence.” History records his important role in the conflict between Athens and Sparta, but though he was “outstandingly able as a politician,” his people twice rejected him because of his personal ambition.

Plutarch, who wrote at the end of the 1st Century A.D., described both these men as having the same fatal flaw: “passion for pre-eminence.” It was at this very time that John used the same terminology to describe Diotrephes, a congregational leader who “loves to be first” (3 John 9). The Greek word for all three men is philoproteuo (fil oh prot YOU oh). It is made up of two simple elements: philo for love, and proteuo for being first. It describes the kind of self-aggrandizement that lives by the ancient (?) motto, “He that tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.” Jesus said that in His kingdom those who promote their own cause and want to be first will instead be last. But not everyone listens to Jesus.