In ancient times money often took the form of tiny bits of gold or silver, which a man poured out and weighed in a simple scale. On one side of the scale he put a weight of known value, and on the other side he put enough gold or silver to bring the scales into balance. The amount necessary to achieve this balance was called axios (AHX ee oss). It meant “weighing as much; of like value; worth as much as.”
In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, for instance, this word was used when Abraham bought Sarah a burial plot “for the full price” of 400 shekels of silver (Gen 23:9-16). The word was used again when David paid “the full price” of 600 shekels for a piece of ground where he built an altar to the Lord (1 Chron 21:22-24). In Proverbs 3: 15 this word places wisdom on one side of the scales and declares that “nothing you desire can compare with her.”
Out of this idea of “a corresponding weight or worth” comes the New Testament word “worthy.” John the Baptist demanded fruit “worthy of repentance,” that is, a changed life that measures up to the changed mind (Matt 3:8). Jesus said that the laborer's work is worth his pay (Matt 10:10), and that evil actions are worth their punishment (Luke 12:48). In each of these examples there is a sense of balance—things are in proportion.
But sometimes things do not balance. The prodigal son knew that he was not worthy to be called a son (Luke 15: 19). The wedding guests who refused to attend were not worthy of their invitation (Matt 22:8). And deep down in our hearts we ourselves may suspect a terrible truth: we are not worthy of God's kingdom.
The good news is that God will count us worthy anyway! (Can this be right? How can God consider us worthy when we know we are not?) Because we are cleansed by the blood of Christ and we persevere in our faith, God concludes that we belong in the kingdom. As Paul told the believers in Thessalonica, “God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God” (2 Thess 1:5).