An Explanation of Jim Elliot’s Famous Quote

Jim Elliot quote @ Unreached by the Frost

I’m going to be super honest here.  I’ve grown up in the church, and I’ve seen this famous quote from Jim Elliot a lot.  When I heard it, I always smiled and nodded like it’s a great quote from a great person.

Truth is, I had no idea what Elliot was saying.  It was like reading “English” from the original Beowulf.  No. Comprendo.

Let me share a short story.  A good friend of mine sends Scripture emails every weekday.  Recently, she’s added a Christian quote to every email.  A couple of weeks ago (on my birthday actually) I received the daily email.  This one had James 1:12 and this Jim Elliot quote written.  My friend also wrote in the email that she had had to read it a few times to understand it.

So, I followed her example.  I sat there and read the statement a few times.  Eventually, my brain processed it correctly!  I get it now!

And now, I shall share my newly-discovered understanding with you.

You must break it down, phrase by phrase.  First, “He is no fool“.  He’s not a fool. Okay, but why isn’t he a fool?

Because, he gives up (who gives up), he surrenders, he relinquishes.  What does he give up?

What he cannot keep!  It’s like if my sister gave me a banana peel.  I can’t keep it, else it’d make me smell weird, so I throw it away.  I gave up what I can’t keep.  Here, Elliot is talking about our life on earth.  We can’t keep it (we’ll all die eventually) so we’re foolish to try to keep it to ourselves.

To gain. So he gives up what can’t keep to gain something.  What will he receive?

What he cannot lose, something that shall never be lost!  Everlasting life!  Freedom in Christ!  A relationship with the Creator of the universe!

In conclusion, it really is a great quote from a great person.  Jim Elliot, along with four other courageous missionaries, gave their lives trying to reach a remote Ecuadorian tribe with the gospel.  Now I can say it’s a great quote with full honesty, and you can, too.

Is there another Christian quote that’s been around for a long time that you’re having trouble comprehending?  Answer in the comments!  It might just be another blog post.


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