In the last couple of posts we’ve been looking at the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit as Paul lays them out in Galatians 5:19-23. The first two installments were about the sins of improper sexual expression and paganism; the next few “works” also have something in common, sins that destroy relationships.
Enmities—The Greek word came from the same word as “enemy” and could also be translated quarrels, hostility, feud, or being “at odds”. It is used in Rom. 8:7 in which Paul says that “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.” In Eph. 2:14,16 it is used for the “us vs. them” mentality between the Jew and Gentile. So, when we’re told that enmities are works of the flesh, it incorporates a wide range of sins like prejudice (racial, economic, nationalistic, or political), grudges, bitterness, and animosity. These things don’t belong in the Christian’s heart or life.
Strife—Enmity is the state of the heart towards others, but strife is the real-life conflict and fighting that comes out of that state of mind. Interestingly enough, although the Greeks viewed strife as destructive and undesirable, they considered it as one of the fundamental, essential, and indestructible forces of the world. And from a completely worldly point of view, they were probably right; none of mankind’s attempts to banish war, violence, and strife have succeeded. Christianity is the only way that peace will ever get a chance.
Jealousy and Envying—Jealousy is a word that can be used in both a good and bad way, but here as we talk about the works of the flesh, we’ll speak of its bad sense. Jealousy sees something that someone else has and seeks to get it for himself. Envying is actually found at the end of this portion of the list that deals with relationship sins, but it is put together with jealousy for a reason; because while similar, it is a step more evil than jealousy. Envy sees a good thing that someone else has, but only wishes to see it taken away. And it is jealousy and envy that have prompted many a feud, many a harsh word, and many an enmity.
Outburst of Anger—It is certainly true that one can be angry and not sin, but the anger that most of us have shown and experienced is this “outburst of anger” we see in this list , an emotional explosion, like when we said those awful words, made those regretted threats, and perhaps even laid hands on someone. To anyone who has reflected on their lives for even a moment, it is clear why it is sometimes called “getting mad” (we get out of control) and such wrath truly is a sin.
Disputes—This word is often translated “selfish ambition” in the NT. This word in the Greek language is one that emphasizes the sin of being more concerned with who is right than what is right. Putting self or party above the unity of the church, above truth, above Christ is the essence of the problems, for example, in Corinth—where there were tons of disputes. The center of the universe for the Christian needs to be Christ and His church, not “what’s in it for me”.
Dissensions—The word in Greek literally means to “stand apart”. The mental picture of the word is when a brother takes a step back, folds his arms, and turns his back; division. While there is a proper time and place for division (1 Cor. 11:19), it is a grave matter to “stand apart” without a sound Christ-like reason.
Factions—The word here is the same one from which we get “heresy”, a teaching or religious party that is different from apostolic, NT truth and the Lord’s church. The modern word denomination is just a nicer way of expressing the very concept that Paul is pointing to here in this work of the flesh.
I’m in the process currently of discussing the Bible with someone, who believes that the divisions of the religious world are due primarily to “interpretation”. The truth (from the Bible itself) is simpler; division is less a matter of intellectual interpretive inability and more about our fleshly weaknesses.
Beloved, abandon these and other works of the flesh and watch the church swell in true unity.