Dangerous Works of the Flesh

By Mike Willis

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditious, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as! have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:t9-21).

In this list of the works of the flesh, there are various categories of sin: (I) Sins of lust: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness; (2) Sins of religion: idolatry, witchcraft; (3) Sins of brotherly love: hatred, variance, emulations! wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders; (4)Sins of intemperance: drunkenness, revellings. Profitable study can be gained from a consideration of any of these works of the flesh. However, the section on violations of brotherly love seems most appropriate for this time. Some imply that we need to have more get togethers to be drawn closer together. While there is an element of truth in this, the base line is that we need to remove the sins of the flesh to have the kind of brotherly love commanded by Christ. Please consider what each of the following violations of brotherly love involves.

1. Hatred (echthrai), The Greek word for enemy” is echthros. The word for hatred (echthrai) is from the same word group as the word for enemy. One has enmity or hatred in his heart toward his brother when he looks on him as his enemy. The word echthra is the precise opposite of agape (love). William Barclay explained, “Agape, love, the supreme Christian virtue, is that attitude of mind which will never allow itself to be bitter to any man, and which will never seek anything but the highest good of others, no matter what the attitude of others be to it. Echthra is the attitude of mind and heart which puts up the harriers and which draws the sword; agape is the attitude of heart and mind which widens the circle and holds out the hand of friendship and opens the arms of love. The one is the work of the flesh; the other is the fruit of the Spirit” (The Works of the Flesh 42).

When we look upon any brother as our enemy, there is an absence brotherly love. We are exhibiting the works of the flesh every time that hatred shows itself in words or in deeds.

2. Variance (ens). The word ens is translated in the various versions by such words as the following: “strife,” “a contentious temper,” dissension,” “disputing,” “quarrelling.” Hatred and variance are related to each other. Echthra (hatred, enmity) is a state and attitude of mind towards other people; ens (variance, stnfe) is the outcome in actual life of that state of mind. Arndt and Gingrich define ens as “strife, discord, contention” (309).

We should understand what “discord” is by considering its opposite: harmony. The sweet, melodious sounds of music are created by voices blending together. Discord is voices in conflict with each other. Whatever the issue is, we should work to find the path of peace. Paul wrote, If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18). Those who manifest the fruit of the Spirit search, not for their own way in conflict with the will of others, but for the path of peace. To the degree that there is self-willed pressing for ones own way, the Devil is ruling in ones heart.

Those who rise in holy hatred of fornication, adultery, lasciviousness, drunkenness, and revelry can sit in peaceful silence when a congregation is torn apart by strife, contentious tempers, disputing, and quarreling. My Bible says that God calls all of them the same thing: works of the flesh or sin.

3 and 4. Emulations (zelos) and envying (phthonos). The word zelos is one of those words which can be used to describe both a fruit of the Spirit or a work of the flesh. depending on what its object is. It is the Greek word from which the English word “zeal” is derived. One can have either a holy or unholy kind of zeal. When used in its ugly sense, zelos refers to that unholy competition for first place among brethren. This is the spirit of heart which casts ugly looks when a person excels in some ability or accomplishment. This word is closely akin to the word envying.”

Phthonos (envying) is translated by some texts as “rivalry.” This spirit is more malignant than emulations. When envying has degenerated it manifests itself in hostile deeds. It experiences pain at anothers good. Barclay explains that “this pain springs not from the fact that the beholder does not possess the fine thing; it springs from the fact that the other person does. The man who has phthonos in his heart is not fired with noble ambition; he is simply embittered at the sight of someone else possessing what he has not got, and he would do his utmost, not to possess the thing, but to prevent the other person from possessing it”(47).

He continued, “Maybe it is true to say that there is no better test of a man than his reaction to the greatness and to the success of someone else. If it moves him to the zelos which is noble ambition to goodness, that is the work of the Spirit, but, if it moves him to a bitter and envious resentment, that is the work of the flesh, and what ought to be a spur to goodness has become a persuasion to sin” (49).

These sinful attitudes can only be rooted out by repentance. All of the time we spend together, all the wonderful pies that we eat, and games that we play will not remove one sin from our lives. (This is not said to minimize the Bible virtue of hospitality which is commanded of God. Rather, it is to emphasize that sin can only be removed by repentance and forgiveness.)

5. Wrath. The word thumos is translated by other versions as “anger” fits of rage,” “temper,” outbursts of passion,” and bad temper.” The word describes the kind of anger which tends to explode. The Greeks said that thumos was like fire in straw, quickly blazing up and just as quickly burning itself out.” Barclay concluded, Thumos is, therefore, not long cherished anger; it is the blaze of temper which flares into violent words and death, and just as quickly dies” (52). He then added,

Many a person is well aware that he has a violent temper; and many a person claims that he cannot help it, and expects others to accept and to forgive his bursts of passion. The NT is quite clear that such displays of anger are sinful manifestations that a man is still in the grip of his own lower nature. It may well be that such a person is never fully aware of the way in which he wounds others and produces a situation in which fellowship becomes very difficult. Because he blazes and forgets he thinks that others should equally be able to forget the pain he has inflicted. Let such a person remember that such displays of temper are sin, and that the way to overcome them is through the power of the Spirit in his heart (53).

6. Strife. The word eritheia is translated by other translations with such words as factions,” selfishness,” selfish ambition, and “rivalry.” In other passages, the word eritheic, is translated contention.” The word eritheia is derived from a word root which meant “working for hire.” There is not a very great step between working for pay and working only for pay, working for no other motive than to see how much one can make.

In Grecian politics, the word was used to describe “the action of a man whose sole motive is either party or personal ambition, and who does not seek office with the high desire to serve the state and the community and his fellowmen, but who only seeks to gratify his personal ambition, his personal desire for power, or the exaltation of a party in competition with other parties and not for the good of the state. The word describes the attitude of a man who is in public service for what he can get out of it, only this time the motive is not so much material or financial gain as it is personal prestige and power” (54).

Sometimes churches are troubled by men with selfish ambition who are bent on getting their way at all costs. Men with the spirit of Diotrephes, who love to have the preeminence (3 John 9), trouble churches. When men start pressing for their own way, they create factions groups which support their position  invariably in opposition to other factions opposed to that position. When this kind of strife appears in a local church, the works of the flesh are manifest.

7.Sedition. The word dichostasia is also translated “divisions,” “dissension.” The word “denotes a state of things in which men are divided, in which feuds flourish, and in which unity is destroyed” (56). The state described by dichostasia is one step beyond that described by eritheia (strife). The partisan rivalry has rallied the congregation into distinctive groups. While a formal split has not yet occurred, the two groups are identifiable. This is the situation when dichostasia has occurred. When this has happened, the works of the flesh are in progress. Action must be taken to remove the sin for true, biblical unity to be restored. Repentance must remove the party rivalry which develops. Unyielding wills must become flexible. Brethren must begin addressing not, “my way versus “your way,” but “What course of action can we pursue which has unanimous support?” If this does not happen, soon the next step of division will occur.

8. Heresies. The English word heresy” is a transliteration of hairesis. When heresies come, the informal division has become a formal split. The two groups no longer can peacefully co-exist; they have chosen to go their separate ways. From one united group two groups are formed. Sometimes this happens over differences in conviction of a doctrinal nature. When two groups differ over what the Bible teaches, the differences may lead to no other alternative except unity in error or division. In this case, division must come. Paul spoke of this situation when he said, For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manliest among you” (1 Cor. II: 19). However, when there are no doctrinal issues at stake and such divisions come, someone has been guilty of

¬†Through the years, I have received a number of notices of “new congregations established” which should have said, “The brethren at _________ congregation could not get along with one another any longer. There were men on both sides with selfish ambition who created strife, division, and finally a formal split. We are happy to announce that the group which left the other group is meeting at _________ Where this spirit exists, the devil rules in the congregation, for the works of the flesh are growing in place of the fruit of the Spirit. May God deliver us from these sins.

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 20, p. 2
October 21, 1993