Works of the Flesh: Strife

Let us continue our study and turn our attention to the work of the flesh deemed as “strife” by Paul in Galatians 5:19-20:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties…

The word translated as “strife” is the Greek word eris, defined by Thayer as “contention, strife, wrangling;” the Greeks even gave this name to one of their goddesses, Eris, who was known for causing controversy and dissension.

This word is also used to denote “strife” in Romans 13:13, 1 Corinthians 3:3, Philippians 1:15, 1 Timothy 6:3-4, and as “contentions” in 1 Corinthians 1:11:

Let us walk becomingly, as in the day; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy.

For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal, and do ye not walk after the manner of men?

Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will.

If any man teacheth a different doctrine, and consenteth not to sound words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is puffed up, knowing nothing, but doting about questionings and disputes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings…

For it hath been signified unto me concerning you, my brethren, by them that are of the household of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

The term may also be found referring to the strife of the Gentiles in their depravity (Romans 1:29), concerning the Corinthians again in 2 Corinthians 12:20, and referring to the result of discussion of various Jewish traditions in Titus 3:9. We may see from these passages and those quoted above that “strife” is a characteristic that is of a carnal, or earthly, mind, not of soberness, and a mark for one who teaches falsely or preaches Christ from impure motives.

So the Scriptures have described the term; we may see in English that it might be defined by the following three concepts in Webster’s:

1. Exertion or contention for superiority; contest of emulation, either by intellectual or physical efforts.
2. Contention in anger or enmity; contest; struggle for victory; quarrel or war.
3. Opposition; contrariety; contrast.

We may see from these definitions that a main characteristic of strife is the desire for superiority and the willingness to fight for that superiority. How can this type of attitude be reconciled in a Christian who ought to heed his Lord in John 13:12-17 and Luke 18:14b?

So when he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and sat down again, He said unto them, “Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me, ‘Teacher,’ and, ‘Lord:’ and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, a servant is not greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them.

…for every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

The Christian ought to be a person known for a humble attitude, counting everyone else more worthy than himself; the idea of fighting for superiority would be foreign to such a one. Yet even in the first century there were persons causing this type of strife, as we might see in Diotrephes in 3 John 1:9-10:

I wrote somewhat unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Therefore, if I come, I will bring to remembrance his works which he doeth, prating against us with wicked words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and them that would he forbiddeth and casteth them out of the church.

We may also receive an indication from Paul’s statements in 2 Corinthians 3:1 and 2 Corinthians 11-13 that those who were causing strife in Corinth were doing so by attempting to show their own superiority over the person and message of Paul. This type of conceit and arrogance is a mark for a false teacher, as Paul explained above in 1 Timothy 6:3-4, and members of the Lord’s church would be well-served to note when some among them begin to act in this manner so that the Gospel might remain pure with them.

Nevertheless, we see from the definitions provided that a person causing strife does not necessarily need to be vying for superiority. They may simply be causing strife because they do not know better or because they enjoy doing it. We see in Romans 14 that strife was caused in the church at Rome because the brethren there did not recognize the concept of liberty in the eating of meat. We have seen above from Romans 1 and other passages that there are some people who, because of the depravity of their mind, enjoy causing contentions and strife. This is a strong indicator of a carnal mind, and the Christian must avoid these types of people so as to not cast their pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6).

We may look around us in the world today and see plenty of contentions and strife, yet let us strive to avoid strife as much as we are able. The Christian is to be a humble person, known for a desire for being peaceable. While the preaching of the Gospel will inevitably lead to some arguments, the Christian is called to handle this with dignity and respect and not allow himself to be brought down to ad hominem and derogatory arguments. There is no need for strife to ever be caused by a Christian, especially not within the household of faith. Please examine the Scriptures and message provided here and then examine your own practices: could you be a person known for causing strife? Possibly with unbelievers? Or with those within the faith? Think about these things and work diligently to be a person of humility and peace, not of contention and strife.

Let us always remember that strife is carnal, and we have a higher calling. We must act accordingly.


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