The Works of the Flesh which Destroy Relationships
The last group of the works of the flesh are those that destroy relationships with one another, and then by extension with our Lord and God. We cannot be at war with God and at peace with our neighbor. Our hearts will not accommodate love for God and hatred for neighbor. Indeed, our Lord goes one up saying that we must not only not hate but that we must love our neighbor.
And so these sins are ever so wicked and disruptive; they destroy fellowship and relationships bringing bitterness in their wake. They are not to be named among us in our relationships with pagans, much less among the brethren. And yet, these sins of the flesh are evident among God’s very people. Paul’s catalog includes: “Enmity” which may be defined as hostile acts against various individuals or groups, and includes intentions as well; “strife” could also be rendered “quarrelsomeness” and suggests a fighting spirit. The Greek word used here, Eris, was the goddess in Greek mythology who was responsible for planting the seed of the Trojan War. “Jealousy” includes resentment with the successes of another or the rewards that one has not received. The Greek word is zelos, from which we get our word “zeal.” In Scripture one can be jealous or zealous for something good and holy; that is not what we have here. “Fits of rage” indicates a loss of self-control or uncontrollable anger. Scripture always counsels prudence and deliberation. The Greek word behind “rivalries” comes from the world of commerce and can carry the idea of a mercenary spirit and selfish ambition. “Dissensions” and “divisions” speak to party spirit and the creation of factions. The Greek word behind “divisions” is haireseis from which we get our word, “heresy,” which literally means “to choose.” In this context, Paul means those who choose that which is not in accord with the apostolic teaching. Granted, division can happen as a result of teaching God’s word, and, indeed, often does. But such cannot be helped. There will always be those who reject God’s word, even in the Church. But division over party spirit and non-essentials is an expression of ambition and hurts fellowship. “Envy” begrudges the successes or possessions of others and thereby expresses discontent with what God has given oneself. Finally, “drunkenness” and “orgies,” or just plain “drunken orgies” speaks to excess leading to a lack of judgment and moral control thereby bringing censure (F. F. Bruce, NIGTC, 248-50).
Paul could have added more to his catalog and so he ended it with, “and things like these.” I suppose no “works of the flesh” list could ever be exhaustive. But what should grab our attention is, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” These are scary words, for we all can see ourselves in more than a few of those sins. It’s a good thing Paul preached salvation by faith leading up to this discussion. Still, those who name the name of Christ must live the name of Christ. And those who are reborn of the Spirit, though they are still carrying about them the sinful nature, should desire to grow in grace and indeed find such a new God-given desire. They want more of God and less of themselves. They agree with John the Baptist, “He must increase and I must decrease.” And remember what Owen said, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”