Works of the Flesh (Part 3)

This is the third in a series of blogs on the works of the flesh, all of this with a purpose of contrasting them with the fruit of the Spirit and emphasizing how damaging the works of the flesh can be not just in general Christian life, but especially with the exercise of the charismata.

Violations of Brotherly Love

Several works of the flesh violate the command to love your neighbor as yourself. In particular, they drive violations of the sixth, eighth, and tenth commandments—and possibly the ninth. So hostility, quarreling, and outbursts of anger are attitudes that lead on to murder. Jealousy, selfish ambition, and envy are attitudes that flow out of covetousness, and often these attitudes motivate false witness. The Message reflects on what a mess this produces:

… paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. (Gal 5:20–21)

Louis Martyn breaks it down this way:

… one can deify one’s own opinion and person, with the result that one harbors irreconcilable hatred, strife, rage, and jealousy toward persons of other opinions (echthrai, eris, zêlos, thymos). Or financial prowess and uncontrolled ambition (eritheiai) can become one’s highest good, producing a condescending attitude toward others. Or several people can escalate differences of opinion into dissensions and divisive cliques (dichostasiai, haireseis). Or one can embody a form of envious narcissism that is able only grudgingly to enter into the celebration of a neighbor’s good fortune (phthonos).1J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 497.

Hostility

Nature of Hostility

Hostility (ἔχθρα/echthra) refers to what can be the hatred between bitter enemies like Herod and Pilate had been (Luke 23:12), the antagonism that shuts off fellowship within the body of Christ (Eph 2:14–22), or even hostility to God himself and to his ways (Rom 8:7). And that hostility leads on to a preference for the flesh and the world (Jas 4:4).

Reflection

Hostility vis-a-vis the Charismata

Father, I pray that you would remove hostility from my heart
Here I’m tempted to pass on with a “no comment necessary,” given what Paul says about the necessary catalyst of love for the gifts to edify (1 Cor 13:1–7)—it’s that obvious. But think of how many ways a loveless exercise of the charismata can misfire. The speaking gifts can end up judgmental; they might even clothe anger and hatred under a counterfeit knockoff of the prophet’s hairy coat. And even the serving gifts can mutate from healthy helpful acts to behavior that fosters inappropriately dependent relationship, to leadership and administration that is manipulative and even tyrannical, and to charismatic sideshows barking a slightly churchy version of “Step right up! Come see the greatest show on earth!”

A prayer against a hostile nature…

Father, I pray that you would remove hostility from my heart, hateful acts from my repertoire, and my guilt from your eternal record. Bless me with eyes that look on those around me with your own love, including the ability to forgive those who trespass against me, to weep with those who lament, and to laugh and rejoice with those who enjoy your rich blessing on their lives.

And for the unloving and the unloved, I pray that you would do a marvelous work of healing. Teach the hateful your loving way, comfort the unloved with tender care and nurture. And guide both the unloving and the unloved into healthy relationships at every level of life.

I ask this Jesus’s name. Amen.

Quarreling

Nature of Quarreling

The term ἔρις/eris is variously translated with nouns like “strife” (NASB, NET, NRSV), “discord” (NIV), or “quarreling” (NLT) or even with the verbal phrase “they are hard to get along with” (CEV). Paul lamented that some people even preach and teach this way (Phil 1:15)—and that leads us to suppose that some will exercise the other charismata in that mode.

Reflection

Any so-called “spiritual person” who’s hard to get along with ought to remember that it’s the mocker (Prov 22:20), the gossip (Prov 17:4; 26:20), and hot-tempered person (Prov 15:18) that starts quarrels and fights. And all of the above characterize the fool in the book of Proverbs. So you may sound off with the gifts, but it’s all noisy gongs and clanging cymbals (1 Cor 13:1), a showy exhibition but a no-show on edification.

Quarreling vis-a-vis the Charismata

And if fasting does no good “when you keep on fighting and quarreling” (Isa 58:44), wouldn’t you imagine the same would be said of using the charismata while you keep on quarreling? The Lord says, “This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me” (v. 4); and the same would be true of the charismata. Indeed, Jesus’s even more pointed warning is something would-be charismatics should note:

“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh”—and that includes when you’re exercising speaking gifts

Not everyone who calls out to me, “Lord! Lord!” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, “Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.” But I will reply, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.” (Matt 7:21–23)

Quarreling Couple (anonymous)

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; what you say flows from what’s in your heart (Matt 12:34; Luke 6:45). That drives even general conversation, but it takes on ominous weight in pulpits and in the voice of the church’s teaching ministry. Like hostility, its outward manifestation in strife will work its poison into any speaking and serving gift. In the pulpit, the hater will try to cover his most extreme pronunciations under “the anointing”; and in the pew, the hater will whisper gossip, complain, and murmur. Learn from Paul’s directions to Timothy:

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. (2 Tim 2:23–25)

And what about how quarreling might infect the serving gifts? The church’s administration and leadership would descend into chaotic bickering, the works of mercy could be used like bargaining chips, and the clincher to any argument would be a healing or miracle, bona fide or not—nothing like a little lying wonder to bolster your side of a losing argument. And failing that, it would at least set off a round of argument for and against your charismatic prowess.

A prayer against a quarrelsome spirit…

Father, keep me from becoming a short-tempered person who starts fights; rather, make me a long-tempered person who suck the oxygen out of the air around a quarrel. Shut my mouth when gossip surfaces and deafen my ear when senseless controversies arise. You describe the peacemaker as blessed (Matt 5:9) and condemn peoples whose tongue catches fire with the flames of hell (Jas 3:6). Lead me not into this species of temptation, but deliver me from evil.

Whether it’s in the church’s meetings, or on Facebook and Twitter, inoculate me against a quarrelsome spirit, both as a carrier and as its victim.

In Jesus’ name, amen.

Jealousy

Nature of Jealousy

To this, the Spirit would say, ‘Mamma, this ain’t right.’

Jealousy (ζῆλος/zēlos) is the spirit that wants what belongs to another, whether it’s material wealth, social status, or even another man’s wife or house. It’s always rooted in ingratitude and always leads to coveting. Timothy George makes this striking judgment: “To envy what someone else has is to fling one’s own gifts before God in unthankful rebellion and spite.”2Timothy George, Galatians, NAC (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 395. So it’s not just a sin against your neighbor, it’s a sin against God himself.

Reflection

When another member exercises a speaking gift that we think of as ours, we should take a deep breath and be ready to say the ‘Amen!’
Jealousy vis-a-vis the Charismata

When I was a boy, I can remember an old farm wife who did most all of the interpretation of tongues in our church. No harm. No foul. But in one midweek service—when she was away I think—someone else put on the mantle. When she learned about it, she was miffed enough that she stayed away from church for a few services, until her quiet husband told her, “Mamma, this ain’t right.”

"Jealousy," by Munch
“Jealousy,” by Edvard Munch (2017)
Open Commons License

When jealousy of the corrosive rather than protective sort works its way into the fabric of the church, things go wrong. Even things that are supposed to unite and edify us divide and even tear down good works. To that, the Spirit would say, “Mamma, this ain’t right.”

When another member exercises a speaking gift that we think of as ours, we should take a deep breath and be ready to say the “Amen!” When another exercises a serving gift that we think of as ours, we should echo the sentiments of Moses rather than Joshua. When Joshua said, “Moses, my master, make them stop!” Moses responded, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets” (Num 11:25–29). And that same principle should lead the leader to wish that God would raised up a whole cadre of leadership, the deacon to wish for many colleagues, the giver to wish one day to find that others are out-giving him, and so forth.

A prayer against a jealous spirit…

Father, protect me from corrosive jealousy that can eat away at my own heart, poison the lives of my family and friends, and make even the charismata to mutate and sow discord rather than unity, to reflect the works of the flesh rather than the fruit of the Spirit. I pray that you would keep me from nursing jealousy, let alone from making someone else suffer under the lash of a jealous outburst or my jealous mumbling.

I pray this in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Q&A—Comments

  1. Have you seen occasions where a violation of brotherly love has ruined the exercise of charismata?
  2. Do you think of yourself as a “long-tempered” Christian?
  3. How do you think a church should go about assuring that the charismata are exercised in a loving way that edifies the church?

Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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