Works of the Flesh (Part 4)

Violations of love (cont.)

The previous blog covered the first three works of the flesh that violate the second great commandment. This turns to the next three: fits of rage, selfish ambition, and dissension.

Fits of Rage

I’m afraid some sermons I’ve heard were little more than ‘fits of rage’ with a Bible verse loosely attached.

Nature of Rage

The plural term θυμός/thymos refers to angry outbursts. Such fits of rage violate the law of love and cannot be excused as “my Irish temper,” let alone as “righteous indignation.” They have more to do with Satan’s ways (Rev 12:12) than anything like God’s wrath (Rev 14:10; 19:15). This rage doesn’t belong in the pulpit or pew, home or work site; it’s all devilish heat and no angelic light.

Reflection

Fits of rage vis-a-vis the Charismata

Fits of rage will have terrible effect on the church’s experience of the charismata. Their most marked effect would be in the public speaking gifts, but they could cause deep damage by perverting the helping gifts as well.

Speaking Gifts

I can remember a few instances in my long life as a Pentecostal where the speaking gifts were outbursts of human anger. Thankfully, they generally occurred where mature believers were able to respond with a word of correction—and I think private pastoral correction discouraged any repeat performance. I wish I could say the same about the furious, red-faced preaching and teaching that has sometimes marked the history of Pentecostalism. Indeed, I’m afraid some sermons I’ve heard were little more than “fits of rage” with a Bible verse loosely attached—or not. I can remember one of my colleagues earlier in my ministry expressing regret that there had been times in his past where “I poured out my spirit and anointed myself to really give it to them!”

Helping Gifts
“A Man in a Rage” (1789)

As for rage and the helping gifts, I speak first of the certainty that fits of rage will undermine any long-term effective ministry using the various helping gifts. Rage will always be like the sin crouching at Cain’s door, ready to undo the lasting effects of even your best efforts and sooner or later shutting you out from being allowed to get anywhere near the church’s work. A fit of anger is hardly likely to be encouraging, it’s pretty much impossible to see mercy finding its way through a fit of rage. And as for anyone leading in that mode—it hardly bears thinking.

A prayer against uncontrolled anger…

Father, I pray against uncontrolled anger, for the peaceable fruits of righteousness to flourish in my life, for peacemaking spirit to control how I lead, serve, contribute or do anything else that ‘s helpful. I also pray for anyone suffering under the lash of someone’s rage, especially if it’s someone in church leadership. Give them strength to endure what must be endured and the wisdom to deal with it in a redemptive way. Redeem the damaged victim of rage, heal the sick soul of the person who falls into rage when instead of walking in love.

Selfish Ambition

Nature of Selfish Ambition

What’s in it for me?
The term ἐριθεία/eritheia gets translated as “selfish ambition” (NLT, NIV) or “selfish rivalries” (NET), speaking of people promote themselves with no consideration for others. Their actions always have the question lurking, “What’s in it for me?” But God says “he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves” (Rom 2:8).

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

So James warns, “if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying…. wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind” (Jas 3:14, 16).

Reflection

Selfish ambition vis-a-vis the Charismata

Think of how incompatible selfish ambition is with the servant’s heart. It’s the very opposite of the spirit of Christ. Paul told the Philippians:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Phil 2:3–8)

A prayer against selfish ambition…

Father, I pray that you would nurture in me the spirit of Christ. Teach me to starve selfish ambition and nurture the servant gifts. To the degree that I tend toward selfish ambition, teach me to covet serving gifts and perhaps even be a bit leery of how my vanity might handle the visible speaking and leading gifts—any gift that tends to put me in the spotlight.

And Lord, wherever your church suffers the effects of selfish ambition, provide the antidote in humble leaders and a wise ability to see through the sham of ambitious opportunists.

Dissension

Nature of Dissension

Watch out for people who cause divisions
For the term διχοστασία/dichostasia, translators opt for a term like “dissension” (NLT, NASB, NET, NIV, NRSV, REB) or refer to the tendency of people disassociate themselves from others. Dissension (dichostasia) seems to differ from quarreling (eris), which has already been mentioned. In this case, it’s meant to cause division. In the passage on the works of the flesh, Paul warned, “if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another” (Gal 5:15), and elsewhere he asked, if that’s how you roll, “doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?” (1 Cor 3:3).

“Dissension in the Church” (ca. 1578)

Finally, Paul used the term to warn the Romans to keep away from false teachers: “Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them” (Rom 16:17). So this calls for some wisdom. On the one hand, we’re told to avoid divisions; on the other hand, we’re told to disassociate ourselves from false teachers. So he told the Philippians,

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. (Phil 1:27)

Reflection

Dissension vis-a-vis the Charismata

Any spirit that keeps sowing division in the Body of Christ is foreign to the one Spirit that creates the church. The church has much diversity in gifts and backgrounds; however, “we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit” (1 Cor 12:9, 13).

A prayer against any tendency to cause division…

Father, protect your church against dissension, and so bless us with a spirit of unity that everything we do works for unity rather than for division.

Amen!

Q&A—Comments

  1. Have you ever “poured out your spirit and anointed yourself” to really give it to them from the pulpit?
  2. Do you ever sense a tendency in yourself to cause division?
  3. Do you struggle to overcome selfish ambition?

Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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