Works of the Flesh (Part 5)

Violations of Brotherly Love (cont.)

The previous two blogs covered six works of the flesh that violate the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18). This one covers two more violations of that commandment, “factions” and “envy” plus “murder,” a possible third (KJV).


Factions (αἲρεσις/hairesis) speaks of the tendency to make choices that divide, such as to espouse a false teaching, or “heresy” (2 Pet 2), or to sign up with some faction (1 Cor 11:19; Gal 5:20). Here, where it’s a work of the flesh, most translators opt for something like “factions” (NLT, NASB, NET, NIV, NRSV), and an earlier edition of the NLT went for “the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group.”

Nature of Factions

“Works of the Flesh,”

It’s the tendency to split up into parties and groups, to associate only with people who agree with you.

…the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group
Nowadays, this on full display in the social media, and Christians seem to dive into this with the same vigor as anyone else. I wonder if the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 2:27) will include an appendix the includes our Tweets and Facebook posts?

And inside the church, from pulpit to foyer, the tendencies continues, though often clothed in more hushed tones. When by ALL CAPS on Facebook, the well modulated tones of homiletical rhetoric from the pulpit, or sotto voce in the foyer, communications issuing from these factions generates hostility, anger, arguing—pretty much everything that has already come up on this list of the works of the flesh rather than what will follow in the listing for the fruit of the Spirit.


Factions vis-a-vis the Charismata

Factions can arise around charismatic leaders, who serve as catalysts for this kind of thing. It may be a power move on the part of the charismatic leader who would gather admirers. I think of Paul’s rebuke:

This brings division where God intends unity

… in the following instructions, I cannot praise you. For it sounds as if more harm than good is done when you meet together. First, I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church, and to some extent I believe it. But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized! (1 Cor 11:19)

Or the leader may innocently become a point of focus for a would-be acolyte.

Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” Has Christ been divided into factions? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul? Of course not! (1 Cor 1:12–13)

Here the blame wasn’t on the titular head of a faction, but upon those who claimed to follow only that one. So Paul warned anyone tending to that,

Don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. (1 Cor 3:21–23)

A prayer against getting involved in factions…

Lord, I pray as Jesus prayed,

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” (John 17:21–23)


Nature of Envy

“Seven Vices: Envy,” by
Giotto di Bondone (–1337)

Envy (φθόνος/phthonos) is like “jealousy,” which was mentioned earlier, but zēlos was singular there and here phthonoi (“envyings”) is plural, suggesting a pattern of envy,1Timothy George, Galatians, NAC (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 396. a lifestyle that tends always to violate the tenth commandment.

Envy prompted Cain to murder his brother Abel (Gen 4:3–5), it led to Joseph’s enslavement in Egypt (Gen 37:4), and it will lead you to no good; therefore, the sages say, “A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body; jealousy is like cancer in the bones” (Prov 14:30).

Instead, falling into envy and covetousnness, we should be like Paul, who told the Philippian church,

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Phil 4:11–13)

…a lifestyle that violates the tenth commandment

Likewise, he told Timothy to seek contentment:

True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. (1 Tim 6:6–8)

Finally, we’re told that this contentment isn’t just a spiritual discipline exercised like the rituals of Buddhism or a barely Christianized transcendental meditation. This contentment must find its assurance in God’s own guarantee:

Be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” (Heb 13:5)


Envy vis-a-vis the Charismata

Paul encourages the Corinthians to “earnestly desire” (ζηλόω/zēloō) “the the greater gifts” (τὰ χαρίσματα τὰ μείζονα/ta charismata ta meizona). The NLT’s translation is “the most helpful gifts,” reflecting Paul’s note that edifying the congregation is the gold standard for exercising the charismata (1 Cor 14:1–25). But that earnest desire must never include doubting the Spirit’s sovereign choice in distributing the gifts as he wills, especially if it leads to coveting and perhaps even trying to usurp the gifts and offices that the Spirit has given to others within the congregation.

Therefore, Paul continues: “now let me show you a way of life that is best of all” (1 Cor 12:31b). This introduces a list of how love does and does not act, which includes the note that “love does not envy” (1 Cor 13:4, ζηλόω/zēloō).

So wisdom finds the right path on the matter of gifts vis-a-vis ζηλόω/zēloō. By the Spirit’s anointing, we maintain an earnest desire for spiritual gifts, and for whatever is most helpful.

A prayer against an envious spirit…

Father, by your Spirit drive out all envy but help me to earnestly desire what you wisely distribute in the congregation where I serve and worship. May I never look at another an covet what they have operating, unless it is to come alongside them in the same ministry. If it’s a speaking gift you give me, give me also the patience to await my term and the modesty to subject what I say to others in the congregation. If it’s a helping gift you give me, give me wisdom and a cooperative spirit so I enhance what other are doing and never usurp.

In Jesus’s name, amen.

Murders (KJV)

If you’re reading the KJV you’ll see that it inserts “murders” next, following the earlier Geneva and Tyndale translations. And a few later translation follow that same tradition (Darby, Douay-Rheims, NKJV), reflecting a difference in the Greek text. The NET Bible is sympathetic to the possibility that the addition belongs. After analyzing the textual information,2φόνοι (phonoi, “murders”) is absent in such important MSS as 𝔓46 א B 33 81 323 945 pc sa, while the majority of MSS (A C D F G Ψ 0122 0278 1739 1881 𝔐 lat) have the word. the notes say this: “Although the pedigree of the MSS which lack the term is of the highest degree, homoioteleuton may well explain the shorter reading. The preceding word has merely one letter difference, making it quite possible to overlook this term (φθόνοι φόνοι, phthonoi phonoi).3Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006). But the standard critical texts’ editors believe not adding it is supported by older and better witnesses.4The argument runs like this: “the shorter reading may have originated in accidental omission due to homoeoteleuton, a majority of the Committee, impressed by the age and quality of the witnesses supporting φθόνοι (𝔓46 א B 33 81 cop<sup>sa</sup> Marcion Irenaeus<sup>lat</sup> Clement Origen<sup>lat</sup> al), was inclined to think that φόνοι was inserted by copyists who recollected Ro 1:29″ (Bruce Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. [New York: United Bible Societies, 1994], 529.)


  1. How can we find the line where we spiritually covet (zēlos) the greater gifts but avoid carnal envy (phthonoi) over the charismata.
  2. How might a church overcome the damage that factions can cause, especially in its exercise of the charismata?

Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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