This week our study is on the eleventh work of the flesh listed in Galatians 5:19-21 “strife”.
Strife is a “work of the flesh” which is an expression of the carnal nature in those who are at variance [which is strife] with God and His ways, and are therefore at war with God as well as with other men.
The stirring up of dissension between people and God and teaching people to live contrary to God’s Word is a great sin.
This leading of people to follow others rather than living by every Word of God is the sin that Satan first introduced in the garden, and this strife with God is the root cause of all other divisions and dissensions including within the assemblies; because each one tries to go his own way instead of all being united through a full unity of every person with God the Almighty.
Galatians 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 5:20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 5:21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
The Greek word for strife is eritheia (Strong’s #2052) which means: rivalry, hence ambition. Definition: the seeking of followers and adherents by means of gifts, the seeking of followers, hence ambition, rivalry, self-seeking; a feud, faction. (Strong’s Concordance)
From HELPS Word-studies the definition is:
2052 eritheía (from eritheuō, “work for hire”) – properly, work done merely for hire (as a mercenary), referring therefore to carnal ambition(selfish rivalry). Ancient Greek uses 2052 /eritheía (“mercenary self-seeking”) of acting for one’s own gain, regardless of the discord (strife) it causes. 2052/eritheía (“selfish ambition”) places self-interest ahead of what the Lord declares right, or what is good for others. (HELPS Word-studies)
The Greek word for strife is very similar to the Greek word for variance which is another work of the flesh listed in Galatians 5:20. One of the definitions for variance is strife. We did a study on “variance” last summer.
The Greek word for “variance” used in this verse is iséris (Strong’s #2054) which means: contention, debate, strife. Of uncertain affinity; a quarrel, i.e. (by implication) wrangling — contention, debate, strife, variance. a readiness to quarrel (having a contentious spirit), affection for dispute. (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and HELPS Word-studies)
The word “variance” can mean contentious disagreement or strife among brethren but the overall Biblical definition is varying or striving against the spiritual standard of unity, which is the whole Word of God. It is a striving against full spiritual unity with God because of disagreement with some part or all of the truth of God’s Word. Variance is to rebel against doing what God has commanded and teaches in His Word.
Strife is an evil that rips apart the bond of relationships, beginning with our relationship with God. Before we were called and repented we were at enmity [at variance] against God which means that we were hostile to Him.
In the body of Christ “variance” is rebellion against God’s true standards and the doctrines contained in God’s Word. When members teach and live contrary to certain aspects of God’s Word and justify themselves for doing so, it divides them from God and causes division in the body.
People will follow the dictates of men and their traditions rather than proving from the Scriptures what they believe and practice, and then standing on what the Bible says is right.
The members of certain groups instead follow these men which causes them to be separated from God and this brings disunity and confusion among all the members who obey various men rather than God. The members will follow a certain leader because of his charisma, importance, or long standing in an organization as they seek to do what the leader says is right by his own opinion.
The whole group is striving to be united with one another rather than just believing and doing what the Bible says is the truth, thereby being united with God as the sound foundation of organizational unity. Most in the various church of God groups are following their leaders who are at “variance” with the Word of God. Setting up others in place of God, obeying them rather than obeying God and His clear directives as written in Scripture. This is the sin of idolatry and is a definition for “variance” and “strife”.
Now we come to “strife” which works very much in tandem with “variance”.
Both are works of the flesh which bring about discord, arguments, debates, contentions, selfish ambitions, and as the apostle James describes these things: wars and fighting among the brethren. In making his point, James asks a rhetorical question as to why there are such things in the congregation and then answers his own question and tells us why.
James 4:1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 4:2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 4:3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
These verses tell us that their covetousness [lust] is what is causing strife in their midst. Covetousness and pride, or greed, selfishness and envy, are the source of contention, and strife manifests itself in all kinds of fighting and divisions and splits the brethren from God and each other. Instead of working cooperatively together to build up the body, and to do the work of God, the members focus their energy and attention on arguing, competing, and striving to gain the upper hand over their brethren.
Proverbs 28:25 He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife…..
Instead of humbly serving the body, many want to attain to or retain positions of “authority” and will cause discord in order to prove that they are the “leader” and that anyone who disagrees with them is at fault, even if these leaders are teaching things that are at variance with the word of God! This is an abomination to God. God wants us to serve each other in humbleness.
Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
Strife Often Originates With Pride
Strife has been in the world since the beginning of mankind but it actually originated in the heart and mind of Satan eons before the first humans were created in the Garden of Eden.
Because Satan became filled with pride and he allowed it to puff him up into thinking that he was just as qualified to rule the universe as the Elohim. In Satan’s mind he was in competition with God which instilled in him the feelings of anger and hatred toward God. This in turn led to variance with his Creator and he became separated from the perfect ways of God and choose to fight against God instead of remaining faithful and obedient to Him. Satan became envious and this becamestrife between himself and the Almighty Ones who were perfect in righteousness and loving kindness.
The Father and the Word who would later become Jesus Christ have been united and at ONE from eternity, and had never known strife between each other. Strife did not exist until Lucifer, the created cherub, became proud because of his beauty and his intelligence (which were not of his own making but were in fact gifts from God). Instead of being grateful to God for his very existence, he became filled with pride, he coveted to be in the place of God, and strife and contention were given birth. It is he who infuses this sense of pride into those who are contentious and cause strife everywhere they go.
Isaiah 14:12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 14:13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14:14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
Pride stirs up strife, rather than being content and trusting God.
Proverbs 28:25 He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife: but he that putteth his trust in the Lord shall be made fat [abundantly enriched and blest].
Because of Satan’s hatred and anger toward God, he has been in enmity against God since he allowed his pride to take over. The battle continued in the Garden of Eden with Satan coming on the scene and then tempting the first two humans to rebel against their Creator.
Satan tempted Eve to sin against God and then used her to get her husband to sin. The result was a further curse upon himself and a prophecy that the Seed of the woman (the “seed” referring to Jesus Christ) would one day crush Satan’s head and have final victory over him.
Genesis 3:14 And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 3:15 And I will put enmity [hostility/strife] between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
When we are filled with pride, we feel we are better than others or we envy what others have and feel we deserve just as much or more than they have. We begin to have a bitter hatred of those we envy because we may see them as better than we are and we want to bring them down and show them and others that we are more powerful, important, intelligent, wealthier, beautiful or skillful in a certain field, etc., etc. Humans tend to want to be the best among the all others just like Satan wanted to be the best above his own Maker. This spirit of competition makes us look for ways to put down those we are competing with or to make others also think less of them and this is what generates the carnal work of the flesh we call strife.
As we study through the list of the “works of the flesh”, we begin to see that all of these “works” can be traced back to Satan as the originator. They began with Satan and since the time that he rebelled against God, his spirit has infiltrated the whole earth and has influenced all mankind throughout all history.
Romans 8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8:8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
History of Strife in Mankind
As far as mankind, strife and contention began in the Garden of Eden between Adam and Eve as they came into variance with God by taking of the fruit of the forbidden tree. Adam blamed Eve for his rebellion and Eve blamed the serpent. Their first child Cain became filled with envy and hatred and the strife in his heart toward Abel, his brother, led him to murder him.
As we read through the Bible that records the events and the accounts of mankind starting from Genesis and ending in Revelation we see that pride and envy, which generates strife, are the cause of all the fighting, wars, murders, political intrigue, assassinations, and the dividing of families and whole nations all through history.
For just about 6000 years of rule of Satan on this earth there has always been strife which shows itself as selfish ambition, factions, competition, quarreling, debates, discord, fighting, and wars. As we approach the very end times, we know these things are only going to intensify. Strife is what sparks violence and violence causes destruction of relationships, lives, cities, lands, eventually the destruction will cover the whole earth: and the root of all that strife between people is our rebellious strife with God!
Genesis 6:11 The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 6:12 And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.6:13 And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
Matthew 24:37 But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
Matthew 24:21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 24:22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
God expects better behavior than this from His faithful called-out children, those He is training to be in His Kingdom to be kings and priests. God’s children must not replicate the strife-filled behavior that is in the world. God has called us to come out of carnal living and to take on His divine nature. He has given us His Holy Spirit and we must learn to walk in the Spirit rather than manifesting the carnal fleshly works of this present evil world.
It is very important to understand what causes strife, how it puts us on very dangerous ground, and for us to learn how to counteract this carnal nature with God’s Holy Spirit, and to grow up in the image of God taking on God’s divine nature. We do this by always putting God and His righteousness first in our lives even above ourselves.
Besides pride and covetousness there is another component that contributes to this work of the flesh and that is idolatry, which is to put other things before God. But when we put God first in our lives, we are trusting Him to provide us with everything we need. When we are content and grateful we acknowledge God as our Lord and Master and look to Him to give us the things we need for living.
But if we instead worship other gods or other things, and do not repent, God eventually gives us over to a reprobate mind. Which means our minds and hearts become corrupt and they begin to fill up with all unrighteousness [the works of the flesh]. We covet other things rather than worshiping God and we will become obsessed with having things that are unattainable by legitimate means. We covet these other things so strongly that we will strive to have them and become willing to use whatever means at our disposal to get what we want; like maliciousness, deceit, false accusations, character assassination, gossiping, backbiting, envy, debate, fighting, murder, all of which are of the works of the flesh, manifestations of strife in the heart.
But God made men to be free moral agents but with God’s help we can resist that spirit of sin and overcome the works of sin.
When God calls us and we sincerely repent, apply the sacrifice of Christ to atone for our sins, and putting away the old carnal man, we are reconciled to both God the Father and the Son. We are no longer at variance with them and instead growing into full unity with God and with those who also are seeking to be at one with Him.
2 Corinthians 5:15 And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. 5:16 Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 5:18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
Once we are reconciled with God, we must learn to put away the works of the flesh and seek to put on Christ which means we follow His example and seek to be cooperative with and serve our brethren rather than competing with them or to “lord it over them”.
If we trust God, we will never need to be envious of others. If we believe that God loves us and has a plan and a specific purpose for each of us and that His timing is always right, we will not have any reason to be envious of others.
And if we are grateful for what God has already given to us and satisfied with who we are and what we have, we will not covet things that others have, or things that we want but cannot have. People who are greedy and who are never satisfied with what they have, who always want more, stir up strife in their pursuit to get those things.
Our desire for the things of this world, whether it’s material things, money, a promotion, a title, or a certain relationship, etc., etc. can become our top most priority; and for most of the world those things are top priority. Most of the time people will utilize the “works of the flesh,” which means going around God’s ways and doing ungodly things to get what they want in their own carnal human power, instead of trusting and waiting upon God. Again, we can look at James 4:1-3 which tells us what is behind wars and fighting; and it is lust and a desire to have things that are unattainable.
If we are seeking God first and we are finding our delight in serving Him and pleasing Him, then He will give us the proper desires that we are to have, rather than always desiring the things this world can give to us.
Psalm 37:4 Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Seeking happiness as the top goal in our life will only make us miserable and discontent.
God wants us to be thirsting and hungering after His righteousness and to develop His divine nature; to use our time to prepare ourselves for the Kingdom of God.
He has work for us to do in this life and He even says that He has prepared them for us to do. When we are so busy being about our Father’s business, we will not have time to worry about what others have, or the things we can not have, or can not do. We will have faith that God will provide for us all that we need to live and to accomplish the tasks that He has given us to do.
The world teaches us to focus on self-fulfillment and happiness. God teaches us to focus on glorifying God and serving humanity. Happiness [or godly joy] will then come as a by-product if we are living in God’s will and doing His will.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Ways Avoid Strife
Besides asking God to fill us with His Holy Spirit which empowers us to overcome strife, there are things we can consciously do to avoid strife. One of them is to stay away from strife-filled and contentious people. What kind of friends do we have and who do we spend the most time with?
There are those that have a tendency to argue, or gossip, or start fights. We know that we cannot cut ourselves off from everyone in the world for we have to work in this world and interact with it. But many times we do have choices as to who our friends are and we can actively avoid those people that cause trouble for us and others and not take part in their contentions. Sometimes it is just a matter of removing ourselves from environments and people that seek to draw us into their drama of always being at odds with others.
Paul in instructing Timothy, advised him [and us] to withdraw from these kinds of people and avoid strife and disputing.
1 Timothy 6:4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, 6:5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
When we do have to be around negative and contentious people, we must guard our hearts and not let them lead us into strife-filled situations. When we associate with these types, it is very easy to become influenced with their anger and strife. If we know that we are tempted in that direction, it’s best to find other friends that will encourage us in the ways of peace and in the ways of God, rather than being friends with those who are always wanting to stir up strife with others.
One of God’s commandments is that; “we are not to covet”, which as we just saw, leads to all kinds of the works of the flesh including strife. God wants us to be fulfilled and to be provided for and it is not wrong to desire the proper things that God says are lawful; but it is not God’s will for us to be coveting the things that others have or for us to want more and more, being full of greed. To be covetous and envious is a very grievous sin. We can overcome covetousness by being thankful always and to be constantly giving God thanks, keeping our minds on the things above and not on the things of this world.
Colossians 3:3 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 3:2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3:3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 3:4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
Hebrews 13:5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
When our friends and acquaintances are blessed, we are to rejoice with them and to be genuinely happy for them, knowing that God blesses us too, in maybe other ways. If we stay focused on the good things that God has already provided us with, we can keep strife out of our lives and then God can use us to be a blessing to all who we come in contact with.
Romans 12:15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
And Let the Peace of God Rule in your Hearts
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul gave the believers some more wise advice on this topic.
Colossians 3:12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 3:13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. 3:14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. 3:15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 3:17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
“Let the peace of Christ be in control of your heart” is the antidote to the strife in our hearts. When we are grounded in our relationship with Christ, with our focus on Him all day long, it makes it possible with the help of His Holy Spirit in us, to be at peace with God and in ourselves.
We are privileged to be able to know God, to know His truth, and to be given the opportunity to be called a child of God. We also have all God’s promises which give us the hope of His eternal plan for us, our families, and for all mankind, and the fact that someday all variance and strife will be banished from the earth. God promises that He will give us the power we need to become His sons and daughters. Knowing this gives us a sense of great joy and gratitude.
John 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
Again Paul advises Timothy about how he should deal with contentious, strife-filled argumentative people and this is good advice for us as well.
2 Timothy 2:22 Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 2:23 But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.
As we know, when people give in to sin and oppose the truth of the Word of God, they open themselves up to pride and hatred which leads to strife, and then we become ensnared by Satan. These negative attitudes bring misery and hardship and take us away from all that God wants for us. We must recognize when we are being tempted by these things. That is why we must stay close to God, and fill our minds with His Word daily and meditate on it day and night, and fasting occasionally to draw closer to Him.
The most important thing we can all do, is to daily put God first and to live by every Word of God. These things need to be top priority in our lives, in our talk, and in our walk.
When folks want to argue and quarrel just for the sake of arguing or because they want to be considered “right” and deemed “important” regardless of the truth of the matter, they are showing themselves to be arrogant, ignorant, and foolish. They are trying to appear wise in the eyes of others, but they show themselves to be fools.
We can put our time to better use if we each personally submit ourselves to the Word of God and focus our attention on living a godly life. If we are actively seeking out God’s truth and proving all things that we believe from His Word, we will be much more equipped to teach others when they genuinely ask us about the hope that lies within us.
Galatians 5:14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
2 Timothy 4:1 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.
2 Timothy 2:24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 2:25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 2:26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.
Jesus instructs us on how we are to handle misunderstandings with our brother. If we follow this protocol we will do our part to avoid strife with others when they offend us. And if they are spiritually mature and respond in a converted manner, this will diffuse the potential strife that could occur if left to fester and cause more offense. If they do not respond positively at least we knew we tried to be peaceable in the relationship by using God’s method and not by our own carnal means.
Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 18:16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
Always having the following attitude about ourselves will also help keep strife out of our relationships.
Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
To expand on this verse in more modern terms, the Amplified version says “we must do nothing from factional motives [through contentiousness, strife, selfishness, or for unworthy ends] or prompted by conceit and empty arrogance. Instead, in the true spirit of humility (lowliness of mind) let each regard the others as better than and superior to himself [thinking more highly of one another than we do of ourselves].” (Amplified Bible)
Strife is one of the works of the flesh and is also the product of the other works of the flesh; hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, and dissensions. Having strife in our thoughts will come through in our actions or words and will eventually destroy people and relationships.
In summary what is it we can do as Christians to defeat these twin works of the flesh “variance” and “strife”? The antidote is to be seeking God and to be zealously obeying His whole Word every day. It is also being filled with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and temperance [self-control]! It is only through the power of God that we can overcome the works of the flesh and have victory over succumbing to them.
What About Strife that Comes from Others?
From what we read of mankind’s history and then witnessing what is going on in our day, there has always been strife in the world and it will intensify in the end times and culminate with the events that happen at the return of Christ. There is not going to be an end of strife and wars amongst human beings during this dispensation unless mankind repents. But there is no sign of that happening and prophecy indicates that is not going to happen.
But the good news is that this present end time dispensation is coming to a close, in just a few short years. The kingdom of God that Christ is going to set up will finally bring peace to the planet because the stony strife-filled heart of man will have God’s laws written upon it and the things (works of the flesh) that make for wars and fighting will be part of the past.
Ezekiel 36:26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
Those that refuse to repent of living according to the flesh will not be allowed to dwell on God’s holy hill (God’s kingdom). Those who do repent and have God’s Spirit poured out on them will have hearts of flesh and they will not learn the ways of fighting and warring any more and the whole world be living the ways that make for peace. All efforts will go to rebuilding and replenishing the earth and making it habitable for families to live in without fighting and wars. Instead of the destruction that is brought about by striving with one another, a whole new world of peace, cooperation and lovingkindness will spread throughout the earth.
Jeremiah 24:7 And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.
Jeremiah 31:33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Does this mean that a true Christian should never experience strife in his or her life?
Not at all, because if we are living in God’s will and obeying Him with all our hearts and seeking to please Him rather than men, we will naturally generate strife from those who are NOT seeking God and are NOT seeking to obey Him.
Jesus never sinned in the letter of the law nor in the spirit of the law. He had a pure and clean heart, yet He was the object of strife-filled men all His life here on earth.
Mark 6:4 But Jesus, said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.
People want to hear “smooth things” and they respond to God’s warning to repent and return to God by telling God’s servants to prophesy false things.
Isaiah 30:10 Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
And when people are told that they need to stop sinning, and that they need to repent, most will retaliate with all kinds of contentious argumentative self justifications, and false accusations directed at the messenger.
When carnal people who do not want to obey God’s laws, hear messages that the God of the Bible is real and that He wants every person to live by every Word of God, this is not what they want to hear, it is not the “smooth sounding messages” that they are accustomed to and the unrepentant will perceive these warnings and messages as divisive and contentious.
So even if we purge strife from our own hearts, we will not be free of strife in our lives in this present evil world; for the more we strive to be like God and to be in unity with Him, the more it will generate strife toward us from others, even from our closest friends and family members.
Most of us who have been in the faith for very long know that the Ekklesia has been plagued with this very open and obvious work of the flesh called “strife” for many years and still continues to this day.
Members of the Ekklesia suffer at the hands of those who cast off all restraints to obtain high positions and to be seen of men as “rabbi” and “master” [teacher or mister as an ecclesiastical title] (Matthew 23:8). It causes confusion and disenchantment in the body when those who ought to be righteous examples are instead striving to be the most important and looked up to.
Those who want to be looked to as authorities over others, and who want to have the “highest seats in the synagogues” (Luke 20:46), who extract more offerings from the people than they should and then misuse the tithes and offerings of the people to enrich themselves and build grand edifices that make the leader or the organization look grand and impressive, are the ones who are the most contentious.
Carnal church leaders striving for the chief seats disfellowship those who are zealous for God’s Word and who question these leader’s zeal for material things; yet which ones are zealous for the truth of God?
Oh my brethren, why do we put up with such leaders who would do such things? Can we not discern that these men are filled with strife and contention and usually it is not over returning to the zealous keeping of God’s laws and having the righteousness of God; but rather it is about who gets to lead, who was the closest to HWA, who has had the most titles in WCG, who has the most “top men” working for them, who has the most members, the highest income, has a double portion of God’s Spirit, or the greatest number of “hits” on their Website and on and on. Can we see how ridiculous this must all look in the eyes of God? Are we able to discern how wrong these priorities are? Why do we want to follow and support such men and their organizations?
Remember what we cited earlier as one of the definitions from Help-Word-Studies for the Greek word for strife – eritheía. It means (“mercenary self-seeking”) of acting for one’s own gain, regardless of the discord (strife) it causes. 2052/eritheía (“selfish ambition”) places self-interest ahead of what the Lord declares right, or what is good for others.
This describes what the WCG was all about and this kind of strife is still very much rampant in the large corporate COG groups today. This was part of the reason that God allowed the WCG organization to fall apart and allowed the scattering of the brethren. God holds each one of us accountable for putting up with this.
God tells us through Jude to “earnestly contend for the faith” that was delivered to the saints by Jesus and the writers of Holy Scripture.
Jude 1:3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. 1:4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
All of us need to be working at overcoming strife in our lives but the leaders in the Ekklesia are called and appointed to be proper examples for the rest of the flock!
They will be held accountable by Almighty God if they do not live up to God’s expectation for elders in the church; but rather are examples of being contentious, of selfish ambition, fighting and lusting after high positions at all costs even to the hurting and wounding of those who look to them as their spiritual leaders. What a shame! Please do read and study the whole book of Jude for what the effects of striving and contention do to God’s church.
Read what Peter has to say about the proper behavior of those who are appointed to lead those that make up the body of Christ; the collective Bride of Christ.
1 Peter 5:2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 5:3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
Let us all show forth the fruit of God’s Spirit and purge out all those things that will keep us from being in the resurrection of the just and thereby miss out on all that God desires for us.
Jude 1:24 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, 1:25 To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
Psalm 15:1-3 and Psalm 24:3-6
A Pure Heart and Clean Hands
Psalm 15:1 Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
15:2 He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
15:3 He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
Psalm 24:3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
24:4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
24:5 He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
24:6 This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.
Strife begins in the hearts and minds of men and women, just like it began in the mind of Satan so many eons ago. At first it may be hidden and undetectable under the guise of smooth speech or flattery, but like a little leavening a contentious spirit grows and begins to manifest itself into the full blown works of the devil, causing hurt feelings, offenses, fighting and finally war.
It is an insidious, evil, destructive force and wrecks havoc throughout the world. In fact the whole world is embroiled in the spirit of strife and is about to burst into the fiery furnace of tribulation because mankind cannot control this spirit of strife that fills his heart. (Please see the whole chapter of Isaiah 59 that describes what the carnal people of the world are like.)
Contention begins in the mind and then flows out of the mouth in the form of words against others; and our words alone can do so much damage. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love [love speaking contentious words] it shall eat the fruit thereof.” (Proverbs 18:21)
James 4:5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! 4:6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. 4:7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: 4:8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
To purge this work of the flesh (as well as the other listed works of the flesh) we need to have a clean and pure heart. The passage speaks of having clean hands and a pure heart if we want to ascend to God’s holy mountain which is referring to being in God’s kingdom. Psalm 15 says that we must not harbor strife in our hearts toward others if we want to dwell with God and in His tabernacle [temple] again referring to being in God’s Kingdom.
These passages in these Psalms show just how important having a pure heart [pure minds] and clean hands [sinless deeds] is in our ascent toward the holy hill which represents eternal life with God. If we want to STAND on God’s holy hill and if we want to DWELL with God in His holy place we have to be clean from the works of the flesh.
Who is it that is worthy to approach God? The answer is; the one who has clean hands [free from the deeds of sin] and a pure heart [pure godly thoughts] , and who walks uprightly [lives by every Word of God], and works righteousness, and speaks the truth from the heart [speaks the truth with sincerity].
To have a pure heart we must purge the work’s of the flesh from our hearts and to have clean hands we must only use our hands for righteousness and to do the works of God.
To have a clean and pure heart means that our heart [mind] is to be wholesome, undefiled, untainted, unblemished, uncontaminated by any evil thoughts. It is clean and pure with no trace of filthiness that comes from our own human nature. It dose not have anything defiling it which are from the “works of the flesh”.
In the Hebrew mind: to have clean hands implies righteous actions, because it is the hands that do our work or carry out the actions that our minds direct them to do. So “hands” symbolize what we do, things that are tangible and if our hands are clean, that means that our actions, our works are wholesome, righteous, uncontaminated, undefiled.
Likewise to be pure of heart suggests something similar, but the attention is on the heart [the thoughts of the mind] and what is embedded into our innermost mind with its feelings, thoughts, and proclivities. In ancient times the “heart” implied inner things like character, our sense of right and wrong and our innermost motives. What we think in our hearts [minds] will sooner or later be shown by what are we do in our actions.
In these two psalms, the psalmist teaches us that the person who desires to come before God has to be clean and pure both in his external actions, and internally in his mind with his ideas, beliefs, motives. and thoughts.
What is in the heart is very often expressed in words which is a type of action or “work”. David is explaining that in order to be pure and clean, God’s righteousness must fill the whole person, meaning that all that person’s “thoughts”, “words”, and “actions” are clean and pure.
The works of the flesh make us unclean, a strife-filled heart is one that is not pure and clean.
David is saying in both of these psalms is that we must make ourselves clean and pure both inside and outside, internally in our hearts and externally in our actions. We are to be clean in our personal lives and also in the eyes of the public.
Everything that makes us who we are needs to be cleaned up and made pure to approach God and to appear in His presence; for God is clean and pure Himself. He does not tolerate sin to be in His holy presence because sin (which the works of the flesh are) is uncleanliness and is impure.
God is not looking for just a correct knowledge of the truth in His faithful called-out, just knowing the Bible in an intellectual sense; God wants that truth to be ingrained into our very being which is reflected in how we conduct ourselves. He wants us to have clean hands that work righteous actions rather than pursuing the works of the flesh.
If we are living in strife and causing contention and discord in our relationships and within the body of Christ, we do not have pure hearts and clean hands. As Galatians 5:19-21 tells us, those who do these things will not inherit the Kingdom of God; so we need to have the cleanliness inside and out to be able to approach God and eventually enter His Kingdom.
What lodges in our hearts and what we do in our actions cannot really exist independent from each other.
If we have the works of the flesh inbedded within our hearts we will not be able to walk according to the Spirit.
We must have the whole Word of God within ourselves, for without it we will not be able to express good works in our lives. What we believe and the actions that come from our belief must work hand in hand, and they have to be a part of the complete person.
The point is that the works of the flesh begin in the heart [mind] and in order to be right with God and to be able to approach Him, we must clean what is inside us [our thoughts] so that all our actions are righteous and are not products of a carnal nature.
The only way we can have clean hearts and hands is to first be washed in the atoning blood of Christ’s sacrifice and then be filled with God’s Spirit that enables us to live a life like Jesus would live, walking in the spirit and not according to the works of the flesh, including the manifestation of “strife’ in our words and in our deeds.
1 Corinthians 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 6:11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
David’s prayer to God after he repented of his sin with Bathsheba was to ask God to create in him a clean heart and to renew a right spirit within him. (Psalms 51:10)
David is an example of one who looked to God to give him a pure heart and clean hands. In this way we too must ask God to purge out the spirit of contention, strife, vain-glory and self-seeking, all the things that come from our carnal nature.
And if we seek the Lord and do all He tells us, we are given these wonderful promises:
“He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
And we “shall abide in God’s tabernacle and shall dwell in His holy hill”!
James Malm and Constance Belanger
Note- Constance submitted the original rough draft of this article in 2016, which I then completed for posting.