“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
In dealing with conflict in the church a good place to begin is to exhort every person identified with the assembly to examine the root of righteousness, for the fruit of righteousness is peace. Before judgment is passed upon someone, judgment must be passed upon self. Conflict in the church is a symptom that souls are not right with the Savior for, “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Prov. 16:7).
When conflict comes to a congregation, especially over something rather inconsequential such as who will work on the building and where, the time of a program, or how many days a pastor should be allowed to preach elsewhere, deeper issues must be sought. The symptomatic sins of the saints of pettiness and ungraciousness are always rooted in the deeper works of the flesh.
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 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” (Gal. 5:19-21).
Consider individually the works of the flesh.
There is the Fleshly Work of Adultery. The word adultery was added by the translators of the KJV for better readability in the English. There is no actual word in the Greek text at this point, but it is certainly a work of the flesh.
Like every other sin, adultery has many negative consequences including secret shame and guilt, a sense of emotional bondage, fear of detection, a violated conscience, and misdirected anger, because the passions which have been aroused cannot be satisfied in a normal manner.
For more than a year David believed that his sin of adultery had been concealed but to the living God it was open and ugly. Judgment came to David for the sin of adultery and the murder that flowed from it as surely as God will judge all who persist in secret sin. Who will confess to acts of adultery, and receive the divine anti-dote to this sin? What is the divine anti-dote?
The Divine Antidote to sin is an open confession to God of the evil that is in the heart. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
The Divine Antidote to sin is looking to Jesus to apply His blood to the conscience. “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for he is faithful that promised” (Heb. 10:22-23).
The Divine Antidote to sin is an immediate forsaking of the means and methods of committing this sin. “If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Eph. 4:21).
The Divine Antidote to sin is gospel obedience to the known will of the Lord. “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22).
The Divine Antidote to sin is faith. “And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).
It is not easy to have faith for the strength of sin is formidable. The strength of sin is found by repetitive behavior, by psychological addition, by inward impulses, and by the principle of pleasure, and the will to power. Despite prayer, Bible reading, confession, and promises of moral reformation, shameful behavior is returned to. A desperate cry goes up to heaven, “Oh, God, please deliver me.” There in is the problem. Faith reads and believers that God in Christ has done something. There is no compelling reason for the Christian to sin. “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). Faith embraces this idea. God in Christ has done something about sin. It is only unbelief that keeps a Christian in secret, shameful repetitive sin.
There is the Fleshly Work of Fornication. The word for fornication is pornea, and is the basis for the English word pornography. Fornication is distinguished from adultery in Scripture as per moicheia, in Matthew 15:19, and Mark 7:21. Pornea refers to any form of sexual intercourse in general. People who are not married, but engaging in sexual misconduct of any form are guilty of fornication. Those who submit themselves to inappropriate magazines and movies, to stimulated sensual thoughts and feelings, are not innocent.
The Bible is honest about the sins of the saints being able to engage in acts of fornication of the vilest manner. Lot is declared to be a righteous man in 2 Peter 2:8, and yet he produced children by his daughters in the form of incest. The terrible incident is record in Genesis 19:36-38. People can be guilty of fornication.
Who will confess to acts of fornication in the sight of God, and forsake it by the power of the Holy Spirit and live? “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:13).
There is the Fleshly Work of Uncleanness. The word for uncleanness is akatharsía, and refers to a form of physical or spiritual impurity. The Bible speaks of unclean spirits.
Mark 1:23 And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24 Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.
Mark 5:8 For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.
Unclean spirits desire to possess the body and soul and they do when they are invited into a life. The reading of daily horoscopes and involvement in the New Age movement, or literature, are just some of the ways unclean spirits find to enter into the soul.
The Bible speaks of an unclean person in Ephesians 5:5. “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” An unclean person is one who has not been genuinely saved based upon gospel repentance.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of unclean lips. “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). Isaiah saw the holiness of God, and was condemned by his own unholiness.
Who will confess with Isaiah to being an unclean person in the sight of God having experienced the purity of the divine presence?
There is the Fleshly Work of Lasciviousness. The Greek word asélgeia denotes “excess, licentiousness, absence of restraint, indecency, wantonness”. Lasciviousness proceeds from the heart according to Mark 7:21-25. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”
An honest person can admit and thus confess that impulses willing to do evil are present and so influence the will to perform actions known to be contrary to holiness and righteousness. There is no restraint to the appetites in matters of financial or moral considerations. What is desired is demanded and acquired at any cost.
Ammon, the son of King David was a lascivious man. He who had never been denied knew no self-restraints. He looked upon his sister Tamar, and demanded her attention and affection. The end result was shame, death and destruction (2 Sam. 13:1-19).
Who will confess and say, “I am a lascivious person, but I want to be different”?
There is the Fleshly Work of Idolatry. The word for idolatry is eidololatreia (lit. a likeness, a phantom, something which is not) and refers to image-worship (literally or figuratively). In the early church idolatry was a major problem. Christians were encouraged to restrain from having idols in their home, or paying homage to the many idol gods of the ancient world. “But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20).
In many Christian business organizations the practice of imaging is encouraged. The picture of a boat or a home or a car is encouraged to be put on the refrigerator or some other prominent place that captures the desire of the heart and image that item into existence. I would submit that this is perilously close to idolatry. The biblical exhortation is to be content with what God has given. “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” (Heb. 13:5).
Who will confess and say, “Lord, I have practiced modern idolatry, or come very close to it and for that I am willing to repent and turn away from this practice.”
There is the Fleshly Work of Witchcraft. The word for witchcraft is pharmakeia. It is the basis for the word medication or pharmacy, and by extension magic, literally or figuratively. In the ancient world witchcraft or sorcery, involved the use of drugs, some of which were simple, but many of which were potent. The administration of a mixture was generally accompanied by incantations and appeals to occult powers, with the provision of various charms, amulets, etc. The ultimate purpose was alleged to keep the patient from the attention and power of demons, but actually the desire was to impress others with the mysterious resources and powers of the sorcerer.
The prophets and apostles challenged the sorcerers, and others who practiced witchcraft, because of the deception involved. Legitimate medical practice was recognized, and honored, for Luke is called the beloved physician (Col. 4:4). Jesus “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matt. 9:12).
Today, alcohol and drugs are sedating many people, because both are socially acceptable. People who become depressed take drugs. Children are being fed various forms of medication simply because they are over active. The secret dependency and abuse of drugs is a problem that should be addressed by the church for it is spoken of in Scripture. Many times the problem is not sickness, but sin.
Who will confess and say, “Lord, I am too dependent on alcohol or drugs?” Who will say, “Father, I have not trusted You, nor believed the promises of Your Word, but I want to change, and I want to be whole again”?
There is the Fleshly Work of Hatred. The word for hatred is echthra and refers to intense hostility. Harboring hatred in the heart is one of the most destructive forces in the soul. Because of this, Satan finds it an effective tool. Secret hatred is so destructive to self and others because it can be very subtle. The most deadly enemy is the one unseen. For this reason Jesus openly addressed the sin of hatred in the heart. Notice the language of Scripture. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:43-44).
It does no good to say there is no hatred for someone in the heart if all the objective evidence points to its existence.
Sometimes hatred is not denied, but it is justified. In the aftermath of a grave injustice the heart might say, “I have a right to hate. Look at what was said about me. Look at what was done to me.” And God says, “I know. Look at what men did to my Son.” And yet, “While we were yet sinners Christ died” (Rom. 5:8).
Who will confess and say, “Dear Lord, I do find hatred in my heart. I have not wanted to admit this anger. I have justified what cannot be justified. Father, forgive”?
There is the Fleshy Work of Variance. The uncertain word of origin for variance is eris, which refers to a quarrel, and by implication wrangling with someone over an issue. Sometimes a quarrel can be humorous if done with a sweet spirit. However, more often those who quarrel with someone are determined to win a particular point of view at all cost. The rhetoric becomes more intense, the body becomes tensed, and the words become sharper. There is a spirit to the word variance, as well as the literal meaning. Rather than quarrel, the Bible instructs the believer how to behave. Colossians 3:13 instructs Christians. “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
“There is a cunning little proverb
From the sunny land of Spain,
But in northland or in southland,
Is its meaning true and plain;
Write it deep within your heart,
Neither lose nor lend it –
Two it takes to make a quarrel;
One can always end it.”
The Christian living closest to the heart of Christ will end the quarrel. Who will say, “Lord I have sinned. I have quarreled without cause, and I want to change”?
There is the Fleshly Work of Emulations. The word for emulations is zelos, and refers to expressing zeal or ardor for a cause in a favorable sense, but jealousy in an unfavorable one. Often associated in the expression of zeal, or ardor, is the thought of “oughtness”, which in turn, becomes offensive, and divisive, if others do not agree. Someone says, for example, “We ought to have a certain program, or activity”, and a push is made to implement that program, or activity. It might be a very good program, or activity, but since there is no balance in the rhetoric emulations arise.
In the early 1980’s, a large Baptist church in the western part of the state of Pennsylvania started a Christian school. Some key families in the congregation decided the children of Christian parents ought to have a Christian school. With great zeal and ardor work began to bring a private school into existence. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed that the church ought to have a Christian school. There was much emulation over this matter.
Ironically, many of the families that initially worked to bring the school into existence were the first to leave the church over the controversy they created. The school did come into existence for a few years, only to be dissolved for lack of congregational support. There was so much needless sorrow and grief created in the congregation.
Emulations, excessive zeal, and unbridled ardor is not pleasing to the Lord unless a gospel principle is at stake. In the absence of biblical principles, and the matter is left to preferences, then the Scriptural counsel is to prefer the wishes of others first. “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). The Bible says, “Be kindly affectionate one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (Rom. 12:10).
Who will confess, “Lord, I have been the cause of creating emulations in the body of Christ by deciding what ought to be done, not as a matter of principle, but only because of my preferences”? “Father forgive.”
The saints can, and do, manifest many sins of the flesh. It was to the local church. Paul addressed these deeds of darkness. Therefore, concerning this list, the following thoughts are suggested.
Do not read over the list of sins too quickly. Words have meaning, and God the Holy Spirit has been pleased to guide that these particular words be used to communicate a strong message to the saints. Sin is serious.
Do not dismiss the manifestation of sin, in self, or in others. The work of the flesh is deadly. Any deadly disease is treated with a serious respect, with care and attention. Sin is the plague of all plagues, and so must not be dismissed.
Confess to all the dark and foul deeds the Holy Spirits convicts. No matter how odious one might appear, if a specific work of the flesh has been committed, even in the mildest form, it must be confessed in order to be cleansed by God.
Seek to understand more fully the words that are used. Some of the words are unfamiliar. Nevertheless, “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Notice the great emphasis put upon sins of the spirit, and sins of the flesh. Hatred in the heart and sexual immorality are addressed time and again, for these sins war against the soul more than most.
Believe the fearful warning attached to these seventeen sins of the flesh. The apostle Paul writes, “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” (Gal. 5:21).