Dispositions And Divisions
"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, envyings, of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." (Gal. 5:19-21). No preacher can speak or write of sin, specifically and repeatedly as did Paul, without incurring the ill will of some brethren. But since Paul was not seeking to please men, he had warned the brethren of Galatia concerning the works of the flesh, specifying the exact kind of sins he had in mind. And now he was warning them again of the same sins and sayings, . . . that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
Among the things we can practice that may bar the gates of heaven against us forever is to harbor in our hearts a fleshly disposition that promotes discord and unhappiness among brethren. In this passage, religious division is certainly condemned as a grievous sin, but Paul looks behind the state of division to the sins of disposition that produce and nourish the condition. Notice how Paul speaks in order of "enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings." Close examination of these terms reveals a direct connection between dispositions and divisions as we intend to show in this article.
At a time when the church of our Lord is sore troubled with doctrinal differences, we would do well to look to our dispositions of heart as well as to doctrinal issues involved. I might be right on "the issues" and go to hell because of my disposition. With these thoughts in mind, let us consider the above terms.
According to Webster, the word "enmities" means ill will on one side or both; esp. mutual antagonism." How often do brethren vilify one another with uncomplimentary terms and evil insinuations which cannot possibly do other than to antagonize and further alienate brethren! Such is open proof of a heart filled with hatred and ill will rather than brotherly love and consideration which is so essential to brethren dwelling together in unity.
Webster further says, "Enmity suggests positive hatred which may be concealed or dormant." Just as man appearing outwardly to be morally pure may be guilty of committing adultery in his heart, so may some sweet talking, "peace loving" brother conceal enmity in his heart . . . for a time! But when the opportunity arises he will vent his hatred and have his brother's "scalp."
Enmities are bad enough on one side, but when found on both sides, you have an impossible "dog eat dog" situation. Just a few verses prior to mentioning enmities, Paul exhorted, " . . . through love be servants one to another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another." (Gal. 5:13-15)
Enmities sometimes exist between brethren who hold identical doctrinal views. One of the saddest sights is to behold great men of God, who have stood together as an impregnable fortress against the forces of error, allowing dislikes and differences of a personal nature to breach what error could not. The devil has his devices with which he operates upon the disposition!
Enmities entertained in the heart will in the course of time result in open strife or contention in the church, for "Hatred stirreth up strifes." (Pr. 10:12). There are many things that cause strife, but the root cause is usually found in the disposition or spirit. Solomon says, "He that is of a greedy spirit stirreth up strife" (Pr. 28:25), and again, "A perverse man scattereth abroad strife." (Pr. 16:28) It is a sad commentary on the human race to observe that some are so perverted in disposition that they actually love sowing strife. "He loveth transgression that loveth strife." (Pr. 17:19)
When I was a boy there always seemed to be a bully in our neighborhood spoiling for a fight and a gang of kids on hand daring and shoving to get a fight started. One way or another, they usually managed to succeed, and then they would stand back and enjoy the scrap. Some church members keep a chip on their shoulders and strife in their hearts. Others enjoy creating the situations and giving the dares that will put brethren at one another's throats. "As coals are to hot embers, and wood to a fire; so is a contentious man to inflame strife." (Pr. 26:21) This is the kind of "innocent" brother who "just doesn't like to be involved in strife" while his whole disposition is saturated with it.
The fact that man is found in a fight does not necessarily mean that he is disposed to strife. There are times when a peace-loving Christian must set himself for the defense of the gospel and fight the good fight of faith against ungodliness and religious error that would be imposed upon the church of the living God. But let every Christian soldier be sure he is fighting because of his love for truth and not because of love for strife.
Jealousy is another sin of the disposition, and goes hand in hand with strife. In condemning the division that was gnawing away at the vitals of the church at Corinth, Paul observed, ". . . for ye are yet carnal: for whereas there, is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal, and do ye not walk after the manner of men?" (I Cor. 3:3) And James says, ". . . if ye have bitter jealousy and faction in your heart, glory not and lie not against the truth. This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where jealousy and faction are, there is confusion and every vile deed." (Jas. 3:14-16)
When hearts are filled with the unfounded fears and suspicions of jealousy, how can there possibly be peace and harmony in any relationship of life? Jealousy looks for the worst, even in those we profess to love the most, and can always find grounds for reckless criticisms and ungodly resentments. "Bitter jealousy" is not of God, but of the devil. It blinds brethren to truth and recognition of good in others. It leads us to seek personal victories over our brethren rather than the triumph of truth.
The "bitter jealousy" condemned by James should be replaced with the "godly jealousy" of Paul. To the Corinthians Paul wrote, ". . . I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ." (II Cor. 11:2) This kind of jealousy is from above and looks above. It looks away from selfish interest with an ardent concern and intense desire that brethren will be faithful to their First Love, and not turn aside to another.
Some brethren are so full of wrath that they are ready to explode at the slightest provocation. I have seen elders of the church turn livid with rage and become almost incoherent in speech when crossed. Some preachers have made themselves reputations for being hot-heads who will erupt like a volcano with angry denunciations and wild charges if things do not go exactly to their liking. Some brethren just can't seem to listen patiently and calmly to the reasoning and pleas of those with whom they happen to differ. A mere mentioning of one of their "idols" is like waving a red flag in front of a heard of Jersey bulls. Such a disposition is the exact opposite of that which is conducive to unity and righteousness among brethren. Solomon says, "A wrathful man stirreth up contention. But he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife." (Pr. 15:18) And James says, "But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." (Jas. 1:19-20)
Sometimes, after brethren have done irreparable harm to the cause of Christ in their wrath, they have the gigantic gall to excuse themselves by saying that they cannot help being quick-tempered. "I'm just made that way" is the favorite retreat of many. I don't know so much about how I am made, but I do know that as one who has put on Christ, I am told, ". . . but now do ye also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth." (Col. 3:8) God knows that it is difficult to control ourselves under some circumstances, nevertheless it is required. "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city." (Pr. 16:22)
Envy is one of the most despicable traits of human character. It maliciously resents and begrudges the excellences and good fortunes of others. Solomon says, " . . . envy is rottenness of the bones." (Pr. 14:30) Religious envy of the wisdom, power, and success of Jesus was one of the reasons why the Jewish authorities conspired against him and delivered him up to be crucified. This same evil disposition was responsible for much of the terrible persecution that was waged against the early church. We need to guard against this same sin of the disposition lest we destroy one another and thereby crucify the spiritual body of Christ. Preachers can easily become envious of other preachers of superior ability, who may be more liberally supported by appreciative brethren. Elders of the local church are equals in authority, but they may differ widely in personality and station in life. One may be a banker and another, a day laborer; one may be a college president while another may have little formal education. It would be so very easy for Onesimus, the slave, to be envious of Philemon, the master.
We should rejoice at the good fortune of others and thank God for the abilities of those who mean so much to the cause of Christ. And as for our own supposed inferiorities and deficiencies, isn't it wonderful that the Lord will condescend to use us at all, and that He requires no more of us than we are able, for "It is required according to that a man hath, and not what he hath not."
The one thing we have sought to impress in this article is the need for constantly examining ourselves to make sure that we have the proper attitude toward one another; that unity might obtain between brethren for whom Christ died. Unity must rest upon truth, but unity is impossible where dispositions are of the flesh. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law. And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof. If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us walk. Let us not become vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal. 5:22-26)