Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that God is just, delivering those who stubbornly rebel against Him to a debased mind. And this debased mind bears numerous bitter fruits. Today we consider the eighth of these fruits: strife. Paul writes that rebellious peoples are “full of strife.”
Webster defines strife as, “Exertion or contention for superiority; contest of emulation, either by intellectual or physical efforts.” Louw & Nida’s Greek-English lexicon adds that strife is “conflict resulting from rivalry and discord.” In Scripture, strife often keeps company with envy. Recall that envy is the heart desire that begrudges other people that which God has given them; envy longs to possess or destroy that which belongs to another. Consequently, strife is often the fruit of envy. Paul exhorts the saints in Rome, “Let us walk properly, as in the day,… not in strife and envy” (Rom 13:13).
While strife is characteristic of rebellious cultures, it frequently invades the Church as well. Consider some examples. First, factions within the Church. Often we are tempted to forget our identity as members of Christ and so we begin striving with one another, vying for importance. Thus Paul rebukes the Corinthian church which was riven by strife: “For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:13) To degenerate into factions is to be full of strife.
At other times, Christians can even do noble things from strife. Thus Paul writes to the Philippians, “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife…” (Phil 1:15). On this occasion, some envied the influence that Paul had among the Gentile churches. Thus, they took advantage of his imprisonment to try to undermine his influence. While their actions were noble – preaching Christ – their motivations were envy and strife. They too were full of strife.
Elsewhere Paul warns Timothy to beware lest theological debates descend into strife. While such debates can reflect a love for God and His Word, left unmonitored they can destroy a congregation. Paul reminds Timothy that false teachers are “obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions…” (1 Tim 6:4). Some people are so persnickety about using just the right theological jargon that they are willing to destroy God’s church. They are the type of men who strain at gnats and swallow camels.
So what of you? Paul reminds the Galatians that while the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control”, one of the deeds of the flesh is strife (Gal 5:20). While standing for truth will often result in conflict, we must always stand for truth in such a way that we not forget our call to peace with all those who also know and love the truth. Thus Jesus declared, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt 5:9). So do you love the truth as a peacemaker? Or are you driven by envy and strife?
Reminded that strife is one of the deeds of the flesh and often infiltrates the Church of God, let us confess the strife that has torn the modern church asunder and petition God to forgive us and restore us to unity one with another. And, as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.