In the last chapetr, I dealt with Work 7, "Hatred." The focus of this
chapetr is the eighth Work of the Flesh: "Variance," or "Contentions."
The word is a translation of the Greek word, "Eris."
What is the meaning of the Greek word, ERIS? Different translations
offer various words, but the essence is the same.
The KJV translates it: “Variance”
The NKJV: “contentions”
The ASV: “strife”
The NIV: “discord”
The New Living Translation: “quarreling”
Amplified Bible: "divisions" (dissensions)
The world is full of strife, quarrels, rivalry and wrangling. This Work
of the Flesh abounds. At times, unfortunately, it is found among
Christians as well. Yet we Christians should be totally at peace with
one another. But are we? We should have total harmony within each
congregation. But do we?
In this section I will deal, first of all, with some of the major causes
of contentions within Christian groups, and I will then address what the
Bible tells us are very effective solutions.
SINCERELY BELIEVING AND TRYING TO IMPLEMENT A BETTER WAY OF DOING THINGS
In the book of Acts we read about the birth of the Christian church.
Some assume that if gentiles have accepted the Jewish God they had to
also accept the Jewish ways. If so, they had to be circumcised and keep
the whole Law.
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren,
Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot
be saved.” 2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small
dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and
Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the
apostles and elders, about this question (Acts 15:1-2).
Sometimes we do have situation in Christian churches where there is a
level of "intense" discussions, because people sincerely believe that
there is a better way to do things. These people do not have ulterior
motives at first and the problem is finally sorted out. If the right
attitude does not exist, things will deteriorate. Some, as we
will see later, did not have the right motive and the situation did
Problems occur. Situations happen when things may not go right. Then
there is a tendency in humans to look for a culprit. Sometimes we rush
into judgment and hastily point fingers. This can lead to much
resentment and friction.
Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no
children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, “Give me
children, or else I die!”
And Jacob’s anger was aroused against Rachel, and he said,
“Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the
womb?” (Genesis 30: 1-2).
As in Jacob’s case, blaming can cause much resentment, anger and
BELIEVING THAT WE KNOW BETTER THAN OTHERS
In this kind of situation the problem is not what is being offered to
the church, but the attitude and the motive. The motive is not offering
a better alternative, but asserting one’s wisdom and superiority. Such a
person knows and knows that they know that their way is better, and,
thus, they try to force their way upon others. This, of course, will
lead to friction and frustration and potentially even divisions.
LUST FOR MONEY
The motivation in this kind of situation is hidden but it is monetary
gain. The people involved will never admit it, but that is the motive.
Some people cause discontent in the congregation because they want a
following, so as to be supported financially by them. To accomplish
this, they cause division and discontent with the long-term aim of
getting tithe-paying people to follow them.
…holding fast the faithful
word as he has been taught, that he may be
able, by sound doctrine, both
to exhort and convict those who contradict.
For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers,
especially those of the circumcision, 11 whose mouths must be
stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought
not, for the sake of dishonest gain (Titus
was the real motive, though they may put forth all sorts of other
wonderful and noble-sounding reasons.
A CRAVING TO BE IMPORTANT
The main motive for this group is not money but a need to feel important
-- to be the centre of attention.
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the
church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them:
“You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I
always lived among you, Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the
flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd
the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will
come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among
yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the
disciples after themselves (Acts
These types of leaders simply want a following. They have a need to be
“Big Chief” and they sow discord to try to get a following.
AN ARROGANT INSOLENT SPIRIT
Some people cause divisions in the church because of their arrogant
spirit. You know that they have entered this stage, because they have
become harsh and mean toward others who do not agree with them and,
especially, the leadership of the church.
We therefore ought to receive
such, that we may become fellow
workers for the truth.
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the
preeminence among them, does not receive us. 10 Therefore, if
I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us
with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not
receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of
(3 John 1:8-10).
It took a tremendous amount of arrogance to speak evil of God’s Apostle.
Some do that today. They speak evil of ministers creating accusations
that are often fabricated. That is arrogance. That is very serious
A CONTENTIOUS TEMPERAMENT
Some people are contentious by nature. They easily get into arguments
and they easily become contrary.
charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife”
Do we tend to have a contentious spirit? Are we so reactive that we are
always looking for any slight reason to get into an argument? We do have
such people among us, at times, and they become a source of unnecessary
tension within the congregation; tension Christian churches definitely
do not need.
DISLIKE FOR AUTHORITY
This is a major cause of contentions in the church. There are cultures
that respect authority and some where authority is resented. In North
America, we live in a culture where authority is not often respected.
This is an old problem; it’s part of human nature.
Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the
Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian
woman. 2 So they said, “Has the
indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” (Numbers
Some people have an ingrained resentment toward anyone who holds
authority. They are the independent types who often float from group to
group, and find no rest. There are people who hate structure and any
authority over them. They will gladly float around as independents. They
will gather together in meetings where they can find a forum for their
ideas. They will be a part of anything that allows them to keep their
independence, but they will not be a part of anything that has any form
of leadership. Why? The following scripture explains.
especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of
uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed.
They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries” (2
They “despise” government; they are self-willed. And yet they
want to be a part of a Kingdom which will have lots of authority that
they will have to submit to. But will they? If we cannot submit now to a
limited amount of church government, how can we submit later to “total”
Some say, “I will submit to God, but not to men.” If the problem is that
they despise government, will they really love and submit to God’s
government? Probably not.
SPREADING RUMOURS / REVEALING PRIVATE MATTERS
This is a very effective and evil way of causing hurt and division
within the church.
“A talebearer reveals secrets,
But he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a
“He who covers a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates friends” (Proverbs
Do we spread rumors in the church? Are we spreading private information?
When someone talks to us in confidence, are we hasty to pass it on to
others? If we do we could become tools in Satan’s hands to cause
conflict and division.
CRUSADING FOR DOCTRINAL PERFECTION
Such people who have a “prophet” complex. They believe that they have
been chosen by God to "cry aloud and spare not and show my people
their imperfections." Of course these imperfections are usually
doctrinal. Such people stumble across a new doctrine thinking that no
one has ever seen it before and go on a crusade to correct the church.
When the leadership does not accept it, then they try to get at least a
few to follow. This ends up causing division, suspicion, tension and, at
“But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and
strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless” (Titus
We Christians must stick to the trunk of the tree and we must stop
looking for small doctrinal points that are of help to no one.
THE SUMMARY CAUSE: CARNALITY, OR LACK OF LOVE.
A person who is not close to God will become very self-centered and will
be a perfect tool in Satan’s hands to cause many problems and much
contention in a congregation.
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from
your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” (James
Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible,
informs us of the following:
The fighting among Christians which James is addressing is an outrageous
evil. James is not talking about disagreements--the healthy conflicts
that should be expected in a church whose ministries are expanding. He
is writing about fighting, which is "earthly, unspiritual, of the devil"
in origin… When we Christians find ourselves embroiled in fights with
each other, we should examine what we are doing in the light of this
paragraph. James gives us great help by answering three questions that
are hard for us to face. What Is the Fighting Really About?
Honestly facing what James says here is one of the most decisive steps
of faith in all of a person's life. For it requires tearing oneself away
from self-justification and redirecting oneself toward self-examination.
This is a violent uprooting of our selfishness. We try to justify
our role in fights in terms of the high ideals, the critical issues and
the injured rights we are supposedly defending. James does not entertain
any such talk. He drives right to the fact that the fights are, at
bottom, about personal desires.
…We get into fights because of pleasures we desire for ourselves.
An important self-examining question for Christians in conflict is "What
personal desire am I trying to protect or to gain?"
James does not specify examples of the desires. What he does say could
refer to conflict in group relationships, such as within a church:
inflexibility about issues (from a desire to have one's own way),
maneuvering for position of authority (from a desire for status and
admiration within the community) or criticizing others (from a desire to
make oneself look good). It is equally applicable in individual
relationships, such as a marital conflict: constantly exchanging hurtful
words (from a desire to get even) or carrying out sexual infidelity
(from a desire for selfish pleasure or simply a desire for another
spouse). All of these happen in Christian churches and Christian
marriages; they are all immoral.
Now let’s look at the classic example of a church in turmoil where much
of what we discussed so far is more than evident.
THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH
I appeal to you,
brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree
and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in
the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been
reported to me by Chlo′e’s
people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. 12
What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I
belong to Apol′los,”
or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Is
Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the
name of Paul? (I
Corinthians 1: 10-13).
Why would these Christians ever insist on associating themselves with
"big names" in the church? EGO. What they were trying to say was simply,
"I belong to a special group." "I am better than you." What they were
trying to do is simply to elevate themselves over the rest.
But I, brethren,
could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as
babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food; for
you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, 3
for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife
among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men? (I
Cor. 3: 1-3).
The Corinthians were carnal to the core. They were filled with envy
which led to strife and divisions. But there was more.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and
such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a
man has his father’s wife! 2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather
mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among
you (I Cor. 5: 1-2).
Were they all in agreement as to how the situation was being handled?
Clearly not, because only they of Chloe’s household reported the matter
to Paul, because, clearly, they saw it was a problem. They may have even
tried to do something about it. It may have led to a heated discussion
but, if so, the majority clearly silenced the minority who then appealed
This divisive situation was caused by spiritual pride. They probably
said that they were free from the Law and thus they had to be "tolerant"
and understanding. Maybe some suggested that the man needed time to see
himself. He needed help and compassion, -- but Paul did not agree!
But there is more:
When one of you has a
grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the
unrighteous instead of the saints? (1
Some members of the Corinthian church were taking each other to court.
“Christians” were taking other Christians to court. Unthinkable, but
And yet there is more:
Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our
Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If I am not an apostle to
others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my
apostleship in the Lord. 3 My defense to those who examine me is this:
4 Do we have no right to eat and drink? 5 Do we have no right to take
along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of
the Lord, and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right
to refrain from working? 7 Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who
plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock
and does not drink of the milk of the flock? (I Corinthians 9: 1-7).
Some people in Corinth may have organized themselves into a
"make-ministers-work" club. They were arrogantly criticizing the
ministry (Paul in particular) because they were receiving financial
support. Clearly some must have disagreed with them and this may have
led to division as well.
“Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come
together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when
you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among
you, and in part I believe it” (I Cor. 11: 17-18).
When they gathered for services they gathered around their faction.
Spending time doing what? Criticizing the other groups.
The apostle Paul was quite perturbed by what was transpiring in Corinth.
There had to be some major changes and he goes on to mention the sure
solution to all the contentions that ravaged the Corinthian church: Some
of the most precious and most loved verses in the Bible were written to
address the Corinthian problem.
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that
one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one
Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks,
whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink intoone Spirit.
14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.
20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye
cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to
the feet, “I have no need of you.”
25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members
should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers,
all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the
members rejoice with it. 31 But earnestly desire the best gifts (I Cor.
Paul proceeds to tell them what they should crave instead of position
and importance, instead of bickering over things that create friction
and separate; And thus we enter some of the most beautiful, precious,
transforming verses in the whole Bible.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have
not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all
mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I
could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my
body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing (I
Cor. 13: 1-3).
I Corinthians 13 offers us the solutions to the many problems that
afflicted the Corinthian church and that afflict many churches today.
Let’s look at them in detail.
Verse 4: “Love suffers long and is kind.”
Love can take a lot
of mistreatment, a lot of offences. Love reacts with kindness even
toward the ones who do not deserve it. (People who sow discord are harsh
“Love does not envy.”
Envy is a sign of carnality. It is a statement that one wants more than
just the opportunity to love and to serve; It wants power, glory and
control over others; It resents what others have and is angered by
“Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up.”
Love does not want to be the centre of attention; does not give sermons
and sermonettes to show off one’s wisdom and knowledge; does not serve
to show one’s humility to the congregation and does not feel or acts
superior to others.
Verse 5: “Does not behave rudely.”
Acting rudely is a sign of disrespect toward others and a sign that we
might look down upon others.
(Love) “does not seek its own”
It is not motivated by selfish motives. It does not crave power and
(Love) “is not provoked”
Does not get upset over little things.
(Love) “Thinks no evil.”
It is not quick to assign blame or evil intent.
Verse 6: “Does not rejoice in iniquity”
Hates evil in all forms but, most of all, hates creating situations
where friction ensues. Such a person loves peace and righteousness and
will not spread rumors.
“but rejoices in the truth”
Rejoices in telling the truth, and only the truth, and in being around
truthful and honest people.
Verse 7: “Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,
endures all things.”
Love is very longsuffering, believes all that comes from God (not
humans) and is willing to suffer and endure any trial.
Verse 8: “Love never fails.”
One can never go wrong by framing one's life with love. The above
principles never fail.
But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are
tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish
away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that
which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest
of these -- is love (I Cor. 13: 8-13).
Abraham, the father of the faithful, hated friction and division and
from the beginning he set the right example for us to follow.
In Genesis 13 we find that Abraham and Lot's servants are in conflict.
Abraham offers a solution.
“So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you
and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren”
Matthew Henry offers the following commentary:
The attempt to stay this strife was made by Abram, although he was
the elder and the greater man. Abram shows himself to be a man of
cool spirit, that had the command of his passion, and knew how to turn
away wrath by a soft answer. Those that would keep the peace, must never
render railing for railing…he was willing to beseech even his inferior
to be at peace. Whatever others are for, the people of God must be
for peace. Abram's plea for peace was very powerful. Let the people
of the land contend about trifles; but let not us fall out, who know
better things, and look for a better country (Emphasis mine).
The causes of contentions are many. They afflict this world of ours, but
they should not afflict God’s people. Wanting to assert oneself, one’s
ideas, one’s agenda will only lead to friction and turmoil. Spreading
rumors will only divide. Selfish motives can only steal peace and
harmony from the body of Christ.
Do we want to be slaves to the Works of the Flesh? Do we want to be
tools in Satan’s hands? Or do we want to be love givers, peace makers,
harmony creators, tools in God’s hands?
I hope this section will help us to self-analyze and to bring about
changes in our attitude, if we have discovered some spots that need
Let’s add peace to the body of Christ, fellow Christians. Let’s never
add to contention, but only to harmony.
Download the complete book on your computer or Kindle
The next article will address the next work of the flesh: