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From the book, THE WORKS OF THE FLESH: Understanding and Defeating the Works of the Devil.

Available in e-book and paperback formats on Amazon.



Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

       In the last article, we dealt with Thumos, “outburst of wrath.” This article will address Strife or Selfish ambition. This work of the flesh and the following two works have been a source of great turmoil in God’s churches since time immemorial. Unfortunately they are still alive and well among us and they are still a source of turmoil among God’s churches of today.

       We will start with a term translated “strife” by the KJV and “Selfish Ambition” by the NKJV and the NIV.

       The better translation should in fact be, “Selfish Ambition.”

       Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words, a highly respected scholarly work, informs us that the word “Eretheia” means the following:

       "Ambition, self-seeking, rivalry,' self-will being an underlying idea in the word; hence it denotes 'party-making.' It is derived, not from eris, 'strife,' but from erithos, …; hence the meaning of 'seeking to win followers."

       In the past we covered a somewhat similar word, “Eris,” which also refers to a person who causes strife, but ERIS refers to someone who has a contentious spirit. Someone who has a contradictory nature. Someone who likes to stir up friction, whatever the reason.

JEALOUSIES, which we covered recently, refers to stirring people to rebellion and or to actions that are sinful.

"ERITHEIA," the first term we will deal with today,  focuses instead specifically on people who love power, prestige, and who have a very healthy view of themselves. Although some might want to seek a following and leave the church so as to create another group within which they are the leaders, it may not be necessarily be the case with some others. Some such people don’t want to necessarily have a following and leave the church. They might simply be satisfied with power and influence within the church.

       The Corinthian Church may have had a number of people with this problem.

2 Corinthians 12:20 For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults;

       In the book of Philippians Paul tells us that some people were in fact showing this work of the flesh in a very unexpected way.

Philippians 1:12-17 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16
The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.

They were preaching Christ so as to gain a following and to cause  Paul much affliction because he knew they

were manipulating new converts for their own selfish reasons.

       Is such a person easy to spot? Does he have an unpleasant personality? Is he harsh, mean in his approach? Is he easy to dislike?

       One example that tells us much about a person with selfish ambition is is David’s son---Absalom. The story is found in 2 Samuel 15:1-12, 18:9-18.

In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, "What town are you from?" He would answer, "Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel." Then Absalom would say to him, "Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you." And Absalom would add, "If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he gets justice." Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him.

Such is a self-seeking person. Such is the person who has selfish ambition.

1.  He "appears" to have much concern about others.

2.  He projects his apparent concern for others very effectively.

3.  He is certain of being “the better choice,” of knowing “the better way.”

4.  Like a good politician he skillfully publicizes his agenda which is meant to improve the lot of the people.

5.  He is very effective at manipulating people’s emotions.

6.  He is very charismatic.

    The description in II Samuel concludes the following:

“Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the men of Israel.

Many politicians even today use these tools very effectively. They seem seemingly warm, seemingly kind, seemingly concerned about others' problems -- but it’s not the real thing. "Politicians" in our Christian churches do the same. They seem to project all the fruits of God’s Spirit, but they are an imitation, and an act. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing, with an agenda, and the agenda is power and influence.


       Such a person could be anyone in the congregation, especially, and unfortunately, leaders. Paul reinforces this sad reality in Acts 20.

For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.

17And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. 18And when they were come to him, he said unto them,...28Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 29For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 31Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

Selfish ambition has been a curse within God’s church since time immemorial. It is not a fruit of God’s Spirit but of Satan’s spirit. It is his presence, his mind, his ambition that enters spiritually weak minds and grows therein and then takes over as an obsession and then starts infecting others.

       Recently I came across an article written by a pastor who had been in the ministry for over fifty years. In commenting about selfish ambition he had the following to say:

Modern-day examples of strife (eritheia, selfish ambition) are many. Some brethren are so power hungry, and so determined to "run things," ….. This person may or may not be an elder. They make haste to create a close relationship with every new preacher. They take him out to eat in fancy restaurants; they want him to visit their office on a regular basis (even daily) for coffee; they may even shower him with gifts. The unthinking preacher often times gets caught in the trap before discovering what is happening, so he becomes a puppet for a party. The plan is to make him beholden to his benefactor so he will feel somewhat obligated to help him execute his personal agenda in the congregation. If the preacher is naive enough to fall for this, he is caught in a trap. The brother can now use him in his manipulating of the congregation. When this brother cannot prevent a decision from being made in the business meeting, he will politic with the preacher outside the business meeting to prevent it from being done. The preacher is being exploited to carry out the base ambition of a brother or a clique.

The preacher who does not have sufficient experience or fortitude to avoid such alliances will find it impossible to break them without moving. If he seeks to break such an alliance, those who have so used him will become his hateful enemies and will make his life miserable and his work ineffective. They will criticize him for the very things for which they once praised him to the sky. They will nit pick just about everything he says or does. …Efforts to deal with it, and break the cycle, in many cases, will result in division. Some will support the problem makers (the party), and some will oppose them. There will be those who stick their heads in the sand and act as though there is no problem. There will be some who have no idea what is going on. There will be all-night business meetings filled with charges and counter charges. There will be childish behavior and intemperate outbursts. The assemblies will become charged with tension. Destructive criticism will abound. There will be backbiting, bitterness and nit picking.”

 Such are the fruits of selfish ambition. Not peace; not unity; not harmony but tension, division, and turmoil.

       Are we motivated by selfish ambition? Do we want to be a “somebody” within the congregation. Do we have such a healthy view of ourselves that we have to push forth our agenda, directly or indirectly. Do we get upset if our way is not implemented. Must we have a clique of followers looking up to us, praising our superior knowledge, our superior wisdom, our superior spirituality?

       If that is the case, we are a tool in Satan’s hands, and we need to free ourselves from his chains. We need to admit it to ourselves and most of all to God, for if we don’t we are actually fighting Jesus Christ and he will finally shine a spotlight on our works and attitude and make them come to nothing.

       Earlier in the sermon I mentioned the example of Absalom. He fought God and lost. His end was being caught by the hair and then pierced through and killed.  In 2 Samuel 18:9 we read,

“Now Absalom happened to meet David's men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom's head got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.”

       King David had said to Joab in 2 Samuel 18:5, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” But when Joab found Absalom hanging in the tree, he ignored David’s words and plunged three javelins into Absalom’s heart. Then Joab’s men finished killing Absalom, cut him down from the tree, and put him into a pit. They piled rocks over him, thus burying like a common a criminal. A horrible end to an eritheia attitude.

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       The next term, closely linked to all the other words relating to strife in the church is, Seditions.

The Works of the Flesh:  Adultery, Fornication, Uncleanness, Lasciviousness, Idolatry, Witchcraft, Hatred, Variance, Emulations, Wrath, Strife, Seditions, Heresy, Envy, Murders, Drunkenness, Revelings.

The Fruits of the Spirit:

  1. Love
  2. Joy
  3. Peace
  4. Longsuffering
  5. Kindness
  6. Goodness
  7. Faithfulness / Faith
  8. Gentleness/ Meekness
  9. Self-control\


© Copyright, Michael Caputo, 2009