The Works of the Flesh | Galatians 5:19-21

“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, sedi­tions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, 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).

Fornication, uncleanness, and lasciviousness are but differ­ent forms of the practice of adultery; as Jesus said: “Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, You shall not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:27, 28).

Thus, adultery begins in the unclean thought, the lascivious desire. Indeed, truly and strictly speaking, it begins in any thought which, if carried to it ultimate extent, could possibly lead to adultery. This is why it is that the commandments of God are “exceeding broad.” Each of the commandments of God forbids the ultimate act, by forbidding the imagination of the thought, which, if followed up, could possibly lead to the ultimate act. And thus the law of God, with its eternal “You shall not,” forbids all unrighteousness of men, and asserts the righteousness of God.

Idolatry is the having of other gods before the Lord. And anything that, in the estimation of any one, stands, to him, before the Lord, is an idol; and he who so allows such a thing is an idolater. Perhaps the clearest and most comprehensive statement of what is idolatry is that by John: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17). As expressed by James, it is “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).

The world, with its ways, is not of God, but is of Satan; for it is written: “The whole world lies in the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). And it is “the god of this world” who blinds “the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:4). Accordingly, any way of this world that is followed by any one in preference to the way of God—that is idol­atry to that person, and he is an idolater.

Witchcraft is, literally, sorcery; and in other translations is mostly rendered sorcery. The original word is pharmakeia, which means “the preparing or using of medicine,” and is the original of the present English word “pharmacy,” the art of compounding medi­cines and drugs. From the original meaning of “the preparing of medicine,” the word was applied to “the using of any kind of drugs, potions, or spell.” Hence, it signifies “the use of super natural knowledge or power gained in any manner, especially through the connivance of evil spirits, magic art, enchantment, witchcraft, spells, charms.”

How natural, a work of the flesh, is that tendency to divination! How many persons there are who like to know their fortune; and who, therefore, are always ready to respond to the invitations of a gypsy or a crone. And how ready people naturally are to wish to feel the experience of being mesmerized, or hypnotized! All these things come under the heading of this word pharmakeia, witchcraft, or sorcery. They are all works of the flesh. And bear in mind that it is written, “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” In the eternal righteousness, the eternal life, and the eternal promises, which God has given in Jesus Christ our Lord, the Christian already knows his fortune, even to the depths of all eternity; and he needs no pharmacy, no drugging, no charms, spells, witchcrafts, or sorcery, at any time, not in any way whatever.

Hatred, being the opposite of love, all the following-named works of the flesh—“variance, emulations, wrath, strife, sedi­tions, heresies, envyings, murders”—are but variations of it, just as we have seen that fornication, uncleanness and lascivious­ness are simply various forms of adultery. So the commandment, which says, “You shall not kill,” and which, in that, forbids hatred, which is, in itself, murder. For “whosoever hates his brother is a murderer.” As defined in the sermon on the mount, the thought stands: “Ye have heard that is was said to them of old time, You shall not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt. 5:21, 22).

However, it is well to look at each of these words, that we may get as clear a view as possible of the subtlety and deceitful­ness of sin in the works of the flesh. This, because few persons realize that they hate a person unless they actually do regard them “with a strong and passionate dislike, or aversion,” or “with extreme ill-will.” But when there is borne in mind the principle that the law of God in forbidding the ultimate act of evil, forbids the very imagination of the thought which, if carried out, could possibly lead to that ultimate act; and when it is borne in mind that, according to the Lord’s own definition, to hate a person, or to speak ill of a person, is to break the commandment that says, “You shall not kill,”—then it can be easily under-stood that hatred can be indulged without that direct and extreme ill-will and aversion to the presence, or even the thought, of the person hated, which alone is commonly recognized as hatred.

“Variance” suggestsdifference,” especially “difference that produces disagreement or controversy; dispute; dissension; dis­cord.” The original word signifies “strife, quarrel, debate, wordy wrangling, disputation, contention.” The spirit and tendency, therefore, of “variance,” is a readiness to differ and to raise questions, and then hold tenaciously to personal views, and run the difference into debating and dissension; then to ill-will, which, in itself, is hatred, which, in itself, in turn, is the breaking of the commandment that says, “You shall not kill.”

It is not in vain that, in the Scriptures, debate is cata­logued with “envy, murder,” “deceit,” and “malignity,” and is placed definitely between murder and deceit. Whoever, therefore, would avoid murder must avoid hatred; and whoever would avoid variance must diligently avoid the spirit that raises questions and indulges differences that lead to controversy, debate, and its further train of evils, which continues unbroken unto hatred, which itself is murder. And this thought is worthy of special attention everywhere in the study and recitation of the Sabbath-school lessons.

“Emulation” is the “love of superiority; desire or ambition to equal or excel others”; “the desire and the resulting endeavor to equal or surpass another, or others, in some quality, attain­ment, or achievement.” It is the expression of sheer love of self-superiority, and inability to endure the thought that another should be superior. The original word is, literally, “jealousy”; and in other translations it is so rendered; and the declaration of the word of God, as to jealousy, is that it “is cruel as the grave.” Its synonym is “envy;” and envy is “a feeling of uneasi­ness, mortification, or discontent, excited by the contemplation of another’s superiority, prosperity, or success, accompanied with some degree of enmity or malignity, and often, or usually, with a desire or an effort to discomfit or mortify the person envied.” Emulation appears first, and aims to attain to a standing of superiority over another. And when that cannot be attained, then envy sweeps in with its tide. When emulation has obtained its aim, it is succeeded immediately by exaltation at the defeat of the foe. When emulation in itself is defeated, it is immedi­ately followed by envy, which, being “enmity prompted by covetous­ness,” waits in secret for an opportunity to vent its malignity, which, it itself, is hatred.

It is easy to see how, in association with variance, emula­tions, and envyings, there should also appear “wrath, strife, seditions [a going apart], heresies [a choosing for one’s self],” and, finally “murder,” which is but the ultimate of any one of the works of the flesh named in this list, beginning with “hatred” and ending with “murders.”

Drunkenness and revelings are simply all manner of intemperance, which, in itself, is idolatry, and carries in its train a multitude of the evils already described in the dreadful works of the flesh.

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.”

[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | September 25, 1900]