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, revellings, and such like.…
— Galatians 5:19-21
When the Jewish leaders turned Jesus over to Pilate to be criminally tried in a court of law, Pilate knew they did it because they were jealous of the popularity that Jesus was gaining in the nation. Mark 15:10 says, “For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.”
The word “envy” in the above verse is the Greek word phthonos. It depicts a hostile feeling toward someone because that person has something — an advantage, a benefit, a position — that the other does not possess but would like to have. The despicable feeling toward that person with a perceived advantage is so strong that the one who feels “envy” takes action to remove that person’s advantage in the hope that it will pass on to him. This kind of envy is evil, sinister, and full of maliciousness.
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Mark 15:10 tells us that Pilate could see the real motives of the chief priests. Pilate knew the real issue: The chief priests felt threatened and insecure because of Jesus’ growing popularity. Pilate knew insecurity was driving the chief priests to demand that Jesus be charged with a criminal offense and that He be publicly declared guilty and crucified. Although the chief priests acted from a different pretense, the real issue was evident. They wanted to remove Jesus so that the publicity that had been focused on Him would shift back to the priesthood, where it had been before Jesus came on the scene. These horrible attitudes and appalling actions are communicated by the word “envy” in Mark 15:10.
In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul included “envy” in the works of the flesh. As noted above, the word “envy” is the Greek word phthonos. This word implies a deeply felt grudge because someone possesses what a person wishes was his own. Because the person who feels envy has a chip on his shoulder, he begrudges what that other person possesses and is covetous of the person’s belongings, accomplishments, relationships, or titles in life. Every time he sees that other person, he inwardly seethes about his success. He deeply resents that person’s blessing and tries to figure out a way to seize it away from the person he envies in order to make it his own.
In the example given above, the chief priests were envious of the acclaim Jesus was gaining. To get rid of the competition, the chief priests therefore decided to kill Jesus. That is the way this type of envy reacts. It is so strong that it propels a person to take some kind of action — most often, some kind of evil action designed to do away with the person who has the advantage.
This may explain why the King James Version next mentions “murder.” The problem is, the word “murder” doesn’t appear in the Greek language! So we must ask, “Why did the King James translators insert the word ‘murder’ if it doesn’t appear in the original Greek?” The only possible answer is that they perceived this “envy” to be so strong that it would even drive a person to “murder” in order to get what he wants.
There are examples in classical literature where the word phthonos is also used to represent a person who uses others as stepping stones to get where he wants to be in terms of money, prestige, and power. This is an unscrupulous person who uses and abuses people so he might grasp the things he desires.
Perhaps you’ve seen this work of the flesh manifested at the office, your place of employment, or even at your church. Have you ever witnessed a moment when a fellow employee or believer tried to snuggle up close to you, but you found out later that this person was only feigning friendship? In reality, he didn’t want to be your friend; he just wanted to be close to you so he could befriend someone you knew. To get to that other person, he had to go through you. So he acted like your friend in order to gain his own advantage and then dropped you like a lead balloon.
Or perhaps someone acted as if he wanted to be your friend when in truth all he wanted was your job! This goes on in the secular world all the time, but it should not happen inside the church. Such behavior is hurtful, manipulative, and unkind. It wounds souls; it makes people feel like they have been abused; and it cheapens the concept of friendship. No wonder Paul calls envy a work of the flesh!
The next time you find yourself tempted to get envious over someone else’s blessing or position, call upon the Spirit of God to help you mortify that deed of the flesh. Put it to silence by deliberately choosing to rejoice when someone else gets blessed! What you sow is exactly what you will reap. If you sow anger, resentment, and bitterness, that negative harvest will come back to you in the future. But if you sow joy for those who have been blessed and who are ahead of you, a time will come when blessings will come back to you. Then people will rejoice with you about YOUR success!
The word “drunkenness” is from the word methe, which refers to strong drink or to drunkenness. The consumption of wine for the sake of intoxication was common in the first century due to many pagan religions that employed wine as a part of their religious practices.
For example, the religion of Bacchos (whom the Greeks called Dionysos) was centered around wine and intoxication. In fact, Bacchos was called the god of wine. Once the worshipers were completely inebriated due to their consumption of wine, they threw off all restraints and fully yielded themselves to every temptation of the flesh. Nothing was off limits. Plunging themselves into the most vulgar sexual excesses and unnatural acts, the participants attempted to breach every known moral code, committing the grossest extremes of sin possible in order to experience a realm of excess never before tasted or known to man. That was the deliberate goal of this religion; hence, the participants were drawn into perverted and shameless orgies. While under the influence of wine, the people fornicated as the priests beat drums and clanged cymbals, adding to the rage, emotions, and uncontrolled passion of the moment.
Often drugs were mixed together with the wine, which caused the participants to convulse or to dance in frenzied circles. This frenzied condition was called entheos — a compound of the words en and theos. The word en means in, and theos is the word for god. Thus, if a person was entheos, he was “in the control of a god.” Interestingly, this is where we get the word enthusiasm. It was believed that when a participant fell into one of these uncontrolled, frenzied moments, he had passed the moral barrier and was now caught in the control of a god or spirit. This entheos experience was the ultimate goal for those who participated in the religion of Bacchos.
The consumption of wine was a key factor in this pagan religion. But Bacchos was not the only religion that used wine. The use of wine was a widespread practice in nearly all the Greek and Roman religions. Recent archeological digs of ancient cities testify to the prevalent use of wine at that time. Great numbers of homes have been discovered with huge underground caverns designed to hold a vast supply of wine. In some of these sites, the houses were found to have openings in the floor through which a person could dip down into the massive wine supply below. The fact that this much wine was available to individual homes clearly demonstrates the major role that wine played in first-century society.
Paul knew that when flesh became absorbed with wine, a person lost his ability to think rationally, often leading to devastating excess. This is precisely why he told the Ephesian believers, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess…” (Ephesians 5:18). This word “excess” is the Greek word asotia, which when literally translated means one who has lost his ability to save or to spare himself. This is a person who wastes his life, squanders his money, or desecrates his body because he is drunk and cannot think straight. Due to a mind that has been altered by excessive alcohol consumption, this person thinks irrationally, acts irresponsibly, and commits acts of excess that would normally not even be a temptation.
The principal pagan religion of Ephesus was the worship of Artemis. This was another religion that employed vast amounts of wine in its worship. The Bible provides a strong indication that although the believers in Ephesus had been redeemed and delivered from the temple of Artemis, they were allowing the consumption of wine to remain a common feature in their lives. Paul urged them to stop this practice, telling them to put aside the wine and to “be filled with the Spirit” in its place. Paul knew that once these believers were under the influence of God’s Spirit, they would be positively affected! Under that influence, they would be so changed that they would start speaking to themselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).
A drunken state suppresses the mind’s ability to think correctly and releases the flesh to fully express itself. The believers in the first century were trying to walk free from the power of their flesh. The last thing they needed was to drink wine, inhibit their ability to think correctly, revive the flesh, and then do things that were sinful or damaging! So Paul urged them to leave the wine alone! The undisciplined consumption of wine only leads to the works of the flesh!
Last in his list of the works of the flesh is the word “revellings.” This interesting word comes from the Greek word komoi, which describes a festive procession or merry-making. Most who see the word “revellings” imagine that it refers to drunkenness, street fights, or those who run from one drunken party to the next. Is this what you thought this word means? Let’s look at it and see what it really means in the original Greek!
The word komoi (“revellings”) describes a person who can’t bear the thought of boredom and is therefore continually seeking different forms of amusement or entertainment. This person is actually afraid of being bored, so he constantly contemplates what he can do next to have fun or to be entertained. The word komoi can refer to a person who endlessly eats at parties or who seeks constant laughter and hilarity. Certainly there is nothing wrong with laughter; the problem with this person is that he is consumed with the need for comedy, light moments, fun, pleasure, entertainment, or constant eating. He lives for the next meal, the next restaurant, the next movie, the next vacation.
In Second Timothy 3:4, Paul prophesies that this kind of hedonism would be an especially prevalent problem in the last days. He wrote that in the last days, people would be “lovers of pleasures.” These words come from the Greek word philedonos, which is a compound of the words philos and hedone. The word philos means to love, and the word hedone means something that tastes sweet or something that is pleasant or enjoyable. In classical Greece, it denoted the exaltation of pleasure, especially signified by the freedom to sexually express oneself. Any sexual expression was permissible as long as the parties involved agreed. In other words, there was no moral standard when hedonism ruled ancient Greece. Of the five times where the word hedone is used in the New Testament, it is used in a bad sense to describe the unrestrained seeking of carnal pleasures.
By using the word philedonos (“lovers of pleasures”), Paul tells us explicitly that in the last days people will be obsessed with pleasure — with eating, partying, and entertainment. They will be preoccupied with new methods to alleviate boredom. Life will become so soft and luxurious that people will overeat, be lazy, take unwarranted time off work, exist on borrowed money, and permit questionable moral behavior — all the while thinking that this is a normal, acceptable way to live.
Now do you see why Paul included “revellings” in his list of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21? The flesh wants to escape responsibility, thrive on fun, and avoid the seriousness of life. If you let your flesh lead you, it will waste your time, your talents, and your energies on things that are not eternal. You’ll spend all your time watching television, going to movies, and eating at restaurants — and in the end, you’ll have nothing to show for it but tons of credit card debt. One day you’ll hold your credit card bills in your hands and realize that you are head over heels in debt because of a few fleeting moments of pleasure. Were all those fleshly pursuits really worth the slavery to debt that you now have to live with for the next couple of years?
You see, that is what the flesh wants to do to you. It says, “Come on, it will feel so good if you do this. It’s true that you probably shouldn’t, but just one more time won’t hurt. Besides, what else do you have to do? There’s nothing to do at home!”
The truth is, there is plenty to do at home! You could be reading your Bible; playing with your children; developing your relationship with your brothers and sisters; visiting your neighbors; volunteering to serve in some area of your church; mowing your yard; learning to cook; cleaning the garage; or reading a book and developing your mind. There is a host of things you could do that would be healthy for you and your family!
So the next time your flesh says “There’s nothing to do! It’s so boring!” — just take a look inside your garage; check the condition of your backyard; or peek into your clothes closet. I think you’ll see that there is plenty for you to do to keep from being bored! Your flesh may recoil from doing these things, but afterward you’ll feel like a champion! You’ll feel so good that you didn’t go into more debt for more stuff you don’t need. You’ll be so thankful you didn’t waste your precious time doing things that don’t matter. And you’ll feel so victorious for accomplishing something that has needed your attention for a very long time! Somebody say, “Amen!”
My Prayer for Today
Lord, help me the next time I am tempted to get envious over someone else’s blessing or position. Help me to keep my head on straight and not to allow things in my life that will recharge my flesh and stir me up to do things that are sinful or wrong. Forgive me for thinking that I constantly have to be entertained. I’m so sorry that I’ve wasted so much of my time and thrown away so much money on things that don’t matter. I don’t want to be dominated by my flesh anymore. Today I am calling on You to help me break away from my past patterns so I can start on a new and higher path!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I am not dominated by the flesh but by the Spirit of God. I am completely committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to doing what pleases Him most with my life. I refuse to let my flesh lead me astray, and I have decided to take up my cross and follow wherever Jesus leads me. I am serious about life; I am serious about doing what God wants me to do; and I am a good steward of my time, resources, and talents.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. The next time you feel tempted to get envious over someone else’s blessing or position, what are you going to do about it? Remember — what you sow is exactly what you will reap!
2. What changes do you need to make in your life to stop reactivating and recharging the power of your flesh? Is there any habit, hobby, preoccupation, or relationship you have that encourages you to think or to act wrong?
3. The next time your flesh says, “There’s nothing to do! It’s so boring!” what are you going to do? Will you grab a newspaper so you can see what is being shown at the local movie theater, or will you decide to do something productive and edifying?