By Basilea Schlink
In Galatians 5: 19 the Apostle Paul lists the sins which he calls "works of the flesh" and tells us very pointedly, ". . . I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (v. 21). They are sins like immorality, drunkenness, licentiousness and others, which are known to us as vices.
But in this list there is also a sin that we seldom think will prevent us from inheriting the kingdom of God. Dissension-disrupting peaceful relationships with quarrelsomeness. Yes, the Holy Scriptures take this sin so seriously that the Apostle Paul uses four different expressions to describe it, because it will exclude us from the Kingdom of God: enmity, strife, dissension, party spirit.
A mighty warning from God, which we usually manage to miss. If we took it seriously, the Church of God would not be split up into so many factions and there would not be so many quarrels. There was no request more urgent to Jesus' heart than that His own be at one among each other. That was His last plea. The fact that scarcely anyone listens to this plea shows that Jesus is not the Lord in His Church; we do not take it for granted that His commandments are binding for us. It shows that His Church, and we as His members, often live apart from Him; we lead a life of sin, of quarrelling, of enmity, etc. As the Body of Christ we are disfiguring the Head, Jesus Christ, and discrediting Him and His teaching of love. So we become guilty towards countless people who therefore take offence at Christianity. But at the same time, without actually being aware of it, we have become separated from Jesus, the Head, and live under the domination of him who incites all enmity, hatred, strife and dissension. Yes, we destroy the Kingdom of God, which is built up by the unity of love, but which is torn apart by strife and disunity.
There are not enough words to express what serious consequences strife and enmity always have in families, churches and other groups within His Church. The Holy Scriptures say that everything in our lives is written down in a book of remembrance (Mal. 3: 16), so our debts with respect to these sins will usually be large. For what have we done to prevent such quarrels and divisions? We are supposed to be Jesus' peacemakers, but instead we have often helped to fan the flames of enmity. One day God will ask us whether we have helped to attain peace through kind and loving words in families, in Christian fellowships and works, or whether we have yielded to quarrelsomeness or were even the initiator of quarrels.
The tendency to fan the flames, whenever there is a slight bit of tension, sits deeply in all our hearts. And the tiny spark of a disparaging remark, which we may throw into a conversation, can become a blazing fire in churches, fellowships or families. One day when we stand before the judgment seat of God, the judgment for all the terrible things that such quarrelling and division may have done to the Kingdom of God will fall upon us.
The Holy Scriptures place much emphasis upon this sin, mentioning it four times within one verse, warning us that it can exclude us from the Kingdom of God. Therefore we must react accordingly by taking this sin especially seriously and not tolerating it any more in our lives. But we will only fight against it with all seriousness, if we first call it clearly by name, as the Holy Scriptures do. We must not embellish it by piously pretending to be defending the truth or by saying it is merely "unavoidable family problems", etc. We have to get rid of such excuses. Usually our desire to maintain truth and justice, even theologically, is not pure. We can apply the words that the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about their pious divisions (Pauline, Apolline . . .), "While there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men?" (1 Cor. 3: 3).
Quarrelling and dissension always have to do with our "flesh". The root is pride together with envy, jealousy and other sins. The proud think that their opinion alone is right. They cannot see the good points of others, as the humble do, and appreciate their opinions. That is why there is such disagreement, strife and quarrelling and even irrreconciliation in families and in other groups.
The Holy Scriptures are not interested in whether we are right or wrong when there is a problem in our family or in our church. Rather they clearly state: Whenever we quarrel with others, we belong to those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God, if we do not stretch out our hand to our opponent and answer the wrong he has done us with forgiving, long-suffering love (Matt. 5: 23 ff). In this matter God is relentless in His demands and He has a right to be. For when we were His enemies, He forgave us everything in Jesus. We continually cause Him trouble with our sins, much more trouble than any person could cause us, and He still continues to bear with us. He loves us and responds to the sorrow that we cause Him with love and bestows good gifts upon us lavishly.
That is why there is nothing that provokes the wrath of God against us more than when we fight against others instead of being kind to them, and covering up their mistakes as He does with ours. Then the terrible punishment of God will strike us. He will shut us out of His kingdom, even though we could have shared in it through Jesus' forgiveness. Then we will have to go to the kingdom where all those who lived in hatred, envy, lies and quarrels here on earth will dwell. Therefore, let us open our eyes to see what kind of seeds we are sowing through our quarrelsomeness.
We have to get rid of our tendency to fight-no matter whether it is in the realm of inheritance, marriage or law or whether it is in the realm of spiritual teachings and doctrines. What could help us more than looking at the picture of Jesus ever anew? He was the Prince of peace, the Peacemaker, who did not revile in return when He was reviled, who did not threaten when He suffered, but trusted Him who judges justly (1 Pet. 2: 23). He reacted like a lamb, heaping burning coals of love upon the heads of those who tortured Him to death. He wants to call us to follow Him on His way. If we are on His way, we will belong to Him here and in eternity. Then Satan will not have any claim on us.
Let the words of Scripture be binding for us: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12: 21). Let us take the first step, go to our brother and be reconciled with him when it is a personal matter, or stretch out the hand of love to a brother in a different Christian camp under the cross of Christ, respecting his opinions, commissions and leadings even if they should be different from ours. If we do not do this, we will lose the Kingdom of God in spite of all the supposed efforts we make on its behalf. For those who quarrel and demand their rights will never inherit the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, we must entreat Jesus, "Let me see my secret sin of quarrelsomeness, fighting and dissension", and He will answer and show us our sin. Then we will no longer be able to thrust the sword into others, but only into ourselves. Jesus has come as Love eternal and has, on the cross, won the victory over strife. He will be victorious in us also, if we want to be set free from this sin. This victory is valid for all of us who are quarrelsome; it is valid for everyone who claims it in faith.