William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Evil Things (Galatians 5:16-21)

5:16-21 I tell you, let your walk and conversation be dominated by the Spirit, and don't let the desires of the lower side of your nature have their way. For the desires of the lower side of human nature are the very reverse of the desires of the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are the very reverse of those of the lower side of human nature, for these are fundamentally opposed to each other, so that you cannot do whatever you like. The deeds of the lower side of human nature are obvious fornication, impurity, wantonness, idolatry, witchcraft, enmity, strife, jealousy, uncontrolled temper. self-seeking, dissension, heretical division, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and all that is like these things, I warn you, as I have warned you before, that those who do things like that will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

No man was ever more conscious of the tension in human nature than Paul. As the soldier in Studdert Kennedy's poem said;

I'm a man and a man's a mixture

Right down from his very birth;

For part of him comes from heaven,

And part of him comes from earth.

For Paul it was essential that Christian freedom should mean not freedom to indulge the lower side of human nature, but freedom to walk in the life of the Spirit. He gives us a catalogue of evil things. Every word he uses has a picture behind it.

Fornication; it has been said, and said truly, that the one completely new virtue Christianity brought into the world was chastity. Christianity came into a world where sexual immorality was not only condoned, but was regarded as essential to the ordinary working of life.

Impurity; the word that Paul uses (akatharsia, Greek #167 is interesting. It can be used for the pus of an unclean wound, for a tree that has never been pruned, for material which has never been sifted. In its positive form (katharos ( Greek #2513 ), an adjective meaning pure) it is commonly used in housing contracts to describe a house that is left clean and in good condition. But its most suggestive use is that katharos ( Greek #2513 ) is used of that ceremonial cleanness which entitles a man to approach his gods. Impurity, then, is that which makes a man unfit to come before God, the soiling of life with the things which separate us from him.

Wantonness; this word (aselgeia, Greek #766 ) is translated licentiousness in the Revised Standard Version ( Mark 7:22 ; 2 Corinthians 12:21 ; Galatians 5:19 ; Ephesians 4:19 ; 1 Peter 4:3 ; Jd 1:4 ; Romans 13:13 and 2 Peter 2:18 ). It has been defined as "readiness for any pleasure." The man who practises it has been said to know no restraint, but to do whatever caprice and wanton insolence may suggest. Josephus ascribed it to Jezebel when she built a temple to Baal in Jerusalem. The idea is that of a man who is so far gone in desire that he has ceased to care what people say or think.

Idolatry; this means the worship of gods which the hands of men have made. It is the sin in which material things have taken the place of God.

Witchcraft; this literally means the use of drugs. It can mean the beneficent use of drugs by a doctor; but it can also mean poisoning, and it came to be very specially connected with the use of drugs for sorcery, of which the ancient world was full.

Enmity; the idea is that of the man who is characteristically hostile to his fellow men; it is the precise opposite of the Christian virtue of love for the brethren and for all men.

Strife; originally this word had mainly to do with the rivalry for prizes. It can even be used in a good sense in that connection, but much more commonly it means the rivalry which has found its outcome in quarrellings and wrangling.

Jealousy; this word (zelos, Greek #2205 , from which our word zeal comes) was originally a good word. It meant emulation, the desire to attain to nobility when we see it. But it degenerated; came to mean the desire to have what someone else has, wrong desire for what is not for us.

Uncontrolled temper ; the word Paul uses means bursts of temper. It describes not an anger which lasts but anger which flames out and then dies.

Self-seeking; this word has a very illuminating history. It is eritheia ( Greek #2052 ) and originally meant the work of a hired labourer (erithos). So it came to mean work done for pay. It went on to mean canvassing for political or public office, and it describes the man who wants office, not from any motives of service. but for what he can get out of it.

Dissension; literally the word means a standing apart. After one of his great victories Nelson attributed it to the fact that he had the happiness to command a band of brothers. Dissension describes a society in which the very opposite is the case, where the members fly apart instead of coming together.

Heretical division; this might be described as crystallized dissension. The word is hairesis ( Greek #139 ), from which comes our word heresy. Hairesis was not originally a bad word at all. It comes from a root which means to choose, and it was used for a philosopher's school of followers or for any band of people who shared a common belief. The tragedy of life is that people who hold different views very often finish up by disliking, not each others' views, but each other. It should be possible to differ with a man and yet remain friends.

Envy; this word (phthonos, Greek #5355 ), is a mean word. Euripides called it "the greatest of all diseases among men." The essence of it is that it does not describe the spirit which desires, nobly or ignobly, to have what someone else has: it describes the spirit which grudges the fact that the other person has these things at all. It does not so much want the things for itself; it merely wants to take them from the other. The Stoics defined it as "grief at someone else's good." Basil called it "grief at your neighbours good fortune." It is the quality, not so much of the jealous, but rather of the embittered mind.

Drunkenness; in the ancient world this was not a common vice. The Greeks drank more wine than they did milk; even children drank wine. But they drank it in the proportion of three parts of water to two of wine. Greek and Christian alike would have condemned drunkenness as a thing which turned a man into a beast.

Carousing; this word (komos) has an interesting history. A komos was a band of friends who accompanied a victor of the games after his victory. They danced and laughed and sang his praises. It also described the bands of the devotees of Bacchus, god of wine. It describes what in regency England would have been called a rout. It means unrestrained revelry. enjoyment that has degenerated into licence.

When we get to the root meaning of these words, we see that life has not changed so very much.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible