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13 February 2019

Jesus’s list of works of the flesh.

Paul’s not the only one who put together a list, y’know.

Mark 7.17-23 • Matthew 15.15-20.

Every so often I bring up a fruit of the Spirit (like grace) or work of the flesh (like gracelessness) —and it’s one Paul didn't list in Galatians 5. And every so often I’ll get pushback from a Christian who’s got those Galatians lists memorized: “Waitaminnit, that’s not one of the fruits of the Spirit.” Yeah it is. Paul didn’t write a comprehensive list. ’Twasn’t his intent.

Sometimes it’s an honest mixup. More often it’s because they don’t want any more good or bad fruit added to the list. ’Cause it either means there’s more we have to do, or more we can’t do. Fewer fleshly behaviors we can get away with; more character traits we really oughta build. Limiting these lists to Galatians alone provides us Christians a handy Pharisee-style loophole for our spiritual growth only going that far—and no further.

But. In addressing the very problem of Pharisees and their loopholes, and how Pharisee customs let ’em get away with violating God’s Law, Jesus had to explain to both his students and the crowd how evil comes from within, not without. It’s not what goes into a person that makes ’em ritually unclean; it’s what comes out. Evil attitudes, intentions, and behaviors defile us. And all of ’em come from the inner person. From the flesh.

Pharisees believed and taught evil comes from the outside in. Entirely wrong. Humans are inherently selfish. But we wanna justify our selfishness so we can (selfishly) feel good about ourselves despite all the destruction we wreak by our self-serving behavior. The result is pretty much all the evil in the world. (The rest come from natural disasters—some of which human behavior has also produced.)

First problem Jesus ran into was his students telling him the lesson had offended the Pharisees. Well, Jesus explained, they’re blind guides. They think they understand God; they really don’t; there’s no telling them anything; forgive it as best you can. Pity the fools.

Second was the students not getting it. They thought this was a parable. It’s not, and Jesus had to spell out how this is one of those instances you gotta take him a little more literally than usual.

Mark 7.17-18 KWL
17 From the crowd, once Jesus entered the house, his students were asking him what “the parable” meant.
18A Jesus told them, “You also don’t understand this?”
Matthew 15.15-16 KWL
15 In reply Simon Peter told Jesus, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 Jesus said, “You also don’t understand yet?”

Hey, when it’s a wholly new idea to your culture, sometimes it’s slow to sink in.

Food goes in. Evil comes out.

The Pharisees’ objection was how Jesus didn’t ritually wash his hands, which meant they were “ritually unclean” to the Pharisees’ minds. The word they used was κοινοῖ/kiní, “common,” which isn’t really an insult unless you have a caste system where “common” is the lowest rank, and you imagine you’re a noble on the top rank. To them, Jesus was acting like a dirty peasant, and to Jesus, their ritual washing was all for show anyway. (And not as sanitary as you might imagine.)

Ritual washing, Jesus said, didn’t make you “common.” Thinking like a dirty peasant, with a heart full of selfish and depraved ideas, is what did it to you.

Mark 7.18-20 KWL
18B “You know how everything from outside, which goes into the person, can’t make them ‘common’?
19 Because it doesn’t enter their heart, but into the bowels, and comes out into the toilet.
All the food gets cleaned out.”
20 Jesus said this: “What comes out of the person? That makes the person ‘common’.
Matthew 15.17-18 KWL
17 “You know how everything which goes in the mouth, enters the bowels and goes down the toilet?
18 What comes out of the mouth, comes out of the heart—and that makes the person ‘common.’ ”

Food passes through your alimentary canal. It doesn’t get to your heart… although if you eat too much of certain types of foods, you’re gonna clog your arteries with plaque. But Jesus wasn’t speaking of one’s literal heart, but one’s mind. Your food isn’t gonna make you think and do evil. Your mind will. Your food’s just gonna come out in your poo.

Evil’s far more deeply embedded than that.

Mark 7.21-23 KWL
21 “For evil reasoning comes out from within the person’s heart:
Porn. Theft. Murder. 22 Adultery. Covetousness. Depravity.
Deception. Immorality. Stinginess. Slander. Conceit. Stupidity.
23 All these inner evils come out and make the person ‘common’.”
Matthew 15.19-20 KWL
17 “For evil reasoning comes out of the heart:
Murder. Adultery. Porn. Theft. False witness. Slander.
20 These make the person ‘common’. Not washing one’s hands to eat doesn’t make the person ‘common’.”

Like Paul’s list, Jesus’s isn’t comprehensive either. But these are traits we should never see among Christians. When we see the Spirit’s fruit in our lives, we’re clean, kosher, Christian. When we see no evidence of any influence of the Holy Spirit—unchanged, unregenerated, unrepentant, unfruitful people—we’re unclean, treyf, pagan.

Evil reasoning (διαλογισμοὶ πονηροί/dialoyismé poniré, KJV “evil thoughts”) tends to get listed with the others, but really all these things are evil thoughts. And notice how a number of ’em violate the Ten Commandments.

PORN (πορνεῖαι/porneíe, “sex-minded,” KJV “fornications”). Porn refers to any inappropriate sexual activity: People who regularly have sex on the brain, and won’t limit it to monogamy, fidelity, and the considerations of their partner.

Lots of Christians figure sex isn’t an issue once you’re married: Have all the sex you want with your spouse! But you can still be inordinately interested in sex. A few famous pastors raised eyebrows by declaring Christian couples need to have sex daily… despite what either partner, usually the wife, is comfortable with. Look, if the wife doesn’t wanna have sex every day, there’s usually good reason—and the good reason is often that her husband sucks at ministering to her needs. (And not just her sexual needs; get your mind out of there.) But the demand for daily sex isn’t meant to accommodate the unsatisfied wife, but the horny husband. It’s still about seeking one’s own pleasure, not ministering to one another. Still selfish. Still lacks self-control. Still porn.

Bad Christians dismiss their promiscuity by claiming it’s a form of love. I met a guy who called himself a “love addict”—by which he meant he couldn’t keep himself from bedding women, despite his marital vows. What he was really addicted to was the thrill of getting away with adultery. And of course all the fornication.

THEFT (κλοπαί/klopé, KJV “thefts”). Refers to whether you’re outright stealing things, or secretly trying to get away with stuff. Getting the better side of a deal, getting an unfair advantage over everyone else, getting ahead by misusing other people’s trust. To them, life is war and competition and profit, and if you’re not playing the game you’re a fool.

This looks nothing like the humility, transparency, love, and service Christians oughta see in one another. Yet I’ve been in a few Christian organizations where theft is everywhere: People brought their “business sense” from the “real world” into the environment and corrupted it. But then again they didn’t really bring it in from outside. They justified it on the outside. It was already within them.

MURDER (φόνοι/fónë, KJV “murders”). Thankfully we don’t see a lot of murder among Christians. (Well, not after they turned to Jesus.) There are exceptions, but by and large Christians know better.

Where we don’t know better is when we wish others were dead. We Christians do this all the time. I know from experience: I still know a lot of people who are really interested in politics, and really, really hate the opposition party. And anyone who supports it. And enemies of the United States, both real and imaginary. And so forth.

Jesus equates this hatred with murder. Mt 5.22 If you hate a person enough to wish they were dead, you murder them in your heart, and people with this level of hatred in ’em are unfit for God’s kingdom. Supposed to love our neighbors and enemies, remember?

ADULTERY (μοιχεῖαι/mikheíë, KJV “adulteries”). Our culture’s definition of adultery, and the bible’s, are very different. It was a patriarchal culture, where men were culturally permitted to have sex with anyone they were personally responsible for. God forbade ’em to have sex with relatives and slaves, but they still had polygamy and “concubines”—an old-timey word for “girlfriend.” (I don’t care if your favorite bible dictionary claims it means “secondary wife.” It did not. It meant an unmarried woman with whom a man had sex.)

Adultery in that culture meant having sex with someone who wasn’t yours to have sex with. Someone else’s spouse. Someone else’s significant other. A minor. A relative. A stranger in the pornography you consume (and they’re all strangers, aren’t they?). Rape would also fall into this category. Sexual harassment as well.

There’s a fair amount of overlap between porn and adultery, but Jesus was covering the bases.

COVETOUSNESS (πλεονεξίαι/pleonexíë, KJV “covetousness”). Coveting is simply wanting stuff. Which isn’t in itself a sin, but when you want what you can’t or ought not have, that’s sin. But notice Jesus doesn’t specifically single out the sinful stuff: He lists coveting in general. Simply wanting stuff.

’Cause there are a lot of people who aren’t at all satisfied with what they have. They gotta have more. Could be money, position, authority, honor, special treatment, perqs, benefits, and so forth. Unlike the humble, who are fine with where and who they are, these folks demand whatever they can get. And y’know, certain churches teach we should demand whatever we can get, ’cause we’re God’s kids Mt 7.11, Lk 6.38 and deserve the best of everything.

But in so doing we violate Jesus’s example. Part of the devil’s temptations to Jesus included goading him to demand all the stuff Jesus was due by being God’s son. And Jesus wouldn’t. There’s nothing wrong with asking for daily bread, Mt 6.11 but the self-entitled ask not for a day’s worth, but a pantry’s worth. They justify their greed by pointing out how God has more than enough. He does—but the kingdom’s resources are meant to further the kingdom, not line our pockets.

DEPRAVITY (πονηρίαι/poniríë, KJV “wickedness”). Habitual evil behavior. You know the sort who can’t or won’t quit their vices? They’re not addicted; they just don’t wanna quit. Won’t stop drinking, gambling, red meat, sarcasm, holding grudges, or other bad behavior. They’d rather be destroyed than give it up. It’s freedom! It’s who they are! But it’s wrecking ’em and their relationships—including the relationship with God.

DECEPTION (δόλος/thólos, KJV “deceit”). You know, liars and hypocrites.

IMMORALITY (ἀσέλγεια/asélyeia, KJV “lasciviousness”). People who do as they wish and don’t care who it offends, what biblical commands it violates, who gets offended, whether it’s false or evil: Their heart wants what it wants, so they’ll do as they please.

Sometimes it takes the form of “the greater good” argument, or the ends justifying the means—and in this form it regularly works on Christians. “Yeah, we gotta hide our ministers’ sins—but only so the name of Jesus isn’t dragged through the mud.” It’s never really his name they’re concerned about.

STINGINESS (ὀφθαλμὸς πονηρός/ofthalmós ponirós, KJV “an evil eye”). Yeah, literally it says “evil eye.” A “good eye” and “evil eye” are Hebrew idioms which refer to generosity and stinginess. Hopefully we have good eyes: We give when we can.

The stingy don’t give when they can. Or they give the minimum amount necessary to appear benevolent, like when a billionaire gives a thousand dollars to a charity—a millionth of their money, which they’ll never miss, and can deduct from taxes. They don’t think of money as something God gave them to bless others; if they’re not already worshiping it, they figure money’s something God gave them to bless themselves.

SLANDER (βλασφημία/vlasfimía, KJV “blasphemies”). Slander’s when you falsely accuse anyone. It applies to everyone, not just God. And Christians commit it all the time… usually in the form of gossip.

FALSE WITNESS (ψευδομαρτυρίαι/sevtho-martyríë, KJV “false witness”). Claiming you know something when you don’t. Not necessarily slander, although slander is definitely a form of false witness. Like I said, Jesus was covering his bases.

A pretty common way Christians bear false witness is by spreading internet rumors. We’re really lazy about checking facts, and wind up spreading fake news instead of stopping it in its tracks. But there are people who live for this sort of thing, and will never tell an honest story when a juicy one will do. So this’d be them.

CONCEIT (ὑπερηφανία/yper-ifanía, KJV “pride”). Taking pleasure in our achievements, i.e. pride, isn’t necessarily evil. It’s only when we make too much of ourselves that we’ve crossed the line into conceit: Pride gone too far.

Naturally conceit’s the opposite of humility—of recognizing our true value, which is a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus is humble, Mt 11.29 for he knows precisely who he is. We must remember who we are in his kingdom, and never claim otherwise.

STUPIDITY (ἀφροσύνη/afrosýni, KJV “foolishness”). People who don’t think things through—or don’t think at all. They react. Their lives are reduced to knee-jerk reactions: Either “I like that” or “I don’t like that,” yet they can’t always tell you why they like or dislike things. Or, when they do, it’s usually their favorite talk-radio host’s explanation instead of their own thinking.

God gave us brains, and God grants us wisdom when we ask him for it. Jm 1.5 He expects us to think and reason, and get ourselves out of trouble preventatively, not after the fact. He doesn’t want us to react on instinct; certainly not the selfish instincts we were born with. He wants us to think on what’s good and right and God-pleasing, and thoughtfully respond to the world around us. There are far too many irrational Christians among us, whose first response is based on instinct, and whose second response is to cover up the misbehavior by giving it Christianese names: “That just grieved my spirit, so that’s why I said what I did.” Hogwash: You didn’t think. Confess. Repent. And next time, think.

These things make us unclean.

A Christian is defined by our relationship with God through Christ Jesus. If we have such a relationship, we’re Christians. How do we know, how do we prove, we have such a relationship? Fruit. If we have the Holy Spirit within us, and are following his guidance and leading, we’re gonna produce fruit of the Spirit. Works of the flesh suggest, at best, we’re sucky Christians; at worst we’re not Christian at all.

So. If we have any of the works of the flesh in us—and every Christian, to some degree, has some—we gotta be rid of it. We gotta make the effort. Which God recognizes, and honors: We’re saved by his grace, and God’s grace is for those who make this effort. But for those who make no effort—who figure baptism, the sinner’s prayer, or good karma is getting them into heaven—they’re betting on the wrong horse. Work the relationship. Fight the works of the flesh. God will help you win.