Read Galatians 5:13-21

“For the choir director: A psalm of David. O LORD, rescue me from evil people. Protect me from those who are violent, those who plot evil in their hearts and stir up trouble all day long.” (Psalms 140:1-2 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”


WORKS OF THE FLESH: Dissensions. Whether one is familiar with the story, has seen the play, is into history, or none of the above, chances are everyone would have heard the name Julius Caesar. Born in 100 BCE, Caesar was a war hero, an extremely brilliant and successful General, and a statesman who, through political and tactical cunning rose up the ranks in the Roman Senate. Once at the top, his ambition and his popularity never ceased. This, of course, also created for him some political enemies. Caesar’s rise to power, and his push to reform the Republic, caused a number of Senators to fear losing their powers and to fear that Caesar was a would-be monarch.

Thus, a number of subversive dissenters rose up against Caesar, and on the Ides of March (aka March 15th) in 44 BCE, Caesar was literally stabbed in the back, and a total twenty-three time all over his body for that matter, leaving his body a bloodied corpse on the Senate floor. While the conspirators thought that their dissention-driven assassination would be viewed by the masses as a heroic act; however, they were severely mistaken. Instead, their actions were viewed as treachery and what ensued was a bloody civil war, first between the conspirators and Marc Antony, along with Octavian (Julius Caesar’s great-nephew and adopted son). That campaign was followed by an even bloodier war between Antony and Octavian (both of whom were laying claim to Caesar’s legacy and possession. Eventually, Octavian won out, Antony committed suicide, and Octavian claimed the title of Emperor (taking on the name Augustus Caesar, divi filius or son of the divine one). This single handedly eliminated the Republic of Rome and made it an Empire, with Augustus as its divine emperor for life. The subversive dissenters worst fear was now fully realized.

There is a moral to be learned in all of this. Paul, who had people in his churches subversively dissenting against his authority and apostleship, knew that such dissensions never wind up being a good or healthy thing. The story of Caesar is a great illustration for us to see the nature of subversive dissension. Rather than constructively working for what one believes, those involved in such dissension work behind the scenes and conspire with others to undermine the people and the plans they don’t like. What usually happens is that the organization as whole suffers the consequences, which are far worse than what the fears driving the dissension.

Such fear is not of God. Subversive dissension is not of God. There is a place for healthy and constructive opposition. There is a place for honest dissent; however, subversive dissension is pernicious and destructive. It seeks to have power over a situation, to control an outcome in manipulative and harmful ways. Christ wants us to be filled with grace and love for one another. Christ wants us to find harmony and to let go of nonconstructive and sinful discord. Let us knock off the subversive dissension and extend the grace it takes to honestly dissent and, if possible, work with one another through difficult times and decisions.

“May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Lord, give me the grace to only dissent in constructive ways, and only for constructive reasons. Steer me away from subversive dissent, but toward peace and unity. Amen.

subversive dissent, but toward peace and unity. Amen.

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