Isa. 42:2 π Jer. 1:5 π Mt. 12:19 π Lk. 13:24-27 π Lk. 17:1 π Lk. 17:10 π Jn. 6:52 π Jn. 18:36 π Acts 7:26 π Rom. 1:29-32 π Rom. 2:8-9 π Rom. 2:11 π Rom. 12:8 π Rom. 12:11 π Rom. 13:13 π Rom. 15:20 π Rom. 15:30 π 1 Cor. 1:11 π 1 Cor. 3:3; 2nd π 1 Cor. 9:25 π 2 Cor. 5:9 π 2 Cor. 7:5 π 2 Cor. 7:11 π 2 Cor. 7:12 π 2 Cor. 8:7 π 2 Cor. 8:16 π 2 Cor. 11:23-28 π 2 Cor. 12:20; 2nd π Gal. 2:21 π Gal. 5:20; 2nd π Gal. 5:21; 2nd; 3rd π Eph. 2:8-9 π Eph. 2:10 π Phlp. 1:15 π Phlp. 1:15-17 π Phlp. 1:27-28 π Phlp. 2:3 π Phlp. 3:14 π Phlp. 4:3 π Col. 1:28 π Col. 1:29 π Col. 4:12 π 1 Ths. 4:10-11 π 1 Tim. 6:4 π 1 Tim. 6:4-5 π 1 Tim. 6:12 π 2 Tim. 2:3 π 2 Tim. 2:5; 2nd; 3rd π 2 Tim. 2:14 π 2 Tim. 2:23 π 2 Tim. 2:24-26 π 2 Tim. 4:7 π Tit. 3:9; 2nd π Heb. 6:11 π Heb. 11:6 π Heb. 12:4 π Jas. 3:14-16 π Jas. 4:1 π Jas. 4:1-2 π 2 Pet. 1:5-11 π 2 Pet. 3:17-18 π 1 Jn. 1:9 π Jude 3Greek Words Mentioned in This Article
Starthere multiple links Strive, Fight – agonizomai –  π Strive – athleo –  π Strive Against – antagonizomai –  π Strive – erizo –  π Selfish Ambitions – eritheia – ; 2nd; 3rd; 4th π Contentions – eris – ; 2nd; 3rd; 4th π Dispute – logomacheo –  π Disputation – logomachia –  π Striving, Fighting – mache –  π Strive, Fight – machomai –  π Add In – pareisphero –  π All – pas –  π Speed – spoude –  π Strive Together – sunagonizomai –  π Labor With – sunathleo –  π Strive, Labor – philotimeomai – 
One of the clearest passages of Scripture on how you are to mature in the faith is given by Peter. He wrote:
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. ( 2 Pet. 1:5-11; top )
Though we could spend a great deal of time on each aspect of this passage, let us simply take an overview and then focus on one portion.
First, it is vitally important to note the progression of the spiritual characteristics. They are in the order they are in for a reason. These are the “steps to spiritual maturity.” Skipping steps or over-emphasizing any steps will only short-circuit your progress toward spiritual maturity.
Second, if you continue to grow in these areas, you will never be unfruitful or unproductive in your relationship with Christ. If you don’t grow in these areas, you are moving towards that condition the Bible calls apostate, fully aware of the truth but completely unconcerned about your sinful, rebellious attitudes and beliefs. There are only two directions to be moving in - there is no mention of being able to stand still or hold some halfway, middle position.
Third, this is the entrance into, and the security of, remaining in Christ’s kingdom. Peter concludes his letter by saying, “You therefore, beloved, since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” ( 2 Pet. 3:17-18; top ) The only thing that will keep you from falling away from a secure position in Christ is continued growth in the grace and knowledge of Him.
And last, it is to be noticed that Peter’s list of the characteristics of spiritual maturity are given in the imperative, that is, it is a command that you, the reader, the practicing believer are to add these things progressively one to the next. It is not that God is to add them to your life - though it is equally true that you must obtain these characteristics from Christ alone - but it is your responsibility to add these things to your life. This is in the same sense as what the writer of Hebrews said, “God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” ( Heb. 11:6; top )
There is a phrase nested at the very beginning of this list that tells us how we are to go about adding these things to our life. “Giving all diligence,” Peter said. This phrase is worth some special attention.
The word “diligence” in the Greek is “spoude” [ 4710 ] is where we get the word “speed” and it has two meanings. The first is to speed, urge, hasten, press, use with haste, hastily, eagerly. The second meaning, the one used by Peter here is that of earnestness, diligence, zeal, earnest effort. Sincere, earnest, concentrated effort. This is something which Americans come by naturally. One of their common virtues is that of being diligent workers at whatever they apply themselves to. So, we should not have any difficulty in recognizing the manner in which we are to progressively add the characteristics of Christ to our life.
Paul also uses this word to command all of us to not lag in diligence ( Rom. 12:11 ), to abound in diligence ( 2 Cor. 8:7 ), and to encourage those gifted with responsibility over the body of Christ to lead diligently. ( Rom. 12:8 ) Diligence was the result of Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians for not disfellowshiping the believer who was practicing incest ( 2 Cor. 7:11 ) and it is the same word for the care which Paul exercised in rebuking them! ( 2 Cor. 7:12 ) Paul was saying, “I watched over you diligently by rebuking you - and you responded by diligently attending to your appropriate response.” Paul used this word to speak highly of the earnest care of Titus for the Corinthians. ( 2 Cor. 8:16 ) The writer of Hebrews also links diligence with the full assurance of hope in Christ. ( Heb. 6:11 ) And Jude was exercising his diligence when he wrote his letter. ( Jude 3; top )
But Peter doesn’t stop there. He says, “all diligence.” The Greek word for “all” is “pas” [ 3956 ]. It is used over a 1,000 times in the New Testament and it has one basic meaning throughout - all. Not some, not most, but all. Peter uses a very common superlative here to emphasize the need to be diligent. Always be diligent in these matters. Not sometimes. Not often. Not most of the time. Always be diligent regarding these foundational characteristics of Christ.
But Peter doesn’t stop there either. The word translated “giving” is an interesting verb. It is “pareisphero” [ 3923 ]. It is made up of three Greek words:
- “para” which means “alongside or beside,”
- “eis” which is the preposition “into,” and
- “phero” which means “to bring.”
The idea is that we are to bring forth something additional, to contribute in addition to, yield more, add to. That is, give it that extra effort, that final strain that pushes you across a finish line or which enables you to lift a heavy object.
What a picture! Give it your all - no, go beyond that and give it your all with an extra effort. We would say 110%. That is our duty regarding the adding of the characteristics of Christ to our life.
Paul spoke of the high calling of Christ when he wrote, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” ( Phlp. 3:14 ) I believe Paul referred to that high calling when he spoke of how and where he preached the gospel. Paul told the Romans, “And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation.” ( Rom. 15:20 ) In his day as is still true in some areas today, taking the gospel to unreached areas entailed great risk. Paul’s list of beatings and dangers and other various sufferings for Christ ( 2 Cor. 11:23-28 ) are not often exceeded even in modern times. Paul also spoke about aiming or aspiring to something greater when he said, “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.” ( 2 Cor. 5:9; top ) What a goal or aspiration! To be well-pleasing to God.
The word Paul is using here is “philotimeomai” [ 5389 ] and it come from two Greek words: “philos” which means “friend,” and “time” which means “honor.” It is the idea of being fond of honor, ambitious, to make something an ambition, to aspire. It speaks of setting one’s sights on a noble goal and laboring toward that goal.
Paul used that word in a different context when he wrote to the Thessalonians that points out the long-term nature of the word. He wrote, “But we urge you, brethren...that you also aspire to lead a quiet life...” ( 1 Ths. 4:10-11; top ) This is not something that can be done once and it’s over with. This is an ongoing process of diligence and perseverance.
Many who have been exposed to Christian teaching have heard only the cheap-grace gospel. That is, Christ died for our sins and, if you try to do anything good, why, you’re making a mockery of His death. These teachers lean heavily on passages like “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” ( Eph. 2:8-9; top ) There it is, they say, if you work, you’re trying to earn or buy your salvation.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul, in the very next verse goes on to say, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” ( Eph. 2:10 - emphasis added; top) We were created in Christ Jesus for good works! And not just any good works that we might randomly choose to do. No, these are good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. The idea is that there is a plan in God’s mind that we, in time, are to fulfill.
In fact, the do-nothing gospel is very far from the truth. Consider what Jesus said:
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’” ( Lk. 13:24-27; top )
It is interesting to note that Jesus says, “I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.” Remember those good deeds that were planned in God’s mind beforehand that we should walk in them? Remember how Jeremiah was known in the mind of the Lord before he was ever born? ( Jer. 1:5; top ) So too are we known in the mind of the Lord. He has a “blueprint” of what you are supposed to be like. If you arrive before His judgment seat on judgment day and you do not conform to His “blueprint,” He has no option but to say to you, “I do not know you.”
The instruction as to how to enter this narrow gate which leads to our becoming what God foreknew us to be is “strive.” The Greek word is “agonizomai” [ 75 ] and it means to contend for victory in the public games, to fight, wrestle, take pains, to wrestle as in an award contest, straining every nerve to the uttermost towards the goal, special pains and toil, overcoming hindrances in the development of the Christian life. From this word we derive the word “agony” or “agonize.”
The writer of Hebrews uses a variation of this word when he says, “You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” ( Heb. 12:4; top ) The word used here is “antagonizomai” [ 464 ] which means to fight against a person, to be in conflict with someone, the prefix “ant” emphasizing “against.” Sin is our enemy and we would do well to always remember that.
Paul told Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” ( 1 Tim. 6:12 ) And later he would say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” ( 2 Tim. 4:7 ) One of the descriptions of how he fought that fight is found when he says, “To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.” ( Col. 1:29 ) The end to which he labored was to preach Christ, “warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” ( Col. 1:28; top ) His striving, his agonizing, to reach that goal was done by the power of God’s working which worked in Paul strongly. And that is indeed the order. God first works in us and then we cooperate with Him so that we are able to work all that much the more to establish His kingdom.
This word is also used by Paul to describe Epaphras. Paul writes, “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” ( Col. 4:12; top ) Again, God had done a work in this man’s life and this man was working earnestly as a result.
Paul uses another variation of this same word when he says, “Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” ( Rom. 15:30; top ) The word here is “sunagonizomai” [ 4865 ] and it means to fight in company with, assist or help to fight against, wrestling together against the powers of darkness. The prefix “sun” being “amid, among” and “agonizomai” to “fight.” What a picture of prayer! Quite different than most people’s ideas of it, I’m sure.
Paul also wrote, “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” ( 1 Cor. 9:25; top ) Paul’s point is that those who compete in games like the Olympics do so for a crown or reward that perishes. Within a few years only the statisticians will recall their name. But those who compete for the heavenly prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus seek an imperishable crown of eternal glory.
Jesus also used this word when He answered Pilate. He said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” ( Jn. 18:36; top ) Because Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, He says, His servants will not now fight to set Him free. There will be enough fighting later when they learn to wrestle against principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, and spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Nor is this the only strong word used in the New Testament in relation to how we should conduct ourselves. Paul wrote, “And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” ( 2 Tim. 2:5; top ) This is one of three examples, analogies, that Paul uses to express to Timothy his duty to the Lord.
Paul wrote, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer must be first to partake of the crops.” ( 2 Tim. 2:3-6; top )
What a tall order! Endure hardship as a soldier and don’t be entangled in this life but please your commanding Officer. If you expect to be crowned with a reward, compete by the rules. Be a farmer who expects to eat his own crops.
The Greek word Paul uses in verse 5 is athleo [ 118 ] and it means a contest either in war or sport, especially a contest for a prize, to contend, to be a champion in public games. And Paul says, “If anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” ( 2 Tim. 2:5; top ) Remember the plan that Jesus has for your life? Here it is again. If you want to receive His “Well done, good and faithful servant,” you must compete according to the rules of the one who will stand in judgment of your life.
Paul gives special recognition to those women and fellow workers who labored together with him in the gospel. He wrote to the Philippians, “And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.” ( Phlp. 4:3; top ) If Paul will single out some for special recognition, should we believe that Christ will do otherwise?
The word Paul uses here is “sunathleo” [ 4866 ] and it means to contend with someone, be on his side; exert oneself with, to strive with or together (for), help, aid, labor together with. It is the prefix “sun” which means “amid, among” and the word “athleo” to “contend.”
Paul uses this word one more time in his letter to the Philippians when he says, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.” ( Phlp. 1:27-28; top ) This striving together for the faith is contrasted with fear of one’s adversaries. In other words, compete with an attitude like you’re going to win the fight.
But a caution must also be sounded as well. Though we have all the above affirmative commands to strive and contend - a list which is by no means exhaustive and complete - there are other words used in the Greek which tell us what not to fight or strive against.
Isaiah prophesied about Jesus, “He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.” ( Mt. 12:19 ; Isa. 42:2; top ) The word here is “erizo” [ 2051 ] and it means to quarrel, contend, dispute, to cry out. The picture given is that of the people who would make speeches and stir up crowds to some action. Jesus would not be like that. He would not rely on emotional or patriotic pleas and petitions - He would present Himself as the truth. Those who would respond favorably would follow Him. Those who wouldn’t would stand idly by and, without understanding, watch Him be crucified.
Paul uses a closely related word almost a dozen times in his instructions to various assemblies and persons. The word he uses is “eridos” [ 2054 ] and it refers to strife, contention, wrangling, love of strife.
To the Romans he said, “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and lewdness, not in strife and envy.” ( Rom. 13:13; top ) This is not rocket science. Don’t do it, Paul says.
To the Corinthians he said, “For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.” ( 1 Cor. 1:11 ) Two chapters later, he would continue, “...for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” ( 1 Cor. 3:3; top ) If your assembly is characterized by envy, strife and divisions, Paul says, you are not spiritual men. You are living by the flesh. Oh, if only today’s “church” could hear!
In his second letter to the Corinthians he said, “For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults.” ( 2 Cor. 12:20; top ) Even though he’s written two letters, both of which deal heavily with divisiveness and contentions, he is still afraid that’s what he will find if he comes in person. Just imagine what he would do if he came to some modern American church!
To the Philippians he said, “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will...” ( Phlp. 1:15 ) His point here is that even if some preach Christ with envy and strife, Christ will still build His ekklesia, His holy people. This is a similar attitude to what Jesus expressed when He said, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come!” ( Lk. 17:1; top )
Speaking about false teachers, Paul said to Timothy, “he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.” ( 1 Tim. 6:4-5; top ) It must be noticed here that the one who stands up for the truth is not the one who is striving - it is the false teacher. Thus, a man can have a stranglehold on the local pulpit and still be the false teacher who is guilty of creating strife while the prophet who is not welcome in the pulpit is speaking God’s truth. Be wise as serpents, my brethren, but harmless as doves when it comes to deciding who’s got the real message from God.
When describing the unregenerate man who is worthy of God’s wrath, Paul wrote, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.” ( Rom. 1:29-32; top )
When he was listing off the works of the flesh to the Galatians, Paul wrote, “...idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies...” ( Gal. 5:20 ) He concludes this list by saying, “I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” ( Gal. 5:21 ) Isn’t it interesting that contentions, those works of the flesh which were such a part of the Corinthian assembly ( 1 Cor. 3:3; top ) and which are such a part of the American “church,” will exclude you from inheriting the kingdom of God? Perhaps all those folks who see nothing wrong with how their denominations split up the body of Christ should take notice!
To Titus, Paul wrote, “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contention, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless.” ( Tit. 3:9; top ) Notice here that he is speaking about foolish disputes not about, as Jude would say, contending earnestly for the faith. Many a false teacher or false shepherd, in an effort to maintain his stranglehold on his pulpit, will dismiss the words of those who point out what the words in the Bible really mean as simply one who is disputing about words. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even Shakespeare expressed a spiritual truth when he said, “A rose by any other name is still a rose” - that is, Christ, whether you call Him Jesus, Yeshua, Emmanuel, Messiah or Joshua, if it is the genuine Savior of the world as depicted in the Scripture that you worship and obey, He will save you. But it is also just as true that a false teaching by any other name is still false. If, for example, you see Jesus as just another great teacher and you have no faith in His ability to bring you into eternal life, you are not worshiping the Christ of the Bible - even though you may have His name right and know His history backwards and forwards. Paul’s injunction to Titus is to avoid arguing about the law because the law is completely unable to save anyone anyway. No righteousness attained by the law could possibly satisfy the righteous requirements of God for, if they could, Christ died in vain. ( Gal. 2:21; top ) Thus there is absolutely no point in arguing about the law.
Paul uses yet another closely related word, “eritheia” [ 2052 ]. This word is used in a bad sense of those who seek only their own, of contention, strife, rivalry, motive of self-interest, mercenary interest, canvassing for public office, scheming.
Paul includes this word in his list of works of the flesh when he writes, “...idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies...” ( Gal. 5:20 ) Again, this is the list of which Paul said, “I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” ( Gal. 5:21; top )
Paul writes to the Philippians, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” ( Phlp. 2:3; top ) Again, isn’t it interesting that selfish ambition, one of the key characteristics of most Americans, is something which Paul says will disqualify you from your inheritance in the kingdom of God? ( Gal. 5:21; top )
James uses this word when he writes, “But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there.” ( Jas. 3:14-16 ) If you are selfish, don’t deny it, James says. This is in line with what John wrote when he said, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” ( 1 Jn. 1:9; top ) James expounds more on the origin of selfishness and points out that it comes only from the soul or perhaps even the devil. And we can know that someone is being selfish or envious because there will be two apparent symptoms: confusion and every evil thing will be present. How interesting! Every evil thing comes upon us as a result of envy and self-seeking. We could spare ourselves a lot of misery if we would just confess our sins instead of pretending that they are a good thing.
Paul also uses this word in his letter to the Romans when he says, “...but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness - indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek... For there is no partiality with God.” ( Rom. 2:8-9 , 11; top ) Paul’s point here is that those who are self- seeking can only expect indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish. I don’t think he can be much plainer.
Paul uses both eridos [ 2054 ] and eritheia [ 2052 ] when he expresses what he is afraid he will find should he personally visit the Corinthians. He wrote, “For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions (eridos [ 2054 ]), jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions (eritheia [ 2052 ]), backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults.” ( 2 Cor. 12:20; top ) Both of these are common American “church” characteristics and both of these will keep you out of the kingdom.
Paul used eridos in tandem with eritheia again when he wrote to the Philippians. He wrote, “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife (eridos [ 2054 ]), and some also from good will: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition (eritheia [ 2052 ]), not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.” ( Phlp. 1:15-17; top ) Strife and selfish ambition would certainly seem to be a pair that go hand in hand.
There is another word that is used in a negative sense in the New Testament. Paul wrote, “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” ( 2 Tim. 2:24-26; top )
The word Paul uses here is “machomai” [ 3164 ] and it means to fight as in war or battle, to strive, contend physically in a private quarrel, to strive or dispute about words.
John used it to describe the quarreling of the Jews who saw no way to remain under the Mosaic law and eat Jesus’ flesh. ( Jn. 6:52 ) And Stephen used it to describe the two Hebrews fighting against each other whom Moses tried to separate. ( Acts 7:26 ) James wrote, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.” ( Jas. 4:1-2; top ) In all the strivings of man, war and fighting is common as men struggle to obtain some thing. In the kingdom of God, however, you receive when you ask.
There are several closely related words that are used in the New Testament as well. Paul wrote to Titus, “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contention, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless.” ( Tit. 3:9 ) And to Timothy, Paul wrote, “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.” ( 2 Tim. 2:23; top ) The word Paul uses here is “mache” [ 3163 ] which means fight, fighting, battle, controversies, legal battles.
James uses this word when he says, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” ( Jas. 4:1 ) And Paul uses this word once more to describe a time when he had no rest. He wrote, “For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears.” ( 2 Cor. 7:5; top ) Anyone who has been in a prolonged conflict with another person knows just how wearisome that is. And yet, we must remember that the real source of these conflicts, these fights, is our own desires for pleasure and self-gratification.
Paul uses another closely related word when he writes to Timothy, “Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers.” ( 2 Tim. 2:14; top ) The word is “logomacheo” [ 3054 ] and it refers to warring about words, to contend or debate about words, dispute about trifles. Today we might call this arguing about semantics, that is, arguing about the meanings of words instead of intelligently discussing what the speakers are trying to say. This is a command for today, to be sure. Nearly everyone has their own meaning for their own jargon, including Christianese. But very few have taken the time to truly research what the Greek words really meant to the author and in their context. To argue with those who insist they know what the words mean but who haven’t done their homework is simply a waste of time - and it will spiritually ruin those who hear it.
Paul uses yet another closely related word in his description of false teachers to Timothy. He writes, “he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions...” ( 1 Tim. 6:4; top ) The word is “logomachia” [ 3055 ] and it means to strive about words, dispute about trifles. Anyone obsessed with arguments over words - which is quite different from diligently studying and resolutely teaching the original meanings of the words - is a sign of a false teacher. And you will know, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, which is which.
This list is by no means everything that the New Testament has to say. This list is the result of searching for the Greek words that were rendered “strife” or “striving.” There are other synonyms which might add a little more flavor - but the main theme has been adequately expressed.
For the genuine believer, there are times and ways to strive - and there are times and ways not to strive. As Paul said, we are to strive according to the working of His mighty power in us - not with any self-generated power of our own. Any time we are striving to obtain a desire of our own, we can rest assured that confusion and strife will result.
What is really required is that we be led by the Holy Spirit. At times, He will place desires in our hearts that we should pursue. At times He will stand in direct opposition to the direction we are pursuing. At other times, He will not oppose the direction so much as the timing. Only the Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God. Only the Spirit can reveal to us the inner workings of our heart and show us when we are striving according to the flesh and when we are striving according to the Spirit.
For those who might wish a more logical, reason-based list of do’s and don’t’s, I can only warn you against relying on your own understanding and being deceived into operating out of your soul. It is your spirit which needs to control you, not your soul. Your soul is that area which can be overcome by sin. Your spirit is that place which is in direct communication with the Holy Spirit.
But let us have the attitude of striving to please God by obeying His Spirit. When we have such an attitude, we will be much less likely to find ourselves striving according to the flesh. But even when we have done all this, let us realize, with sobering judgment, that we have only done our duty. Let our attitude be the one commanded by the Lord Jesus when He said, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” ( Lk. 17:10; top )
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