There is an overlooked work that should be avoided, but may be more commonly practiced than is thought. Yet, as the Holy Spirit through Paul included it in a larger category of works, it must be something with which even many Christians struggle. It is mentioned in the list of fleshly works found in Galatians 5:19-21 and is simply called “enmities” (20).
The word is found nine times in the New Testament, from the Greek “ἔχθρα”, and its general meaning is, “Enmity, hostility, hatred, both as an inner disposition and objective opposition (Rom. 8:7); plural, of hostile feelings and acts animosities, hostilities, discord, feuds (Gal. 5:20)” (Friberg & Miller, 183).
Hostile feelings, unchecked and not repaired, lead ultimately to ungodly behavior toward others that can even cause division. Another adds, “[“enmities” is] a general term referring to hostility or unneighborly acts of any kind or form” (Arichea & Nida, 138). How do “enmities” arise and is this something which you and I may fall prey to?
Enmities arise by holding a grudge. In fact, it can be very difficult to know when you cross the line from the one to the other. When you harbor feelings of resentment toward someone from an offense, real or imagined, it will eventually grow into hostile feelings and possibly hostile acts. The old law warns against bearing a grudge and even makes it antonymous (i.e., opposite) with love (Lev. 19:18). The Lord tells us what to do when we have a problem with a brother or sister (Mat. 18:15ff). If we do not follow this, to whom are we listening?
Enmities arise through prejudice. Prejudice occurs on much more than the basis of the color of one’s skin. Prejudice is nothing more than a preformed opinion, one formed without all the facts but instead through “insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings, or inaccurate stereotypes” (Encarta Dictionary). How often, based on how we think, feel, or believe another to be, do we work ourselves up against another and allow enmity to rule our hearts?
Enmities arise when the mind is set on the flesh (Rom. 8:7). Paul is contrasting the Old Law with the gospel of Christ in this context, but he reveals a compelling principle. When we fail to live spiritual lives, but instead make our decisions driven by our passions and fleshly inclinations, we open ourselves up to works like enmity. Incidentally, this same bent will lead one further and further down the road of those ensuing works in Galatians 5. Notice that this hostility is pointed toward God and His law (cf. Jas. 4:4), but it will impact our demeanor and attitude in all relationships. This hostility plays out “in the flesh” (Rom. 8:8), the very activities and attitudes upon which Paul focuses in Galatians 5:19-21.
Are you and I immune from “enmities”? We can strengthen ourselves against such especially through the “antidote” of love in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Love actively seeks and strives for others’ good. If we sincerely give our hearts to loving others, our brethren or the lost, we will have a harder time harboring hostility and hatred for them. Maybe if we will take the time to know others better and try to get insight into their circumstances, struggles, and challenges, it will temper our feelings toward them. It will certain demonstrate that we are led by the Spirit and not by the flesh!