For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. — James 3:16
By Rick Renner
During our early years in the former USSR, Denise and I were invited to minister at three European conferences in Austria, Switzerland, and Germany, and I decided to bring our sons to give them the experience of ministering in Europe. When the day finally arrived for our long-anticipated trip, things got a little hectic, to say the least. The clock was ticking, and it was time for us to depart to the airport so we wouldn’t miss our flight. However, instead of getting ready, the boys were just poking around, and Denise hadn’t even finished packing. I knew that if we didn’t leave on time, we’d miss our flight. So in the midst of it all, I lost my temper and began to yell and threaten everyone to get downstairs immediately and pile in the car, or I was going to leave without them!
Our ministry administrator at that time had agreed to housesit for us while we were gone, and she had just arrived, bringing along her beautiful golden retriever who had never encountered our St. Bernard that lived outside in our yard. But that all changed in a moment’s time! When I couldn’t quite seem to get my family together to leave on time, I became furious that they were jeopardizing our flight — and in that angry moment, I threw open the front door to carry a few suitcases to the car. However, as I threw open that door, our administrator’s golden retriever darted out the door ahead of me — and in a split second, the two dogs started attacking one another. I watched as our St. Bernard wrapped its jaws around the neck of the golden retriever and bit down. I thought, Oh, great, not only are we going to be late for our flight, but our St. Bernard is also going to kill our administrator’s golden retriever!
I was already worked up into a frenzy over my family being late — and now we had a very ugly dogfight happening in our driveway. So in a moment when I was already angry, I jumped into the middle of the fray to try to pull the dogs apart from each other. But I stuck my right hand too close to the dogs’ mouths, and my own dog bit me! I lifted my right hand to see how badly I had been bitten, and all I could see was blood pouring from the tip of my ring finger.
I pulled the dogs apart, rushed into the house, and quickly put my finger under water to wash away the blood so I could assess how badly I was bitten. Looking down in disbelief, I saw that the entire tip of my finger had been bitten off, and blood was pouring out like an open hydrant. My family was finally ready to go to the airport, but I told Denise, “Forget the airport, because now we’re headed to the hospital!”
With my hand wrapped in blood-soaked towels, I was immediately admitted into the emergency room, and after examining me, the doctors on duty decided to check me into the hospital for a night. My family and I walked down the hallway to my assigned hospital room, which was a dismal affair in its own right. A single light bulb dangled precariously from a wire in the ceiling. The sink was barely bolted to the wall and looked like it could fall off at any moment. The wallpaper was peeling off the walls, and the windowpanes were cracked. And there I was — wounded, flustered, and wearing a tattered hospital gown for an overnight stay in this decrepit hospital. Denise graciously called the pastor in charge of the first conference to say we’d be a day late, while I waited for the chief physician to pay me a visit.
When the doctor in charge finally arrived, he asked me a question I didn’t anticipate. “Mr. Renner,” he said, “I understand that you were bitten by your own dog. Has your dog had rabies shots?” When I answered in the negative, the doctor replied, “Well, I regret to tell you that in this country, if you are bitten by a dog that has not had rabies shots, you must have rabies shots. That’s the law of the land.”
I lay in my hospital bed speechless as I realized that this doctor was preparing to give me the first of a series of rabies injections. He continued to say, “We used to give 30 of these shots in the stomach, but the French have come up with a strong new rabies vaccine that requires only seven injections — and we are going to give you your first injection right now.”
After instructing me to turn over so they could give me an injection in my backside, the doctor casually said, “There’s just one downside to this particular form of rabies vaccination. Once you start these injections, you have to take the following six injection right on schedule, or you will actually develop rabies!” I thought, That’s just great. If I’m a day late, I’ll end up as a rabid preacher, foaming at the mouth!
The next day, the nurse administered another rabies shot and then gave me a packet containing five more doses of the rabies vaccine along with a packet of syringes — and she firmly reminded me not to miss a single dose at the scheduled time or I would develop rabies.
Dismissed from the hospital, I went home to gather my family, and we flew to Europe where three conferences awaited us. At every conference I attended, I had to ask the pastor, “Excuse me, but do you have a nurse in your congregation who can give me a rabies injection?” I felt horribly humiliated by the entire ordeal.
However, I learned a big lesson from that experience. Strife throws open the door for the devil to attack in ways you never would have imagined. If I hadn’t allowed strife and anger to get me all worked up that day, I never would have flung open the door to the house in such thoughtless anger. The guest’s dog would have never run out before me, and the ugly dogfight would have never happened. That moment of rage and anger resulted in my getting bit and having to endure the debacle that followed.
And it only took seconds for things to get out of control that day! Can you think of a time when strife caused a situation in your life to quickly spiral out of control?
James wrote about the destructive potential of strife in James 3:16, saying, “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” According to this verse, whenever a concoction of such attitudes is allowed to exist, it opens the door for “confusion and every evil work.”
The word “confusion” is the Greek word akatastasia, which originally described thorn bushes or prickly plants. Essentially, it calls to mind something that causes pain when someone becomes ensnared in it. Think of what an accurate description that is for the confusion caused by strife! It tells us that strife ensnares people and inevitably results in pain.
Eventually the word akatastasia developed to describe various situations that are filled with disorder, disturbance, or trouble. It portrayed such chaotic confusion that early authors occasionally used it in a political sense to depict riots and anarchy! Well, that’s a pretty good description of what happened in our house that morning when I lost my temper! Things quickly spun out of control and turned ugly!
James goes on to say that such attitudes result in every “evil” work. The word “evil” is phaulos, which means bad, foul, or vile. In addition to James 3:16, the word phaulos is used in John 3:20 and John 5:29 to describe evil behavior, and in Titus 2:8, it simply denotes something bad. In fact, this Greek word phaulos is where we get the English word foul — rightly depicting a behavior or situation that is appalling, atrocious, distasteful, sickening, or, simply put, really ugly. James’ usage of this word affirms that bad attitudes result in appalling bad behavior that often has hurtful consequences.
After losing the tip of my finger, I realized that I was personally responsible for the chaotic events of that day because I allowed an angry attitude to have a place in our home. God was gracious, and the end of my finger grew back. But my family resolved that from that day forward, we would have a “no strife” policy in our home. We learned the hard way that strife-filled attitudes can open the door to painful, chaotic confusion that results in hurtful consequences. It’s far better to never allow strife to rear its ugly head than it is to give in to it like I did and later have to repair the damage left in its wake.
Today I urge you to listen carefully and heed what you’ve read in this Sparkling Gem. Make a “no strife” policy for your life, refusing to get into strife on any issue. By being vigilant in this matter, you can protect yourself and your family from ugly situations that would have detrimental and painful results.
Rick Renner is a prolific author and a highly respected Bible teacher and leader in the international Christian community. He is the author of more than 30 books, including the bestsellers Dressed To Kill and Sparkling Gems From the Greek.
In 1992, Rick and his family moved to what is now the former Soviet Union. Two years later, he and his wife Denise founded the Riga Good News Church in Latvia before moving on to Moscow in 2000 to found the Moscow Good News Church. In 2007, the Renners also launched the Kyiv Good News Church in the capital of Ukraine. Today, Rick serves as Bishop for this group of churches.
In addition, Rick and Denise pioneered a Bible school, and a ministerial association that serves thousands of Russian-speaking pastors throughout the former USSR as well as parts of the Middle East.
Rick also founded Media Mir, the first Christian television network established in the former USSR. Its broadcast capabilities via terrestrial stations in Russia, Ukraine, Mongolia, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova, and as well by satellite means millions of people are reached with these messages. It has since expanded into book publishing and managing social media accounts.