The Difference Between Strive And Strife

strive, strife, Matthew 6:33It is interesting to me how one word can, over the course of time and through the interaction of diverse people groups, take on different meanings or connotations. Take the words “strive” and “strife”.  As near as I can tell they both derive from the Old French word “estriver” which originally meant simply to quarrel or dispute and the Old Norse word “stritha” which meant to fight.

From those words we now have two English words, one with a positive connotation (strive) and one with a negative connotation (strife).  In our modern vernacular, to strive for something is to work through adversity or to overcome obstacles on the way to a goal or in the process of betterment.  Strife, on the other hand, usually means actual conflict (which can be internal or external in nature) that causes anguish or suffering for the participants.

Why is this worth discussing?  And more importantly, does it have spiritual application for us?

It is important and it does have spiritual application and here’s why:  Anytime we set a goal for ourselves we have the choice of doing things God’s way or trying to do them our way and in our own human power.  It could be a promotion or a raise at work, a target healthy weight, a certain amount of money saved up, a test score or anything else that we could conceive.

Ideally, we would set our goal and then commit that goal in prayer to God and then set about achieving it in a Godly way.  We would do the best we could but ultimately we would be trusting in God’s provision (and implicit in that trust is not taking short-cuts along the way or trying to speed the process along by worldly means) and setting our hope on him.  We would have peace in our hearts and joy in our minds because we know that we would be choosing God’s best for us rather than just guessing what might be best or what might satisfy us for only a short while.

Going back to our title, we would be striving in the best way possible.

But what if, instead of committing our ways and thoughts to the Lord, we decided to go it alone?  What if, instead of acting like born-again believers we decided to act like those who do not acknowledge God?  Sooner or later, we would find ourselves in the midst of strife.  We would worry and anguish over what we wanted and we would not have the peace that comes from fully trusting in the Lord.  We would also, most likely, not achieve our goal in God’s timing or in God’s way and that would lead to dissatisfaction and a sense of emptiness and loss.

Internal strife would be our constant companion until we repented and turned back to God and we would know no peace until we made things right.

The exhortation is this: We must examine where we are and where we want to be.  We must make sure that we are committing our ways and thoughts to the Lord and then repent and turn away from those places where we are not.  Only God can do what needs to be done and it is only through His power that we can achieve all that He has for us.  Working towards a goal is good so long as we are doing it in a way that pleases the Lord.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Matthew 6:33 (KJV)