Emulation: The forgotten sin (Oneupmanship)
The religious world is in constant turmoil, of people all claiming to have something called “truth”, but nearly all of them being in disgreement as to what this “truth” really is. This ironically sends to the watching world the very message they claim to eschew: of truth being “relative”. One scripture they often hurl at each other (as well as the unbelieving “world” of course” is:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Gal 5:20-21
Most of these terms are quite familiar, as what the Church has preached a lot against. (Not “variance” so much, however, which makes a lot of sense, as figures in what we’re discussing here). But what exactly is this other one in particular, “emulation”?
The Greek word is zēlos, or basically, zeal.
definitions from the lexicon:
excitement of mind, ardour, fervour of spirit
zeal, ardour in embracing, pursuing, defending anything
zeal in behalf of, for a person or thing
the fierceness of indignation, punitive zeal
an envious and contentious rivalry, jealousy
It’s other translations are:
zeal (John 2:17*, Rom 10:2*, 2Cor 7:11*, 2Cor 9:2*, Phil 3:6, Col 4:13*),
envying (Rom 13:13, 2Cor 12:20, 1Cor 3:3, Jas 3:14, 16),
indignation (Act 5:17, 2Co 7:11, Heb 10:27**),
envy (Acts 13:45),
fervent mind (2Co 7:7)*,
jealousy (2Co 11:2)*
** divine use
(most instances of “zeal” are positive; the exception being Phil. 3:6, describing Paul’s pre-conversion zeal in “pesecuting the Church”. In Romans, the “zeal” in itself is good, but misguided: “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge“).
“Indignation” is negative in Acts, but positive in Corinthians
When we hear “envy” and “jealousy”, we think of someone who is simply mad because someone else has more or nicer things than he does.
That traditional understanding of “envy” would be more phthonos and phthoneō, used in a few scriptures.
The derivative word zēloō is sort of inbetween:
to burn with zeal
to be heated or to boil with envy, hatred, anger
in a good sense, to be zealous in the pursuit of good
to desire earnestly, pursue
to desire one earnestly, to strive after, busy one’s self about him
to exert one’s self for one (that he may not be torn from me)
to be the object of the zeal of others, to be zealously sought after
zealously affect (Gal. 4:17, 18*), envy (Acts 7:9, 17:5), be zealous (Rev. 3:19), affect (Gal. 4:17), desire (1 Cor 14:1*, James 4:2), covet (1 Cor 14:39)*, covet earnestly (1Cor 12:31)*
What we see with “zelos” is more about the fervor, which can be good or bad. It’s the striving, not simply an emotional state. We can strive to have what someone else has (which would be the literal violation of the tenth commandment), and we can strive to look holier than others, or to prove ourselves the “chosen” ones.
Positively, Paul’s readers are told to ‘covet’ the best gifts, but never is anyone told to covet the authority of teaching. That’s what becomes the negative sense, of “emulating”, out of “jealousy”.
James 3:1 goes as far as to tell us “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly.”
(In the Amplified Bible: “Not many [of you] should become teachers (self-constituted censors and reprovers of others), my brethren, for you know that we [teachers] will be judged by a higher standard and with greater severity [than other people; thus we assume the greater accountability and the more condemnation].”
Everybody seems to gloss right over this, so confident that they are in the full “truth”, so there would be nothing for them to be “judged” over; that’s for everyone else. (But then don’t those you would say are in error all think the same thing? Nobody has the sense that “it CAN happen to YOU too!”).
Jesus Himself said: “If you were blind, you should have no sin: but now you say, WE SEE; therefore your sin remains (John 9:41).
Peter, in a verse that sounds like it can be describing many modern religious leaders, warned the early Church “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2Pet 2:3). In this case, the word is pleonexia, “greedy desire to have more, covetousness, avarice”, but we can see here the connection, as to what “emulation” is about. It ultimately boils down to control.
The prophets and apostles in scripture sure look “good” thundering “the truth” at the “sinners”, don’t they? So in that sense, the modern leaders are “jealous” of others [the leaders in scripture] who have something they don’t: divine authority revealed in scripture. They of course claim they have this authority, but then so does everybody claim that, including all the ones they deem “false”. Who is right, then?
So a person may be jealous of one of these leaders feigning this authority, and try to out do them. That’s how legalism and dissension multiplies.
As I’ve mentioned in my old writings, you start out with the “historic” Church, which preaches law at the world. Someone gets jealous, and they don’t want to just be another law preacher; they want to go one step further. So they point out that the Law actually proscribes the seventh day as the sabbath, not the first. So there; they’ve surpassed all the other Christians. They don’t consciously think of it this way, but that is what it clearly implied.
They are keeping the “forgotten commandment”, and every other Christian is just as disobedient as the rest of the world. (Since to fail to keep one is to be guilty of the whole Law).
But it doesn’t stop there. Someone else will then add a particular “true Church name”, and then someone will add the annual Passover, and then the seven annual feasts, and then a “correct” day to keep one of them, the Pentecost, and then, “sacred names” (the Hebrew terms for God and Jesus), and then other little details to separate themselves over.
Everyone else not as strict is “pagan”, and then on the other hand, to those who go further than they do, they will become “moderate” and “reasonable” [in comparison] now, talking like the less strict in saying why the extreme is not necessary.
You have others who, instead of the sabbath, use “degrees” of what they call “separation”. It starts with condemning both the modern world and the modern Church for the standard moral sins (sexual, divorce, and believing or at least “compromising” on evolution, “humanism” or psychology, etc), but then add stuff like contemporary music or being too “friendly” with Catholics and Modernists. Others will add to this modern Bible versions (favoring the King James only), and by comparison, that first “separatist” group is just as much in the state of “compromise” as everyone else.
Among these, some will push for “separating” not just from those seen in error, but even from those who agree with them on these errors of others, but don’t “separate” from them enough. Hence, additional “degrees” of separation. There are also disputes between some as to how harsh and vitriolic they should be against “error”.
They’ll criticize any leader, including those who have taken strong stances against psychology (such as the “Biblical Counseling Movement”), for so much as using terms that to them are “associated” with psychology, such as “woundedness” or “therapy”. Hence, at least two or three ministries does “exposés” on nearly every well-known leader, including those fairly “fundamentalistic”, as teaching “other gospels”, meaning they are “psychologized”.
You also have even more radical groups who ban all instruments in church altogether, or even all music, favoring just “preaching”. They talk down to even the musically conservative as if they’ve completely sold out the Gospel; lumping them in with the contemporary church, and ultimately, “the world”.
They’ll all claim this is just a desire to teach “the truth”, but all of this is actually from a kind of jealousy, and misguided zeal, and hence, the “emulation” Paul mentions.
So they have passages that seem to justify emulating the prophets and apostles. First, various Old Testament scriptures themselves, where the prophets were called to “lift up thy voice” against “a rebellious house”. In the New Testament, the one used the most by more contentious groups I had mentioned in a recent article is 2Tim 4:2 “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” A couple of passages in Titus as well. At least one group builds a doctrine called “instant preaching” from this. Hence, emulating the zeal they think they see justified in the passage.
But all of this is divinely appointed apostle Paul encouraging a junior apostle to keep error out of the fledgling Church, which was preparing for a soon “end” (which was sort of an antetypical counterpart of several events in Israel’s history, such as captivity by Egypt).
Once the Church went past that immediacy to centuries and then millennia of world history, even becoming dominant over various nations and cultures, this situation was no longer covered by those pastoral instructions of Paul.
So when preachers would jump up on stages behind pulpits and thunder hell and judgment at congregations (for generations gripping society by fear), they were falsely “emulating” what they thought scripture was saying the Church should do.
Spurgeon and Edwards became a big model for hellfire preaching and the resultant fear it produced. So-called “revivals” marked by apparent [outward] moral fervency that came afterwards seemed to validate this method, but then the entire revolt against religion because of the fear and control tactics this later produced had to be blamed on external developments. They forgot that the motive for serving God was to be love, not fear.
Most of the Church has emulated particularly the Old Testament (even as most say we are no longer “under” it. Again, sabbatarianism only takes this to further degrees than “historic orthodoxy”, but it all boils down to the Law, and the one thing agreed on by most is the ongoing condemnation of man produced by that Law).
1 Tim.1:7 speaks of people “Desiring to be teachers of the law“, which is, again, a zeal that moves one to take up something, without even fully understanding it.
When the more conservative do try to emulate Christ (the only One we should be emulating), some justify outright meanspiritedness with an appeal to His calling people “vipers” (Matt.23:33). But what they completely miss, is that He was not addressing “sinners”, “pagans”,”liberals” [political or religious] or moderate “compromisers of the faith” as the fundamentalists are often attacking, but rather the ultraconservative authorities who He otherwise said were the legitimate leaders (v.2). Basically the corresponding positions they now hold. Yet this sort of thing always gets turned around, and they are so confident that they are being “like Christ”.
Other things were emulated as well. Since God promised Israel to deliver their enemies and their land into their hand, Christians figured that should be copied too, leading to colonialism and slavery, (which would would lead to attempts at genocide at times, and would include trying to continue to “punish” the Jews for their rejection of Christ, and other groups for their pagan “barbarism”), and then lead to ongoing discord and even war afterward; and ending up bringing the most disrepute to the Church in the world.
It looks like we really have underestimated the severity of this sin!
The utter irony, is that while they are emulating all this authority, they are often preaching to others Jesus’ instruction to “come as a child”. This surely creates an imbalance of power, with the leaders in a special position.
But that instruction was for everybody, not just “laity” or whatever. Nobody has “graduated” or moved past that so that it no longer applies to them, or they are still somehow credited with it even as they lord it over others. (e.g. “minister” meaning “servant”, yet possessing authority and even a kind of “rule”, yet still calling himself a “servant”).
With so many “prophets”, that leaves hardly anybody left to be disciples. That’s why there’s so much dissension.
This leads to much of the Church becoming what’s known as “contrary to all men” (1 Thess. 2:15). Many seem to think this is essentially what God wants us to be; figuring that He Himself is. But it’s portrayed negatively here; this referred to those in the first century who were also trying to clean up the sins of the nation through the Law, leading them to reject the Messiah they were sent and persecute His followers (under the guise of “righteousness”)!
But this ignores His grace, so we end up emulating the wrong things! Everyone copies His “anger at sin”, but not His “graciousness”. They copy authority, but not humility!
On the other hand, emulating also includes copying the world (in a way the ultraconservatives often condemn), such as trying to make church more entertaining (in order to increase numbers). Also, being so preoccupied with numbers and “growth” (of a particular organization or movement) to begin with.
We end up emulating the wrong things! Everyone copies His “anger at sin”, but not His “graciousness”. They copy authority, but not humility! So many “prophets” leaves nobody to be disciples, and is what creates so much dissension. We become “contrary to all men” (1 Thess. 2:15)
Why do we do this?
At the root of all of this, we all have a part of ourselves that craves total freedom, and thus not only secretly envying those “living it up” (no matter how much we claim to be “changed”, that desire is still there!), but also resent others who on the other extreme give up freedom and revel in this state of “delayed gratification” (and often preach this to others). This looks good before men (hence, Matthew 23:5). It is a kind of “strength” that many do not have, and “strength” looks good to us.
This naturally provokes us to want to take them down a few notches one way or the other.
With many (especially nonbelievers), it’s to directly expose their imperfection by pointing out instances of Christians not really “practicing what they preach”. The assumption is “if they can’t do it, then I can’t be expected to either, so that gets me off the hook”.
The other way, for those willing to give up freedom, for the “secondary gain” of the appearance of “righteousness” (before men) this gives; the tack then is to outdo the other person: to show that he has in fact not gone far enough in his legalism.
This creates the “one-upmanship” that has characterized all religious dissent (and then often crosses over into politics; hence “sedition” added to the list).
In Jungian theory, our egos are geared toward presenting a positive “persona” to the social environment, and the “shadow” forms from this as everything that must be hidden or disowned in order to maintain that image. So people then stuff (or somehow justify) their own sins and then go after others, “boxing” their own shadow either through trying to take them down, or outdo them.
Now those who really need to comprehend this topic may flip at the mention of Jung, but as I’ve said elsewhere, the reason many Christians are so against psychology, with Jung as the one they frown upon the most, is because it exposes a lot of their own shadow, such as the control motive for much of their preaching.
So they again emulate the prophet or apostle preaching against the influx of “paganism” through concepts such as this, though they miss where Paul does cite pagan philosophers in his argument to the men on Mars Hill.
And he directly evokes what is by definition a sort of complex (basically a partially separate sense of “I” operating within a person; a personalized “archetype” or “ruling pattern“; often opposing the “ego”, the main “I”); —which he even blames for his sinfulness [and “blaming something else” for sin (psychological “splitting” and “dissociation”) is what critics are afraid of]— when he speaks of “sin within me“, and “the spirit vs the flesh” in Rom.7 and Gal.5. We also see the “shadow” in the much cited Romans 1: “suppressing” something one doesn’t like, until it becomes unconscious; and in conjunction with this, “projection” in chapter 2: you then see this suppressed sin only in others!
He may not use the psychological categorical terms, but it’s all the same things.
So in insisting on “biblical concepts only”, people emulate what they want to, and ignore everything else.
Also, I believe even the “New Testament” prophetic “gifts” are often wrongly emulated today, and sometimes comes off in an envy-provoking “look at us; look at our supernatural power” sort of way, and has various “degrees” different groups take it to, from just tongues, to rolling on the floor, to claims of physical “healing”, to bizarre stuff like laughing and barking. (The true gifts among those I believe ended, because of the end of that age, but that’s a whole other debate).
Again, it’s people looking at both the Old and New Testaments and trying to repeat or continue everything they read today, such as healings, tongues, God directly orchestrating nearly every event in people’s lives, and the language too.
I always liked how Horton, Beyond Culture Wars on p284 stated:
“We still speak Christian-eze; we still talk about being ‘blessed’ and ‘anointed’ and use other Christian language that nobody understands outside of the evangelical world”, yet “…are accommodating the message to the world”.
By fusing scriptural language of God’s “power” with modern experience of “faith” (where all dramatic special revelation has ceased and experience of God is left totally internalized in actual practice), we end up with what Horton described in the followup book Christless Christianity; that God becomes like a “power source” we “tap into” like electricity. Also, Jesus becomes like a “life coach”.
This “power” concept affects our view of “regeneration” and “sanctification”, and ends up often justifying a legalism that makes us forget our own sinfulness.
When they add Satan into the mix, life becomes like a chess game between God and Satan. (They claim Satan is “defeated”, but he still has all this power in people’s lives, and is succeeding in taking most to hell, so the “victory” is only in opening it up so that anyone can hypothetically “choose” abundant life).
Some even try to copy other aspects of the OT; including various forms of worship (and I’m not even talking about the sabbatarians now, but rather some charismatic-leaning evangelicals). We figure God was so hard on “pagan” practices; so surely, the Judastic practices He Himself commanded, were “safe” and good.
So I watch and listen to the people around me, and yes, it sounds like a continuation of Scripture; but there was always a “disconnect”, as we’re really still all carrying on a mundane life not much different from “the world” around us, with the exception of trying to be more moral, and being involved in church.
But all the scriptural language was based on a particular Plan God was working out, and though they think this plan is not finished, and will be fulfilled yet future, it was said back then in the New Testament to end “shortly”; and being extended for centuries has only muddied everything, with the Church totally changing from when it was under apostolic authority, and then various movements having to try to put back together the “original church” by emulating various things in scripture, though still filtered through (and thus skewed by) the 1900 years of postapostolic Church history!
So it sometimes looks like a shallow imitation, and sometimes even mockery of scripture. Hence, “emulation”.
So again, as Paul says, we understand “neither what [we] say, nor whereof [we] affirm” (1 Timothy 1:7), totally misusing the Law.
As we see there, this sin is just as much a barrier to “the Kingdom of God” as all the other sins, including the much focused on sexual sins (which many seem to associate with “the flesh” almost exclusively). The total discord we see in the Church (which is supposed to represent “the Kingdom”) is the outworking of this.
This is why I’ve seen the Fulfilled View as a relief from this endless strife of trying to prove to the world (and to each other) “truth”. (And without taking the normal route of dismissing the Bible as untrue or irrelevant).