The Spirit of Rivalry
emulation: Effort or ambition to equal or surpass another; jealous rivalry
rivalry: Contest, competition, conflict, emulation, strife, striving, tug-of-war, warfare
rival: one of two or more, striving for what only one can possess Example: political rivals for the nomination
to rival: to compete, to contend, to contest, to strive to equal or surpass. Related to rival: strive, struggle, fight
“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.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
“The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26)
Here is a great contrast. It is the contrast between the spirit of emulations (rivalry) and the spirit of nurturing and genuine good will. The first is a work of the flesh; the second is the work of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men. The nurturing approach works for mutual benefit. The competing approach strives for what only one can possess; it is successful only at the expense of the other party.
The world is full of the spirit of rivalry, with all the strife and pride that goes with it. Men easily and naturally divide into competing groups. Sports, politics, appearance, every kind of skill and ability. Educational institutions are full of rivalry. Businesses contend. Housewives strive to outdo each other. Religious groups are full of emulations, striving to surpass each other, to gain greater prominence and influence. Children vie with each other to be the stronger, the faster, the smarter.
“From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.” (James 4:1-2) God has something that we all need. And He has a way of giving it that takes the strife out of the human heart; indeed, it is not possible to get it without abandonment of strife. “For the servant of the Lord must not strive.”
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17) This wisdom teaches us that the way of man is not in himself. “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23) To be delivered from the awful compulsion to outdo the other man, one must receive the wonderful gift from above and realize that it is given to all without partiality. The wisdom from above teaches us that our supposed superiority does not matter. If my mind works faster or my physical co-ordination is better or I am better organized or possess a better heritage of virtue, it does not matter, for in reality, all these things are temporary and mean little to God. They will mean nothing in eternity. God is watching the motive of my heart. The advantage of the carefully-trained Jew over the inferior conditioning of the Gentile meant very little when one realized that God had concluded both in sin and condemnation. Only God’s gift of salvation was really important. And because it does not depend on works of righteousness which we have done, boasting is excluded (Titus 3:5; Romans 3:27-29).
The feelings and conclusions of competition are deadly then, as are all works of the flesh. A quick glance at the rest of this list of the works of the flesh will show you that emulations are a member of the lethal enemies of mankind. Adultery, witchcraft, murder…. And if there is in doubt in your mind as to the accuracy of the word emulations, we note that strife (the outward manifestation of the inward feeling of rivalry) is included in the list as well.
Only the judgment day is going to reveal the vast destruction that has been wrought by the spirit of emulations. The ungodly elation that arises from triumphing in the small advantages of the strivings of the young child is the same exultant pride that revels in the conquests of adult life. There is no real compassion in it for the loser. The loser is scorned and held in contempt. Nation wars with nation to satisfy the contentions between them. The cost is horrific and appalling. It goes on and on.
Must we strive? Must we defend ourselves? Must we enter into the competition? Must we climb up over the defeated bodies of the competition? Man, in the flesh, says there is no other way. God, seeing all and having all power, has made another way. Amid the ebb and flow of human strife, God makes a way for His little children. He causes all things to work together for good. He puts a “preferring one another” (Romans 12:10) in us, which causes us to submit our needs to God and to trust Him to care for us. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
Surely we should teach our children the ways of trusting God, rather than teaching them how to effectively strive with each other.
It is astonishingly easy to kindle the fire of competition in a child’s heart. A few words will do it, even a look. The implanted evil in the heart of the child will readily absorb the lesson. “I won!” “I win!” In short order, the young mind is fully engaged with calculating every advantage, straining for superiority in discipline, etc. “I am better than you.” A child can be stimulated toward character development with the deadly drug of competition. It is a false growth; it is spiritual steroids. It is not first pure; God will not accept it or approve of it.
We had a man and woman visit our congregation for the first time. We had been at their congregation often. We had hopes that we were all one in Jesus, all just people trying to please God and make it to heaven. When they came and visited us, it was during a time that different children from unsaved families were attending our Sunday school. Our young people were burdened for these children, and had arranged a series of skits to illustrate truth for them. (They were not able to imagine Bible stories easily, because of the effect that television had on them.) When the man and woman from the other congregation visited, we expected them to sympathize with the effort being put forth. Were not we all trying to help others in need? But that was not what happened. “Our young people are talented, too!” the woman said. Our young people were shocked. “We were not doing this because we were talented,” one of them said. I knew this to be true. It was an honest burden, and any ingenuity manifested came from a sincere effort to surmount the problems involved—not to show off. What was going on? Why this comment from this visitor? Alas! It was the spirit of emulations, the spirit of rivalry!
How many people will be kept from heaven by this spirit of strife? If I feed the spirit of emulations by taking part in organized sports, entering into various competitions of others kinds, how can I escape the consequences? Do I really believe that lip service to “good sportsmanship” will compensate for the deadly pride and strife that attends these things. They exist as a breeding ground for these things.
In my youth, I liked to play chess. My father taught my brother and I to play, and we entered into a “friendly rivalry” (“friendly” emulation) without being aware of the perils of what we were doing. After a while, we could both beat Dad, so we turned our contending on each other. We felt and said the things that come with strife. We strove for every advantage. We could not share a victory. It was “him or me,” and neither wanted it to be “him.” After some years of this, I moved far away. I missed the intellectual stimulation of the game, so I went to the library in the town wherein I resided. People met there to play chess at times. I began a game with an older man. He was a little proud and vain about his ability, but my skills (I am ashamed of my attitude) were better, and I beat him fairly thoroughly. He groaned and moaned, and my heart swelled with pride. I didn’t realize that I felt this pride; I just felt elated that I had whipped him. I didn’t know that I was poisoned, but God did. I met another person, nearer to my own age. He whipped out his clocks (to measure how long each person had to move); he unrolled his game board (he was equipped and ready), and he did this all with a certain air of business and purposefulness that signaled that he was a serious competitor, quasi-professional, and prepared. Beating him would be a feather in my cap, for sure. As well as I recall, I held my own, but I did not enjoy the game. It had been reduced to pure competition, and I finally realized that I did not want to be like this person. It dawned on me that there was nothing friendly about this. God’s mercy enabled me to see something of the depths and sliminess of the pit before which I was posed to take another step, and I recoiled. I am so thankful. God was so good to me. I want nothing to do with not only this manifestation of emulations, but any at all, anywhere, anytime.
I have played chess since, but I have not played it the same way. I played a man with whom I worked at a later time, but we played so that any one of us could stop the game and backup to where we would like to try it again. We did not care who “won.” We just liked to follow the different possibilities on the game (which are nearly infinite) and see how it could be. It was enjoyable to both. There was no strife.
It is possible to play athletic games for the exercise, for the fun of learning co-ordination and physical skills without getting into emulations, but it must be approached carefully. The contests of worldly people are full of rivalry, and team loyalty is commonly used as a goad to doing one’s best; but children of God cannot enter into this spirit without spiritual harm. A Christian cannot be a part of the military force of one nation and hurt the members of another nation, for the law of Christ within him will prompt him to do unto others as he would have done unto himself. He would not want others to kill him, therefore he cannot kill. He would not want to be hurt by others, therefore he cannot try to injure the other man. Nor can a real Bible Christian enter into a contest that will not come to mutual advantage, that is, with a spirit of emulation, without doing violence to the law of Christ within him. At the least, he must suspend the law of Christ within himself to exercise the law of competitive advantage.
At the pep rallies, the cheerleaders incite a feeling of rivalry toward the other team. What if you stood up and calmly stated, “This is wrong! We should not feel this way toward the other school’s team. We should not play one another so that one loses and the other wins. We should play in such a way that both win!” Imagine what would happen to you if you advocated such a course. Do you really think that two teams would come together and each would say to the other, “You know, I really think you are better than us. We feel we have made some progress in learning things, but we readily confess that you are ahead of us in many ways.” This just wouldn’t work, would it? The whole approach would be unhinged by such a thing, wouldn’t it? What would the fans think? They, too, are full of emulations. What would Jesus do? Would He side with one group against the other? Did He?
In Matthew 25:14-30, we read of three men who were given varying amounts of talents. One received five talents; another received two; and one received one. And of these three, two were successful and pleased God, and the other did not. Now of these two, we note that they did not compete with each other. “And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.” (Matthew 25:20) “He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.” (Matthew 25:22) There was no jostling for position; no gain of one was made at the expense of the other.
When the members of the Corinthian congregation began to enter into the spirit of emulations by rallying around one of the ministers that God had used to bring the gospel to them, or no ministers at all, then it became painfully plain that the ministers themselves would have no part in any of that. “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?” (1 Corinthians 3:5) They did not get in each other’s way either, for the spirit of rivalry had no part in them. What a blessing it is to be delivered from the factions and rivalries of men! To love everybody and be out for God to have His way in everybody without anymore partiality than God Himself has! “Apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.” Deliverance from the strife of tongues! Glory! Freedom from the need to have the last word! Liberty to look stupid and inferior because I continue to strive not, and to leave it in God’s hands!
There was no rivalry between Jonathan and David. There was rivalry on the part of King Saul toward David, but David did not feel that way toward King Saul. “Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.” (Psalm 31:20)
Dear reader, are you kept secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues in such a way that your profiting appears to all? Are you hidden from the pride of man? Do you have the victory over the spirit of emulations? Do you reign over a sense of competition with others? Do you have a distaste for the contentions of others, or do you take sides?
There are no emulations in heaven. No one strives with anyone else up there. We affirm confidently that you won’t get there with emulations in you. According to Revelation 21:27, there is nothing there that defileth, is an abomination, or maketh a lie. Jesus wants to take this stuff out of you.
“But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” (James 3:14-16)