Each of us has experienced situations where everything seems to be going great and then suddenly everything turns for the worse. As a coach of an Elite Girls Fastpitch Softball Gold/Premier Team I have experienced this on many occasions. The season is humming along fine and then suddenly there is an issue with a player or players and/or a parent or parents.
Although these situations can be very destructive they can also be very powerful. It all depends upon how one responds to these types of situations. And how we respond is determined by which vantage point we use to perceive and interpret these types of events. To be successful in any group endeavor it is essential that we know how to redirect the energy in these events from a destructive path into a creative positive path.
When I have encountered situations like this I have turned events into a positive by following the truth outlined in James 3:14-16.
The truth of this passage has been so effective in transforming negative group dynamics into a positive I have often referred to it when giving guidance as a Christian Mentor to another Christian or as a Mentor Coach to another Coach. However, I was always struck, on many occasions, that those I was mentoring did not see the same truth. I realized this disconnect came from the fact those I mentored were reading the English Translation of this passage while I was relying on the truth in the original Greek.
So what is the difference? The English translation reads;
"But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing."
— James 3:14-16
This translation implies “jealousy” appears in a person and works destruction. But the Greek term translated "jealousy" in verses 14 and 16 is ζῆλος. This is the origin of our word "zeal". ζῆλος has a dual meaning. In the good sense it means zeal as an emulation to imitate something of superior worth. The most basic sense would be a child who imitates a mother or father. In a bad sense it is zeal of a heart burning to obtain something at nearly any cost which leads to the meaning of jealousy.
So when James 3:14 is translated "bitter jealousy", based on the Greek, this is a redundant translation. James is using "Bitter" as a modifier of the term Greek term ζῆλος indicating in which direction the ζῆλος is moving, precisely because ζῆλος has a dual meaning. James wants to make clear the ζῆλος he is referring to is not the good sense of imitating something of superior worth, but is the bad sense of ζῆλος which has turned into jealousy.
So when taking into account the original Greek text James is not speaking to an attitude of jealousy that is bad from the get go. Rather he is speaking of a ζῆλος that has turned from that of a positive force, imitating something of a superior worth, into a negative force resulting in jealousy.
With that in mind the literal translation would be "a zeal that is sharp and thus pierces and cuts". So a more accurate translation would be a person who has ζῆλος but this ζῆλος has turned negative and is now cruel and painful and cuts which causes damage rather than builds and creates anew.
When we take into account the above we will have a much different response to the coaching example I shared.
All players come into the season with their own idea of what position they will play, how often they will play and where they will hit in the lineup. At the start of the season, during what coaches call the "honeymoon stage" each player is positive as they pursues their goal with great ζῆλος, and that is the good sense of the term.
But as the season progresses, in those situations where the player is not measuring up, there will be an adjustment to where a player plays, how much playing time she gets and where in the lineup she hits. When this reality does not match a player's expectations, she has two choices. She can work on that part of her game that needs to be improved or she can conclude she is in this situation because of something or someone else. This is what I refer to as the "It's Not Fair" syndrome. When the player chooses “It’s Not Fair” it is at this point the player's ζῆλος turns from a good zeal into a bad zeal. The good ζῆλος goes from imitating something of superior worth to a ζῆλος of piercing, cutting, pain and damage. Suddenly that player and/or her parents turn on the player or players who are playing “their” position (as if they could own a position) and hitting in their place in the lineup.
It is at this "point of turning" that their good ζῆλος turns into selfish ambition. Even though I can show the player and their parent with irrefutable evidence in the stats that my decision is correct and is what's best for the team, they will not accept it. Unable to deal with failure, for them, it must be something else that is the cause of their failure to measure up and obtain the playing time they desire.
In response to this I have a saying, "Admission of failure is the first step to improvement." Until a player admits her failure she is unable to work on the skills that caused her to fail. A player refused to admit failure because from her perspective her performance is not the cause of her lack of playing time, it must be another player, parent or even the coach’s fault.
The moment a player turns that corner from "Admission of failure" and goes into what we call “Scape Goat” mode, they cease to apply the ζῆλος towards making themselves better and instead the energy of the ζῆλος is used to attack those they believe have taken their goal and dream from them. It is at that moment the player and even the parents live out the remainder of what James describes in verse 14.
"with contention in their heart they boast and in this reveal that they lie against the truth".
James concludes in verse 15.
"This is not wisdom which comes down from above, but earthly, sensual and demon-like."
James drives this point home further when in verse 16 he writes, (I will use a literal translation to drive the point home.)
"For where both zeal also strife there confusion even every evil activity."
(Note: “strife is the sense of laboring for wages or fighting for a party or faction.)
Smoothing out the English we get the following:
"For where zeal is redirected as strife there is confusion and every type of evil activity."
So James is saying we all have ζῆλος and this ζῆλος can be a force for good or misdirected into a force for bad or even evil. When it is, it becomes selfish and destructive piercing and cutting and causing pain for all those in its path.
In light of the above, it is clear that James is supporting the concept of free will. Since jealousy has as its origin in ζῆλος which can also be directed towards good, or towards bad, when we are jealous, we have chosen to direct the good of ζῆλος into a negative force.
Extending that concept, if jealousy is ζῆλος that has been misdirected by free will, then jealousy can be removed by redirecting ζῆλος towards good.
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