Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (2) looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV)
It is one of the key teachings of Christianity that our Master and Model is Jesus Christ and we are to be conformed into His image and be like Him in all respects. Let’s look at two well-known verses in this regard:
(Romans 8:29 NASB) For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.
(Ephesians 4:15 NASB) But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ.
God’s plan for our lives is that we become conformed to the image of His Son. Now to “grow up in all aspects into Him” includes the emotional aspects of the nature of Jesus Christ. Becoming emotionally mature and skilled is part of our sanctification – but it is only a part. There are many other aspects of sanctification as well such as faith, knowledge and purity. Growing up emotionally is important and it’s the part of sanctification that this book focuses on but Biblical EQ is certainly not all there is to sanctification.
Is Jesus Christ an Appropriate Model for Emotional Maturity?
There are a number of objections that people might think of against using Jesus Christ as our Model of EQ:
- The standard is too high. The idea is terrifying. It gives me a panic
attack to think of it. I can never be like that.
- He was God and sinless; I’m neither. He had an unfair advantage.
What’s possible for Him is just not possible for me.
- There isn’t enough information in Scripture to make a judgment.
It’s an argument from silence. You can just make Jesus into whatever you want Him to be to suit your purposes.
- He was Jewish and lived in the Third World 2000 years ago and just ambled around the place healing lepers. What would He know about the pressures of corporate life and the emotional jungle that my office is? (I’m a woman, He was a man and totally different emotionally. It’s just silly to ask me to be like Jesus.)
- Jesus was a prophet and had the emotions of a prophet. I could never be that confrontational – its not my spiritual gift.
- Jesus? High EQ? Kind of lacking in social skills if you ask me! I’m much more tactful and artful that that. Don’t ask me to act in ways that get you nailed to a lump of wood.
Well lets look at some ways we can answer those objections and the assumptions that underlie them.
Objection 1: The Standard Is Too High
Solution: Jumping Off Jacob’s Ladder – Getting Rid Of Legalism Over Emotions
Many evangelicals have a “Jacob’s Ladder” view of the spiritual life with Jesus at the top, host of angels in-between and Christians climbing up rung by painful rung. The idea is to ascend to perfection – to strive to arrive. One slip and you tumble to the bottom to start all over again. Those that adhere to this view of spirituality are always envying those ahead of them, clinging on to the ladder for dear life, and not having too much to do with those “below” lest they get dragged down.
This view of the Christian life is thoroughly unbiblical. Ephesians 2:6 tells us that all those who are in Christ are already seated with Him in heavenly realms and Hebrews 12 tells us that we have come (past tense) to the Heavenly Zion. In Christ we have already arrived in terms of spiritual status. There is no ladder and if there is all born-again Christians are standing shoulder to shoulder on the top rung as brothers of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:10-15). We have been saved by grace and not by our own spiritual strivings (Ephesians 2:8-10) and there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) including condemnation about our emotional life.
Aspiring to be like Jesus is not a matter of status or spiritual ascent. It’s a journey, a destination, a joyous arriving. He is what we were made to be like from all eternity. If we view our emotional life as an indicator of spiritual status then it will be utterly terrifying to think of Jesus as our
model. Every emotional insecurity will seem a “sin” and every lustful thought a pathway to Hell. If we judge ourselves and rate our spiritual life by the difference between our emotional life and the emotional life of Christ, by how far we have yet to go on our imaginary Jacob’s ladder, then all we will feel is endless guilt and insecurity. By trying to go up, you will go under.
If you recognize yourself as being on an imaginary Jacob’s Ladder, it’s time to “jump off”. You need to let go of striving and relentless self-assessment, and stop comparing yourself to those around you. Let go of the strain of sanctification go and to instead to learn how to receive grace so that you grow far more quickly than you can in your own strength.
When I am saying “let’s consider Jesus as our model for the emotional life of the Christian” I am NOT setting a new standard to be “lived up to” by discipline and self-control. Your discipline and self-control will run out long before you reach that standard! Being like Jesus is our vision and our destination. We fix our eyes on Jesus, we seek to grow up into Him, and we pattern ourselves after Him. It becomes an exploration and an adventure, a time of growing and learning, a receiving of grace upon grace as we learn to be like Him. It is a gracious growing – not a terrifying ascent.
Objection 2 – He was God and that’s cheating!
Solution: He was also fully human. Jesus was the prototype of the perfect Christian, the elder brother among many brethren. We are of the same kind as Him.
Jesus was not some aloof divine maharaja floating six inches above the ground, another category of being entirely from you and I. Jesus is God yet He was also fully human and tempted in every point as we are and still retains that humanity in Heaven as our faithful high priest.
For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. (11) For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, (12) saying, “I WILL PROCLAIM THY NAME TO MY BRETHREN, IN THE MIDST OF THE CONGREGATION I WILL SING THY PRAISE.” (13) And again, “I WILL PUT MY TRUST IN HIM.” And again, “BEHOLD, I AND THE CHILDREN
WHOM GOD HAS GIVEN ME.” (14) Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; (15) and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (16) For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. (17) Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (18) For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. (Hebrews 2:10-18 NASB)
This passage and others like it in Hebrews (4:14-16; 5:7-10) emphasize that life or Jesus was difficult. It was so difficult that it was quite rightly described as suffering and had all the emotional hallmarks of suffering. It was no light suffering for it was to have the effect of perfecting Him! It was a suffering that matured His obedience by testing it under very stressful conditions. As we shall see, Jesus was pressed again and again to almost breaking point but He never sinned. Though He was God He laid aside those privileges (Philippians 2:5-11) to become fully human and a servant and was “made like His brethren in all things that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest”.
He was made like us in our experiences of hunger, thirst, tiredness, frustration, misunderstanding, betrayal and even of unjust treatment by others. Even a cursory reading of the gospels will tell you that He did not just cruise through these experiences. He wept, He rebuked, He cried out, He rejoiced, He got angry, He became “troubled in spirit”, He groaned in anguish and sweated drops of blood. Life for Jesus was difficult and it was often emotionally intense. This has made Him merciful in His role as high priest for He has fully been where we are.
In fact the reason we can be like Jesus is because He became very much like us. In fact He calls us “brethren”(Hebrew 2:11) which means that we are enough like Him to be considered family and to bear a close “genetic relationship” that has some sort of equality about it. The Scripture also say that we share the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus, and are members of Heavenly Zion (Ephesians 2:6; Hebrews 12:22-24). Therefore, we are literally “in the same realm” as Christ Jesus. Romans 8:29 tells us that we will be conformed to His image almost like someone pressed into a mould. Our shape will be the same as His shape. We will be like Him. There will be a resemblance. We can resemble Him because he chose to resemble us. Finally Ephesians 4:15, which I quote often in this book ,says we are to be made like Him “in all respects”. That’s a very close likeness.
To illustrate this with a touch of humour- imagine I was to compare a trout with a horse using these same criteria. Can a trout occupy the same realm as a horse? No, a trout swims in the river and a horse gallops on land. Can a trout be called a brother of a horse in any genetic likeness? Not at all! Can a trout be made into the image of a horse or expect to be made like a horse in all things? It’s ridiculous. In order to occupy the same realms, be brothers and be able to be transformed into the image of Christ Jesus, we must be very much LIKE Jesus. In fact we are like Jesus because we are fully human and He became fully human. He became like us so that we could become like Him. Jesus took on our emotional life so that it may be redeemed and become like His emotional life.
Finally we share a common destiny with Jesus Christ and a common home.
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. (2) In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (4) And where I go you know, and the way you know. (John 14:1-4 NKJV)
“That where I am you may be also”. This is not just the offer of streets of gold. It’s the offer of an elder brother to His younger brethren. It’s fellowship, it’s love and it’s family. We shall be enough like Jesus to be considered family. He as the Son of God and we as sons of God. When we are made in all aspects like Him and conformed to His image we will share His habitations and have meaningful fellowship with our Lord and God. Going back to the trout and horse illustration, there is no possibility of meaningful fellowship there. It is only in likeness and communication that there can be fellowship with God. Jesus is not alien to us but in fellowship with us and we can be like Him. Our emotions, in the end, will be fitted for life in eternity with God. The goal of biblical EQ is thus not commercial success or social popularity but fellowship with God and harmony in Heaven.
Objection 3: There isn’t enough information about His emotional life to base an EQ theory on.
Solution: There is enough to give us key reference points so we can gain a reasonable impression of what it means to have a redeemed and Christ-like emotional life.
The information about the emotional life of Jesus is contained both in direct references to His humanity such as “Jesus wept” in John 11 and in broader more theological references that imply His full humanity and complete goodness. For instance John calls Him “the light of life” and states that darkness had no place in Him and could not overpower Him. To have no “darkness” in one’s spirit is to have emotions that are never deceitful, false, envious, spiteful, grumbling or small-minded. All His emotions were “light”, not in the sense of light-hearted but as in the sense of positive, true, illuminating, righteous, appropriate and genuine. There was never a snicker or a snarl, never a dark brooding, violent emotion. Whether in tears or triumph the emotions of Jesus were noble, wise, good and perfectly righteous. Then there are the direct references. A survey of any good systematic theology such as Erickson or Grudem will find a wealth of information under the heading “the humanity of Jesus” as well as a good discussion of the complexities this entails (such as how the divine and the human were combined in one person). I will leave these intricacies to the theologians and will just list some of the biblical references which show how complete His humanity and emotional life was: Jesus experienced hunger (Matthew 4:2; 21:18), thirst (John 19:28) , fatigue (John 4:6) , He rejoiced at the end of the sending out of the seventy (Luke 10:21), marveled at the faith of the centurion (Matthew 8:10) and felt love for the rich, young ruler (Mark 10:21) . His most frequent emotion is compassion which is recorded eleven times in the gospels (see Matthew 9:36). Anger was part of life for Jesus such as when He became angry at the Pharisees for their hardened cruelty (Mark 3:5) .
Zeal for God’s honor caused Him to cleanse the temple (John 2:17). He grew in stature and in wisdom and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52), was subjected to high-powered temptation (Matthew 4:1-11) , and learned obedience without sinning (Hebrews 5:8-9) . He had some of life’s more painful emotions as well. For instance He wept (Luke 19:41; John 11:35) , His soul was troubled (John 12:27) and a while later He was “troubled in spirit” (John 13:21) . He underwent extreme emotional distress to the point of death (Matthew 26:36-41) and prayed with loud cries and tears (Hebrews 5:7). Finally, He experienced an agonizing death on a cross (Matthew 27:34-54) with its attendant feelings of abandonment (Matthew 27:46).
The way Jesus processed His emotional life can also be deduced from some of the incidents in His life. For instance, He was extraordinarily calm in the face of storms and authoritative even in the face of arrest. He was an accessible person who was a “friend of sinners” and seemed to enjoy a reasonable social life with stable friendships with His disciples and with the household of Lazarus, Mary and Martha at Bethany. He had an inner circle of Peter, James and John and the apostle John seems to have been a true friend and was known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Thus there is sufficient evidence from direct references, incidents in the gospels and proper theological inference to construct a reasonable portrait of the emotional life of Jesus – at least one that can inform our discussion of biblical EQ.
Objection 4: Jesus is not a culturally relevant or gender relevant model for the emotional life I lead. To ask me to model my emotional life on His is inappropriate.
Solution: The cultural details of Jesus life are scant. God seems to have mainly preserved only those details about Jesus that are relevant for all places and times.
The core message of who Jesus is has been perceived by Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female down through the centuries. We will find out that Jesus shows us how to cope with pressure, express anger, set limits and boundaries, participate in grief and feel for the lost, the sick and the downtrodden. No one argues that Jesus shows us how to have compassion and love as
our primary emotional realities. These are the sort of principles that survive cultural and gender differences. Each of the EQ skills that Jesus displayed is written into Scripture for our instruction. Much about His personality is left out – even such vital details as His age or His personal preferences. This means that those details that are in there (e.g. He is recorded 9 times as saying thanks at meals) are ones that the Holy Spirit wanted to draw attention to and are largely personality independent. [ In the case of “saying grace” it is the value of being thankful and cultivating a life of gratitude for daily provision.] Millions of people in dozens of cultures find the gospel accounts of Jesus highly relevant to their situation. Using Jesus as our model means following what Scripture says not what medieval paintings portray. There is no indication that Jesus had a beard or long hair or was slightly effeminate looking. All these cultural details are absent from the gospels. What is present is the account of a
person with a remarkable understanding of humanity and an enormous desire to heal it and redeem it. If we mould our passions on His passions we will be highly relevant people in a very needy world.
Objection 5: Jesus had a totally different spiritual gifting. I could never be as assertive, confident or confrontational as He comes across as in the gospel narratives.
Solution: Becoming like Jesus is not about becoming a clone of a prophet but is a unique journey of self-discovery.
God does make us each very different and He certainly does not ask us all to be evangelists or prophets. In fact it is quite clear that there is no one “right” Christian personality. Some are like Peter or Paul, while others resemble Moses, Daniel, Barnabas or Elijah. Yet as different as each of these people are or were, each of them was Christ-like. There is almost a trick to this. If I imitate another human such as Billy Graham, I end up not being myself in the end yet if I imitate Jesus the reverse happens – I find myself. This is because Jesus is the center of humanity and the crown of humanity and we were all created by Him and for Him and in Him everything holds together, including our personalities (Colossians 1:15-20). Thus becoming like Jesus is like a journey to the center of the universe, full of adventures and surprises where we end up back where we began but marvelously transformed. When the timid person decides to become like Jesus he finds new boldness.
When the sarcastic wit decides to become like Jesus he finds new gentleness and tact. When the messed up and confused person decides to become like Jesus, clarity appears as if from nowhere. The gospels talk about losing yourself in order to find yourself and indeed we do. One person sets out, another returns who is somewhat similar but entirely different. The timid person loses their fear that they have harbored for so long, the sarcastic person loses their cruelty, the disordered person loses their freedom to be foolish. No one becoming like Jesus becomes a clone. It’s not a journey to a single point, a “dot” we must all approximate. We don’t all end up in Jerusalem wearing sandals. Maybe it’s a bit like a spiritual black hole in which we seem to vanish but actually end up on a journey in another universe traveling faster than the speed of light .
Objection 6: Jesus was tactless and His “high EQ” just got Him crucified. That is not something ordinary people should imitate. They should be tactful and careful.
Solution: Jesus was not tactless. He was an effective agent of change and a brilliant communicator who was steadfastly opposed. His EQ skills made Him effective and powerful and thus are worth imitating.
The ministry of Jesus and His EQ skills seem to have gone through three stages:
Favor: First Jesus grew in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). Secondly His early ministry was characterized by people being astonished at the gracious words that fell from His lips. (Luke 4:22). At this stage His EQ skills make Him perceptive, gracious and tactful.
Effectiveness: He taught with authority and challenged the teachings of the scribes and the Pharisees. Some opposed Him, many listened and His following grew. His opponents were infuriated by Him, but they were not yet afraid of Him. At this stage His EQ skills make Him authoritative and effective as a public speaker and prophetic teacher.
Power: Jesus eventually became a national political and religious figure that many people wanted to see become King. He was able to challenge the highest authorities in the land and to create genuine fear in His opponents. His enemies were now truly afraid of Him and plotted His death like that of any political enemy. At this stage His EQ skills make Him a skilful leader of a mass movement and also someone able to withstand enormous pressure and persecution.
For Christians the development of a high biblical EQ goes through these same three stages of favor, effectiveness and power. Stage One is “growing in favor” where EQ skills are honed and refined and poor strategies are discarded. Stage Two is effectiveness where EQ skills are honed in one’s own home town and district and an effective and authoritative ministry develops. Stage Three is power when EQ skills are used to effect large scale change in one’s community such as being a community organizer, politician, writer, moral crusader, preacher or evangelist.
These latter stages generally provoke a reaction from the Evil One who launches his attacks against the now highly effective Christian. Two Scriptures are relevant here:
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2
Timothy 3:12 NKJV)
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (25) For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (26) For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (27) For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” (Matthew 16:24-28 NKJV)
Godliness will attract the scorn of some and the hatred of a few. If those few occupy places of power then the persecution can be trying indeed. Nevertheless, we are called to be lights in the midst of darkness and sheep in the midst of wolves; as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. A high EQ will enable you to skillfully handle high level social and political issues and be a real influence for good in your society. However, this will attract attention, envy, rivalry, and in some cases ridicule, scorn and hatred.
The prophet Daniel is a prime example of this. His high biblical EQ, wisdom and maturity made him effective and influential but made others envious and landed him in the lions den amongst other
places. But God delivered him! My experience of Christian political involvement is that the persecution is always more than I wanted but always far less than I feared. If you strive to attain the EQ of Jesus Christ you will eventually become so gracious, poised, and authoritative that you will have a real presence that makes a difference at national and international levels. Unfortunately you will also have real enemies opposing the righteous changes that you are seeking to bring about. Then it’s time to take up your cross and follow Him!
So we see that Jesus is indeed a very adequate and, in fact, ideal model for the development of the Christian’s emotional life. This is a high calling and in some ways a daunting one. How did Jesus cope? What gave Him the strength as His neighbors in Nazareth questioned when He returned from the wilderness, “Where did He get this wisdom?” From the Holy Spirit! And the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, particularly in His emotions, soul and spirit, is the subject of the next chapter.
1. How scary is it to have Jesus as the model for your emotional life? Is it adventurous, scary or terrifying?
- How much like Jesus can we hope to be?
3. What is the best thing about having Jesus as our spiritual model?
- How can we “jump off Jacob’s ladder”?
- Name the three stages Jesus went through in developing His EQ skills?
- At what stage are you in developing your own EQ skills?
- Name six emotions that Jesus felt. What do you think it was like for Him?