Articles

Competition

In Inspiration on July 17, 2010 by David Tagged: , , , , ,

Tonight, I went to ETC, SFBC’s young adult/career fellowship. [That still sounds weird to me. I don’t feel like a “young adult”, haha]. Going over James 4, we discussed the very relevant question of pride vs. humility. Prov3:34 “God opposed the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

During discussion, one realization we came to was that motive matters more than end result. Many things are not inherently wrong, but to covet them and to seek them for selfish reasons or personal gratification goes against the Christian mindset. Money is not inherently bad, but to seek money as a goal rather than a means is greed. Having talent and performing well is not inherently bad, but to have an overinflated sense of personal power or individual judgement is pride. Many things can be done with a clear heart and be pleasing the Lord, but taken to excess or to do it for selfish motives is not consistent with how a follower of Christ should live. Thus it is often warned to not focus the gifts and lose sight of the giver. We who are blessed with much in life should never forget to thank the Lord and give glory where it is due – the one, infallible God.

Our discussion lead me to an interesting question, one that I would like to post to the greater Internet community. I would very much like feedback, and would like your thoughts on the topic. I have come to a conclusion about the topic, but I am not sure if my conclusion is right or valid. In either case, I would love to have discussion or your thoughts.

The question goes back to the title of this post, competition. My question put succinctly is, “Is competition inherently rooted in pride, and detracts from our relationship with God?” Competition, by definition, is to strive to be better than someone or something else. You need someone to compete with to be in competition. But why do we strive to be better than others? The desire to be better than others is rooted in pride, and contradictory to the humility and compassion exemplified by Jesus Christ. James 4:1 – 2 “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it.” Does not the very nature of competition conflict with the meekness, humility, and God-centered living that Jesus preached? At the root, it seems competition is contradictory to the sense of appreciative submission and acceptance of the world that Christianity brings to me.

Right or wrong, competition is natural to humans. We all seek the feeling of acceptance and praise that comes with doing something well or achieving something great. Using the metaphor of a foot race, why do we run? While we might enjoy the race, we all run to win. It is more enjoyable to be first than to be last, and no one starts a race to lose. Or at least, that is not the spirit of competition. Is a competitive heart a heart that is prone to pride and sin? Just because competition feels natural does not mean it is good. Rather, our hearts are deceitful. It is natural to strive for the most we can, to hoard what we can get, and to put ourselves at the top of the totem pole, but these actions by another name is simply worldly ambition, greed, and pride. It is natural to put ourselves first, when we should be putting God first, others second, and ourselves last.

Biblical accounts of competition also paint a grim picture. Infamous sibling rivalries, the story of Cain and Abel as well as the selling of Joseph into slavery, are all based on uncontrolled and untempered competition, which led to jealousy and all kinds of other sin. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of any biblical examples where competition glorifies God. Rather the example that comes to my mind is virtue of submission and avoiding competition. In Ordering Your Private Life (which I just finished this week), Gordan MacDonald gives the example of John the Baptist paving the way for Jesus Christ. The excerpt puts it succinctly:

“Watch [John] when the observation is made that his popularity may be headed into serious decline. To put it another way, study John when he learns that he is losing his job. The moment I have in mind comes after John has introduced Christ to the multitudes and they have begun to transfer their affections to this “Lamb of God (John 1:36). It is brought to John’s attention that the crowds, even some of his own disciples, are turning to Jesus, listening to His teaching and being baptized by His disciples. One gets the felling that those who brought the news to John concerning the decline of his ratings may have anticipated that they would get the chance to see John react just a bit negatively. But if that was the case, they were to be disappointed.” John 3:27-30 “To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”

This example shows the virtue of avoiding competition, and knowing when what our place is and how it fits into His plan for us. Can competitiveness simply be an outward sign of the lack of inner peace and the risk of falling into pride? God can more than take care of all of us – we do not need to compete for his attention. Rather, when we are competing, we are drawing the focus to ourselves and our own selfish aims.

One argument for the merits of competition I heard, is that in the right context, such competition can motivate us on our spiritual walk and, in a Christian context, can spur one another onward to better serve the Lord. When we see how much others have grown, we are encouraged to strive harder to be closer to the Lord. However, I believe this is not correct. I have already described above how I feel such a competitive perspective succeeds to draw the focus away from God and towards ourselves. Secondly, I believe such an approach is not the foundation to a deeper relationship with God – rather it lays a soft foundation based on exterior impressions and outwardly appearances of others. I feel the only true way to encourage others is to show them to love of Christ, so that they find it in their hearts to walk closer to God.

Paul also uses the metaphor of a foot race, but he focuses on the the desire for achieving personal goals and the love of Christ rather than the idea of competition. Philippians 3:13 – 14 “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Paul does not talk about wanting to be closer to Christ than other people, but rather describes how he is driven by an overwhelming love of the Lord to strive to be a better Christian. While I believe good stewardship of our abilities and making the most of our opportunities is a part of living a life for Christ (this is my interpretation of Mathew 25:14-30), I do not believe God cares about the actual results we have delivered. Going back to initial conclusion, motive matters more than end result. We are all where we are by Grace and by Grace alone, not by anything we have done or will do.

In summary, I believe that competition is inherently rooted in pride, and detracts from our relationship with God. Naturally competitive and ambitious, I write this with a heavy heart. Having striven to be the best in the things I do, I have come to see that my competitiveness is the result of selfish pride and worldly ambition. Although acceptable by secular standards, that is not what I choose to be. I want to be defined by my relationship with Jesus Christ and live a life that is worthy of him. Pray for me.

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2 Responses to “Competition”

  1. SUCH appreciation for sharing all of your thoughts. Thank you! What a perspective shift when we start looking at the world through the lens of the Bible.

    “Naturally competitive and ambitious, I write this with a heave heart.” Totally feeling you on that one. Lots to ponder.

    Hope you’re doing well on the West Coast!

  2. David, thank you very much for being open with your thoughts. I echo Michelle’s appreciation.

    I think that your post (and previous conversation) has struck me with the uncomfortable realization that we are very far from a state that pleases God. Ambition and competitiveness (and physical lust) are traits that we are too familiar with, and familiarity breeds comfort, and comfort breeds stagnancy – and where we are is not where we want to be.

    With heaviness, I must say that I find myself agreeing – but with qualification. I think that competitiveness is in most cases ungodly – at the heart of wanting to be first or to be best at something is self-service, and self-service binds you, preventing you from loving others and God unconditionally. At the heart of many other sins – jealousy, anger, anxiety – is self-service, I think.

    (Qualification) However, in the same way that you made a distinction between internal motive and exterior manifestation, I think that competition is not necessarily evil, depending on the motivation and the manner in which it is handled. I think that some kinds of competition may not be bad – in the same way that tempered and loving physical attraction, or anxiety in response to harmful situations, can exist blamelessly and make the world go round.

    Let me talk about this in the context of an example. You may have heard recently that Jeremy Lin, a brother in our fellowship and recent Harvard alumnus, has been drafted into the NBA – the first Asian-American and Harvard grad in the NBA in more than half a century. One of the things that Jeremy says he realized is how very competitive he used to be in playing basketball – about his shooting record, or the number of games he led to victory. It was self-serving (like we all are). He notes that he has recently learned to play in a more godly fashion – by trying to be a nurturing player on the team, to lead by example, to treat everyone with respect, and to play for God’s glory and not his own. So whereas basketball (or other sports) may be literally competitive, the focus in the heart matters very much as well. Granted, I’m not sure if it’s enough to annul the evil of competition.

    Feel free to read more about Jeremy Lin’s faith here , and to let me know your opinion on my qualification.

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