Competition: To compete is natural. Paul talks about life as a race and the importance of running a good one as a follower of Christ Jesus.“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” — 1 Corinthians 9:24-25. The nature to compete is in us, but where this competitive nature goes bad is when we make our focus to compete against others rather than with ourselves. In a recent study about happiness, it was estimated (from a secular viewpoint) that happiness was not based on what most people would think it would be — meaning that happiness would be found in a comfortable income, robust health, a supportive marriage, and lack of tragedy or trauma. Instead, the general conclusion from almost a century of research on the determinants of well-being is that objective circumstances, demographic variables, and life events are correlated with happiness less strongly than intuition and everyday experience tell us they ought to be. By several estimates, all of these variables put together account for no more than 8% to 15% of the variance in happiness. What accounts for most of the variance in happiness is how we’re doing comparatively. Meaning, how we are doing versus others. Most people consciously or unconsciously live life according to this competitive drive. That’s why people try to outdo each other with a better home, better cars, more toys, better social media posts, the appearance of a cooler lifestyle, et cetera. People want to compete and win. They need to be validated as a success in their mind or they don’t feel happy. It’s a race, but not one that a Christian should want to run.
Christian Competition: Unfortunately, competition doesn’t end when a person gets saved. It can sometimes ratchet up and become very distasteful in the politics of church life. There is a phrase for this — self-righteous. Jesus despised and rebuked those who competed aggressively in the politics of the church and constantly called them hypocrites for such actions. “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. “They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.’” — Matthew 23: 1-12. And again, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” — Matthew 23:27-28. The scribes and Pharisees loved to be the big shots and loved the validation they received. They competed for it and tried to act more holy than everyone else. God hates this! He totally despises this behavior. This is exactly why God always uses the weak things of the world to shame the so-called wise and self-righteous. These examples might sound like they are exclusive to ancient times, but they are just as relevant today. Church life should not be a competitive ground, but it is. Some try to pray “more holy” than others when they are in prayer groups, some talk down to others and rebuke them for visiting different churches, some take exception to the way a person is addressed or not addressed (“I am prophet so and so” or “evangelist so and so”), while others bash the brethren for their lack of scripture memorization. These are all competitive and self-righteous actions. A good example of a Christian conduct and humility should be taken from Peter’s encounter with a centurion named Cornelius. “Peter went down to the men and said, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?” They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.” So he invited them in and gave them lodging. And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. On the following day he (Peter) entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.” — Acts 10:21-26. Peter is humble and recognizes that he isn’t greater than everyone else because he was an Apostle and walked and talked with Jesus. He simply states, “I too am just a man.” This is how Christians should strive to conduct their lives — in humility.
Real Competition: Not all competition is bad. To effectively use your competitive nature you need to learn to compete against yourself instead of others. When you compete against yourself you strive to improve yourself instead of trying to dominate someone else. This is the race Paul is talking about. Run in such a way to win the race — not, run a race to defeat your fellow brethren. Live your life, not in competition with others, but lay your life down for others. When you compete against yourself you also eliminate the stresses and incessant need to be validated comparatively to others. Moreover, you also gain knowledge because you are humble enough to learn. Competing against yourself doesn’t mean you are beating yourself up, but rather it is a challenge to improve yourself and buffet your body and actions to what is right. How much more free would you feel if you didn’t have to compete with others? What if you had more time to truly seek out and become all that God created you for? Compete against yourself, set goals and accomplish them, and don’t get caught up in the pettiness of worldly competition. Stay humble and run a good race.