Welcome to our Wednesday “Ask Beau” post. The purpose of this weekly feature is to provide you, our readers, with biblical responses to questions you have about practical issues that you face.
As always, you may submit questions for future “Ask Beau” posts by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by leaving a comment on this post.
A couple of weeks ago, a colleague and friend on the Grace Polaris staff passed along a link to this podcast, in which Winston Smith, Dr. Michael Emlet, Myriam Hertzog, and Brian Munnings discuss the question, “Is competition biblical?” After listening to this podcast, I thought it would be good to pass it along to you and also to add my thoughts. Yours are welcome also—just leave us a comment.
One of the first issues raised in the podcast is that competition is intrinsically tied to comparison. By their nature, competitions establish winners, rankings, pecking orders, and so forth. One of the participants in the discussion suggested that when people go about the business of comparing themselves to one another, that can “go downhill pretty fast” and end up in selfish ambition, one of the works of the flesh that Paul condemns in Galatians 5:19–21. I think this is a valid point. We’ve all seen competitions in which the competitors were out to do nothing but make themselves look good and feed their own pride.
On the other hand, as Ms. Hertzog pointed out, when a competitor excels this can call our attention to the glory of God, who gifted the competitor. For some reason, it is hard for us to recognize outstanding talents unless they are literally outstanding—that is, they stand out from the rest. Competition often acts as a means by which we can identify God’s gracious gifts, and in this sense it is positive.
Another of the discussion participants noted that competition can help prepare us for times in life in which we will lose or fall short. He questioned the wisdom involved when his daughter received “MVP” trophies year after year simply for participating on her soccer team. Perhaps some of the explicit narcissism of our present age stems not from competition, but from lack of competition. We may be well-intentioned in our attempts to shield our children from failure or “damaged self-esteem,” but it is quite healthy for all of us to experience losing or not being the best at something, in part because it challenges us to recognize the sufficiency of Christ in these and future instances in which we fall short of our hopes and expectations.
There is one more, often overlooked, reality that I think we should consider. Sometimes Christians approach competition in such a way that they fail to appreciate the interrelationship between the vertical, God-directed aspect of competition and the horizontal, others-directed aspect of competition. In my opinion, it is naïve for a believer to say, “I’m just going out there to glorify the Lord (vertical)—the outcome of the game (horizontal) isn’t important.” Such a statement misses the truth that competitions, by definition, pit us against others, and thus it is glorifying to God (vertical) when a competitor earnestly seeks to beat his opponent (horizontal). In other words, we can’t properly glorify God in a competition if we don’t compete (see 1 Corinthians 9:24; 10:31). If we aren’t trying to win, we probably shouldn’t be in the arena in the first place.
What are your thoughts on competition?