Several years ago my wife and I celebrated our honeymoon in beautiful Cozumel, Mexico. Back when I was first married I was a pretty huge Cowboys fan and I was excited when I found out the hotel we were staying at televised the NFL playoffs. We planned activities for just about every moment of our honeymoon but I made sure we were back at the hotel to watch the Cowboys in the playoffs. According to my recollection I watched the Cowboys as intently as possible on our little hotel room television and it was certainly an emotional three hours. The game was an intense matchup in which the lead went back and forth up until the very end. Despite all the drama at the end of the game all the Cowboys needed to do to secure their first playoff victory in years was to make a chip shot field goal. Our kicker that year was money and I was giddy about the victory that seemed to be so sure. Sure enough our quarterback lost control of the ball and the defense immediately picked up his fumble before the kicker’s leg could even touch the ball. With that fumble the game went from being within the Cowboy’s grips to being just another disappointing playoff loss.
I was frustrated at the disappointing heart wrenching loss, you know what I was even angry about the loss. In my obsession with football I considered the losing team my team though I had never even lived in their home state and I felt like a failure. I was quick to comment to my new wife that the coach was all kinds of manners of foolishness for putting the starting quarterback on the field. Most other Sundays this would have set me on the path to having a lousy week, but fortunately I realized just how silly this was. I was on my honeymoon with a woman far better than anyone I deserved and I was angry about a silly football game, how ridiculous is that? By God’s grace I was also granted some perspective beyond just my ability to drown my sorrows in Mexican Coke, I was a Christian and I was becoming furious about losing in something that is all together insignificant. I realized as much as I was frustrated, if my team had won other Christians who rooted for the other team would have likely fallen to this same sinful anger. In a sense it seemed me being tempted by this frustration over loss spared others from having been tempted likewise. I considered our Biblical call to rejoice with those who rejoice and I concluded my attitude towards competition was entirely inconsistent with it.
Competition is a regular part of life, especially for men during this time of year. All Christians will be put into situations where we need to respond to competition and some will even pursue opportunities for competition. We might face necessary completion like competing for a promotion at one’s job. We could be involved in recreational competition like family game night, a fantasy football league, or even a pickup basketball game. We may even face competition for a church service position we believe God is calling us toward. Competition is not immoral by any stretch, but our faith must shape how we approach competition. I fear many Christians respond to competition in a way that is ultimately inconsistent with our faith. We become angry or jealous with our opponents and even if we manage to put on a good face all too often we respond to another’s success with animosity.
But one might ask what exactly scripture has to say concerning our approach to competition. Though obviously scripture never depicts Moses and Joshua behaving in a God honoring way during a flag football game, several Biblical principles speak volumes about the ways in which should handle competitive situations. We can apply Biblical principles of peacemaking, forsaking worldliness, self dependence, and loving one another to teach us how God desires for us to handle situations in which we are in competition with someone else. For the sake of brevity I will only address how loving one another and considering others greater than ourselves should impact these situations.
In Philippians chapter two Paul urges the Philippian Christians to put on Christ’s spirit of humility in their relationships of one another. The antithesis to this type of humble life is having selfish ambition and conceit; to live for our own success is not living mindful of Christ. Instead of living for self, Paul beseeches Christians to “count others more significant than yourselves” in verse three. Counting others more significant than ourselves is deeply relevant to how we pursue and handle competition. If we consider others more significant than ourselves and look out for others interests alongside our own, we will try to put ourselves in the competitions shoes and try to be sensitive to how we might negatively or positively impact their lives even in silly ways. In friendly competition this would not suggest we should let the other person win all the time, that is more people-pleasing than love and takes away the fun of the competition, though perhaps at times this could mean we concede in dispute with others in certain situations. Paul’s words would certainly rule out any kind of dishonesty or cheating in every kind of competition even when others so readily do so, our success is frankly not the most important factor in any scenario for a Christian and any dishonesty or lousy attitude is inconsistent with an others centered attitude. While we compete we as Christians are called to make the situation as pleasant as possible for others involved even if we succeed or get the promotion and our competition is disappointed.
Repeatedly scripture calls us to love one another. This call is seen in both testaments, it is demonstrated in narratives, and it comes from the pen of several different authors. Loving one another is important and a variety of biblical passages that teach us to love one another are particularly relevant to how we handle competitive situations. 1 John 4:7-8, Matthew 22:37-39, John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10 all can be applied to Christians in competition and we will investigate how a few can be applied. John 13:34-35 not only calls Christians to love one another but tells us that loving one another is what distinguishes us as Christians. While our Christian witness is primarily us telling others the good news of Jesus vocally, how we act and live among the lost will greatly influence the effectiveness of our witness. If we are mean, disrespectful, and antagonistic when we are in competition we fail to stand out as God’s redeemed in this world and if people know we are Christians and we have those bad attitudes we convey to the world there is nothing special about our Gospel message. If Christians ever act like the political candidates who launch attack ads we drastically damage our witness and confirm the criticism of those opposed to our faith. In Romans 12:10 Paul guides Christians to love one another in a competitive vibe. Christians are to outdo one another in showing honor towards other people. We ought to be competing to love those we compete with more than anyone else and that is a competition that has eternal rewards. Competition to show one another honor is a competition where no one is hurt and the better we do it the more we will experience the greatest prize of crowns in the kingdom. Even in competition we can honor everyone by being courteous, respectful, and kind even when no one else will.
A last scripture to consider when we as Christians engage in all kinds of competition is Romans 12:15 where Paul famously beseeched the Roman Christians to rejoice with rejoicers and weep with weepers. How often do we gloat when we win a class election or how often do we become gloomy when our fantasy baseball team loses to the annoying guy in the office? We treat these responses as normal and even if a little silly sometimes we act like those responses are endearing. Such responses are not trivial or a sign of loyalty, they are sinful. When we respond to the results of competition in a manner that only considers ourselves or those in camp with us, we fail to rejoice with those who rejoice or weep with those who weep; I think this is especially relevant to recreational competition. Though we obviously always try to win in anything, when we don’t we should be more happy for another’s successes than upset over our own lack of success. We don’t just throw on a face like the losing high school football team who begrudgingly congratulates their rivals, we enjoy their victory with them. At the time of writing the Orioles have long since blown their post-season hopes and the Ravens may be on the cusp of going 0-4 for the first time ever tonight, us Marylanders have more than enough to excuse becoming angry or frustrated. We don’t have to be slaves to that response; we don’t have to sin because of a baseball team, a presidential candidate, or a promotion. We can have a outward mindset and be happy for those who succeed at our own expense even when we’re considering a silly game.
You will become involved in some manner of competition, it is unavoidable. You will be tempted to become petty, or prideful, or sinfully angry. However, with the help of the Holy Spirit we can approach competition with an eye on eternity and a heart that considers others greater than yourself. Let every time you engage in competition whether it be a backyard football game or a deacon election be an opportunity for you to live out our other centered Gospel and bring others to see its beauty.