We are a pretty competitive family. For as long as I can remember, we have been unable to just play games for fun; we need a winner. Just one example – we have, at several points during the last few years – engaged in “The Kelley Family Tournament of Champions, which is a serial match consisting of several games played over the course of days, weeks, or during COVID lockdown, months. The points are accumulated. A winner is declared. Prizes are awarded.
And, to be fair, many tears have been shed. That’s the downside of the competition.
Nevertheless, we compete on.
Perhaps we have done that kind of thing too much, because we have also had to back our kids down from real life scenarios and help them understand that everything is not a competition. And it shouldn’t be. But their penchant toward competition doesn’t only come from our family games; it’s in the world around them as well.
Because in the world, there is a near constant pressure to do the best. Be the best. Look the best. And if you can’t be the best in any category, you at least need to have the appearance of being the best on the socials. That kind of ingrained competition makes life hard for the Christian because we are meant to think differently about the people in our lives. Consider these practical statements for the church at Rome:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited (Rom. 12:9-16).
Now that doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t play baseball or ultimate frisbee or golf; it does mean, though, that competition has its limits. When competition runs wild, it’s as if you stop seeing the person or people you’re competing with as actual people; instead, they are just obstacles to overcome. People to step on. Another rung in the ladder of self-esteem and validation we are climbing in an endless effort to prove our own value as relative to others.
Not for the Christian. We are to give. To share. To rejoice. To mourn. And to live in harmony with each other.
And yet in these verses which run contrary to our worldly competitive nature, there is a kind of “competition command” for Christians. There is a word that shows us the right way to compete. In another version of Scripture, Romans 12:10 is translated like this:
Outdo one another in showing honor.
See it? There is a holy kind of competition here, one that doesn’t climb the ladder, but instead descends. Christians are in a race to the bottom.
It’s a competition (of sorts) not to gain the most, but to give the most. Not to accumulate power, but to serve. Not to be honored, but to honor those around us. And the prize for this kind of competition is not the earthly kind of trophy or adulation that comes with other kind of contests; the prize here is in heaven.
In this, as with all things, let us not be conformed to the pattern of the world’s thinking, but instead let us be transformed by the Holy Spirit. So let’s compete, Christian. But let’s compete in a different kind of way.