Is it OK for Christians to be competitive?

Sophie de Witt | August 16th 2016

Are Christians allowed to be competitive? What about Christians involved in professional sport? Perhaps just watching the athletes at the Rio Olympics brings out your competitive streak—as you sit on the edge of your sofa desperately willing your nation to win gold.

Or what about those explosive games played on church weekends away? What about school tennis, debating or tiddlywinks championships? Or submitting your résumé to a big company along with hundreds of others, all vying for a highly sought-after trainee position?

Isn’t the aim of all of these to come out “on top”, to be the best compared to the opposition? Is that an unhealthy attitude for Christians?

Competition can be good in many areas of life where it encourages excellence and efficiency rather than mediocrity or sloppiness. It provides goals to work towards. It helps employers in assessing who the best candidate is for the particular role. Competition can even foster unity; a striving against each other but towards the same goal, such as the team members who compete against one another in training so they can spur one another on to improve their game and increase the chances of the whole team winning.

Alex Chediak has some helpful insights in his article, Christians and Competition, in Boundless Webzine:

“Assigning merit-based grades and letting the best team or player win encourages excellence and helps individuals discern their strengths. Whether we redouble our efforts in an area of weakness, or re-channel them into an area of greater personal aptitude, the recognition of excellence leads to improvements in performance—and not just for the winning party.”

And this is what Stuart Weir says in What the Book says about Sport:

“Sport lives by comparison. Although many claim that they compete to find their own limits of performance, this can only be established by comparison with others’ performance. To be better than someone else is a basic thought in sport. We need competition in order to judge our own performance.
The literal meaning of ‘compete’ is to strive together … Christian competition is about striving with all our might but within the rules and etiquette of the game. It is striving to maximize the gifts God has given us in a competitive environment. Will not the God who promised us ‘life … to the full’ (John 10 v 10) rejoice when we compete and reach our full potential?” (page 69)

The challenge for Christians is to check our motives as we enter a competitive arena of any sort. Am I taking part in the competition to raise my position among my peers in order to boost my sense of significance, or am I taking part to grow and reach my full potential in that particular skill, in God’s strength, for his glory? Or in the case of “fun” competition (like playing a board game with the family), is my aim to help grow relationships and openness as we battle it out together, rather than to impress people and gain their admiration?

Am I taking part to grow and reach my full potential in that particular skill, in God’s strength, for his glory?

It’s helpful to view others, especially other Christians, as running mates rather than rivals. Christ, not me, is at the centre of all things; significance, satisfaction and security are found through being in right relationship with my Creator. Others are not the enemy, the obstacle to my “success” in life. It is not a case of survival of the fittest. I do not need to beat them to be blessed.

If we’re parents, it’ll help our children if we teach and model to them from an early age that their identity is secure in knowing they’re made by God, and loved by him in Christ Jesus, so they don’t need to seek approval or significance by being better than others. They are free to be competitive in certain contexts, if it is for the sake of doing their best, seeking to improve their skills and rejoicing in the abilities God has given them. But a competitive attitude must involve perseverance, endurance and grace rather than irritation, rudeness, anger, arrogance or despondency. Quite a challenge for adults as well as children, I know!

This is an extract from Compared to Her: How to Experience True Contentment by Sophie DeWitt.

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Sophie de Witt

Sophie is the author of Compared to her… and One-to-Ones, and a popular conference speaker. She grew up in Cornwall and worked in international development, based in London, before moving to Cape Town, South Africa. Married to Chris, a pastor, she has three children.

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