Christianity prides itself on being a religion of meekness, humility and servant hood. Jesus Christ himself is the epitome of this as, silently and without protest, he was led to his brutal death. Therefore, naturally enough the question of Christians and competition may present itself: how can a Christian in good conscience compete? Perhaps even if a Christian in good conscience compete?
Here are 6 reflections to bear in mind when considering the question.
1) God gave us bodies.
First and foremost we should note that when God created us he gave us bodies. Humanity has not created as some kind of spirit-being, or mystical material, but as a physical body. Matt Reagan says, “The body is a staggering gift, and it enables us to be creators, achievers and accomplishers of remarkable things.” Our bodies are capable of remarkable feats, whether it is with our mind or with our physic. Indeed, our bodies appear to be created with competition in mind, we are gifted with abilities (both physical and mental) which allow us to struggle to be great at what we do.
We thus have the ability to compete, but should we?
2) What’s the motivation?
Motivation is a central issue in competition! It has to be confessed that it is possible to compete for God’s glory with the remarkable bodies he has gifted us with. But, it is also possible to compete for our own glory and fame. It is this which is wrong and sinful. For competition to be good, beneficial and permissible it must be for God’s glory alone. “It’s his glory, shining in and from us, not our own. Not only were we made to create and achieve, but also to say gladly with the psalmist, ‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory’ (Psalm 115:1)” (Reagan).
So, what’s the motivation in your competition? If your competition is for your own fame and renown it should probably be stopped.
3) Let the vertical relationship impact the horizontal relationship.
With respect to a Christian attitude in competing it is vastly oversimplified to say that we simply exert our efforts vertically instead of horizontally. In other words, claiming that when we work hard, we simply do it “for God”. This is not an appropriate way to talk about competition because competition by its very nature is between humans, it is naturally horizontal. Rather, what we must be working at is having our vertical relationship with God impact how we compete in our horizontal relationships. As we do that we make it possible to compete for God’s glory!
4) Giving Thanks.
This is closely related to the first reflection – God has given us the remarkable bodies we possess now. Therefore, Reagan is correct to write:
Gratitude inherently deflects personal credit, as it acknowledges the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). All achievers of anything, whether through talent or hard work or both (as is usually the case), should remember the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” The subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) tendency of the athlete is to boast in his natural-born talent, which is perhaps the least reasonable attribute in which to boast.
Ensure you give thanks to those who deserve it for your ability to compete.
5) Enjoy yourself.
All that we have said so far should make it abundantly clear that it is possible to glorify God through competition, but there is more to it than that. As we exert all of our muscle and intellect we should enjoy and take pleasure in God through what we are capable of. Indeed, this is closely linked to giving thanks.
If competition does not bring you joy, then it is time to give it up.
6) Ensure God is ultimately what you’re competing for.
Competition must be put into its proper realm of value. Competition is fine, as long as it is not our final treasure. The value of competition is vastly less valuable than God who is all in all. Clearly, because of their arbitrary and fabricated nature, competition itself is somewhere on the value scale beneath real war (where life and death are the line) and relationships (perhaps especially marriage), which deal with eternal souls. When competing is a person’s livelihood things are somewhat different, especially in the realm of sport or business whenever it is your job to win. As Christians fulfilling our job responsibilities to the best of our ability is very important. Therefore, one of the greatest testimonies that someone, say an athlete, can give to the glory of Christ is not only victory but a proper perspective.
“It’s just a game” is always one of the more helpful and God-glorifying responses a Christian competitor can offer. We must be very wary of allowing competition to become our all and all – meaning more to us than other things, especially eternal things.
These reflections clearly show that competition is in many ways compatible with Christianity. They evidence the fact that competition should be enjoyed and exercised. However, they also come with the warning that we must be careful with competition. While it is not inherently evil or unchristian, neither is it without its pitfalls. Do not be fooled, we must seek to relate our competition to God – otherwise we have failed in living a life worthy of the calling with which we have been called in Jesus Christ. While there is undoubtedly an element of being ruled by your own conscience in this area of life, there is also space to consider what the Bible says about competition.
This article has been inspired by March Madness, Athletic Achievements, and Christians in Competitive Sports by Matt Reagan.