Competing to Get Ahead

Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources

“They eat their young” is one phrase used to explain the ruthless nature of some people as they strive to get ahead in the world. Parents remind their children that it is a dog-eat-dog world” out there and they have to be tough. “Nice guys finish last” suggests that one needs to be less-than-nice to get ahead and make his mark.

How many times have you seen the bumper sticker, “The One with the Most Toys Wins” or “My Kid will Beat Up Your Honor Student” and “I May be Slow but I Am Ahead of You”? Each of these pokes at that competitive nature in all of us.

As parents, we strive to get our children the best education we can find so they have the best chance to excel in this world. We want them to have better things than we had. We want them to enjoy more opportunities than we had. Throughout this training we also want their character and stamina to grow. We want them to handle the tough knocks of daily living. We don’t want them victimized by opportunists.

This issue of Clearly Caring includes a guest column about competitive sports. It is timely! In November 2004, the NBA was scandalized by a fight that broke out between players and spectators. It was an embarrassment for professional basketball and fans. The real sadness is that it was not an isolated incident. For the past few years, newspapers have been peppered with stories of not only player fights at athletic events but spectator fights. Parents berating a coach at sporting competitions soon turns into name-calling, then punch-throwing, and sometimes worse. Fans throw objects at players and onto the playing field. It seems to be escalating.

I played competitive sports, and I watch them. Other than cheating, I never thought much more about the ethics of competition. It is worthy of thought now.

We live in an age of limited resources. A boss only has so much money to give out in raises. Like it or not, we are in competition with a fellow worker for the allocation of that money. When we run for public office we compete against an opponent to win the election. If we bid on E-bay for some auction item, we are competing against one or many who want the same item.

What is a Christian to do? When we read passages like “turn the other cheek” (Luke 6:29), “it’s better to suffer for doing good than evil” (1 Peter 3:17), and “in humility consider others better than yourself” (Philippians 2:3), it tells us we are to be the nice guys of the world who ultimately finish last or at least not fare as well as others.

And if that’s not confusing enough, the Apostle Paul (who wrote the Philippians passage) wants us to “run the race and win the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). In numerous places, he uses competitive sports analogies that talk about running in a race, training, and competing. Can the “winner take all” and “let’s crush them” mentality mesh with the “turn my cheek” and “think more of others than myself” mentality? Yes, it can, and when it does, it makes us effective lights shining in a sin-darkened world. When we learn to compete with Christian values we become effective witnesses to the Gospel and forces of good in the world.

Competitive events teach strategy. Jesus once advised, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). The image of a snake hidden in the grass waiting for the right moment to strike sounds strategic.

Competitive events teach comradery. When the Apostle Paul talked about the very strong differences there are among Christians he also reminded us that we work together in harmony with a common purpose (1 Corinthians 12:12ff; Philippians 4:2-3).

Competitive events teach restraint and discipline. In competition, you often have many chances to cheat in order to get ahead like the real world. But through training, controlled zeal, and discipline, we learn to do what is right. We learn how to make the right choice in tight and immediate circumstances.

But competitive events also can breed sin. Cain felt he was competing to win God’s favor and in jealousy killed his brother, Abel. Competitive zeal, left unchecked, often results in taunting, mocking, and humiliating others. Competitive zeal even has some people feeling they are superior over others and forget the Source from Whom all blessings flow.

Like most things, competitive events can be used for good and bad. It is well-meaning, grounded Christian leaders who guide others in competitive events that play a crucial role in forming lives. And what becomes of those lives?

They become Christian politicians, business men and women, lawyers and judges who use their competitive skills to wrestle with issues of right and wrong in the real world. Some become counselors, teachers, and ministers who patiently form lives and attitudes by their words and actions.

The result is an articulate defense of human life. It is a stamina to go the long haul in caring for a loved one. It is a discipline to do the right thing when life presents you with a challenge and others urge you to do the wrong thing.

Ultimately, the competition to get ahead is not measured in human terms but by Divine standards. In shrewdness, we prevent evil from sneaking in the back door, but in our meekness, we provide a testimony of love and patience and a willingness to suffer for doing good (1 Peter 3:17).

Use competitive opportunities as a training course for life. Identify the pitfalls and opportunities. Teach shrewdness to use all opportunities for good, and practice meekness that never loses sight that the ultimate victory is measured in God’s court.


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