The Curse of Competition…
“Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being on in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:1-4
For our last devotional that bridges the gap between generosity and gratitude, it would be good to take another look at this thing we call “ambition.” Ambition itself is rarely thought of in a negative light, and for good reason. As an employee we should have ambition. As a family member we should have ambition. Any community of people needs to have some level of initiative or ambition to flourish. Being a community means we commune, which is an action word. So, where does this take a turn? Why do these words from Paul (and James last week) seem so serious? Paul says “do nothing” out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Other translations swap out selfish ambition for another word, the word we need to dig into, rivalry. What is the spirit that sustains a rivalry? Competition.
Whether we like to admit it or not, the spirit of competition is a life-force of the world. It is the reason we have different political parties, brands, sports teams, and it’s even the reason why some can’t play Uno without at least one person crying. Entire economic systems are built on a market that lives on competition. Now, obviously there is a time and place where we must choose who we associate ourselves with, and there are times when one must “take a side.” The problem, like with most anything, is not the decision, it is the motive. Our ambitions, our motives, those are the heart postures that dictate how we act or respond to any given situation. The reality is we all sometimes struggle with an unhealthy desire to be the winner.
Our obsession with “winning” is probably the biggest pattern that nurtures a life of individualism. We then can’t see people as equal image-bearers, we see them as “winners” or “losers.” It even corrupts the ideals that we place on ourselves and others. And lastly, competition, the desperate need to “win”, the never-ending pursuit of “success”, robs us (and those around us) of a life of joy.
Paul tries to explain this generosity to the Corinthians (also highlighted in our One Generosity series.) This is where you find the well-known statement about God loving and blessing a cheerful giver. The label “cheerful giver” implies motive. Not giving to prove we are better than… Not giving for what we might get in return… but giving as an “overflowing expression of thanks to God.”
This is such a challenging ideal for our Western-influenced minds to grasp. Where being generous becomes a write-off, investment, or a line item in the portfolio of a successful life. But what happens when the generosity that God calls us to live puts our other ideals at risk? What happens when God’s call to generosity leads to the flourishing of someone else, but at the cost of our vision of success?
When it comes to sports, board games, or the characters of our favorite shows, sure… go for the win. Celebrate that victory. But when it comes to life, when it comes to the will of God for the ones that bear His image (aka all of us), life is never meant to be about temporal victory over one another, it is not about what temporarily sets us apart from the rest, it’s about giving over the motives of the temporary for the joys of the eternal.
“Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” 2 Corinthians 9:13
Our generosity, our humble service toward one another, is one of the deepest expressions of faith we can show the world around us. Because when we are grateful and generous with everything that we have, we proclaim that there is only One who’s scorecard matters, and there is only One source for our contentment and joy, and that is Jesus.
Where do you see competition corrupting or preventing generosity?
Where do you draw the line on the importance of “winning”?
What flourishing could we see in the world around us if there was no rivalry?