Healthy competition

Pastoral Messages | September 7, 2023

Competition is in the air. Regular season football commences tonight, along with the highly popular interstate football rivalry game of Iowa vs. Iowa State. Soon, many of us will throw on our preferred colors and root for our team of choice. Subsequently, we tend to root against the opposing team. You’ll likely find me screaming with joy if a Hawkeye defensive player sacks the Iowa State quarterback while some of you may experience a rush of excitement if the Iowa running back fumbles the ball.

Cheering for the team you identify with is natural. We’ve all experienced the joy of winning and the dejection of defeat. We know how it feels to be on both sides of that equation, whether it’s related to sports or something else like competing for a job or promotion. Competition can be healthy, “iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another,” says the author of Proverbs (27:17), but it can also be unhealthy and destructive, not only for the loser but also for the winner. It’s why sportsmanship is so critically emphasized, especially in youth sports. We shake hands after the game and help the other player up when we have enough sense and perspective to realize that the values of respect and humility are greater than winning or losing. “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” says Paul in Philippians (2:3).

If being competitive means we take pleasure in being ahead of someone else or being better than someone else, if we find ourselves enjoying the failure of others, we can’t call that humility or a model of rectitude; I might call it mildly wicked.

Competition, particularly athletic competition, is not an invention of the modern world. Ancient Olympic games in Greece began in 776 BC. Even Paul uses the illustration of a track race when he writes to the Corinthians, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor 9:25). It doesn’t mean competition, or sports and Christian living cannot occupy the same space. However, scripture, including Paul’s words, reminds us that competition with conceit in one’s heart and devoid of any humility or respect lends itself to unvirtuous qualities and doesn’t do anyone good, even if it means you carry home the gold medal.

So, as you gather around the TV, trek into a crowded stadium, or engage in any sort of competition this weekend, hold closely the reminder that we worship a crucified God in Jesus, who many thought was a loser. They mocked Jesus, tortured him, and sought to defeat, defame, and humiliate him by crucifying him. Those responsible thought they had won, yet God, through it all, found victory. Even if your team wins, let it not cloud your Christian integrity, and if you lose, know that we run a race together as Christian people whose imperishable trophy comes not through rivalry but through selfless love, humility, mercy, and grace, all things that can easily drift away from us as we engage in rivalrous competition.

-Max Franks, pastor in residency

5 Comments on “Healthy competition”

  • Anke Maass

    September 12, 2023 at 7:43 pm

    Excellent message. Need to think of this in all our interactions

  • Val Waring

    September 8, 2023 at 6:47 am

    Beautifully said! It’s a thin line between healthy competition and the fierce rivalry that leads to people actually hating their opponents.

  • Dawn Nickles

    September 7, 2023 at 9:34 pm

    Great message Max!! Well written.

  • Roger Fellmann

    September 7, 2023 at 6:50 pm

    Good message and a great job delivering it.

  • John Heath

    September 7, 2023 at 1:36 pm

    You wrote that by reading my mind. I need more humility especially during Iowa-Iowa State encounter.

Leave a Comment