Thursday, December 3, 2009

May the Best Man Win?

It seems like our whole culture is based on competition. Whether it's parlor games or sports, school or business, everything we do revolves around it. But while I do not want to nitpick over such things as games, I do need to ask, is this attitude genuinely Christian?

An underlying concept of our society and especially our economics is that if we all work for our own self-centered ends, somehow it will all iron out (as in Adam Smith's magical hand of God) and produce an optimal state of society. It is easy to see the attraction of this point of view. I can live for myself, compete as viciously as I want to meet my goals, and somehow it will all turn out right in the end. But does reality really work that way? Do those who cut every corner, break every rule, and use every other person as a pawn in their game end up making this world a better place? I haven't seen it. Further, I am convinced that the state of our society and even our economy is a direct result of this philosophy. Not that I espouse socialism, because that is merely the majority uniting together to use the government to further their selfish goals by taking money away from those who have more.

The Bible takes a radically different attitude. It says there is only one truly meaningful competition. To qualify for it, you need to be saved by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8,9). In this competition to be a leader, you need to become a servant (Luke 22:25-30); to humble yourself is to be exalted (Luke 18:9-14), to save your life you must lose it (Matthew 16:24-27), and the last shall be first (Matthew 20:1-16). In this, we are called to love others and treat them as we wish to be treated (Matthew 22:39; 7:12). We are to put other people's interests before our own and not to promote ourselves (Philippians 2:3-11; Romans 12:3-5). And there will be a judgment, where all we have done will be evaluated according to how it meets these principles and everything that does not will be burnt up (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

How then are Christians to live in a world riddled with competition, where even Christian ministries compete with each other for influence. First, it is helpful to know that this is not what life is really all about. Also, while we may not be able to get out of competing, we need to do this with justice and honesty, doing the best work we can and treating others (even our competitors) as justly as possible. I know from personal experience how hard this is to do or even to know how to do in the business world. But we must make the attempt. And, above all, we must not take the earthly competition too seriously (Ecclesiastes 9:11), for it is not the real goal of life (Jeremiah 9:23, 24).

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