The word evokes a whole spectrum of emotions like nervousness, envy and pride.
When I think of what competition looks like, sporting events and the honour winners bring to their countries come to mind. A recent example would be Joseph Schooling – Singapore’s first swimming Olympic gold medallist who beat Michael Phelps, 23-time Olympic gold medallist, in his final Olympic race.
For outside the sporting arena, competition is no less rampant: Parents strive to get their child into that primary school of choice, for reasons ranging from prestige to proximity. Students strive to get into that school through all means like direct school admission through co-curricular activities.
And even as young adults, my friends compete with many other couples to buy a flat. The right queue number enables them to get a choice unit for their Build-to-Order (BTO) flat applications. It’s that competitive, and failing to get a good queue number might mean a less-than-ideal location, or worse – not even being allocated any slots in the current exercise and having to wait for the next one.
But between the glory one gets from winning any competition and the ugly methods people have resorted to in order to win – I wonder if it is worth being competitive at all.
THE ONLY COMPETITION
On closer inspection, however, I recognise that apart from prestige and honour, competition has inherent benefit. For instance, it promotes a spirit of excellence. As athletes train to prove themselves worthy of the medal at the podium finish, they improve themselves to be of a higher standard than their opponents. It also encourages effort in one’s craft – resulting in the mutual honing of skills.
I realise that in our lives – not only is competition acceptable – it is also expected. In the Bible, sporting imagery is often used to describe the journey of the Christian life. The author of Hebrews urges believers, to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
Paul himself endured hardship for the sake of advancing the gospel, but he did it not for himself – but for something greater.
Likewise, in 2 Timothy 2:5, Paul persuades Timothy to endure for the gospel, reminding him that “[an] athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” And later, to the Corinthian church: “in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize”, and urges them to “run that [they] may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
Obviously, Paul isn’t endorsing the use of dishonest means to win. He uses race imagery to show that similar to running, perseverance in the Christian faith is running with the end in mind. In this case, it is to advance the gospel of Christ.
In a race, the runner requires discipline and control (1 Corinthians 9:26-7). Paul himself endured hardship for the sake of advancing the gospel, but he did it not for himself – but for something greater.
A RACE WITH NO COMPETITORS
Perhaps then it would be helpful to view those in the same race as running mates rather than competitors in the traditional sense. As God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing, we derive our worth and satisfaction from Him alone.
Thus we ought not to view those running alongside us as obstacles to our success – on the contrary, our significance and success comes from our Creator alone – and we strive to remind others in the race of this truth too.
So with the right attitude, I think that it is okay to be competitive – just not against each other, but for the glory of God. Such competition does not and should not compromise on values to succeed using dishonest means, for we compete neither for prestige nor the pursuit of extravagant material possessions.
Instead, we compete to advance the Gospel, wherever God has placed us in each season of our lives. Bearing that in mind, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).