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How Competition Serves Me and My Neighbor

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Competition and Questions

Most of my life has been consumed with sports—I grew up playing baseball, basketball, football and track. Needless to say, I was involved with sports in some shape or form every single day. I began coaching basketball at my local recreation center in my junior year of high school, and I absolutely loved it! However, I was torn by the question: Do sports mean anything for the Christian life?”

Fast forward to my junior year of college. I was hired to coach basketball at the high school level, and again, I loved it. But only then was I in a place to answer my lingering question. As a coach, I wanted to impact my players with the gospel. And with that desire, God continued to work in my life and grow my understanding of the connection between sports and the Christian life. As a result, God showed me that competition can and should glorify God as an act of worship.

Many Christians believe that competition is from Satan. Or, if it is not inherently bad, we think, then perhaps it has been so warped and marred by sin that it is a lost cause. But at its core, competition is not sinful. Rather, God can use competition for both the good of my own soul and the good of my neighbor.

The heat of competition exposed sinful patterns in my heart that I need to address.

Competition Serves My Soul

God has filled his world with worshipers, and Christians naturally want to use their God-given gifts to worship Him. Thus, being able to run, jump and shoot jumpers are a part of those gifts. If we are going to rightly understand competition, we must rightly understand worship and how God has gifted his people.

Now, as I mentioned before, competition can be twisted into something sinful. It can cause athletes to question their identity and compare themselves to one another. But if we rightly understand competition, then it can be a fun, enjoyable and moldable act of worship.

For example, God has used competition to make me more like Christ. Competition has never forced me to be prideful or compare myself to others. Rather, the heat of competition exposed sinful patterns in my heart that I need to address. Competition has served like a flashlight, shining brightly into my heart and revealing my sin that I need to confess and repent of.

If competition is rightly understood, then we as Christians can use it to train in godliness.[1] Competition gives us an arena to both apply pressure to our souls, but then rightly respond with the help of the Holy Spirit and relationships. If competition happens in a healthy environment, then we can use it to build character and for edification purposes.

Over the course of my college and seminary years, I have grown exponentially through competition by way of my friends and the Holy Spirit. When I would lose my temper and react in a selfish or prideful way, my friends would graciously confront my sinful attitude. I desperately needed these friends, because the Holy Spirit used their words to confront, convict and change me. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “Just as iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” We need people to sharpen and challenge us, and this can happen through competition. Competition serves our souls.

Competition Serves My Neighbor

Another aspect of competition is the agreement between competitors to battle with all that they have, to spur each other to become better. Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” We need each other in competition. We need our opponents to compete as hard as humanly possible, so that we improve. Is this not the main goal of competition? To continue to get better while you spur your brother or sister on in the same way? This is the true goal of competition, because it places both God and your neighbor before yourself. In this selfless act, you are both worshiping God and loving your neighbor, instead of trying to crush them in the arena of competition.[2] And at the end of the day, you will be a better athlete if you compete this way, because you are free to truly compete without the pressures of winning and being the “best.”

Of course winning is important. Winning is the most basic rule to competition, because you could not have competition without a winner. But winning is not the most important thing. We should strive to win because we want to push our brother or sister to be better than they were. On the other hand, we should not want to win because we do not want to lose. We must remember that winning and losing are a good result of two competitors pushing each other to glorify God. Competition, then, serves our neighbors.

Competition and Conclusion

Sports and competition are not inherently destructive or sinful. Rather, they are a natural outworking of the Image of God in both us as humans and the culture we create. May we allow God to use competition to mold us (and our competitors) in his image.

[1] 1 Timothy 4:7-8 “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

[2] David Prince, In the Arena, 22-23.

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Cody Evans

Cody is married to his wife Ashlee, and they have a son named Graham. They live in Wake Forest where Cody serves as a pastor at Covenant Hope Church and Assistant Director for Prison Programs at Southeastern.

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