Competition isn't unhealthy. Humans are wired for some equation of winning that moves us to excel. It's when we're manic about being first, you know, driven beyond reasonable boundaries, that it becomes a dangerous compulsion. Even as we seek to live the life of faith we are encouraged to set the bar high in providing an example for those who are following---the next generation, new believers, those preparing for spiritual leadership. Once again there is a danger zone when even our efforts to be like him are seconded to our trying to be better than the next guy.
Surely there was a sense of vying for position among the twelve. One instance was recorded by Dr. Luke---
An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest.
Luke 9:46, ESV
The text indicates Jesus' knowledge of their self-absorbed reasoning and he gave them the example of a child as a model of kingdom greatness. There were other occasions when they would compete for the Lord's attention with extravagant answers to his questions or responses to his teaching. One case was when James and John, the sons of thunder, called for fire from heaven to engulf a Samaritan village that refused his visit to them. Still another recorded the day when their mother approached Jesus about giving them the #1 and #2 slots in the kingdom (see Matthew 20:20-21). Even in the earliest days of the gospel there was some one-ups-man-ship evident in the men he had chosen to train for kingdom service.
It's a dangerous place however, this competitive edge talked about so often. It creates in many of us an accompanying competitive tension that pushes the wrong buttons in our dark human nature. Even the kindest intentions of our personal challenges to others may take on a mask of ugliness when those receptors are activated. It's what the Apostle Paul wrote about to the Galatian church, his warning about the works of the flash that can so easily rule us----
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,
idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions,
divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned
you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:19-21, ESV
Note the words----immorality, sensuality, enmity, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, and things like these. Sadly, our harmless games and contests can rupture relationships and damage people to the point that when it's over, and we're assessing the outcomes, the announcement "the winner is..." is actually completed by "...no one".
That so many spiritual leaders battle these emotions is tragic. Balancing the biblical concepts of work, striving, power, doing our best, with the humility, self-denial, and servant heart of the gospel is a challenge today. Stages, lights, podcasts, multi-campus ministries, production, and social media thrust all of us into a new highly visible environment that is results oriented and therefore competitive in nature. While lifting some kingdom servants to planes of recognition and achievement others feel lowered by their humble surroundings and assignments that appear menial and insignificant.
Jesus put a definitive reality into the process. He said,
The greatest among you shall be your servant.
Matthew 23:11, ESV
This means that the qualifier isn't the place or the visibility or the size. It is the heart of the one given the assignment. Many genuine servants are in those highly productive, visible places of kingdom influence. Just the same, a great many are the humble men and women serving in the unheralded kingdom outposts so predominant on the church landscape today. At the same time, tensions between reformed and non-reformed leaders and groups, traditional and contemporary stylings, the old world as compared to the new world, high tech and low tech settings, church plants and existing congregations, and others are points of contrast that could trigger our worst if viewed with the wrong eyes.
In his message to the Southern Baptist Convention in June, 2013, Dr. Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary told the messengers about a conversation he had with Dr. Adrian Rogers before his death.
He said that during the Conservative Resurgence those of us who believed the
Bible to be the infallible and inerrant Word of God were on the battlefield
shoulder to shoulder fighting a common enemy. We won that battle but then
retreated to the barracks. Now we are no longer shoulder to shoulder but face to
face. And, since we are used to fighting, we are no longer fighting the enemy on
the battlefield, we are now fighting our brother in the barracks. We have turned
our brothers into our enemies.
It wasn't a message about our competitive nature per se. His topic was the Great Commission of Jesus and what must happen for us to be a great commission denomination. Still, we all know about jealousy and envy and the competitions that so define us today. It was a call to biblical fidelity to the assignment of Jesus, regardless of the many things that could so easily divide us or pit us against one another.
Shoulder to shoulder on the battlefield the outcomes are very clear.
And, the winner is...Christ's kingdom.