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The Attitude of Competition

Is it possible to succeed without competing?

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Competition is a way of life all over the world. It is the fuel that keeps democracy running. By definition competition involves rivalry, a contest and opposition. It involves striving for the same object against another person. Is that the way a Christian should follow?

Not just the act of competing, but the actual attitude of competition is wrong. The word “competition” is nowhere to be found in the Bible, but the attitude of competition is roundly condemned in God’s word.

Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong always taught that we should have the attitude of cooperation, not competition—a teaching supported by the biblical instruction that “we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (II Cor. 10:12).

There is no better definition of the attitude of competition than that. When you really study it, you see competition has everything to do with comparing yourself with somebody else, measuring yourself by somebody else and trying to outdo somebody else. It happens at beauty pageants and sports contests, in the business world and political campaigns.

This verse plainly tells us to avoid all these behaviors, yet competition is at the foundation of today’s civilization. This attitude and practice is cultivated from birth and highly glorified as a character trait.

Victory at what cost?

“Define your enemy and crush him,” some advocate today. “Rip them up, tear them up,” goes the cheerleader’s chant at football games. That attitude leads to trying to win at all cost, the results of which fill the sports news each day. Baseball players, and other athletes, put all kinds of chemicals in their bodies, with unknown long–term side–effects, so they can hit a ball farther or pedal a bicycle faster. A girls’ high school basketball coach in Texas has his players run up the score against their less–skilled opponents, eventually beating them 100–0. A football player chooses to launch himself at an opponent, tensing his body up and using it as a weapon, in the hopes of “sending a message.” Ryan Clark, a member of the 2009 Super Bowl–winning Steelers team, did just that against Ravens receiver Willis McGahee in the AFC championship game in January 2009. Clark later said, “The biggest thing I’m proud of is not flinching. You get to the point of attack and you have to have the mentality of ‘It’s me or you. One of us has to go down.’…there was a point when I could have stopped and waited and tried to tackle him. But sad to say I just closed my eyes and said, ‘I’ll wake up when I hit the ground.’” The players collided helmet to helmet, and were both knocked out in the play. McGahee had to be stretchered off the field and hospitalized.

The more you study this attitude of competition, the more you can see that the world has lost its way. When someone is described as “hard–hitting” or “playing to win,” that is seen as a compliment. These are valued character traits, sought after and applauded in this world. But it means he really wants someone else to lose! Why is that supposed to be a good thing?

Does God want us to have a “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” attitude? Compare that approach with the admonition found in Philippians 2:2–4: “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”

Likemindedness is unity—the attitude of cooperation. In other words, we care for others and we try to help them. This leads to what should be our goal: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (v. 5). The mind of Christ involves esteeming others better than yourself and looking out for each other. You cannot fit competition anywhere in there.

When we cultivate the attitude of humility and cooperation, we no longer try to beat an opponent, thus proving our superiority over them. Will this attitude of cooperation bring about an inferior performance? Will it produce mediocrity? No! In actual fact, it leads to achieving excellence, and helping others to do so as well.

No comparison

The right mindset is this: Do your personal best. If you do, you are a winner and do not have to measure performance against anyone else’s. God’s word says it this way: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecc. 9:10). If we all do everything we do with all our might, we do not need to figure out some way to win at all cost, whether it is in a business venture or in a game.

The whole point of playing a game is to do your best and have fun. When you replace the attitude of competition with one of cooperation, not only are you going to do your best, but you will help others to do their best too. Then it is more fun for everyone.

In a basketball game, the attitude of cooperation would mean that if the other team makes a shot, you say, “That was a great shot.” If somebody is driving toward the bucket for a layup, you do not foul him to keep him from laying it up. There will not be any in–your–face celebrations and taunting. Everyone will be included, and there will be no ball hogging. The attitude of cooperation does away with the pursuit of personal glory and makes us team players. We all like to play and work with a team player, so why not be team players ourselves?

If we have the attitude of cooperation and esteeming others better than ourselves and not comparing ourselves among ourselves, but doing everything we do with all our might—that will always take us down the road of cooperation and of achieving excellence.

However, if we have the attitude of I’m going to win no matter what and that’s all that counts—I am going to outdo you, I am going to be prettier than you, stronger than you, faster than you, smarter than you, and I am going to end up on top—that is the attitude of competition. That takes us down the wrong road leading to pain and crushing disappointment, sooner or later. Yet that is the attitude you see everywhere today.

But is it practical?

Now, some might say, “Well, if we shouldn’t compete, how can we bid on a job?” You simply go and bid on the job. You are not trying to finagle in under your opponent. You do not even consider him an opponent. Research the job, consider what you can do and decide on the best bid you can put in. What would your bid be if you were the only one offering?

The same applies to purchasing a house. There might be five people lined up to buy this house. You are not trying to figure out what they are doing and then outdo them. You go and make your offer.

In other words, whatever we do, whether it is just having fun in a game, or bidding on a job, or carrying out our responsibilities, if we think about the attitude of cooperation and doing everything with all our might and not comparing ourselves with somebody else, we are on the right track.

God never competes

Do not allow the wrong attitude to develop. Nothing that we do should ever be based on the attitude and practice of competition.

God never competes. Jesus Christ never competes. You do not find competition among the angels or among God’s true and humble servants. That attitude originated with the god of this world, Satan the devil: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High” (Isa. 14:12–14).

Satan wanted to become a competitor with the Great God! He wanted to become like Him and even superior to Him. As the god of this world, His attitude permeates his system, his civilization, his institutions. And it is considered a strength. But the Bible teaches a completely different approach—the attitude of cooperation.

Some scriptures seem to imply competition among Christians: “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (Rev. 3:11). Does this mean we are vying against others for position and authority in the Kingdom? Absolutely not. There isn’t anybody who can take your crown from you. If you get lackadaisical, start drifting and fall away, then you will lose your crown. That responsibility will then be given to someone else to carry out.

A different standard

Our reward and position in the Kingdom of God is based on what we do with what we have. This is the godly principle that Jesus Christ follows in administering our future: “But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48).

We must do the best we can with what we have because that is the basis on which God judges us. It is not who is the “best” by some physical standard: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). So, the bottom line in what God cares about and how God reaches His final conclusion about people is not based on competition at all, but on the attitude of cooperation and what is on the inside. Are you doing everything you can with what you have? Are you doing it all with all your might? Are you caring for others along the way? What is your character like? What is your attitude? In the final analysis, that is what really counts, and in the end, that right attitude will completely replace the attitude of competition.

That famous slogan, “Winning is not everything, it’s the only thing” is dead wrong. A better way to put it is: Character is everything. And character is all about the attitude of cooperation and has nothing to do with the attitude of competition.