Personal Competition and the Disciple of Christ

Today’s post is by Aron  Utecht. Aron is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. He’s also  written Putting God in His Place: Exalting God in the iCulture with three colleagues, which is about how western cultural assumptions steal God’s glory. You can contact Aron at ontheirshoulders.com.


It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Most of us have been told that at one time or another, but usually as a way to mollify a loss. Closer to the truth, we all want to win. Sometimes desperately.

It isn’t just sports that stoke my desire to win. In addition to the entertainment industry called professional sports, competition is something that impacts us every day of our lives. Competition is also an underlying motivator in education, and is the principle driver of our economic system. Even our politics are often more about competition than what is truly best for all.

The conventional wisdom is that competition is good. It pushes us out of our natural slothfulness toward excellence. This is often true. But there is a dark underside to completion that can go unnoticed. It’s a dark underside that if we’re not aware of it can compromise our life as disciples of Jesus.

Consider Ephesians 5:3, where greed is grouped with impurity and sexual immorality. The believer is instructed to avoid any appearance of these.  Yet everywhere I turn, my greed for acquisition, accomplishment, and accolade is nurtured and encouraged. The economic system of capitalism is particularly good at harnessing human greed, which Paul calls idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

Does this mean that if I’m successful in business that I’m an idolater? Well, maybe. Maybe not. What it means for sure is that sin is battling against me more than I realize. Simply living in the system I do will shape my thinking, and my spiritual formation, and if I don’t intentionally find ways to push back against those influences, they will undercut my spiritual life, and my faithfulness to Christ.

Competition harnesses my desire for acquisition, accomplishment, and accolade. But instead of nurturing these impulses I should be crucifying them.

I’m not trying to create a new rule, or say that we should drop out of life and refuse to participate in our economic system. But I do think we need to be attuned to the influences in our lives, and push back accordingly. By identifying how competition affects me negatively I can keep things like sports and academics in perspective. Keeping that perspective can be exceptionally difficult when money is involved though.

Regardless of the difficulties, spiritual health demands that I push back on the sin of avarice. I need to constantly check my motives, and ask myself often: Am I too emotionally involved in sports? Does my academic achievement reflect my love for Christ, or my love for recognition?  Is my business big enough to support my family? And, perhaps even… Is my church big enough to glorify God as we are?

Unfortunately, I don’t have to weigh any of these for very long to find myself wanting.

Tomorrow I’ll explore some of the ways that competition affects us corporately.


Aron is married to Jenn, and father to Abigail, Elizabeth and Benjamin. They live in Beulah, ND where he is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. Aron has an MDiv from Denver Seminary, an MA in American History from the University of Nebraska-Kearney and loves to study the Bible. Aron doesn’t have free time, but if he did he would enjoy cycling, camping, and exploring the outdoors with his kids, in addition to reading on theology, history, culture, and leading better in ministry.

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  • Anonymous

    I would agree with all you discuss above in regards to the negative aspects of competition.  I think the diagnostic questions you offer at the end are great questions to ask oneself.  I’m curious, would you say there is a Godly way to pursue competition?  Or, is all competition bad when you boil it down?  Given this subject, I think you would be interested in a blog entry from our website entitled ‘Was There Competition in the Garden?’.  Here’s the link: http://www.csosports.org/was-there-competition-in-the-garden

  • Pingback: Personal Competition and the Disciple of Christ | Church Sports Outreach | Sports Ministry | Recreation Ministry()

  • http://ontheirshoulders.com Aronutecht

    Tim,

    Great question.  Initially, I’d say that Paul does use athletic/competitive metaphores, so it isn’t all bad, but I think we are so saturated with a competitive mindset that we are oblivious to the negative drawbacks.  Like so many things, not an either/or, but a both/and.

    I will check out the link!  Thanks

  • http://twitter.com/jgangwish Jason Gangwish

    Great thoughts Aron, as always! I especially like what you say:

    “if I don’t intentionally find ways to push back against those influences, they will undercut my spiritual life, and my faithfulness to Christ….. But instead of nurturing these impulses I should be crucifying them.”

    When we pass over the conviction that sets in… when my competition isn’t being focused in the right direction to “move the ball on the field” for Jesus and His glory… it gets to be a slippery slope. What a great way to live out Romans 12 though, right?!

  • @KurtEarl14

    Great post. Our culture is becoming increasingly unaware of the ways in which we sin or are exposing ourselves to sin. As a coach at a Christian school my colleagues and I are constantly putting the concepts from this post in front of our athletes. In fact, I have an entire blog dedicated to the topic. http://compete4christ.blogspot.com

  • http://ontheirshoulders.com Aronutecht

    Thanks for your coments guys.

    Tim, the more I thought about your question today it seemed to me that Paul’s use of athletic metaphores is more self-oriented than others-oriented.  1 Cor. 9:27 for example is really more about bettering myself rather than beating someone else.  This would be in line with your idea in the link you posted here.  I like the idea of stiving together, instead of against, but I don’t know how many people would conceive of it that way.

    By contrast, Paul goes to great lengths to emphasize that we should build others up, Phil 2:3, even our enemies, Rom. 12:20  (both of which obviously reflect themes that Jesus talked about). 

    Perhaps the only place where competition (as its usually defined) stands is in regard to Satan and spiritual warfare.

    What do you guys think of how competition shows itself in areas of our life other than sports?

    • http://ontheirshoulders.com Aronutecht

      Metaphors… sorry.

    • Anonymous

      I think you make some good points here…Whether it’s sports or elsewhere, competition often provides a context for someone to establish their own glory.  By defeating/conquering, we can attain some sense of satisfaction and self-worth.  Of course, this is often sinful as Christ should be the only source of satisfaction and self-worth. 

      I think we can pursue competition in a Godly way though by pursuing God’s glory instead of our own.  Competition then becomes far less about winning or losing but a way to bring God fame.  

    • Anonymous

      I think you make some good points here…Whether it’s sports or elsewhere, competition often provides a context for someone to establish their own glory.  By defeating/conquering, we can attain some sense of satisfaction and self-worth.  Of course, this is often sinful as Christ should be the only source of satisfaction and self-worth. 

      I think we can pursue competition in a Godly way though by pursuing God’s glory instead of our own.  Competition then becomes far less about winning or losing but a way to bring God fame.  

      • Kurt Earl

        Tim, I like the idea of competition being the pursuit of God’s glory. For me, it is even more helpful to remind myself that through competition I can be conformed to the image of Christ. Competition can be a tremendous tool for sanctification.