Do you consider yourself competitive? What does that look like for you?
Competition in ancient Judaism is relatively unknown. Man’s value is derived from being made in God’s image, not from proving superiority over another. And since Judaism is an Eastern culture, it favors community over individuals. The community works together as a whole, not as individuals against each other. Yes, there were wars, and rivalries of egos, but competition, as we would recognize it, doesn’t seem to exist.
By the time of Jesus, though, the land of Israel had been Hellenized, taken over by the Greeks and Romans who brought with them their humanistic worldview. The Hellenist says that man is the center of all things. Bigger is better. Stronger is better. If I am smarter or more beautiful, then I have more value. You can see it represented in their architecture, their statues …and their games. Underlying their competitions is not just who is faster, but therefore, who is worth more. This is antagonistic to the Jewish worldview that says we are all created with value in the image of God.
How then do we engage in our modern culture with its Hellenistic moorings?
I think Paul gives us a good model. The Apostle Paul felt very comfortable using the language of the ancient games. As a good rabbi, he communicated truth through the use of pictures. Pictures his audience would have understood. So Paul exhorts us in 1 Corinthians to run to win the race, or, in Philippians, to press on toward the prize.
These pictures promote the positives of competition – excellence, discipline, training, persistence, and focus. In that light, we can be highly competitive, while still being able to rejoice when our fellow “competitors” attain excellence as well. Iron sharpens iron and we all press on together towards the prize.
I marvel at those that compete at an international level, and celebrate their God given gifts and hard training. I want to take away a renewed diligence in running the race that God has given me. Let us encourage one other in our race to the prize.
I strive to remember, my life is a race, but it’s not a competition.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. I Corinthians 9:24-27
…But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14