The desire to win is in all of us, sure, the precise strength varies, it’s usually more obvious in men than in woman but there’s no one on this earth who doesn’t like to win. But the problem with winning is that it means someone loses, it hardly seems ‘loving’ to put someone through losing and all the negative emotions that go with it. So is winning a sin? Should Christians seek to curb their competitive drive? Should we avoid supporting political parties, football teams or individual sportsmen so as to avoid any sin we may commit their winning or losing?
In short: no but with some qualifiers. Let’s deal with why winning isn’t a sin first. The most important thing to recognise is that competitive desire is a gift from God.
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
Genesis 2 v 15
Here we see that at the creation of man he was made to work. And then woman was created to be his helper in his work (this strays into the Biblical roles of man and woman which I will not go into here in further detail). Yet after the Fall then a curse was laid upon Adam which turned work into ‘painful toil’ (Genesis 3 v 17) and man would only reap benefits from work through ‘the sweat of your brow’.
What has this to do with competitive desire? Well, imagine a world where there was no competition, no desire to be the best, no ambition, nobody wanted to better themselves, no one wanted to win. What would be the result? Laziness, apathy, stagnation and mediocrity. Mankind’s innate desire to win is actually God’s way of making sure we strive to fulfil our maximum potential. It’s his way of making sure we actually work! Our competitive drive forces us to work hard, study, practise, develop self discipline and constantly seek to better ourselves.
However, we live in a sinful world and as such our competitive desires are easily corrupted. We see jealously, envy, deceit, cheating, obsession, harmful ambition and stress as a result of ‘over competitiveness’. We see people who commit crimes to advance their careers, who take drugs to win races, who cheat to beat tests, and people whose happiness is bound to winning. And we see bitterness, anger and suicidal feelings as a result of failure.
How then, as Christians, do we draw a line between what is sinful competitive desire and what is good?
The answer is both simple and revolutionary: we need to do everything for God’s glory rather than own. This goes totally against the worlds view which is to do everything for own glory to gain the praise of man.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb”
Psalm 139 v 13
God has created us all and in his sovereign will we all have our own talents, gifts and abilities. We all have things we are good at, things that make us tick and it is God’s will that we maximise our abilities. Why? For when the created (us) reach the peak of our abilities then we bring glory to the Creator (God).
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 10 v 31
So we should always seek to compete not for our glory but for God’s. But practically speaking what would this look at?
We put God first and his commands
You’re good at football and there is a team that wants you but you’d have to play on a Sunday. Despite the team obviously maximising your gift at football you would also break God’s command about no work on Sunday. God comes first – you don’t play.
Or to use another example: I have a certain gift at writing. As long as what is in keeping with God’s will I can write whatever I want. But if I started to write ‘smutty’ novels or such like then it’s clear that I’m sinning in breaking God’s law.
Or let’s say you were ambitious and wanted to further your career then there is no problem with that unless you begin to lie and cheat your way to the top or devote too much time to work and not enough to God or your family.
In everything we do: sport, university, singing, dancing, writing, reading, art, music, our careers, etc, etc, we should put God first and obey his commands.
We recognise what our gifts are and what they are not
“It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”
Proverbs 19 v 2
I could spend all my time striving to be an artist but I can’t draw. Any effort I put in would never really result in anything. Similarly you may want to be really good at football but if you’re hand to foot coordination is rubbish you may not want to plan a career around it.
We need to have wisdom to look objectively at ourselves and assess what we are good at and what we are not good at. You don’t want to be like the 40 something man who is on Britain’s Got Talent solely for the purpose of making us all laugh at how bad he is at singing and yet he thinks he’s good!
And if you’re not sure what your skills are then the best assessment of our talents comes often from our family or friends not our own often delusional and biased opinions.
We don’t envy others for their talents or success
“"You shall not covet”
Exodus 20 v 17
Pretty much self explanatory.
We shouldn’t make an idol of winning
There is nothing wrong with the feeling of satisfaction we get from doing something well and being rewarded for it. There is nothing wrong with celebrating a victory of a football team, political party or friend. Taking happiness from success is a good.
But it can easily become an idol. When it gets to the point when we’re only happy if we’re winning then we’ve let it overtake God on our list of priorities.
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances”
Philippians 4 v 11
Paul wrote this when encouraging people to give generously. And I think this doesn’t just apply to monetary circumstances but to all circumstances. Winning or losing, success or failure we must learn to be content. For in reality God is all we need. If your football team loses then feeling a bit down is natural. But if we start to feel bitter, twisted or angry with God about failure then it’s taken over first place in our hearts.
We must be humble in winning or losing
“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Micah 6 v 8
Therefore if we fail – if we’re fired from our job, if we lose a match, if the team we support lose a match, if we get a F grade for an essay then we must recognise God’s sovereignty over all things. We must walk humbly with God. Yes, we should look to see what we can learn from our failure but we need to remember where true contentment lies: in walking humbly with our God.
And if we win then let us do so in full recognition that all our talents are precious gifts from God and let us acknowledge his goodness. We must be just as humble in winning as losing; more so even for pride so easily grips us when success comes our way.
As Christians we must joyfully accept the abilities God has given us and accept the extent of them as well. We should work hard to develop them, improve them and use them for God’s glory whether that be directly in his work or in not breaking his commandments.
And we must reject this notion of mediocrity that strangles our nation: the left has confused equality with success and failure and realising it cannot bring everyone up to the same level seeks to bring us all down. This is wrong: for God wants us to use our talents to the best of our ability. In fact, this is a direct rejection of God’s sovereignty over the talents of each individual. We are not all made equal, we all have different abilities to different degrees and we should accept that as God’s will. Middle Class guilt isn't something we should suffer from - there is nothing wrong with using our God given gifts to do well in life. Yes, we should feel pity for those less fortunate than ourselves but to feel guilty is to despise God's goodness.
Above all we must never place winning (or losing) above God. And in all times walk humbly with our Lord. We can be joyful in success, disappointed in failure and at all times content with what God has given us.
Oh, and if you really need guidance as to what a competitive Christian looks like watch (or read) Chariots of Fire. A near perfect example of how Christians should compete in life.
Benjamin dealt with this topic on request and would happily answer other requests as well so feel free to contact him with them.