Lilly Tomlin once said that the problem with the “rat race” was the “even if you win, you’re still a rat.” My brother and I were very competitive. He would try to argue or wrestle with me as a kid growing up. My dad’s response, whenever we were deep in the throes of battle, was to sing (badly) the words to the Ken-L Ration commercial (which neither of us had never heard before). We are in a competitive culture, whether we need to be or not. There is a competition for everything it seems. There are sports added to the Olympics every 4 years. The X Games showcase more games just to keep up with the Olympics. There are beauty contests for children, a show for every animal it seems, and our cable providers keep adding new channels devoted to specific sports because the Big 4 networks can’t handle them all and keep us entertained with talk shows, which themselves compete for who can get the bigger ratings/anger producing content. The biggest problems develop when we become competitive in those areas that really matter, faith, friends, and family.
Throughout the Gospels, there are accounts of the disciples jockeying for position, and each time Jesus calls them on it and puts it aside. The last one is found in John 21:15-23. It is set in two parts, the first being Peter’s “reinstatement” as a disciple… as though being a follower was a job, and he got fired. It stems from Peter’s belief system that made him stand prideful as the greatest of the disciples, claiming even if everyone else left, he would not turn, and now he feels the least worthy because of his denial of Christ. Even now, Peter claims he loves Jesus more than the rest. But the moment of comparison and competition comes from Peter pointing at John, “The Beloved Disciple”, and asking about Jesus’ plans for John. Peter is told that it is not his concern what happens to John, or anyone else for that matter. Essentially, Peter’s reinstatement is to renew Christ’s commitment to him, not a promotion to being God.
Competition is great if it causes us to be better than we were, but when we strive only to be better than someone else, we can find ourselves lowering our expectation of ourselves based on other’s behaviors and beliefs instead of holding ourselves to the standard God sets for us through Christ. We live in a world that looks at what is common and equates that with “the norm”. It has led to mistaking Christ’s acceptance of us regardless of sin for acceptance of our sin. If we set our eyes on others, even other disciples, and determine that we are as good or better than them, we set ourselves up for a rude awakening when we find out that our salvation, forgiveness, and life’s choices will not be based on how our lives compare to each other, but how our life was in Christ and His life is how we patterned our thoughts, speech, actions, and attitudes.
We tend run our lives like a “wiener dog” race. We get all wound up, leave the gate looking ridiculous and our progress is more laughable than laudable. Instead of competing and comparing how far we can get by ourselves in life, our example of how to live might be better illustrated by dog sled races. While there has to be a lead dog, he is simply one of the dogs put in front to take direction. He is not any stronger, smarter, or loved more than the other dogs. It is just chosen to be in the lead because one of them has to be. In reality, I doubt the dog knows anything except that he is part of the pack and their goal is to please their master and go where he directs them to go. If we are called by God to live as Christ, bearing others burdens, and seeking to save those who are lost, we soon may realize that those who stand next to us are not our competition, they are part of Christ, just as we are.
Is my standard for living Christ or just being like or better than my neighbor?
Do I strive to be the best I can be for Christ, or for the praise of others?
Do I use my gifts and skills to assist others in their faith, or only to benefit my own life?