Healthy and Unhealthy Competition
But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. Galatians 6:4
I’m not a terribly competitive person . . . until it comes to the gym. Full disclosure – I belong to a CrossFit gym where competition is part of the landscape. There, I embrace and enjoy the daily contest. I find motivation in it and I wake up every morning looking forward to competing against my buddies. I believe it’s a healthy thing for me, but I know that it could become unhealthy. I’m not good enough that I win every day. Yes, I want to win, but my purpose, meaning, and self-worth aren’t wrapped up in my performance. I don’t depend on comparison to others at the gym to define who I am.
If my identity became defined by the gym, honestly, I’d be a mess. There’s always going to be those who’s strength and speed put me to shame. I’m never going to be the strongest or the fastest. I could, however, attempt to surround myself with those who’re worse than me. I could attend only the beginner’s class, just to feel better about myself. There, I could embrace self-deception, falsely believing that I was amazing.
In today’s passage, Paul warned us against this trap of comparison. In it, he said that we must measure ourselves individually, by God’s standards, not by comparing ourselves to others. In finding our worth in competing with others, we’ll always have an unstable identity that is built on shifting sand. There are always going to be those who make us feel small and worthless. I’ll never be as good as he is. The temptation then, will be to surround ourselves only with those whom we judge to be small and worthless, thereby making us feel better about ourselves. Maybe I struggle with pornography, but at least I don’t use drugs like that guy.
Our ultimate value isn’t in our performance, popularity, or status among others. We have worth because God created us and loves us. Daily, we must choose to be introspective, being honest about ourselves before him. Am I living as God wants? Am I following his will or mine? If we find we’re failing miserably, then maybe we should feel some discomfort and seek transformation. If we’re daily pointing our lives at him instead of ourselves, then we should find our joy and worth in that. In depending on our relationship with God for our identity, we experience joy, purpose, and meaning that is independent of the successes or failures of those around us.