I had been dreaming about the match between India and Pakistan in the T20 Cricket World Cup for some time and it did not disappoint one bit.

No one will deny that the match between the two rivals continues to mesmerise more than a billion hearts.

The joy to see Arshdeep’s bowling, the agony of Ashwin’s missed catch, the ecstasy of a six by Virat, the deadly pace of Rauf, and the enthusiasm of Rizwan behind the stumps—all of this coming together in one match is a little taste of greatness.

I am glad India won but Pakistan looks formidable and I will not be surprised if they go on to win the World Cup.

Even with such political animosity between our nations, the cricket field transforms us into mutual admirers. We respect the Pakistan team and even when we lose, we know they deserved to win.

What is behind this intense passion? It is the glory of competition. 

Competition is Inevitable

Can you think of a world of sport without competition? There is no incentive to stay awake for English Premiere League football or a T20 match without the incentive to see top players compete.

Competition is not limited to the world of sports. We see this in the marketplace and business practices. It impacts people of all ages and cultures. In some ways competition is inevitable.

My brother and I loved to compete—first between ourselves and later, in our respective teams in school and college sports. We spent most part of our life competing over cricket, football, wrestling, and even how many pan rolls we could eat. 

We can use competition as a means for self-gratification, self-glorification, and self-promotion.

When I did my first Strengths Finder personality test, I was not too surprised when my number one strength was revealed to be competition. Finally, my world made sense.

But after I became a pastor, I made a conscious decision not to compete. In my context, it did not seem appropriate for a pastor to be competitive. This involved sports, board games, and any activity that involved winners and losers. I was not very successful in my decision to stay away.

But why is competition such a contentious word? Can a Christian compete at all? When they do, can it glorify God?

Embracing the Tension of Competition

The language of competition is used in the Bible to describe the Christian life.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24, the apostle Paul says “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.” There is an exhortation from Paul to run our spiritual race with the aim to win. 

Paul describes the glorious outcome of finishing the race and receiving a crown from Christ himself (2 Tim. 4:7-8). In the gospels, Jesus’s parable of the talents (Matt 25) and the parable of the minas (Luke 19) have an implicit element of competitive activity.

Healthy competition is God’s way to provide the best for people through sinful human beings.

Are biblical values incompatible with a desire to compete? How can we reconcile the call to value others ahead of ourselves and yet enjoy a competing environment where we strive to get ahead of others to win? We are not called to resolve this tension but to embrace it.

Recognising the Idolatry of Competition

The solution is not to eliminate competition but to recognise that our hearts are tempted to make an idol out of winning. When our identity is wrapped around this sole prize, we will feel ashamed and disappointed when we lose.

In the world, competition condemns those who lose. The champion, the CEO, or the rank holder receives the glory of accolades and awards, but the rest are sentenced to shame and shunned into oblivion.

Our hearts crave success, fame, money, and recognition. We can use competition as a means of self-gratification, self-glorification, and self-promotion.

We seek our own glory through being successful in business, winning a deal, earning a high rank, defeating an opponent in a sport, or proving our point in a simple argument.

Healthy Competition Serves God’s Purposes

In spite of our sinful hearts, competition can bring out the best in one other. When we compete, we push each other to test our strengths and give our best.

In the marketplace, competition can result in innovation and excellence. When people and ideas compete over something, it results in greater good for mankind.

We all want a product that is more efficient, a process that is simpler, a person who is more skilled, and a business that is more profitable.

Healthy competition is God’s way to provide the best for people through sinful human beings. This does not mean all competition is just and fair. We reap the benefits from healthy competition but we also suffer the cost of sinful competition.

We cannot be exempt from competing but the gospel radically shapes how we compete.

Christ is the Ultimate Victor

Jesus has won the battle against sin and death. His death and resurrection ensured Satan’s crushing and resounding defeat. There was no doubt about Christ the ultimate victor. It is this supreme act on the cross that sets us free from being a slave to the idol of winning.

We cannot be exempt from competing but the gospel radically shapes how we compete.

Christians can and must compete. We can strive to be the best at what we do. And yet, the sting of personal loss and the desire to inflict pain on others can be redeemed through Christ.

Here’s a simple passage that can help us compete well: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8).

With your identity in Christ, you are free to compete justly without compromising your integrity. You are free to compete and yet show mercy and grace in victory. And when you win, you can be humble by showing restraint and self-control. There will be no need to humiliate your opponent to glorify yourself. 

When our hearts are set on Christ as our ultimate prize, even when we do not win, we can experience the same joy and delight as the person who has won.

I am looking forward to watching Team India move forward into the rest of the World Cup and I sincerely hope we win. But I am just grateful for the sheer delight of being able to watch these cricketers set the world on fire with their superior skills over the next one month. I hope you enjoy the competition, no matter who comes out on top.