When I was 18 I used to go along to my local running club for training every Tuesday night. There were a range of abilities, but I clearly remember one guy who was notoriously competitive with everyone. Now, that in itself might not appear noteworthy at a running club where you might reasonably expect a healthy level of competition among its members. Like everything, context is key: this guy was well into his forties and carrying a generous belly. He used to speed off at the start of the session with all of the tough, lean guys only to be caught by almost everyone a few minutes later. I remember when I overtook him, there was always an ominous look over the shoulder to check who it was approaching him, and he would even sometimes try to subtly block my advance.
Obviously, I don’t tell this story to promote my own ability, as a fit and healthy 18 year old, to overtake an aging man (that would be very strange, given the title of this blog). I share this story because it is like a parable of futility. What was going through that man’s head in wanting to prevent me from overtaking him? This was hardly the Olympics. What did he really have to gain? And did he even think it would work?
Likewise, the desire for one-upmanship among Christians is equally as futile. I have always been a very competitive person. A significant part of my childhood was being known to be one of the best in my school at sport (I was a big fish in a very small pond). This became the bedrock for my confidence in life and it naturally transitioned into my Christian walk.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 6:1
Before I truly understood the grace of the gospel, a very prominent part of my early life as a Christian was being seen to be good. Sure, there was always a cocktail of motives, some of them good and noble, but deep down there was always a desire to be recognised whenever I indulged in my insecurities.
The saddest part in this is not the pitiful self-promotion. The really shameful truth is that Jesus says we forfeit our reward, just for a sense of self-esteem and acknowledgement among our peers.
“Humility is doing something good and not telling anyone.” Andrew Wilson
We cannot truly learn to be humble like this until we fully understand that God sees our self-righteousness like a middle-aged man trying to keep up with people half his age at a running club.
“Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” Ecclesiastes 7:20
Should we strive to do good works? Yes, it pleases God. Should we think carefully before sharing about our exploits with others? Definitely. I understand that testimonies can be a powerful tool in increasing faith amongst our brothers and sisters, but we must also pay special attention to whatever is going on in our hearts at the time.
Facebook is 10 years old this year. A lot has been said recently about how social media can bring out the narcissist in each of us. The ability to manage our reputation has never been greater.
The only thing we are charged to be competitive about is in giving honour to one another.