Life as a Competition

The following is a translation of Rev. Billy Kristanto’s recent article titled Kehidupan Sebagai Sebuah Pertandingan which appears in Metamorphe mailing list. Any deviation in translation is the sole responsibility of me.

Germany’s hope to become the world champion in its home soil was shattered. Enthusiasm which had been around these past few days turned to a bitter pill to swallow. Interviews give various impressions ranging from disappointment, rationalization, to acceptance.

It’s astonishing how a simple game can inflame the entire nation, as if they are bidding their prestige and honour upon it. One of my lecturer once commented that a game such as this is actually a kind of effort to relieve oneself from one of the oldest problem of mankind, i.e. the dialectical tension between universality and particularity. In the game of football, one finds himself universally as a part of a nation, but at the same time he finds his own reflection in the team he is supporting, because he is a football lover. The hope of relief from the dialectical tension was ended with disappointment because the team which he hoped to relieve the tension lost.

Yes, this is only a ball game; it doesn’t deal with life and death. But why is it that in reality many things concerning life and death not given as much enthusiasm as this ball game? One reason is because human, ever since the Fall, likes to see life as a competition, namely, a competition against his fellow man. This competition to obtain the title “I am better than thou, greater than thou, holier than thou” is not only an acute sickness of one particular country or party such as the National Socialism (Nazi), but of all sinful men. When one succeeds in beating his fellow man, he enjoys acceptance and self-appraisal—the fake ones.

This unhealthy competition first took place long time ago in history. It wasn’t a football match, but an offering competition to God! How ironic if among the servants of God there exists a kind of spirit which was exercised by Cain towards Abel. A service which should be complementing, fulfilling other’s inadequacies, has become a competition, whereby one became a threat for the other. Cain was controlled by earthly sorrow after knowing that the competition was won by Abel and he only got the second place (out of two participants). Jealousy and hatred soon took over him, even though God had reminded him to control those sinful desires.

One who is used to living in competitive spirit will experience many unnecessary disappointment and sorrows. Such a one usually has a narrow heart and is not willing to see his fellow man being praised, respected, and honoured more than him. He will develop a spirit of self-love, a psychological disease whereby one fails to see the abundance of God’s blessings, especially in others. A church community that is filled with such people will have difficulties to be used freely by God, unless they are first changed by His power. It is a pity to see many churches entrust leadership roles to people by basing them not on character and integrity, but by number of degrees, talents, fluency of speech, organisational capabilities, expertise in seeking the face of men (not God!), public relationship, and a list of other qualifications which doesn’t match with God’s. The future of the church will be gloom if led by those whose philosophy of stewardship is coloured by competitive spirit.

We are not saying that as Christians we cannot play football, or play games. We are not encouraging that a badminton match should not have a score, or an exam should not be graded, etc. for if so, then we must leave this world. The problem is in seeking self-identity in the hierarchy of winning or losing, such that what defines my life is a comparison with my fellow man. But what’s wrong with it? Isn’t the world full of such value system? Yes, but that is the world’s, not the heaven’s. We are still living in this world, but we are not from this world, thus says the Scripture. We are not called to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the power of God’s word.

The Scripture says that we are not valued based on comparison with other people. Yes, even Peter failed in this when he tried, in his curiosity, after Lord Jesus spoke about His death, to know (and quietly compare) how the life of his fellow disciple, John, would end. The answer given by our Lord was very clear: “…none of your business.” That is God’s business, not Peter’s. From this verse (and others) we learn a principle that what defines the life of a man is not a comparison with his fellow man (whether he has more or less) but whether he is faithfully doing the portion that God has entrusted him, according to his measure of faith and maturity before God.

Don’t be too satisfied if we hear other people saying that we are better than this or that. That statement blurs our identity by presenting to us a wrong definition. We need to constantly ask ourselves whether we are faithfully doing what God requires of us, according to our own measures and not according to our comparison with others. We demand from ourselves based on what God demands from us.

Here we see that universality and particularity finds its unity as we do and obey God’s call in our lives. Universally, we as fellow workers work in the same field, the same kingdom, i.e. God’s kingdom, and at the same time we find our uniqueness in our unique measures, maturity, talents, and positions which are given each in God’s superior wisdom. How beautiful if everyone knows his unique position where God has placed him in His kingdom, while keeping the same vision that unite all of us, i.e. to do His will, glorify Him, obey His word, and accomplish His call in the life of each of us. May God bless us, help us to find and do our calling faithfully in His glorious field. Soli Deo Gloria.


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