Summary: We are in a world of great religious competition. We will all tend to follow one of these two strategies: The legalistic or the loving, the rule book power, or relationship power.
We live in a world where competition is a master motive. When the news reach Russia in
1945 that the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Stalin ordered secret
scientists to find a way to catch up to the U.S. Andrei Sakharov was only 24 years old then,
but his brilliant mind was fired by the challenge of the competition. So much so that he
helped Russia leap frog ahead by developing the hydrogen bomb months before the United
Then when Russia surprised the world with Sputnik, and beat the U. S. into space,
American scientists reacted with such a competitive spirit that they quickly thrust the U. S.
into the lead, and on to be the first to reach the moon. Is it really love, or is it competition
that makes the world go round? One of the reasons we look to the Olympics with
anticipation is because man is a competitive creature. Will Durant in The Lessons of History
writes, "So the first biological lesson of history is that life is competitive." Even cooperation,
he goes on to say, is a tool of competition. We cooperate with our group, be it family, club,
church, nation, or race, in order to strengthen our group in its competition with others. It is
human nature to want their group to be the best. Everybody enjoys the opportunity of
saying, we are number one, top dog, high man on the totem, king of the hill, and champions.
I have been in enough church league sports to know that one of the things that being
saved doesn't change is the competitive spirit. Christians love competition as much as
anyone, and they love to come out on top as often as they can. Some of the largest Sunday
Schools in our country got that way by well organized contests where the competitive spirit
was used to motivate people to come and bring others. Christians are challenged by
competition. They love to win and set records. They love to win prizes, and gain honor and
status. All of this carries some risk, of course, for one can get so caught up in competition
that winning is everything, and other values are lost.
The story is told of three churches that sat on three of the four corners at one
intersection. It was a hot Sunday morning, and the windows were open in each church. The
Methodist began their service by singing Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown? The
Presbyterians then began to sing No Not One, No Not One. Finally, the Baptist began with O
That Will Be Glory For Me. It is like the Pastor of a small church which was not growing.
He thanked God that none of the other churches were growing either. The competitive spirit
can be dangerous and divisive as well as delightful.
Dr. Milburn describes how people use to act in the days of river travel. "If another boat
came in sight, you find yourself becoming anxious that she shall not pass you. If she gains
upon your craft, all your fears about the danger of racing are laid aside. And with your
fellow passengers, male and female, you are urging the captain to do his best....Side by side
the boats go thundering along, and so completely has the thought of winning taken
possession of you, that you would almost as soon be blown up as beaten." This is the same
competitive spirit that leads so many youth to be killed or injured in racing. Competition
can become so strong that it drives out all fear of danger, and this can be good or bad
depending on the situation.
The fact is, there is no escape from competition. You might just as well try to eliminate
the trivial from life as to try and eliminate competition. Jesus, in this great sermon to His
followers, uses the language of competition. He begins this sermon with the beatitudes
which are promises of prizes. Christian life can be tough, but it is worth it, for there will be
great rewards for those who take the risks and endure the rigors of it. Then Jesus, like a
coach before a big game, gives His team a pep talk to motivate them to do their best. "There
is a job to do, and you have got to do it. The salt has got to be active, and the light has to
shine. The opponents are tough, and Jesus says, you can't afford fumbles and penalties.
Don't neglect the least of the rules of the game. Go out there and be great." Then in verse
20 He sets the standard for His team. He says, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of
the Scribes and Pharisees you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." Paraphrased, He is