We have all heard the news within our church families—someone’s marriage is on the rocks. Or maybe a Christian couple’s child got addicted to drugs or pornography. It has been said that, “bad news travels fast.” Not only does it travel fast, but it often gets repeated over and over, as Christians share the shocking news with one another. The phone rings and the person on the other end of the line quietly says, “So, I guess you heard about….”
Most Christians know what the Bible says about gossip (Ephesians 4:29; Proverbs 16:28; James 4:11). And yet, the news continues to be passed along by Christians who justify their actions as “truth telling” or just conveying news. In our competitive world it feels as though there may be something else that is subtly being said when the bad news is delivered: “I’m so thankful it was them and not me.” It’s almost like some relish in the bad news—pridefully sticking their chest out all the while looking down their nose at those whose lives have been turned upside down.
When did we start viewing Christianity as a competition? Stop and think about it a moment—do we view getting into heaven a competition with other Christians? When did we start silently wanting other’s children to fail so that our own children would look more righteous? When did we start secretly hoping others would stumble in their Christian race so that we could emerge the victor? When did we decide that our righteousness was based on other men rather than Christ?
There are multiple problems with what’s going on, but allow me to focus your attention on three specific problems:
- This competitive mindset is feeding the concept of “works righteousness.” Deep down many people lean towards “works righteousness”—the idea that they play a role in their own salvation. They think as long as they do more or appear better than others, then their salvation is safe. Friends, if you could accomplish the righteousness that God requires in-and-of yourself, you would have been the one hanging on the cross, not Jesus.
- This competitive spirit is not what we find among First Century Christians. In Acts 2:44-47 Luke wrote, “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” These were individuals who were looking out for one another—not competing against them.
- This competitive spirit often means those who hurting never get the help they truly need. A marriage rocked by an affair is talked about—but not nurtured back to the covenant they made before God. A teen addicted to drugs is looked down on, but rarely helped by other members of the church. We have stopped offering help, and instead we offer judgment. Maybe this explains why Christians are reluctant to come forward and ask for prayers. Jesus said, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
This competitive spirit may also explain why New Testament Christians are not as eager to reach out to the lost. After all—we view everyone else trying to get to heaven as competition. Thus, if we convert others then that may jeopardize our “spot” in heaven. And so, instead of rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty, we just gather on Sunday morning and compare our sins against the sins of others, secretly hoping their sins are worse.
Ask yourself honestly:
- Do you take pleasure when you hear of someone else’s marriage being troubled? Are you quick to pass along the “bad news”?
- Do you inwardly relish when you discover other people’s children have fallen off the narrow path? Are you quick to pass judgment?
- Do you gain some satisfaction when someone’s “secret sin” becomes public knowledge? Do you find yourself thinking you are better than them, and your sins are not as “big” as theirs?
Friends, it should not be this way. Paul admonished, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). They body of Christ should not be competing with one another.
I’ve seen this in congregations who act as though they are superior to other congregations. I’ve seen it in preachers who silently believe they are competing with other preachers. I’ve even seen it with “works” of the church who believe they are competing with other “works”—taking shots at one another through articles or social media. Rather than viewing one another as separate lighthouses—both providing light to a dark world—these competitive works view outreach as a competitive ground where one should be eliminated, castigated, or not funded.
My fear is that rather than having Jesus and His Word in our hearts we have replaced it with a competitive worldly spirit. I fear there really are individuals who would like to see my marriage fail or my children fall away—simply so they could feed their prideful spirits and tell themselves they are better “candidates” for heaven. Jesus’ disciples had a competitive spirit, and they were rebuked for it: “Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, ‘What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?’ But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all’” (Mark 9:33-35).
When Jesus was asked who was the greatest He took a little child and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). Jesus is more worried about our character rather than our competition. It is my prayer that we can put away the competitions and truly encourage one another. The next time you receive a call and someone says, ““So, I guess you heard about…” I hope you will use that opportunity to say, “I wonder what Jesus would have us do to help them heal?” Isn’t it time we unify His body? Isn’t it time we helped one another. Isn’t it time we demonstrated God’s love?
By Brad Harrub, Ph.D.
Dr. Brad Harrub is the author of “Convicted: A Scientist Examines the Evidence for Creation” and “Heart of the Matter” and co-author of “Engage: Rethinking How We Walk Down the Aisle“