Competition and sports are a big part of life for many people. As Christians, we know that everything we do should bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31). But what does the Bible actually say about sports and competition? Should we avoid competitive activities altogether? Or is there a right way to engage in sports and competition that honors the Lord?
In this blog post, we’ll take a close look at relevant Bible passages to understand God’s perspective on sports and competition. We’ll also consider practical advice on how to keep your focus on Christ even in competitive environments.
- Competition itself is not condemned in Scripture, though attitudes like jealousy and selfish ambition are wrong.
- We should compete for God’s glory, not our own.
- Balance competitive activities with other priorities like worship, family, and rest.
- Avoid an obsessive “win-at-all-costs” mentality.
- Treat opponents with love and respect.
- Remember that your identity and worth come from Christ, not sports.
Competition Is Not Condemned in Scripture
To understand the Bible’s view on competition, we first need to recognize that competition itself is not inherently condemned in Scripture.
Some Christians point to verses like 1 Corinthians 3:3-4: “For you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal?” (NKJV). Based on verses like this, they claim that all competition and rivalry are sinful.
However, this verse is dealing with a specific issue in the Corinthian church related to disunity and factionalism, not condemning all competition. The problem was with attitudes of jealousy, strife, and division in the church—not merely the existence of differences or distinct groups.
In fact, other Bible passages present competition itself as morally neutral. For example, 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 states: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (NKJV).
These verses use races and competition as an analogy for the Christian life. Just as athletes compete to win prizes, we should live with discipline and self-control to further God’s kingdom. The competition itself is not condemned, but rather presented in a positive light.
Furthermore, many godly Bible characters were competitive. Jacob literally wrestled with God (Genesis 32:22-32). The Apostle Paul said he beat his body to make it his slave (1 Corinthians 9:27). Even Jesus showed competitive zeal when He drove merchants out of the temple courts (John 2:13-17).
The key is keeping competition in proper perspective. The sin is not in competing itself, but in wrong attitudes that may accompany it like jealousy, bitterness, and selfish ambition. As Galatians 5:20 puts it, “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies” are the works of the flesh. But competition alone is morally neutral.
Compete for God’s Glory, Not Your Own
One of the main keys to godly competition is motivation. Why do we compete in sports, games, business, or other areas? Who are we really trying to glorify?
1 Corinthians 10:31 reminds us: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The ultimate purpose behind everything we do, including competition, should be to glorify God rather than self.
When competition becomes about inflating our own egos, gaining popularity and praise, or proving we’re better than others, it crosses the line into sinful territory. The focus shifts away from God’s glory to our own. But when we compete to honor God by using our gifts and talents wholeheartedly, competition can be good.
Some specific ways to keep competitive activities God-centered include:
- Competing with gratitude. Thank God for the abilities that allow you to compete. Stay humble by remembering that all talents are gifts from Him.
- Excelling with character. Pursue both excellence and Christlike character. Stay above reproach so your witness won’t be harmed.
- Motivating others in their faith. Use competitive settings as a platform to positively influence teammates and opponents for Christ.
- Stewarding your body well. Care for the physical body God gave you by competing with discipline, restraint, and wisdom.
- Choosing positive role models. Look to mentors who model Christlike competition to learn from their example.
The right perspective makes all the difference. Our competitive drive should ultimately be directed toward knowing Christ, making Him known, and bringing glory to God.
Balance Competition with Other Priorities
Another key principle from Scripture is maintaining balance. Nowhere does the Bible condemn recreation, entertainment, or hobbies. In fact, appropriate rest and enjoyment of God’s gifts is healthy. But these should never become the main focus in life.
Competition and sports can quickly turn into an idol if they consume your time, energy, thoughts, and passions most of all. An obsession with “winning at all costs” is out of balance biblically.
Many verses remind us to keep competing in proper balance with higher priorities:
- “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8 NKJV). Set aside regular times of rest and worship.
- “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4 NKJV). Seasons of lighthearted play and laughter should balance seasons of hard work and seriousness.
- “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NKJV). Make time to be still in God’s presence away from the demands of competition.
- “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11 ESV). Avoid laziness, but don’t make competition the main thing either.
- “Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5 KJV). Maintain balance and self-control in areas like sports.
Be vigilant against letting competition turn into an idol. Make time for prayer, worship, family, acts of service, and other priorities too. Sports and games can be one part of a godly lifestyle when kept in biblical balance.
Avoid an Obsessive “Win-at-All-Costs” Mentality
One of the most important principles from Scripture about competition is avoiding a hyper-obsessive “win-at-all-costs” mentality.
The desire to win is natural. Competing to win is not inherently wrong in itself. After all, only one team or athlete can win a given contest. So trying your absolute best is appropriate.
However, the Bible condemns taking competition to sinful extremes. When winning becomes the most important value that trumps everything else, you’ve crossed a line biblically.
Here are some indicators that competitiveness may have become an idol:
- Being a sore loser, refusing to congratulate opponents, pouting, or making excuses when you don’t win
- Being arrogant, haughty, and trash-talking when you do win
- Never feeling satisfied unless you’re number one
- Feeling your self-worth is on the line in every contest
- Making competition the sole focus of conversations, thoughts, and identity
- Neglecting ethics, values, and people in the relentless quest to win
- Willingness to cheat, harm others, or sin just to gain a competitive edge
The Bible warns against this kind of obsessive perfectionism. For example, Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 cautions: “I returned and saw under the sun that—The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all. For man also does not know his time” (NKJV).
No one wins all the time. Fixating on a perfect winning record is unwise and unbiblical. Our sense of value must come from Christ, not achievements. Keeping competition in healthy balance is key.
Treat Opponents with Love and Respect
How you treat competitors and opponents is just as important as the outcome of the competition itself. The Bible clearly instructs Christians to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), including those we compete against.
Here are some principles for showing Christlike love and respect even amid competition:
- Don’t dehumanize rivals. They are made in God’s image and deeply valued by Him. Avoid trash talk, slurs, insults, or words that degrade.
- Wish opponents well. Genuinely desire their good, not just their defeat. Look for opportunities to offer encouragement.
- Refuse to retaliate. Hold your temper and refrain from vengeful words or actions, even if provoked.
- Be gracious in winning and losing. Congratulate opponents in a sincere, uplifting way when they win. Don’t sulk or make excuses when you lose.
- Extend forgiveness. If conflicts arise, seek true reconciliation. Let go of bitterness and rivalries. Forgive as Christ forgave you.
- Pray for competitors. Ask God to bless them and meet their needs, not just help you defeat them. This develops compassion.
- Use influence for good. When you have authority, promote ethical policies that care for the wellbeing of all competitors.
Make it your aim to pursue Christlike character in competition as much as excellence in your sport. Treat others how you would want to be treated (Luke 6:31). Demonstrate God’s love through healthy competition.
Remember Your Identity Comes from Christ
One of the most essential biblical keys to balanced competition is understanding your identity. When sports become the primary source of identity, competition gets distorted. Basing our worth mainly on being the best athlete or winning the most events is shallow and ungodly.
The truth is, our identity and value comes from Jesus Christ alone. What He says about us matters far more than achievements on the field or court ever could.
Bible verses about our identity in Christ include:
- “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NKJV)
- “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3 NKJV)
- “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7 NKJV)
- “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NKJV)
Win or lose, our worth comes from being a beloved child of God – forgiven, accepted, and deeply loved in Christ. Keeping this top priority delivers us from the negative effects of disordered competition. Our identity remains secure, regardless of sports outcomes.
The desire to compete is wired into most of us. Sports and games provide fun, excitement and memories. But as Christians, we want to engage in competition in a way that honors God.
The principles we’ve explored from Scripture in this article can help keep competition in a healthy, godly balance. Things like competing for God’s glory, maintaining balance with other priorities, showing love to opponents, and remembering our identity in Christ allow us to “compete well” in a way that glorifies the Lord.
Competition itself isn’t condemned in the Bible. With the right perspective and priorities, sports and games can be sanctified activities that build character, create community, and provide an outlet for our competitive drive. The key is making sure Christ remains above all – higher than the alluring pull of conquest, fame, status, and human achievements.
By taking these biblical insights to heart, we can enjoy sports and competition while putting God first. Our competitive fire can be redeemed and redirected to propel us forward in serving Christ. Let’s apply these timeless scriptural principles to become faithful competitors for God’s glory.