Competition: A Brief Biblical Review

Competition is the cornerstone of our economic system.  Competition causes everyone in the “game” to be better than they thought they could be or it weeds out those who can’t compete effectively.  In our economy, it nearly always drives down prices while increasing the quality of the service or product for the customer.  In nearly all cases, the customer wins when there is fierce, but fair, competition.

The Bible speaks to competition, but sometimes in the way we expect:

Jeremiah 12.5: If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? The implied answer is that you can’t compete – in other words – we all have limits to what we can compete against. Sometimes, the competition is just too tough for us to realistically overcome.

1 Corinthians 9.25-27:  “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Paul recognizes that competition requires discipline and training in order to stay in the race. The training must serve the purpose of making the individual qualified to receive the rewards of success.

2 Timothy 2.5: “Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.” Even Paul recognized that competition must be fair and needs to be regulated. Rules that setup fair competition are needed in any society in order for businesses to compete. The rules should provide equality of opportunity, not equality of results.

These three passages, then, give us these principles on competition:

  1. Not everyone can compete in every race
  2. In order to compete and have a chance at winning, one must be disciplined and well-trained.
  3. Fair competition requires regulation with enforcement of disciplines when the rules are violated.

Personally, I am not a lassie-fair-oriented free market guy, mainly because of the 2 Timothy passage. Instead, I’m more of a smart-regulations free market guy. In other words, markets need regulation in order to provide equality of opportunity. Many will disagree with me on this. That’s fine. But I do believe that competition is Biblical in nature.

When we teach our kids that effort is always more important than outcomes, we are not teaching them truth. In their early years, their efforts should be rewarded and encouraged. However, as children grow older, they should be learning that results sometimes matter more than the effort behind them. Adults would do well to learn this too.

Bill English, CEO