John Ed Mathison headshot

John Ed Mathison

Competition is a reality in today’s society. A competitive spirit is neither positive nor negative – it depends on what we allow it to become. It can be a blessing or a burden. It can either make or break a person.

Unhealthy competition can actually be dangerous in our relationships. Saul was king of Israel. David was selected to work for him. David killed Goliath and saved the Israelites from the Philistines. People cheered “Saul has killed his thousands, but David his ten thousands!” (I Samuel 18:7) Saul became jealous and furious. He sought ways to kill David. Saul’s competitive spirit became a huge problem.

A competitive spirit can be strange. Russia has just introduced a new competitive sport know as, “Face-slapping.” The first winner is a 28 year-old farmer who weighs 363 pounds. Male face slappers stand opposite each other, separated by a tall box, and take turns slapping each other until one either faints or concedes. The person being slapped cannot move or else he is disqualified. A future Olympic sport?

Competition can bring out the best in people. Ask Seth Marko. He has a bookstore in San Diego named “Book Catapult.” When he discovered that he needed to have immediate open-heart surgery, he was concerned about what would happen to his bookstore. A competitor at a rival bookstore nearby, Scott Ehrig-Burgess, decided to help. He offered to run the Book Catapult while Marko was in the hospital. He even recruited 8 volunteers from other bookstores in the area to help. That is a healthy competitive spirit.

Recently a New Jersey hair salon had to temporary close because of a fire. The owner, Doree Mortillo, was worried about her 15 stylists and the money they would lose while they waited for the Allendale Hair Studio to reopen. A competitor, Charles Gilbride, could either capitalize on her misfortune or offer to help. He made a good choice. He insisted that Doree’s team move into his salon, which they did. It was a demonstration of what healthy competition can accomplish.

During my ministry at Frazer UMC for 36 years, I enjoyed working with people of other denominations. The pastor of First Baptist Church, Jay Wolf, and I had our congregations work together on several important ministries. One was a very successful program to register potential bone marrow donors in the River Region. A newspaper reporter asked Jay, “How does it feel to do something with your biggest competitor – John Ed Mathison?” Jay responded, “John Ed is not my competitor – he’s my partner.”

There’s a greater need today for churches to cooperate than to compete!

Two disciples, James and John, were extremely competitive for recognition and popularity. (Mark 10:34-45) They requested the prime places of recognition by sitting on the right hand and left hand of Jesus. Their competitive spirit led to an arrogant attitude. He taught them, and us, that good competition is not for the top spot but for the towel to use in washing the feet of others. Healthy competition leads to humble service.

Is your competitive spirit a burden or a blessing?