“Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.”—GAL. 5:26.
SONG 101 Working Together in Unity
1. What effect can a spirit of competition have on people?
IN THE world today, many people are selfishly motivated by a spirit of competition. A businessman may resort to cutthroat tactics to get ahead of his competitors. An athlete in a sporting event may deliberately injure a player on the other team in order to win the game. A student competing for a place at a prestigious university may cheat on the entrance exams. As Christians, we recognize that such conduct is wrong; it is part of “the works of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:19-21) However, could it be that some of Jehovah’s servants might stir up competition in the congregation without even realizing it? That is an important question because a spirit of competition can affect the unity of our brotherhood.
2. What will we discuss in this article?
2 In this article, we will discuss the negative qualities that can cause us to stir up competition with our brothers. We will also consider the examples of faithful men and women in Bible times who did not give in to the spirit of competition. First, let us consider how we can examine our motives.
EXAMINE YOUR MOTIVES
3. What questions should we ask ourselves?
3 From time to time, it is a good idea to examine our motives. We might ask ourselves: ‘Do I measure my worth by comparing myself with others? Am I motivated by a desire to view myself as the best at whatever I do or at least to see myself as better than a particular brother or sister? Or do I simply want to give my very best to Jehovah?’ Why should we ask those questions? Note what God’s Word says.
4. Why should we avoid comparing ourselves with others, as mentioned at Galatians 6:3, 4?
4 The Bible urges us to avoid comparing ourselves with others. (Read Galatians 6:3, 4.) Why? On the one hand, if we think we are doing better than our brother, we may become prideful. On the other hand, if we compare ourselves unfavorably with others, we will likely get discouraged. Either way, we will not be thinking with a sound mind. (Rom. 12:3) A sister named Katerina,b who lives in Greece, says: “I used to compare myself with others who seemed prettier, more effective in the ministry, and better at making friends. As a result, I felt worthless.” We must remember that Jehovah drew us to him, not because we are beautiful, articulate, or popular, but because we are willing to love him and to listen to his Son.—John 6:44; 1 Cor. 1:26-31.
5. What do you learn from the experience of a brother named Hyun?
5 Another question we could ask ourselves is this, ‘Am I known as a peacemaker, or do I often find myself in the middle of a dispute?’ Note the experience of a brother named Hyun, who lives in South Korea. At one time, he viewed some who had privileges of service as his rivals. He says, “I was critical of these brothers, and I often disagreed with the things they said.” With what result? “My attitude caused disunity in the congregation,” he admits. Some of Hyun’s friends helped him to recognize his problem. Hyun made needed adjustments, and today he serves as an effective elder. If we see in ourselves a tendency to stir up competition rather than to promote peace, we must take action.
GUARD AGAINST EGOTISM AND ENVY
6. According to Galatians 5:26, what undesirable qualities contribute to a spirit of competition?
6 Read Galatians 5:26. What undesirable qualities can lead to manifesting a spirit of competition? One is egotism. An egotistical person is proud and selfish. Another bad trait is envy. Not only does an envious person want what another person has but he also wants to deprive the other person of what he has. Really, envy is a form of hatred. We certainly want to avoid those bad traits like the plague!
7. How could the damage caused by egotism and envy be illustrated?
7 The negative qualities of egotism and envy could be likened to impurities contaminating the fuel that powers an aircraft. The plane may be able to take off, but the contaminants can block the fuel lines, causing the engines to lose power just before landing and the plane to crash. Similarly, someone may serve Jehovah for a while. But if he is motivated by egotism and envy, he will crash. (Prov. 16:18) He will stop serving Jehovah and will harm himself and others. How, though, can we guard against egotism and envy?
8. How can we combat egotism?
8 We can combat egotism by keeping in mind the apostle Paul’s counsel to the Philippians: “Do nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with humility consider others superior to you.” (Phil. 2:3) If we consider others superior to us, we will not compete with those who may have greater talents and abilities than we possess. On the contrary, we will be happy for them. That is especially true if they are using their abilities in Jehovah’s service to his praise. In turn, if our gifted brothers and sisters are following Paul’s advice, they will be focusing on qualities that they appreciate in us. As a result, we will all promote peace and unity in the congregation.
9. How can we control our tendency to be envious?
9 We can control our tendency toward envy by cultivating modesty, that is, by being aware of our own limitations. If we are modest, we will not try to prove that we are more talented or more capable than everyone else. Instead, we will look at how we can learn from those who are more capable than we are. For example, suppose a brother in the congregation gives excellent public talks. We might ask him how he goes about preparing his talks. If a sister is a fine cook, we might ask her for suggestions that will help us to improve in that area. And if a young Christian does not make friends easily, he might ask for advice from someone who is good at making friends. In these ways we can avoid envy and improve our own skills.
LEARN FROM BIBLE EXAMPLES
10. What challenge did Gideon face?
10 Consider the incident involving Gideon, who was from the tribe of Manasseh, and the men of the tribe of Ephraim. With Jehovah’s backing, Gideon and his 300 men had a remarkable victory for which they could have taken great pride. The men of Ephraim met Gideon, not to commend him, but to quarrel with him. It appears that their pride was hurt because Gideon had not invited them from the beginning to join in the fight against God’s enemies. They were so focused on protecting the honor of their tribe that they failed to see the big picture—Gideon had just helped to honor Jehovah’s name and to protect His people.—Judg. 8:1.
11. How did Gideon respond to the men of Ephraim?
11 Gideon humbly said to the men of Ephraim: “What have I done compared with you?” He then gave them a specific example of how Jehovah had blessed them. As a result, the men “calmed down.” (Judg. 8:2, 3) Gideon willingly set pride aside in order to maintain peace among God’s people.
12. What do we learn from the example of the Ephraimites and that of Gideon?
12 What can we learn from this account? From the example of the Ephraimites, we learn that we should not become more focused on protecting our own honor than on honoring Jehovah. As family heads and elders, we can learn a lesson from Gideon. If someone is upset by something we did, we should try to see things from his perspective. We can also commend the person for what he has done well. That will require humility on our part, especially if the other person is clearly in the wrong. But peace is worth much more than our personal pride.
13. What challenge did Hannah face, and how did she overcome it?
13 Think, too, of the example of Hannah. She was married to a Levite named Elkanah, who loved her very much. But Elkanah had another wife, Peninnah. Elkanah loved Hannah more than he loved Peninnah; however, “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.” Because of this, Peninnah taunted Hannah “relentlessly in order to upset her.” How did Hannah react? She became very upset! “She would weep and not eat.” (1 Sam. 1:2, 6, 7) Yet, there is no record that Hannah tried to take revenge on Peninnah in some way. Instead, she poured out her heart to Jehovah and trusted that he would make matters right. Did Peninnah’s attitude toward Hannah change? The Bible does not say. But we do know that Hannah regained and maintained her inner peace. “Her face was no longer downcast.”—1 Sam. 1:10, 18.
14. What do we learn from Hannah’s example?
14 What can we learn from Hannah’s example? If someone tries to compete with you in some way, remember that you are in control of the situation. You do not have to allow yourself to be drawn into the competition. Instead of repaying evil for evil, try to make peace with the person. (Rom. 12:17-21) Even if he does not respond, you will maintain your inner peace.
15. How were Apollos and Paul similar?
15 Finally, consider what we can learn from the examples of the disciple Apollos and the apostle Paul. Both men had an excellent knowledge of the Scriptures. Both were prominent and influential teachers. And both had helped to make many disciples. But neither man viewed the other as a rival.
16. How would you describe Apollos?
16 Apollos was “a native of Alexandria,” which was a center of learning in the first century. He was apparently a gifted speaker, and he was “well-versed in the Scriptures.” (Acts 18:24) When Apollos spent time in Corinth, some in the congregation made it obvious that they preferred him over other brothers, including Paul. (1 Cor. 1:12, 13) Did Apollos promote that divisive attitude? We cannot imagine that he did. In fact, some time after Apollos left Corinth, Paul urged him to return there. (1 Cor. 16:12) Paul would never have done that if he had felt that Apollos was dividing the congregation. Clearly, Apollos used his gifts in a good way—to proclaim the good news and to strengthen his brothers. We can also be sure that Apollos was a humble man. For example, there is no record that he took offense when Aquila and Priscilla “explained the way of God more accurately to him.”—Acts 18:24-28.
17. How did Paul promote peace?
17 The apostle Paul was aware of the good work done by Apollos. But Paul did not feel threatened by him. Paul’s humility, modesty, and reasonableness are seen in the counsel that he gave to the congregation in Corinth. Instead of being flattered by those who were saying “I belong to Paul,” he directed all attention to Jehovah God and to Jesus Christ.—1 Cor. 3:3-6.
18. Based on 1 Corinthians 4:6, 7, what do we learn from the examples of Apollos and Paul?
18 What can we learn from the examples of Apollos and Paul? We may work hard for Jehovah, and we may help many progress to baptism. But we realize that any success we have is only because of Jehovah’s blessing. From the examples of Apollos and Paul, we learn another lesson—the more prominence we have, the greater our opportunity to promote peace. How grateful we are when appointed men promote peace and unity by basing their counsel on God’s Word and by focusing attention, not on themselves, but on our model, Christ Jesus!—Read 1 Corinthians 4:6, 7.
19. What can each of us do? (See also the box “Avoid Stirring Up Competition.”)
19 Each one of us has some God-given talent or ability. We can use that gift “in ministering to one another.” (1 Pet. 4:10) We may feel that the part we play is small. But the small acts that promote unity are like the small stitches that hold a garment together. May we work hard to remove from ourselves any trace of a competitive spirit. Let us be determined to do all we can to promote peace and unity in the congregation.—Eph. 4:3.
SONG 80 “Taste and See That Jehovah Is Good”
a Like small cracks that can weaken a clay vessel, the spirit of competition can weaken a congregation. If the congregation is not strong and united, it cannot be a peaceful place to worship God. This article will discuss why we should avoid developing a competitive spirit and what we can do to promote peace in the congregation.
b Names have been changed.