Is competition un-Christian?

I recently saw this question asked—is competition un-Christian?—as if a negative answer was self evident. It was treated as some kind of weapon against capitalism.

But what does the question even mean? If a man falls in love with a woman and find that others also desire her, is it sin to try to win her over to marry him instead of them?

Note that a quite perverse form of competition can also arise. A man may desire a woman because others desire her and he wants status over them, rather than to be a good husband for her sake. That would be competition motivated by envy, or the desire to boast and is, thus, un-Christian.

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But the example of a man really in love raises the possibility that there are many things worth striving for whether or not others are striving for them. While there are many ways it can go wrong, in a world of limitations, there are bound to be situations where an item:

  1. is lawful to possess
  2. is lawful to seek to possess
  3. can only be possessed by one person
  4. is desirable to posses by more than one person

Perhaps you object to using the word “item” after appealing to the case of a man falling in love with a woman. That’s an evasion. If monogamy is God’s will and a human good, then the monogamous relationship is what the man is seeking. No need to worry about “regarding people as things.”

Look at it from the standpoint of a woman who is considering the benefits of starting a family: is she obligated to accept the first man who shows an interest? Does a man’s judgment that he is right for her override her own judgment that she doesn’t know if he is right? Is she guilty of encouraging competition if she considers others?

A lot can go wrong in this sort of decision making. For example, a woman’s desire for the new may cause her to underestimate the value of a male friend she has known for awhile. But much can go right. The competition that results is not necessarily sinful and can lead to a good outcome for everyone by getting people to marry well, and avoid marrying badly.

If you’re an employee who needs to hire someone, is it Christian for you to interview several candidates and pick the one who you think is the most likely to do a good job? Mistakes can be, and are, made in such a process, but it is not self-evident that hiring someone at random to avoid competition would be a more Christian way to proceed. Sometimes an employer, despite his or her best efforts, will hire someone who not only fails to contribute to the business’ productivity, but actually hampers the other employees in doing their jobs. That would probably would happen more often if you simply hired the first candidate who applied. Would you be treating your other employees, or your customers, in a more Christian fashion by refusing to encourage competition among candidates?

Say I'm a new parent who needs baby formula, diapers, and many other necessities I struggle to afford. Say there are two grocery stores in my area. The older and nearer one charges higher prices, pays employees better, and offers more variety and higher quality. The slightly farther-away, more recently opened grocery store offers the basics at lower prices and doesn’t pay employees as well. I can buy more with less there, despite the difference in time and gas money.

Is it un-Christian to make a decision between these two competitors? Am I obligated to deprive my family of needed money by purchasing more expensive groceries? Also, were the investors who risked their money on the bargain store, guessing that people like me would shop there, engaged in un-Christian behavior by competing with the original neighborhood grocery store?

A brief admittedly ad hominem aside: don’t people who condemn competition also complain about “food deserts” in certain neighborhoods? Aren’t they also more likely to condemn what appears to them to be nepotism on the part of business owners and CEOs?

The Apostle Paul wrote that Christians should “outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10) I don’t think he found competition inherently un-Christian.

Ultimately, the question is vacuous. The proper question is about what things should a Christian regard as worthy of competing over. Once that is decided, it may become more Christian to submit to the results of competition with joyful faith, than to demand an impossible ending of all competition.

Mark Horne has served as a pastor and worked as a writer. He is the author of The Victory According To Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel, Why Baptize Babies?,J. R. R. Tolkien, and Solomon Says: Directives for Young Men. He is the Executive Director of Logo Sapiens Communications and the writer for

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