Perhaps you are blessed with a blissfully content heart that enables you to attend seminary for the purest motive of simply learning. You shrug your shoulders at a C+ and praise God that your friend pulled off an A. When someone else’s sermon leaves yours in the dust, you are giddy with excitement that that person has such tremendous gifting for the glory of God. You love losing arguments because you realize you just gained a new perspective. If that’s you, you can click on another headline because this article will leave you a bit disillusioned and maybe a little shocked about the depravity of your classmates! Because you see, there is a vast majority of us who have yet to be freed from the unrelenting compulsion to compete.
Is Competition Godly? I’ve been exploring that recently and have decided that there is Selfish Competition (which seeks its own), Godly Competition (against the forces of evil), and Neutral Competition (two or more parties agreeing to engage in recreational competition for the sake of a common goal, such as exercise or stress relief).
Academic Competition in Seminary?
But does academic competition belong in seminary? Yes, we are called to compete against laziness, to compete against procrastination, to compete against ungodliness so that we might show ourselves a workman approved, rightly dividing the word of Truth (2 Tim 2:15). But are we called to compete with each other?
How many times have you sat in seminary classes and listened to people argue? More often than I care to recount. Yes, we’re called to pursue truth, and I’m the first to engage in some exhilarating theological debate. But the goal is truth, the goal is a new perspective. Sadly more times than not, what’s bubbling up beneath the surface is not a passion for God’s truth, it’s a gnawing desire to be right. We are desperate to prove our own point, to validate our own position. In a word, to win. In our journey of theological training, we simply hate to lose.
What about those of us plagued with the ability to receive academic awards and honors? Do we relish the thought of receiving honors, being ranked highly in our class, being named the recipient of a distinguished award? Is this appropriate for those of us who have devoted our life to serving the cause of Christ, the Humble King?
I suggest that where selfish competition is present, we are missing out on the essence of our seminary education. We are called to esteem others better than ourselves, to rejoice in the success of others, to care more for others than for self. If we don’t walk circumspectly, our seminary classes will be nothing more than a fleshly competition for earthly “success.” Nothing could be farther from our goal.
My own prayer is that God would purge my heart of selfish motivations for honors, awards, accolades, and applause. Root out that gnawing desire to be right. With eyes peeled for his smile and ears perked for his praise, I pray to lay aside fleshly competition, and truly study for His pleasure. Even if it means losing a little along the way.