I would hardly think an Olympic champion began his race wanting to be last, yet the Lord tells us in Mark 9:35 that, if we wish to be first (or the greatest), we need to become last! What kind of contradictory economy is this? Is God against excellence? Does he reject becoming proficient in one’s ministry in his name or being the best we can be at what we do? I don’t think so, but it is true that a Kingdom worldview is decidedly different from what one could expect from this world.
This was never brought home more to me than in a baseball game at a church social when I was a young man in my 20s. Nothing stands out in the game except the fact that I was rounding third base and headed for home. I cannot remember if I hit the ball or if I was already on when someone else hit the ball. In any event, I headed for home at top speed, and the catcher positioned himself in front of home plate, so the only way to score was either around him or through him. You guessed it; I went through him. We were both hurt, but judging from the fact that he dropped the ball, he got the worst of it. Before we collided, I thought about letting him tag me out, but that was only for a moment. Getting home safely seemed more important at the time. Probably I wouldn’t remember this, if it wasn’t for the fact that immediately after the fiasco at home, my eyes met the pastor’s. He said nothing, but he didn’t need to; his eyes said it all. We both turned to the catcher to make sure he was okay. He was and even complimented me that I was successful, but I already wished I could have taken the incident back.
Competition is a real motivator, but it also has a way of hurting others needlessly—and for what; a win we might never remember after a few years? The competitive spirit is useless in serving the Lord, because he is not so much interested in what I do for him as how I do it. Hurting others or making them feel less important than me, or causing them to view what they do as less important than what I do is simply wrong. Such a matter is not a result of my being led by the Spirit of God. Competition is not a fruit of God’s Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), but it works well with quite a few of the fruits of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). One can read any of the four Gospel narratives, but no one will be able to justify the competitive spirit in the life of Christ. He simply didn’t compete with anyone.
Am I saying that one should never participate in sports or root for a favorite team? I don’t think so, but I am saying there is a better way to serve God. As Christians living in the world, it doesn’t seem possible to completely separate ourselves from the spirit of competition. Competition is a tool the world uses in business, sports, education, the arts, politics, the military, and the like. If we are going to live in the world, it would be impossible to become completely separate from these things. However, it doesn’t seem possible that the same tool used to so motivate the world could be redeemed for the purposes of God.
In a world driven by competition someone has to be first and someone must be last. Someone is able to rejoice in victory, while others must be defeated even demoralized in the process. The only entity offered in the New Testament as an image of Kingdom life is the Body of Christ. A living body thrives on cooperation. The hand doesn’t seek to defeat the purpose of the leg, nor does the eye seek demoralize the service of ear. All parts work together in cooperation for the good of the whole body. In fact, if competition enters the body, it is called a cancer. A cancer is a mutated cell that is triggered to operate in competition with the good cells of the body. The cancer grows for the sake of itself, taking the nutrients needed by the rest of the body.
In Mark 9:35 Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that it was wrong to seek to be first, but if one wanted to be first in the Kingdom, one could do so only by spending his life for the good of others. Jesus said that greater love (the fruit of the Spirit – Galatians 5:22) has no man than that he should lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). This, of course, is what Jesus has done, not only for believers, but for the whole world (1Timothy 4:10). Therefore, if I wish to be like Christ, my motivation must also be love for that was his (John 3:16; 13:34; 15:9, 12). God seeks the excellence of a life motivated by love.
 As I said HERE, this current theme about the person of Jesus is based upon the book: The Jesus Style by Gayle Erwin. They are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Gayle wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read about Jesus.