Today is the international chorus contest at the Barbershop Harmony Society‘s convention in Las Vegas. Hundreds of men from around the world are about to step foot on stage and deliver in roughly eight minutes the results of hundreds of hours of rehearsal and preparation. And tomorrow night is the finals of the quartet contest, in which a new international quartet champion will be crowned. All of this brings me to the fourth reason I love barbershop – competition.

Competition can certainly bring out the worst in people. It sometimes creates jealousy, resentment, and even hatred. The world of barbershop is not immune to these dark emotions. But the reason that some people sink into this ugly mindset is because they misunderstand the true purpose of competition. Scripture offers some crucial insight into genuine value of competition.

The Bible frequently uses the imagery of an athletic competition to describe the discipline and determination we need to serve the Lord. The ancient city of Corinth hosted a prominent athletic festival, which may explain why the apostle Paul used running and boxing to illustrate the self-control demanded by Christianity:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

“Run that you may obtain it.” Run to win! This kind of language only makes sense to me if the apostle believed there was a way to reconcile competition with consecration. But how?

Here is the key. Competition can be God-honoring, as long as we understand that competition is not an end. It is a means to an end, and that end is to glorify God and not ourselves.

The objective of competition is to glorify God – that is the purpose of everything we do. “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). My mission as a human being is to magnify the God who made me, using the blessings He has given me. Competition is a vehicle for the exaltation of God. How does it do this? Because competing with someone else brings out the best in us, and our best is precisely what we all should give the Lord.

From this point of view, the real measure of victory is not necessarily a score or a medal. Michael Jordan would beat me a million straight games of one-on-one – but what would be the point? He could beat me without breaking a sweat. I break into a sweat typing! The real issue is not what a scoreboard or a judging panel says. The real issue is, have I used what God has given me the very best that I can to glorify Him, and competition elicits from us the best we have to offer.

This mindset transforms my attitude toward other competitors, particularly if they outscore me. If competition is God-centered, then I can rejoice in the success of others as long as I know I have given all I can to glorify God.  But a person who resents the success of others is self-centered, and destined to a lifetime of jealous misery.

When Kristi and I started dating, she very sweetly decided to come to one of  the Society’s international conventions. After a couple of days, I asked her what she thought. And her response was interesting. She said what really stuck out to her was how supportive everyone was even when they were competing against each other. And that is indeed what barbershop at its best looks like. It is not at all uncommon for the member of one quartet or chorus to coach a group he will be competing against. Can you imagine Coach K offering to help Roy Williams out with his offense? That would never happen in a lot of competitive environments, but it happens in barbershop all the time.

So to my barbershop friends at Vegas who are believers, “Sing to win!” Just remember what winning really is. It is not competing against someone else, but with someone else, in order to extract the very best you have, to the glory of God.

Keep coming back, and though the world may romp across your spine,

Let every game’s end find you still upon the battling line;

For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,

He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game.

From Alumnus Football, by Grantland Rice

And since I mentioned my wife, here is her favorite barbershop contest moment, courtesy of the Ambassadors of Harmony!