When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” — John 21:15
There was a competition underlying the relationship between Peter and the unnamed “beloved disciple” in John’s Gospel. Peter envied his closeness to the Lord (John 21:20). He had stayed at the cross when Peter and the other followers had fled and hid (John 19:26). When they had raced to the empty tomb, it’s noted that the beloved disciple was the one who arrived first (John 20:4). He had also been the first to recognize the risen Christ on the seashore, and informed Peter (John 21:7). Finally, after Jesus’ repeated questioning that started with today’s verse, Peter pointed to that disciple: “What about him?” (John 21:21). That conveyed, “If I’m going to be grilled, then so should he.”
Of course there’s nothing wrong with competition; that’s how we get excellence. It’s just that there’s something much more important. And if the competitive spirit interferes with what is more important, then it has to be confronted. Which is what Jesus did, repeating a simple question about love three times (to make sure Peter got the point).
It’s a question we need to ask ourselves from time to time as well. Our faith isn’t a competition, trying to look good in the eyes of ourselves, others, and God. Our faith is a drive to love others as we’ve been loved by Jesus: unconditionally, sacrificially, and joyfully.
The apostle Paul, who had been a bit competitive himself in his early years, learned this lesson. That’s why he wrote that if we’re going to be competitive, we need to be competitive in loving: Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. (Romans 12:10)