When I was in 5thgrade my best friend was Bobby Cook. Bobby was a smart guy and usually got an A in every subject. We had a little bit of a contest to see who did better on quizzes and tests. Most times Bobby did. But quite often I did better than Bobby. Having Bobby as my best friend made me smarter student.

But in 6thgrade Bobby wasn’t in my class. I still did pretty good on tests. But with no one to compete with something strange happened. I didn’t like feeling smarter. So as weird as it sounds, I started getting answers wrong on purpose so I wouldn’t get the best grade. I know I shouldn’t have let it bother me. But without Bobby, I had little incentive to be a better student.

Have you ever had someone who challenged you and made you a better person. Maybe it was another athlete you competed against. Or maybe it was at work and a co-worker pushed you to do your best.

Competition can bring out the worst and the best in us. The Apostle Paul used the Corinthians to challenge the Macedonians and then used the Corinthians to challenge the Macedonians in the area of giving. You can find what he did in 2 Corinthians 9:1-5.

“There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.” (2 Corinthians 9:1-5)

Ready to Give.

When Paul presented the need of the poor Christians in Jerusalem, the Corinthians were the first to enthusiastically promise to give finances to help them out. This enthusiasm had stirred the poor, persecuted Macedonian churches to joyfully give way beyond their capacity. Not only the Macedonians, but many were challenged to give.

Paul used the zeal of the Corinthians to challenge the Macedonians. Competition can be good. Competition can make us better.

Good competition is the ability to cause the success of others to make you better rather than bitter.

Hebrews 10:24 tells us “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works”. We often think of people provoking us to get angry or doing something wrong. But this scripture reminds us that we can provoke and encourage each other to do the right thing. That’s what church is designed to do – believers getting together to encourage one another to live the right life.

Willing to Give.

The Corinthians were ready to give but they weren’t willing. They put it off for over a year. So Paul sent three believers to encourage them to fulfill their financial commitment.

Can you imagine the embarrassment? The proverty-stricken Macedonian Christians heard about the readiness of the rich Corinthians to give to the Jerusalem Christians. So, they reached down in their affliction and poverty and overflowed in generosity and gave beyond their means and begged Paul to take it. Then a group of poor looking Macedonians appear in Corinth and find the wealthy Corinthians never gave what they promised. What a let down. The had good intentions but failed to perform.

It was not only embarrassing for the Corinthians, it would be for Paul. His boasting of them would have been wrong. They talked a good talk but their actions did not back it up. So Paul encouraged them to live up to their promises.

Paul used the promises of the Corinthians to challenge the Macedonians. He now uses the performance of the Macedonians to challenge the Corinthians.

It is interesting to realize that not one time did Paul criticize one church to another. He actually praised each church. He praised the Corinthians for their promise. He praised the Macedonians for their performance. It is a good test of a person’s character whether he enjoys retelling the best or the worst about others.

Do you have someone in your life who encourages you and challenges you to be a better Christian? You were never meant to live the Christian life all by yourself. We are better together. Your church isn’t perfect. There isn’t a perfect church. But church is the God-ordained spiritual family that will help you live the Christian life. Get involved. Be challenged. Be challenging. Stick with it. Get close to someone and provoke each other to love and good works.