Growing up as the fourth child in a family of all boys it wasn’t hard to develop a competitive spirit. Even when playing with those older than me I did not give an inch. In fact, I used to get a real kick out of beating some of the older boys—including my brothers! If I could not beat them with my ability, I beat them by way of psychology.

Competition in sports is fun, but a competitive spirit can be very destructive in the spiritual world. Many local assemblies have been split because of those who were "striving" to be recognized, or to win their view on some irrelevant issue. The flesh is often subtle, even deceiving the one striving to establish a name for himself or to have things go his way.

Strife was even named among the early disciples. "And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest." (Lk. 22:24) The Lord instructed them that things were to be different in His kingdom. "But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve."

The apostle Paul, writing to the Philippian saints said, "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. (Phil. 2:3) He then preceded to bring out the mind of Christ, and His humility in putting the interest of others ahead of Himself. (Phil. 2:5–8) Writing to Timothy he would add, "And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient. (2 Tim. 2:24)

We must constantly be aware of the presence of the flesh and its competitive spirit. Its desire to be known, and its self-centered designs.

However, Scripture does exhort us to be "striving together for the faith of the gospel." (Phil. 1:27) Jude writes, "I…exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." (Jude 3)

Ironically, some who think they are striving for the faith are actually being contentious. Those who, for example, divide an assembly by constantly striving over the question of wine versus grape juice at the Lord’s Supper would no doubt see themselves striving for the faith, and yet, sadly, "they strive about words to no profit." (2 Tim. 2:14)

Others who strive for the faith are often perceived by others as contentious. Those who stand firm on the Scriptures, for example, regarding the role of men and women in the assembly are often viewed as contentious. The apostle Paul, in contending for the Gospel, pronounced judgement on those who preach another gospel. No doubt many today would view him as contentious, but the glory of Christ was at stake, and the truth must be stated clearly. (Gal. 1:6–10)

How then do we determine when we should strive, and when we should not. One question we might ask is, "For whose glory am I contending?" If it is simply for "vainglory" or to have things go my way, we must confess our fleshly thinking, and put the interest of others ahead of our own. (Phil. 2:3–4)

If, however, it is for the truth of Scripture, we must stand firm. (Phil. 1:27) Too much truth has been given up in recent decades by those who, under the banner of love, have failed to contend for the faith.

Much individual and corporate prayer is needed for the discernment necessary to know when we should, and should not strive. And when we do strive for the faith we must constantly monitor our motivation to be sure we are not striving according to the flesh. It is very easy to unknowingly slip from being well-intentioned to striving for personal glory or gain.