In a way the Bible is a story of men competing with each other to be the best.
Only a few pages into Genesis and Cain murders Abel because his offering wasn’t as pleasing to God as that of his brother’s. Lamech boasts of his ability to avenge himself seventy seven times. Jacob wrestles birthright and blessing from his elder brother Esau. And then Jacob meets his match in Laban who outwits him to gain fourteen years of work from him. And so the struggle for top spot goes on.
Sure there is the Tower of Babel when men put aside their differences . . . in order to prove to the rest of the world how great they are!
This theme continues through the entire Old Testament. Men argue, fight, betray, murder, form and break alliances, marry and remarry, even sacrifice friends and family. Whatever it takes to get to (and stay at) the top. To be fair many women in Scripture also exhibit the competitive spirit, but men—well, they just seem to be better at it!
The modern world is no different, and Japan—for all of its admirable qualities—is no exception. The seniority rule is felt at every level and is often abused. Power harassment is commonplace and rarely challenged. Japanese culture places a high value on considering others, but you only have to ride a train at rush hour to see consideration overruled by the spirit of competition. When I first learnt the phrase, 弱肉強食 (The weak are meat and the strong eat), I thought it was a fun rewording of “dog eat dog”. But as a man living in Japan I have come to see it lived out in a variety of relationships and it is far from fun.
Even in the church this competitive attitude is difficult to eradicate. This shouldn’t surprise us as Jesus had to rebuke his own disciples more than once for mimicking the culture they were in rather than living out the kingdom of heaven where, whoever would seek to be greatest must be servant of all. There is a place for competition in the church, but it is a fight to be the least. We need to compete, as Paul puts it, to “outdo one another in showing honour” (Romans 12:10 ESV). Such humble servanthood looks like weakness, but it is the deepest form of strength; the heart of true manhood.
To live this out every day we need the gentle might of Christ. Missionaries too!
And so we need your prayers. Men need grace to fight for purity in Japan. There are many ways that male missionaries can shipwreck their ministries (and their lives). Pachinko parlors (Japanese slot machine centres) are placed next to shopping centers and on main streets you see advertising for “massage” or “chat” services. Ever progressing technology creates new ways to access pornography. But perhaps the biggest temptation is the ancient desire for worldly greatness; the urge to be—and be seen to be—the best.
By Levi, an OMF missionary
Will you pray for Japan?
- For Japanese Christian men to model Christlike grace in their homes and workplaces.
- For male missionaries to have a spirit of humble cooperation as they work with Japanese churches.
- For Japanese male pastors to increasingly reflect the servant leadership of Jesus.