If we don’t bleed for Alabama football, we cheer for anyone but Alabama to win. We like the underdog to come out on top. But why? Do we assume repeat winners don’t deserve to keep winning? If so, we like to see the unlikely candidate succeed, and a rags to riches story makes us feel good.
We get tired of seeing the same person or team succeed. It doesn’t seem fair. We begin to wish them harm. We avoid talking well of them. And we certainly don’t encourage them. We want someone else to get the glory. Yet sooner or later the newcomer’s spotlight grows brighter and shines longer. Then we grow weary of them too.
Perhaps we cheer for the underdog because their success gives us hope that one day we could succeed too. These nobodies, like us, became somebodies. It means this: There remains a chance.
We call the underdog this name for a reason. They don’t win or succeed often. In fact, we expect them to lose or fail. Thus, this chance for us to succeed seems far out of reach as well. It may be that we despise seeing the “top dogs” successful time and again as we continue in our normalcy. We come up with charges against them: They steal opportunities from others. They puff up with pride. They care only about themselves. Yet when we do this, we are the arrogant ones with jealous hearts.
Not every successful being is prideful. Some successful people have been graciously born again and given a new heart. They possess the power to fight the sin of pride, and hopefully, they do! We can’t always assume pride in the heart of those who succeed in this case—unless it becomes evident without question.
True, it doesn’t seem fair. But the unfair thing would be letting something other than skill or talent or hard work determine success. Imagine watching a baseball game where the star pitcher walks every single batter. After the game, the pitcher admits he did this intentionally. He wanted to give them the chance to win since his talent rarely allowed his team to lose. We wanted the other team as the underdog to win, but would we think they deserve it now? No. We should want a fair game, and if the underdog rises up to the challenge enough to claim the victory, then great! But if not, the winning team deserves it—despite how often they experience it.
The wrong thing would be to question God for whom he allows this. After all, the ultimate determining factor of success lies in the hands of our sovereign God. He gives every talent and skill and ability and determines the level to which it is given or will amount to. Knowing this, we can praise God for the gifts he gives even when we merely watch a sporting event or when we use technology or medicine invented by men. We can do this even when the successful do not know God because we project our praise to God instead of men.
When a brother or sister in Christ succeeds, we must be more mindful of our thoughts towards them, or we may end up discouraging or even prohibiting them from being used by God to the fullest potential he desires. It is possible, we plot with others under the disguise of “preventing them from the sin of pride”. We say things like: “Don’t vote for him.” “Don’t tell her she’s a good teacher.” “He succeeds enough already.” “She doesn’t need another person’s praise.” “His head will get big.” “Her spirit will puff up.”
Likewise, we refrain from encouraging them. We certainly do not edify or build them up. We may even avoid them altogether to prevent their thinking of themselves as valuable or important. But is this profitable? And aren’t they valuable and important in the eyes of God and in the entirety of the church body?
If we decide to avoid them, we disregard the command to encourage one another in the body of Christ. Better yet, if the way we encourage others makes us wary of producing pride in their heart then maybe we should evaluate how we encourage. The way we encourage one another should exalt Christ in others. It shouldn’t exalt that person and their gifts and strengths apart from Christ. If so, we do it wrong.
Many people assume the most successful pastors, ministry leaders, or writers indefinitely struggle with pride. I agree. Satan tempts them, like every human being, to give into the sin of pride. They indeed are capable of this as we all are. But that doesn’t mean they automatically succumb to it. For some, it defeats them. We can look at what happens in church circles and know the possibility of it. But we can’t assume that no one at this level gains victory in their fight against pride. Anyone with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit has the power to overcome any sin that comes their way.
Many successful and well-known Christians possess God-glorifying humility. Don’t assume they erode with pride, especially if you don’t know them personally or can’t see any outward expressions to prove it. And when you have the opportunity, exalt Christ working in them, especially if in your own household of faith.