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"Cooperative Competition" / "Noble Competition"

King, Martin Luther, Jr.
January 1, 1948 to December 31, 1954
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Education


Text Luke 22:24F He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief as he that doth serve.”1

Introduction—Many would affirm that men reach their highest leval of productivity under competitive conditions.

  1. Show how the principle applies in practical affairs (in school seeking a grade)
  2. Show how our whole economic structure is built up it.

Now Jesus himself saw the power that competition held over men. He did not ignore it. Yet he does something with the conception of competition that hadn't been done before. He takes the conception which has been used for lower purposes and recues it from many of its dangers, by suggesting a higher method of its use. This is how he applied the term to his disciples. He saw them in danger of using it for low purposes. They wanted to compete for reputation and position—“which of them should be accounted greatest?” Jesus say No. If you must use the power of competition; If you must compete with one another; make it as noble as you can by using it on noble things. Use it for a fine unselfish thing. “He that is greatest among you shall serve.” Use it for human good. Who shall be the most useful. Compete with one another in humility. See which can be the truest sevant.” It seems that Christ says “Use it, but use it for higher and holier purposes. Use it not to surpass one another in esteem, but use it to increase the amount of usefulness and brothr-help.

  1. Such conceptions of competition lead to the surprinsig and enobling position that there can be competition without hate and jealously. Behold! You can struggle to beat and yet rejource to be beaten. What is abolished is not competition, but the object of competition is altered.
    1. Suppose this teaching of Jesus should be accepted by all of this great world of competing men. Here are these rival hearts all eager to outstrip each other. But now the object is different. Not now who shall be right richest, or who shall have the bigest car, or who shall be the most powerful or learned—but who shall be most absolutely devoted to the good of fellowmen.
    2. Imagige the chage that would come about if the Churches applied this truth. Now we are bogged not in competitive denominationalism which is destroying the warm blood of the Protestant Church. “Which of them shall be accounted greatest.” Let the churches stop trying to outstrip each other in the number of their adherents, the size of its sanctuary, the abundance of wealth. If we must compete let us compete to see which can move toward the greatest attaiment of truth, the greatest service of the poor, and the greatest salvation of the soul and bodies of men.
      If the Church entered this kind of competition we can imagine what a better world this would be.
    3. Suppose the teaching of Jesus should be accepted by the competing nations of the world, particularly Russia and Amica. They would no longer compete to see which could make the bigger Atom bombs, or which could best perpetuate its imperialism, but which could best serve humanity. This would be a better world.

1. Cf. Luke 22:24-26: “And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. 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.” King wrote and then struck out the word “Lifting” next to the title “Noble Competition.”


CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon file, folder 50, Sermons Not Preached.