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Who's Going to Be Top Dog?
The fleeting reward of self-promotion.
Jonathan Sprowl
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

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Who's Going to Be Top Dog?

In the 2014 NFC championship game, the Seattle Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers to advance to the Super Bowl. On a key play at the end of the game, the ball was thrown to 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the end zone. As Crabtree reached up to catch the pass, the Seahawks' cornerback Richard Sherman swooped in and batted it to a teammate for an interception that essentially ended the game.

Afterward, Sherman was interviewed about the play and instead of the typical boilerplate platitudes, he decided to go after Crabtree, saying, "Well I'm the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you gonna get!" Whether or not Crabtree earned Sherman's ire, the underlying issue was status. Sherman is considered one of the best cornerbacks in the league, and he was going to make sure everyone remembered it—and take Crabtree down a few notches on national TV to protect that status as top dog.

A couple days after watching the interview, I was playing pick-up basketball in my church's gym. One of the players said he was elbowed as he shot the ball. The guy who was guarding him denied it. Instead of letting it go, he made it his mission for the rest of the game to shoot over his defender and mock him every time he made a shot. And it didn't stop on the court. After the game was over, the two guys kept arguing to the point that a couple other guys had to step between them to prevent a fight. What was at stake? Status. They had to settle whose opinion was going to win the day; who was going to be top dog.

When people talk about this kind of behavior after the games are over, they often excuse it by calling it passion or competitiveness or "being aggressive." But when it's boiled down, its essence is a longing to be top dog. There's a tiny Mohammed Ali in each of us, wanting to be called "The Greatest." The truth is, we are all tempted to be self-promoters. If we feel like we haven't been given due credit or been treated fairly—or sometimes, when we're simply feeling ambitious—it's hard not to try to boost our stock. I'm not suggesting that we should simply not care what others think, or let them walk all over us. I'm simply saying that this story of self-promotion is a familiar one, and Christ would have us choose instead the path of humility.

Mark 10:35–45 recounts the story of James and John jockeying for positions at Jesus's right and left in heaven (v. 37). You can't get much more self-promoting than that! Jesus's response is that the people who want to get status and honor in the kingdom of heaven must position themselves as servants (vv. 43–44). He then gives himself as an example: "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many" (v. 45). If anyone had a right to stake his claim to status it was Jesus. Instead he washed feet.

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