In the last post, we talked about comparing ourselves with others and stated that when we do so we can, on one hand, judge ourselves to fall short of expectations or, on the other hand, judge ourselves superior to the other person and condemn them. There is another effect that can happen when we compare ourselves to others: We get discontent!
Comparing leads to discontent
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells of a landowner who agreed with some workers to pay a denarius for the day’s work. A few hours later he went to a second group and promised to pay “what is right” and still later on to another group and finally, one group who only worked one hour for the whole day.
And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ (Mat 20:8-15)
By comparing themselves with the others (Who worked more?, Who had it harder?, Who was more valuable?) they had decided they were better and got upset. The fact is that the last group didn’t deserve what they were paid but the first group didn’t deserve to be paid more. The owner was a generous man…and a fair one.
Another thing we do is compare the job or task of others to our own. We get discouraged if someone has an easier job…or at least what we perceive to be easier. Jesus and Peter had a conversation like this.
(Jesus) said to him, “Follow me.” Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (Joh 21:19-23)
We are often interested in the other person’s affairs but we need to pay attention to our own. We think that maybe they have a better task or one that is more fun. Sometimes we wonder how they landed that job. We see them sitting down and wonder if they are doing their job. Who cares? Just do yours!
In the Psalms, Aseph confessed to envy when he said:
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. (Psa 73:2-5)
But it is just comparison. Look at the wicked…they are prosperous, nothing bad happens to them, they are well fed, don’t get into trouble….everyone else who plays by the rules suffers. It is a comparison of how well others are and how bad I am. It isn’t even based on a true reality because this comparison does not take into account the spiritual prosperity the righteous have.
Remember, the grass may seem greener on the other side of the fence but it is just as hard to cut.
The problems of comparing ourselves with others.
Paul said that those who compare themselves with others lack understanding. Whether it be in who is the best preacher or who is the best trombone player, it is useless to compare yourself with others. If you compare yourself with someone for what they have…not for who they are, the results of your comparisons are going to cause problems.
The disciples of Jesus were comparing themselves to each other. Who is going to be the greatest. Can you imagine what that conversation was like?
Andrew: Well, I went and found Peter
Peter: Well, I am the oldest. (editor: we don’t know if Peter was the oldest)
John: He loves me more.
Judas: I am the one He trusts with the money
Nathaniel: He said I was without guile.
I am taller, I am more handsome, I know more people, I am smarter, I am younger….Yada yada yada.
When you start arguing over who has the best merits or qualifications among the group, you are simply comparing yourself against one another. That is not a good thing to do.
When we compare ourselves to others for the purpose of promoting ourselves, we forget that we were like them. Maybe we still are in some ways. Maybe not in the big sins (as if there are any big or small sins) but in many ways we all stumble and fall.
In the next post (or perhaps the one after that) we will explore the times and ways in which it IS good to compare ourselves with others. While this topic is explored over three posts, you can hear the sermon on this topic at this link.
We make comparisons all the time. For example, we compare things when we are looking to buy them. Which Refrigerator is best? Which clothing lines fit my style or principles? Which cars will have the best features? What is the cheapest? Has the best value? Is the coolest?
Comparing things is one thing but should we compare people? More specifically, should we compare ourselves to other people? There are two answers to that and depending on the perspective you use for the comparison, the proper answer can be “Yes” or “No”.
On one hand, we compare and we fall short.
Sometimes, we compare ourselves to others and we think that we fall short of a particular standard. For example, when Moses was told by God to go back to Egypt and tell Pharaoh that he needed to let Israel go, Moses had a few thoughts about his ability to do that.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exo 3:11)
But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” (Exo 4:10)
Moses did not think he measured up to the task that God was giving him. Of course, we aren’t confronted with a burning bush and the voice of God today but we still have tasks to do that we are able to do….God doesn’t demand more than we can do.
Comparisons that leave us feeling like we are not good enough are not good comparisons. Today’s world is full image projections that we somehow digest into our brains to think that WE need to be like that, believe this way, act this way, look this way, dress this way….and of course, use this toothpaste!
It has been reported that one Supermodel reportedly said that she even wished she looked like herself. No, she wasn’t being arrogant, she was being realistic. Because by the time photos are through being photo-shopped and manipulated, the image may look like the person but the person does not look like the image. All flaws are gone and sometimes so is extra weight, short necks, the correct color of eyes…etc. etc.
Life is not photo-shopped.
We should not look at others and think…I am not good enough, but often we do.
On the other hand, we can compare ourselves with others and think that they are not good enough.
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector helps us to see this principle.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luk 18:10-14)
There are lots of comparisons in this Pharisee’s life.
- I am not…
- I do this…
- I am soooo good, you are really lucky to have me in your life God! (Well, he didn’t quite say that but it was close.)
Read the parable of the Prodigal son in Luke 15 and you will see the older brother’s reaction to the Prodigal’s return was also a bunch of comparison.
But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ (Luk 15:28-30 emphasis mine)
Consider carefully if you compare yourself with others and find yourself falling into one of these two situations: Falling short or elevating yourself. Neither one is good.
We should not compare ourselves with others based on what they have but on who they are. More on this thought next time.
Do you compare yourself with others to make yourself feel better or to justify your own feelings of inferiority? Try being content with what you have, you will find it more satisfying.