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.
Well, I must admit as the week goes on and I write about controlling our thinking, a lot has come to mind. Sometimes it is hard to put into words what we want to say in one short post but these last several posts, have helped me feel more confident that if we can control our thinking, we are closer to living a more righteous life. That is, compared to just trying to live a righteous life while our thoughts run wild.
Today’s post will continue to look at things that try to captivate our thoughts and our imagination, things that will in some way lead us away from serving God which is, as Solomon put it, the whole duty of man. (Eccl 12:13) We have looked at our own desires as a pull away from God, we have looked at the tugging influence from others (Satan and so called friends) and even at the fearful thoughts as something that restrains us from doing as we ought. I would like to suggest that one last type of thought, which pulls us so easily away, is discontentment.
Ahab, who was not well known for serving God in the first place, serves as a good example of the problem of discontentment.
And it came to pass after these things that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard which was in Jezreel, next to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. So Ahab spoke to Naboth, saying, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near, next to my house; and for it I will give you a vineyard better than it. Or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its worth in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!” So Ahab went into his house sullen and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food. (1Ki 21:1-4)
Not satisfied with what he did have, he only looked at the convenience of Naboth’s vineyard. Maybe he had to ride in his chariot a little further to get to his own vineyards but rather than be content, he pouted. Then his wife Jezebel had Naboth killed and suddenly! all was right in the world, the sun was shining and the birds singing! What wickedness his discontentment led to.
Perhaps we do not act as extremely as Ahab and Jezebel did but discontentment will expresses itself in many ways. Let’s suppose that a spouse decides that the purchase of new clothes or a set of golf clubs would be a good idea. The purchase gets made without the knowledge of their mate. To sooth the conscience, the purchase is hidden for a few months. Then when pulled out and the mate observes “Oh, is that new?” The spouse is able to say: “Oh no….I have had this for a long time!”
“So wrong” on so many levels and yet we strive to justify things like this all the time. If you have to hide it from your spouse, it is an admission that you are more concerned about satisfying a selfish want then being honest and upfront. Your discontent with the clothes or clubs you already have, and the fever that results in a buying frenzy, leads you away from a path that God would have you on….and it all starts with your thoughts.
We forget the words of Paul:
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (1Ti 6:6-8)
You never see a U-haul following a hearse! He who dies with the most toys….still dies!
Why was it that Jesus was able to resist the temptations of Satan in Matthew 4? It was because, at the heart of it, He was content with what God had provided to Him at that point. He didn’t need bread, though he surely wanted it. He didn’t need fame and honor and the kingdoms of the world, even though they soon would be His (as God has given them to Him). He didn’t feel dissatisfied, he knew God would take care of Him.
We need to realize that God will provide all we need and Matthew 6:25-34 makes that point very well. If God provides what we need, all we need to think about is how to please Him.