Monthly Encouraging Words
January, 2010 | Barbara Fiscus
Do you ever struggle with comparison? I know I do! Despite my awareness that the Bible warns that those who “measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves…are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12b, NIV), I still find myself doing it.
My decision to write on this topic is based on the recognition of my own need to gain freedom in this area, as well as the belief that, if I am challenged by it, many others likely are, too. I have found that there is nothing particularly unique or special about my tests and trials. Solomon said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NIV), and Paul declared to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” He also added, however, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV). While we may typically think of this verse as referring to temptations of the flesh, every action begins with a thought, so I believe this promise also applies to the temptation of comparison.
On his website, enduringword.com, David Guzik expounded on 2 Corinthians 10:12 by saying, “We should not make ourselves the measure of others, feeling we are superior to them if, by outward appearance, we are more successful. On the other side, we should not make others our measure, feeling we are failures if – by outward appearance – they are more successful.” Ah, so easily said! Unfortunately, I have been guilty on both ends of this spectrum.
In considering the issue of comparison, it seems to me that the two primary outcomes boil down to either pride or envy. Some may claim that comparison has the potential to be positive in that it can motivate a person toward self-improvement. While I admit there is that possibility, the much more common result is less profitable.
Between the two emotions, I think we would all agree that pride feels a lot better! I mean, who doesn’t like the exhilaration of winning? Of being weighed against a standard and coming out on top? Of discovering that you are stronger, smarter or better at something than others? These things give us an advantage in the world that we enjoy. The awareness of our gifts is not wrong, but we must remember the Source of our gifts and guard our hearts against conceit.
What’s the big deal? God is patient, merciful and forgiving, right? Yes, but that doesn’t mean He takes our attitudes lightly. Far from it! In Proverbs 8:13, God declared, “I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech” (NIV). James said, “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6, ESV). According to Merriam-Webster, “oppose can apply to any conflict, from mere objection to bitter hostility or warfare.” More than being annoyingly smug or self-congratulatory, pride puts us in an adversarial position to the God of the universe!
The opposite result of comparison is envy. This is certainly the more painful of the two responses. Envy begins with feelings of insecurity and self-criticism in a given area of our lives. The enemy uses these thoughts to gain access to our minds, where he can torment us with others’ successes (and make no mistake--envy is a form of torment). It is harder for him to lure us in areas in which we feel confident; we are much less likely to take the bait. But when we hold our perceived failures up against the ruler of someone else’s triumphs, the contrast is overwhelming. Our shame is compounded and frustration builds. That frustration seeks an outlet, an expression, an object to blame. We are its first victims, but self-preservation drives us to focus our anger on an outside source. So we become envious and resentful of those who have what we do not.
Pride and envy are obviously nothing new. It has been said that pride is the original sin. Even before Adam and Eve, Satan’s fall from Heaven was due to his pride. “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground” (Ezekiel 28:17, ESV). We, too, are warned about “falling from grace” in Proverbs 16:18 (ESV): “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Envy can also be destructive. “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” (Proverbs 14:30, ESV). Think about a time you have felt envious. Watching someone else receive something we desperately want--praise, healing, love, etc--can feel like something rotten is eating away at us. Covetousness is a form of envy and we are commanded, “You shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17, ESV). We know it’s wrong. James called it, “earthly, unspiritual, demonic,” and said, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:15, 16, NIV).
So, how do we combat these sinful, evil emotions? First, confess it to God--not that He doesn’t already know, but there is power in confession. “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away…My strength evaporated…Finally, I confessed…And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone” (Psalm 32:3-5, NLT).
Next, ask God to help you. He is our loving Father and wants what is best for us. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, NIV). We access incredible power when we surrender to God. By admitting our weakness, we invite His strength. God told Paul, “....my power is made perfect in weakness,” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV). David advised, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday” (Psalm 37:5-6, ESV).
Finally, keep your eyes on Jesus and His plan for you. In John 21, Jesus and Peter have an interaction that closes with Jesus telling Peter that he was going to die as a martyr for God. “And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me’” (John 21:19, ESV). Then, John enters the scene and Peter asks, “’Lord, what about this man?’” Can you just feel the hurt and envy in Peter’s words? And what was Jesus’ reply? “‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’” (John 19:21, 22, ESV) In other words, don’t compare; just follow. God has a different plan and purpose for each of us, and it’s not up to us to evaluate His choices. By keeping our eyes on Him and staying focused on the “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (emphasis mine) (Ephesians 2:10, NIV), we will be insulating ourselves from comparison to others…and therefore, from the temptation of pride and envy.
As I was digging through the Internet on the topic of comparison, I found this statement on abigailfolds.com that resonated with me: “When we take our eyes off of other drivers, we can see where we are going.” We need to keep our eyes on Jesus, trust God’s calling on our lives and stay in our own lane. We, too, should heed Jesus’ command, “You follow me!”