comparison & its spiritual implications
Have you ever fallen into the trap of comparing yourself to someone else? It may go a little like this: his car never seems to have mechanical issues, whereas mine comes up lame just about every week! – OR – her family loves and supports her, why didn’t I have that type of love and support? These should seem foolish to you but I know from experience how convenient it is to become ensnared by these types of questions. And, as James says, if you entertain these thoughts (which are certainly from the enemy) and allow them to take root, they will give birth to sin and then death. We all have likely experienced both the convenience and the destruction of comparing ourselves with others or their circumstances, things, finances, etc. In the end, this attitude or position of the heart breeds insecurity, encourages bitterness and minimizes the power of the Gospel.
The truth is there is one person with whom we should align ourselves, and that, of course, is Jesus. No other variable is worth comparison. Don’t misunderstand me, having mentors and accountability partners that spur us on and encourage us are key cogs in our spiritual walks, but only one should stand alone as your measuring stick.
There are two very profound reasons this posture will never lead you astray.
1) No matter how troubling your circumstances are or were, being marred and bruised beyond that of any other person in history for the sake of the world’s sins takes the cake – Having the understanding that Jesus had it worse is an understanding that will bring you freedom despite your circumstances.
2) If your standard bearer led a sinless life and is, in fact, the way, the truth, and the life, then you are on track for Christ-likeness.
“But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense.” 2ND CORINTHIANS 10:12 (NRSV)
Paul warns the Corinthian church of the dangers of comparison. It’s interesting that in this warning Paul does not label comparison as something that’s evil or even worldly as he does elsewhere in scripture, but rather something that lacks ‘good sense.’ The context in which Paul pens this exhortation is the same stanza (2nd Corinthians 10) where he finds himself defending his ministry against sceptics and scoffers.
Interestingly enough, verse 13 clues us in on why Paul is so concerned with comparison. His counterparts seemed to be “boasting beyond their limits,” something that surely leads to arrogance. This arrogance, as Paul could anticipate, would potentially (and historically did) lead to schisms in the church, odd doctrines, and a shift of focus away from Christ to the ministries of men, a slippery slope for sure.
Why it’s dangerous
Psychologically, comparison acts as a distraction or diversion from seeing Christ clearly. Distraction and diversion are mainstays in Satan’s arsenal because he can’t change the truth and victory that’s in Christ, but he can fog our vision in seeing it, especially in the face of circumstances that require faith, resolve and perseverance. In these moments, lies of this sort are opportunistic and highly distracting.
Below are three of the dangers or byproducts of allowing the trap of comparison to take root and create havoc. Knowledge and watchfulness of these can help us to repel these lies and attacks.
It floods our lamps with the inkiness of “self”
If our eye(s) is the lamp of our body, which Luke 11:33-36 and Matthew 6:22 confirm, then shouldn’t we endeavor to see clearly? In this parable Jesus notes that if we are seeing clearly through that eye, then our whole bodies are flooded with light. In contrast, if our lens is skewed (in other words, our glance is not centered on Jesus) we will in turn see a dark picture. This darkness, that can be generated through bad perspective is “self,” which can only obstruct our path to becoming Christ-like. If our command was to pick up our cross and follow Him, filtering our lives through the lens of comparison is, in a sense, dropping that cross and heading in a different direction.
It supports a victim mentality
One could imagine, and I myself have experienced this, that if comparison is permitted unchecked in our hearts and minds for long enough, it could give birth to something else. This is the nature of sin; It attracts its own kind. If you are in a rut of comparing your situation to that of other people’s you are bound to feel like a victim. Just like bitterness’ propensity to take root and form anger and resentment, so it is with comparison taking root and cultivating its own offspring: the woe is me mentality. Stopping the problem at the root is important, but realizing your life is worth His death on the cross is a pretty good fall-back in case you find yourself feeling victimized.
It condones being less than Christ-like.
If you are constantly looking to other people and their circumstances and comparing them with your own, you’ve effectively missed the message of the gospel. According to Jesus, the greatest in the kingdom is he/she who makes himself/herself the least. If you’ve lessened yourself yet enlarged the God of the universe in your heart, then you probably aren’t counting or comparing your circumstances.
Consider Paul’s words below literally as you guard your heart against the trap of comparison. Avoid the dangers of self by living selflessly!
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” PHILIPPIANS 2:3-4