In the last article in the series Divine Percolations, the discussion centered on internal dialogue which can be caustic and abusive and how to begin replacing that language with truthful, compassionate, God honoring verses and affirmative responses. Although many may not be that extreme, there are the “red flags” that alert us to a possible change in our direction of thinking. One of those is in making comparisons. This is not comparisons between which washer and dryer model might be best. which house to purchase or even determining likes and similarities between apples and oranges. This is the comparison of people—brothers and sisters in Christ to myself. An everyday scenario: You find yourself at some point speaking with a sister in Christ. Her depth of character impresses upon you her love for the Lord. And then, it seems from out of nowhere, your internal dialogue starts up. It sounds something like this: “Wow. She is amazing. What a great person. We are so different though. She has it together spiritually and I am really struggling. If I had her situation, I would be stronger. She doesn’t/couldn’t understand my problems and struggles. Her world is perfect.”
It seems so benign. It even starts out as complimentary or compassionate to others and then suddenly shifts to a comparison, changing the balance on a scale of two equally valuable Christians to one elevated and one dissatisfied or defeated. Do you recognize any of these mental conversations?
- “Her house is so new and big and beautiful. What a blessing! If I had a house like that I would be hospitable, too. Why doesn’t God bless me like that when I’ve asked Him to serve in that way? Why can’t that be me?”
- “Her husband is a real encouragement in the congregation. If my husband were more involved like hers, my children would be more spiritually minded.”
- “Poor thing. She is having a rough time right now. If she were stronger/more faithful this might not be as difficult for her.”
- “Everyone can see how much her husband loves her. He is so devoted to her. My husband doesn’t treat me that way. If he did I would have the respect for him she has for her husband. We would be happy like they are.”
- “She is such a great speaker/writer/teacher! She is in such demand and so admired. Maybe I should try and do that. I don’t have a college education like she does, though, and nobody in the brotherhood knows me like they know her.”
- “Bless her heart, she’s made some bad decisions and now is having to pay for them. It’s just so sad the shame she’s brought on herself. I am grateful I don’t have that hard row to hoe.”
No one wants to admit it, but we do it. Especially when we are discouraged or depressed, comparing ourselves to others comes easily. It becomes a handy shovel to help dig the pit deeper in which we already find ourselves.
Comparisons establish a new standard based on real or even perceived strengths, talents, abilities, resources, opportunities or the lack thereof. It breeds two things. One is arrogance or pride—viewing self as better or of more value to God than others. In Luke 18:9-10 the praying Pharisee’s standard was not based on God’s law, but on a comparison he made between himself and certain people—the fact that he wasn’t these “other men, extortioners, adulterers, tax collectors.” This distorted view kept him from seeing his true reflection in the mirror of God’s word.
The second is self-abasement which can quickly move to bitterness and jealousy. Leah and Rachel both struggled with this issue (Genesis 29 and 30). Perception of self becomes based on the successes (or failures) of others. “If I can’t do or be or have what she does or is or has, then I can’t really be good enough to work in the Kingdom.” Our enthusiasm and joy in the work and for the work becomes stifled, as well.
When we judge ourselves according to others—competing against our Christian brothers and sisters—essentially we cause division in the body of Christ. It’s probably not a literal split in the church, but we’ve made distinctions in our own minds. We are to be united in love as Christ’s bride for His purposes. Everyone of us has a role to play in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:21-25). No one is more important than another. Those that appear weak and those that struggle are valuable to the body. I Corinthians 3:4-7 states that we are all fellow workers together. The church is not divided up according to first, second and third class Christians. The men given the two talents and the five talents didn’t determine who was the most valuable to the Master based on what they were given. And it was not a competition as to who they could impress with their increase. They simply used what they were given to make it work to benefit the Master (Matthew 25:14-15).
Comparing ourselves one to another also causes distraction. In our desire to know why God would bless some and others would struggle, we can get caught up in our own reasoning and forget what we are supposed to be doing here. Peter, after ardently confessing his love for Jesus and assigned the task by Jesus to feed His sheep, is told the manner in which he one day would suffer in death. Immediately after being told by the Lord to follow Him, Peter asks about John’s situation. Jesus brings Peter’s focus back to Him when He told Peter, “…What is that to you? You follow me.” (John 21:15-22) My purpose does not entail determining how God will use others in His Kingdom or why they are being utilized for a certain work. My purpose is be used up for the cause of Christ. Even Jesus at a young age recognized His focus must be upon His Heavenly Father’s work (Luke 2:49).
Do you find you have set up camp in the “Land of Comparative Christianity”? So what can we do if we find we are measuring ourselves by our sisters and brothers in Christ?
- We can fervently pray that God help us keep our eyes on Him remembering we are all one in the body (1 Corinthians 12:26)
- Keep in mind the standard to measure ourselves is always Christ Jesus (I Peter 2:21).
- Practice appreciating and thanking God for the beautiful talents, abilities, blessings and resources others have been given as we see them so that God is glorified.
- When seeing the struggle or weakness of a fellow Christian consciously choose to think compassionately so that God is glorified.
- Saturate our minds by habitually repeating verses and directive responses reinforcing our focus on the Kingdom and our work in it. Here are a few to get started.
(For a printable version of the affirmations, click here.)
John 21:22b (NKJV)
“…what is that to you? You follow Me.”
I keep my eyes fixed on the Lord using what He has given me to show my love in serving Him. I avoid distractions which may foster competition or division between me and my fellow Christians.
1 Corinthians 12:18, 20 (ESV)
“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”
I have a valuable place in the body of Christ, as does each of my fellow Christians. I am encouraged in that we all can use our unique skills and blessings to gladly serve God together.
Luke 2:49 (NKJV)
“…Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”
I joyfully accept my ultimate purpose to love God and stay focused on the work my Father has for me in His Kingdom.
2 Corinthians 9:8 (ESV)
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
I take deep comfort and my heart has great delight knowing God has provided His all sufficient grace to me in all my abilities and limitations. I am able to flourish in His care and be more effective in serving Him.
Philippians 2:12b-13 (ESV)
“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
I set my mind on humbly seeking to serve the Lord with what I have been blessed, no matter the quantity or quality. I happily turn over my will and work for His cause.
Philippians 2:3 (ESV)
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
I am cheerfully appreciative of the opportunities God affords my brothers and sisters in Christ. Their talents, skills and abilities, regardless of how great or small, benefit the Kingdom and bless us all.
Romans 12:15 (NKJV)
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
I do not measure the joy of blessings or pain in the suffering of my Christian siblings as compared to myself. I am joyful in sharing their praise of God for His goodness toward them and am humbly compassionate in their sorrow as we journey Heavenward together.
By Cheri Deaver
Cheri is wife to Weylan Deaver who preaches at the Sherman Drive Church of Christ in Denton, Texas. She is mother to Orrin, Lacey, Lexie and Ethan, as well as a new mother-in-law to Aubrie Deaver. She is blessed beyond measure for which God has so richly provided.