When comparisons become sinful
Comparison is a form of social learning. When we use it to ask ourselves, “How can I be more like Jesus?”, it helps us grow to become more Christlike. If we use it to judge and envy other people with statements such as; “I am better than that” or “Why can’t I be as good as that?”, comparison can lead us to destroy ourselves or others. There are godly and ungodly forms of comparison.
Our families and society will tell us that we must aim to be as good as or better compared to our contemporaries in order to fulfill our full potential. Jesus’s disciples also compared themselves to each other and argued about who was the greatest amongst them. Jesus corrected them and explained God judges us by completely different standards from this world. In order to be first in His Kingdom, we may take on positions that can look as if we are last in this world but in reality, we are greatly blessed by God.
Matthew 20:16 ESV So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Luke 22:24-25 ESV A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.
Comparisons with people
There is a place for healthy comparisons for believers. It is when we compare ourselves with godly people and learn from them. The apostle Paul encouraged those in the early church to imitate him, as he modeled a Christ-centred life for them to follow. On the other hand, Jesus also warned us not to model our lives on people who claim to represent God but do not follow Him.
1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
Matthew 23:2-3 NIV “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.
Every time we choose to respond positively to comparisons with other people, we can learn something. On the other hand, we can end up destroying ourselves or other people if we choose to respond negatively.
|Positive response||Negative response|
|Comparison with those who are better than us||“What can I learn from that?”||Jealousy, gossip, slander, self-condemnation, self-criticism, shame|
|Comparison with those who are worse off than us||“How can I avoid that?||Judging others, cursing others, condemning others, criticising others|
When we envy others, slander them to “cut them down to our size”, give in to shame or judge other people, we grieve God. This is not how we were meant to use comparisons.
Matthew 7:1 ESV “Judge not, that you be not judged.
Ephesians 4:29 ESV Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
James 3:16 ESV For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
Comparisons with God
There are also healthy and unhealthy ways to compare ourselves with God’s perfection. Compared to God, all of us have fallen short of His glory and perfection. We must, however, be careful not to condemn ourselves. Every human being is made in His image. When we condemn ourselves, we condemn God’s creation. We will never be perfect while we are on this earth but thank God that Jesus came to die for us anyway – not because we are good but because He is good.
Romans 3:22-24 ESV the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
|Positive response||Negative response|
|Comparing areas we shine for God||“Thank you, Father, for making me in Your image so that I can glorify You and share Your good news of salvation.”||Pride, self-idolatry, rebellion, neglect God|
|Comparing areas we don’t shine for God||“Thank you, Father, for faithfully forgiving me for my shortcomings and sins whenever I confess.”||Self-condemnation, self-criticism, shame, feeling unworthy, doing lots of good works in order to feel worthy of God’s love|
We only become more like Jesus by dying to our old selves so that His Holy Spirit can renew us, not by doing more good works.
John 3:17 ESV For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Galatians 2:20 ESV I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Aim for vertical comparisons, not horizontal
As Christians, we should really have only one form of comparison, and that is to compare our hearts and actions with that of Jesus (vertical comparison). Too often, we practice “horizontal comparison” and benchmark ourselves against other people. While this can be helpful at times, it will always set a limit on how we live. Moreover, there is a danger that horizontal comparisons become a form of idolatry; where we can follow worldly standards of success instead of God’s standards.
Rather than ask, “How am I doing compared to that person?”, the question we should be asking ourselves is “How am I doing compared to the example Jesus showed me through His life?”
2 Corinthians 10:12 ESV … But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
In the parable of talents, Jesus explained how a master responded to his servants who multiplied the talents he had given them. To begin with, one servant received five talents while another servant received two talents. When they both reported back to the master that they had individually doubled their talents, the master praised them in exactly the same way. He said “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” to both of them.
God does not compare us to other people. He only calls us to be faithful to what He has given us – whether we receive five or two talents. He doesn’t love or reward anyone differently. On the other hand, this world would have told both servants to compare themselves with each other. This is not God’s way.
Matthew 25:20-23 ESV And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
Practising healthy comparisons
1. Ask Jesus how He sees people
It is amazing what new insight we can get when we ask Jesus what He thinks of the people we are inclined to compare ourselves with. The Holy Spirit will often convict us to love others and love ourselves, just as Christ loves us.
2. Check our inner voice
Often, our perceptions of others are heavily influenced by our personal insecurities, pride, biases, and grudges. Let us stop and check if our thoughts and actions are inspired by God’s Holy Spirit or by our own “fleshly” influences. Only the Holy Spirit will lead us to new life, while the flesh will lead us to destructive ways.
John 10:27-28 ESV My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Romans 8:6 ESV For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
3. Remember we are always before a cloud of witnesses
Many of us tend to think that no knows what is in our hearts and our minds. The Bible says that God knows and that we are always before a cloud of witnesses, comprising past generations of believers who are now with God. When we have such a large audience for our thoughts, we would perhaps be more cautious with our thinking patterns.
Hebrews 12:1 ESV Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
4. Leave judgment to Jesus
No one is imperfect, we simply do better in some areas than others. When we judge others, we are essentially pushing Jesus off His judgment seat. Because of what He has done on the cross to purchase the souls of all people for all time, only Jesus has the right to judge every human being.
John 5:22 ESV The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,
5. Choose to bless others
Beyond not judging others, the Bible goes one step further and tells us that we are to bless them, including those who are nasty towards us. We should pray for the salvation of others who do “bad things” but we should not withhold blessing – remembering that we do “bad things” every day too.
Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
6. Thank God for what we do have
It is helpful to learn to turn away from desiring praise and affirmation from this world, which is only temporary, and desire only God’s praise. If the servant with the two talents compared himself with the servant with five talents, he might have been too busy to even multiply what he had. In which case, this servant might have received the reprimand that the master gave the third servant who received one talent and did not do anything with it.
Matthew 25:26-29 ESV But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
7. Choose to be humble
There are so many verses in the Bible that talk about the virtues of being humble. Humble people aren’t inclined to complain, judge, envy or condemn others because they are fully aware of their own shortcomings. Instead, humble people are more likely to be joyful and content.
James 4:10 ESV Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Proverbs 11:2 ESV When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.
Philippians 2:3 ESV Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Using comparisons in godly ways transforms us more and more into Jesus’s image – not the world’s. Unhealthy comparisons only add fuel to biased perceptions, insecurities and unchecked emotions. This is something we need to avoid at all cost – because ultimately, we end up paying for it spiritually, not the people we compare ourselves against.
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