When comparisons become sinful
Have you ever compared yourself to others and thought; “I want to / never want to behave or talk or think or dress like that”? Comparison is a form of social learning and is vital to survival. There is however, a fine line between learning from others and judging them for who they are.
Hypothetically, we may say of someone, “this person handed in his work late compared to his co-workers (comparing behaviour). He must be lazy or incompetent (judging character).” When we think like this, it reduces our ability to show Christlike grace, kindness and encouragement, because we have pre-judged the person in our hearts.
Hebrews 13:16 ESV Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
The co-worker may be going through very difficult times with his marriage, personal finances, sickness or children. We may miss the opportunity to understand and help someone in need.
Healthy vs. unhealthy forms of comparison
When we compare ourselves to others and learn something good (positive mimicking), we benefit. But when we envy, put them down or complain about our own situations, we fall into sin.
Exodus 20:17 ESV “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
On the other hand, when we compare ourselves with others and learn to avoid their mistakes (positive avoidance), we are wise. But if we look down on or mock what they have done and judge their character, values or destiny, then again, we sin.
Matthew 7:1 ESV “Judge not, that you be not judged.
Honestly speaking, avoiding unhealthy forms of comparison is much easier said than done. We are often completely blind to how we judge others on a daily basis. It’s not simple staying completely neutral!
Vertical vs. horizontal comparison
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.
2 Corinthians 10:12 ESV … But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
Horizontal comparisons can sometimes become a form of idolatry; where we can idolise other people or ourselves over and above honouring God first.
Here are some ways we can avoid falling into this form of idolatry.
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, as Christ loves us.
2. Check the source of our thoughts
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 the Holy Spirit or by our own “fleshy” influences.
3. Remember we are always before a cloud of witnesses
Many of us tend to think that our thoughts are secret and 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 judgement to Jesus
We all need saving from our own sins and fallen nature on a daily basis. That’s where sanctification in Christ comes in. Sanctification is the process of being made or becoming holy. We are far from being holy or perfect.
So while we are imperfect, we should not be judging others (unhealthy comparisons). When we judge others, we are essentially pushing Jesus off His judgement seat. Even God our Father does not judge, for He has given Jesus the sole right to judge.
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. 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.
Practising these types of spiritual disciplines is hard work, but it can be very rewarding because we are changed more and more into Jesus’s image as we choose to follow His word first.
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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