I posted last week about a sensitive topic that’s been on my heart for a long time but eluded my words: that it’s a little awkward for us to be teaching people to “stop comparing themselves to others” when we ourselves hold a considerable amount of power over whether they feel the need to compare.
We all have a part to play. Whenever we choose someone else’s companionship or potential over another, we make a comparison. Everyone’s got their A-lists and D-lists, and I’m no exception. I’ve been rejected, and I’ve done some rejecting. And when people learn, in their youth, that they are being compared to others by others, it is only natural that they’ll join in. Lonely people can tell you this better than anyone.
To be sure, our lives are jam-packed and we don’t have time for everyone or everything. But even that feels like an excuse at some point. I know I’ve missed opportunities to show the love of Christ. It makes me wonder what the kingdom would look like if we really celebrated everyone as an image-bearer of God.
What is the Biblical solution?
I could mention the second chapter of James, who tells us in classic blunt James fashion that paying special honor to the well-dressed man makes us “judges with evil thoughts” (v. 4).
Or Galatians 2, where Paul chews Peter out publicly for drawing away from the Gentiles he used to eat with, in an attempt to save face before the Jews.
Or 1 Corinthians 12, where he teaches treating the “less honorable” parts of the church body with greater honor.
Or Colossians 3:10-11, which flatly states, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
But for the most human touch, I find myself turning to the example of Jesus.
Jesus reached a lot of people you or I would be tempted to pass over. He could not stop showing compassion to the crowds, even when exhausted. He ate with tax collectors, considered traitors and swindlers by the Jews. He recruited rough, uneducated, and frankly pretty immature fishermen. He healed lepers and a woman with the issue of blood, and it’s huge that he healed them through touch: he gave them what they had been denied for many years, since physical contact with such people was forbidden by the law.
It was a Samaritan woman – persona non grata to Jews, who would not even share the same dishes – that Jesus met at the well in John 4. He wanted her to know about living water, better than real water – himself. When the disciples bumbled onto the scene talking about food, Jesus told them about better bread – doing the will of the Father. He wanted them to know that being chosen and loved by the Father is satisfaction indeed, removing any need for them to compare themselves to anyone else.
Granted, it took everyone a long time to learn the lesson. In Luke 9, the disciples were still arguing over which of them was the greatest. But by Acts 4, once the Spirit had come upon them, these men were standing boldly before the Sanhedrin, all but daring the Pharisees to kill them for speaking the name of Jesus. In that moment, they were hardly comparing their circumstances to that of their non-persecuted brethren. They knew where their bread was buttered.
And it is hard for us to learn the lesson, too. “I know God loves me, but it’d be nice if other people shared his priorities,” a lonely person might say. And there’s the catch – God does insist that we join in his love-efforts. He wants to love, in part, through us. Our love will be imperfect, and they’ll all – we’ll all – continue to find reasons to compare. But I can’t help but think that people would feel a lot fuller, and a lot less driven to compare themselves to some distant ideal, if we obeyed.
To be sure, each of us is responsible for our own walk with God, regardless of how others treat us. But we are also responsible for our part in loving others. Ultimately, part of our heaven-sent mission is not just to warn others about the sin of comparison, but to send love into their lives and diminish their need to compare.
Yes, it will cost us. It will be time-sinking and unrewarding at times. But Jesus did not mind the cost. It was the Father’s will that he love the difficult-to-love, and the servant is not greater than his Master. And I believe, with all my heart, that God will both strength us for the task and reward us for its completion.