Exciting phrases, easy acronyms, and memorable lists formed from dense works of systematic theology can be helpful for the everyday Christian. While these reductions of God’s Word and His nature help us understand general frameworks, they are unable to help us understand everything the Bible teaches. It is one thing...
Comparison is a sneaky enemy. It may start small, under the guise of admiring a friend’s new job or social finesse. Then a question creeps in: Why don’t I have that?
A coworker receives recognition for a job well done, and you wonder why your work hasn’t been recognized in the same way. Is it not good enough? A friend receives praise for his ministry influence, and you wish that your service would have the same impact or the same attention. Hey, I’m working hard and helping people too! Others are more creative or more articulate or tell better jokes. A friend gets married or has a baby or starts a ministry, and instead of rejoicing, you are sulking.
Maybe, like me, you run through a checklist of your own gifts and achievements to reassure yourself of your own superiority, er, I mean place in the body of Christ, and then fall into self-pity when someone else’s gifts look better than yours. Maybe you judge yourself to be superior, doting on all of your precious contributions to the body, and then hurriedly planning your next service project to make sure you don’t fall in the ranks.
Comparison’s True Nature
What a life-sucking cycle. Though we may momentarily shrug off comparison as a bad habit, in order to effectively fight it we need to recognize its true nature. Comparison is an attitude that says God hasn’t given me enough. He is better to others than he is to me. He is holding out on me, and I deserve more.
Comparison springs from a lie about who God is and what we deserve before him, and it communicates this lie to our own hearts and to others. We have heard this lie before—this was the original lie that Satan told Eve: God is withholding the good gift of knowledge from you. Eve imagined a life with more and decided she should have that, instead of what God had already given her. Is this not the lie that Satan himself was chasing, in rebelling against God’s power? I deserve more glory. What God has given is not enough for me, so I will take what should be mine.
Comparison grows from the same seed as blasphemy and rebellion against God. With this understanding of comparison’s true nature, it is easy to see that we, as people who trust in God’s sufficiency, should have nothing to do with it.
Jesus’ Perfect Trust
As a perfect teacher, God shows us how to live free from this striving by modeling the opposite in the relationship between Son and Father. Jesus shows us an attitude of perfect trust toward the Father. Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity, operates under the Father’s authority. He does not have the highest position or the most glory in the Trinity; the Father does. In the Old Testament, the Father describes Jesus as his Servant, whom he will send. In the Gospels, Jesus’ ministry is fully in response to the Father’s leading:
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38)
…I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. (John 8:28)
Jesus’ role is one of lower authority than the Father, but he carries forward this role with devotion and confidence in the Father’s goodness. Jesus does not bemoan the lowliness of his earthly life or suspect that the Father could have given him something better. He doesn’t ask why he received such a pitiful task or demand an easier life. Rather, serving and bringing glory to the Father are sustaining and nourishing. He says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).
Reading Jesus’ descriptions of his relationship with the Father (especially in John 14-17), it’s clear that Jesus has a deep peace in his position. He has no desire to “climb the ladder” of the Trinity. He seeks the Father’s glory, not his own. Even when he asks the Father to glorify him, it is for the purpose of the world seeing the Father’s glory more fully, as Jesus reveals the Father to his followers.
Jesus is free from the rat race of personal acclaim, because he cares more about the Father’s acclaim than his own! Through all the trials of his ministry, he knew that his position before the Father was never in danger. His greatest treasure, his relationship with his Father, remained unshakable even as he fell lower and lower before the eyes of men.
Jesus’ Prayer for You
As he prayed for the Father to guard his followers, he prayed with complete assurance of the Father’s love for him and for us:
O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:25-26)
Hear the peace in Jesus’ appeal. Jesus, the one who is fully God and deserves only honor and glory, is at peace to live beneath the Father. His joy is not in having a superior position, but in doing the will of the Father and enjoying the love of the Father. For Jesus, the Father’s glory is a better prize than his own.
Jesus teaches us the truth about God: God can be trusted to be good all the time. He teaches us to look to God with confidence in his love and character, without suspicion. As those who are loved by God, we don’t have to “accept” God’s will out of obligation, all the while looking for God to give us something better. We can gladly receive his gifts and assignments, knowing that his character is to give freely, and our greatest treasure, our relationship with him, is secure.
Four Steps to Help You Break Free
So for us, what does this mean about our habit to compare? If only we had the perfect peace and satisfaction that Jesus shows us! While we might be far away from such trust, we can ask God to shape our own attitudes after that of Christ, because Jesus invited us into relationship with the Father.
To fight our own sinful, inward-looking tendencies, we need not only to stop believing the lies of comparison but to fill our minds with the truth about what God has given us.
1. Remember the riches that God has lavished upon you.
He has adopted us as his own children. And as his children, we don’t need to compete for his attention. Even if God were to remove all the materials things we consider to be his gifts in this life, this relationship is secure because he is one who sustains it.
2. Repent of seeking glory for yourself and believing a lie about God.
What freedom we have, that we can not only confess this to God but also ask him to come to a true understanding of him. Paul asks this on behalf of the Ephesians: he prays that they would have the strength to know the “breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ—the truth of how great God’s love was toward them. We can ask God to give us the trust that Jesus has and to give us a great desire to see him glorified.
3. Reject the lie that God is holding out on you, and replace it with truth.
When you find yourself grumbling over not having something that someone else has, refuse to follow that train of thought any longer. No! If you are trusting Christ, it is because God has sought you and loved you first. Someone else’s talents do not mean that you are lower in God’s eyes. Remind yourself that you are secure in God’s love and his calling. Build up an arsenal of Scripture that exposes comparison’s lies. Jesus was quick to refute lies with a right understanding of God. Also, reject the lie that you deserve something better from God. God does not owe any one of us a better life; everything that we receive from him is undeserved, but he gives to us from his great mercy.
4. Rejoice in God’s love.
Jesus speaks with such familiarity and anticipation about returning to the Father. Soak you mind in the goodness of God’s love and beauty. Spend more time thinking about his power to forgive and restore than you do thinking about your brokenness. Read Jesus’ words about his Father to see the peaceful relationship he has invited us to.
Jesus is our perfect example. He came not to make himself great, but to make the Father great. In this goal he lives in perfect freedom and peace. For us, what a better prize this would be than our own esteem! Let’s rest in God’s abundant love and fight toward freedom to seek his glory.