I once heard the anchor of a major TV news network speak in a condescending manner about those who believe the Bible to be true. To his educated mind, a rudimentary belief in that ancient document reveals a certain lack of intellectual savvy. People with elite intelligence know better. Or do they?
If intelligence and education were the answer to all our societal ills, arenas populated by educated people would be bastions of harmony. Instead, centers of media, government, and higher education are often rife with judgmental attitudes, political maneuvering, and cutthroat competition. Even religious circles can be steeped in intellectual pride, so sadly, neither does a professed faith in God provide a guarantee for peace and harmony.
The Bible is a book rich with wisdom, but the all-knowing God reserves its treasures for those who are humble in heart and passionate for truth. Only by understanding the dynamics of God’s kingdom can the door be opened to a world of spiritual rest. This principle is especially true when contemplating the issue of comparison. The apostle Paul briefly addressed this topic in that supposedly antiquated document that we call the “New Testament”:
For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding. 2 Corinthians 10:12 (NASB)
This passage speaks of judging others and ourselves as we compare our abilities to measure up to standards among ourselves. I cannot speak for you, but I can speak for myself. Okay, maybe I can speak for you as well. One of the most difficult tasks in this world is to stop comparing ourselves with one another. Comparing ourselves with others—we all do it!
The Comparison Game
Our community’s annual Good Friday service provides a somewhat typical example. When you have seven different pastors speak in the same evening, it is virtually impossible not to draw comparisons. And having been one of the speakers, I have found myself intently watching the other speakers and judging my presentation in light of theirs.
But when we play the “comparison game,” we lose sight of what truly matters and rivet our focus on ourselves. Is there a quicker path to either arrogance or discouragement? I do not think so. Do you want to lose both internal and relational peace? Simply comply with your your natural tendency to compare.
Since the day that Adam and Eve reached for the heavens by reaching for the forbidden fruit, humans have found themselves being driven by a compulsion—not merely a tendency—to meet standards. When someone supposedly measures up to a standard, he or she is lauded as “righteous.” And when that person fails to meet the standard, he or she is labeled as an “unrighteous transgressor.” We might use other words such as “cool” and “dork,” but the basic concept always remains the same.
If we consider the context of Paul’s statements to the Corinthian Christians about the foolishness of interpersonal comparisons, we realize that only one comparison matters: between us and God. His is the only standard that endures the test of time, and in that arena, we all fall miserably short. But how convenient it is that God’s invisible nature allows us to discount Him while focusing on one another instead!
The Weight of Comparing
The quest to live up to cultural standards heaps a weight of unnecessary pressure on our shoulders. Others impose expectations of what we should be, and all too often, we then place those same expectations upon ourselves. Wobbly knees soon begin to buckle under the weight. Furthermore, every criticism, even when constructive, begins to feel like a needle being stuck in our back.
So much of the unrest in my own life has come by way of comparison. It began in my earliest years. Comparing toys. Comparing families. Comparing athletic abilities. Comparing appearances. Comparing popularity. And though many of the standards changed as I got older, the basic dynamics did not. I simply moved into new spheres of comparison. Comparing material possessions. Comparing spiritual activities. Comparing Biblical knowledge. Comparing ministry success. Even as a Christian, living in the world of comparison has too often stolen my joy and left me feeling like a lonely branch swaying restlessly in the wind.
Not all comparisons are evil, of course. We can learn a lot by watching others navigate this world. The problems begin when we compare to establish a sense of identity or significance. It is then that we become slaves to human expectations. It is then that we do the things that others expect rather than living in obedience to our eternal Creator. It is then that we struggle to say “no” at the risk of losing someone’s approval. And it is then that we exhaust ourselves by trying to climb the “ladder of success” that leads to the dizzying heights of a bankrupt soul.
Resting from Comparing
As children of the King of kings and Lord of lords, we can grow beyond the need to live up to human standards. We can grow beyond the need to prove ourselves. We can grow beyond that nagging sense that we are never doing enough. We can find peace in the midst of criticism. And we can convert that ladder of success to something far more meaningful.
The key to just about everything is motive—why we do what we do. Returning to the Sabbath rest of Hebrews 4, we see that our ability to enter into God’s rest is directly linked to our motives:
Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:11-12 (NASB)
Honestly, we do not even know why we do what we do sometimes. Are we looking to usurp God? Are we trying to satisfy an innate need for significance? Are we longing to return to our origins of being clothed in divine glory? Only the Lord is able to make those distinctions. If we draw near to Him to be clothed with His glory, He will sort everything out. In the process, we will find peace and rest.
Securing our identities as the royal children of God is essential because only then are we freed from the need to measure up to human expectations. Such freedom enables us to focus on the Lord’s good desires for our lives. And though the temptation to compare ourselves will always be present, He will lift us above the judgmental attitudes that create unrest among God’s people.
As the covenant children of the King, we simply need to trust Him while serving others for His glory. There yet remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God!
*Bob Santos has authored several books, and this post is drawn from an upcoming work titled The Search for Rest.