Is Comparison Really A Thief?
by Kristina Matz
It’s been said that “comparison is the thief of joy”. On one hand, I can absolutely see the truth in that statement. But on the other hand, I think it’s absolutely wrong. Tonight, as I sat near our boys’ bedroom watching to make sure that our two-year-old stayed on the bottom bunk, I opened up my newest biography. I am currently reading about Mary Slessor and I couldn’t help but begin to compare myself to her as I read about her selfless and sacrificial life in the mission field that God had called her to. This is what led me to really give thought to this expression and its validity. In order to get to the bottom of my questioning, I realized that I needed to ask myself two very important questions. But even before we get there, let’s look at what it means to compare.
What Does it Mean to Compare?Merriam-Webster defines “compare” as “to examine the character or qualities of especially in order to discover resemblances or differences”. This is actually something that every Christian should be doing! Paul has some incredibly detailed passages of comparison in some of his epistles. Just a brief example… He compares the difference between walking by the Spirit and gratifying the desires of the flesh in Galatians 5:16-26. In his beautiful explanation of grace coming only through faith (Ephesians 2:1-10), he compares our once dead nature to our new living nature found only in this free gift received from Christ Jesus. And in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, we see a stark comparison being made between our old self and our new self.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” - 2 Corinthians 5:17
And this is only just the tip of the iceberg, friends. If we are to exercise any discernment whatsoever, comparisons must play a role. The very act of discerning is the ability to judge well between two or more things. In order to do this, comparisons must be weighed and then judgments made. Do I need the small avocado or the big one for tonight’s salad? Will this dress be too big or just the right size for this Easter? We compare all day long! So when does it become wrong?
Insert the two questions I need to answer for myself…
Who Am I Comparing Myself To?The truth is that we can choose to compare ourselves to a million different people. Dead people. Living people. Young people. Old people. Saved people. Unsaved people. It is also true that we could find someone in every single category (and others not listed) that it would actually be helpful to compare ourselves to.
But, if I’m not careful, much of my time can quickly get caught up in comparing myself to people that just don’t matter. Not that the people themselves don’t matter, of course we know they do, but their relationship to me has no clear significant value. Strangers whose lives I have no context for. Celebrities whose reality is found in the pages of literature void of any real truth. Some comparisons, as we’ll find, can have great and eternal value. But when we find ourselves comparing ourselves to people that have no clear impact on our lives and choices, then we have begun to simply waste our time. We need to stop.
Why Am I Comparing Myself?Scripture is full of examples and exhortations to compare ourselves to others. But those comparisons are meant to draw us to God and make us more into the image of His Son. They were meant to make us actually think of ourselves much less and our Savior increasingly more.
You see, I can read about Mary Slessor and her stellar work ethic, her ability to do all of her work with joy and to be known as a selfless servant, and I can respond in two different ways. The first response happens when I directly compare myself with her. I can immediately find myself wanting and begin to feel like I’m failing. I can make excuses for why I might have a harder time with this than she does. I am, to be direct, making it all about ME. This is wrong. This is, indeed, the thievery of comparison.
But what if I first compare Mary Slessor to Christ? If I read of her character and I begin to see all of the ways that she resembled her Savior. I then am able to see, not Mary, but the power of the Holy Spirit at work within Mary. I am then encouraged because I know that I, too, have the Holy Spirit at work within my life! If the Spirit is indeed powerful enough to take one weak and lowly human and use her mightily for His purposes, then clearly He can do it again in my life! Now my eyes are on Christ, the worker of all glory. When Paul tells the Corinthians to look at his example, he adds a very important phrase…
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” - 1 Corinthians 11:1Did you catch that? Yes, he is calling the Corinthians to compare their behavior with that of his own. But they are only to do so for the ultimate goal of comparing their behavior to that of Christ. We should be making good and godly comparisons every day, friends. As we aim to imitate Christ, let us find those around us that are running the race well. And rather than directly compare ourselves and miss the whole point, let us ask ourselves if we are running in as much power as they are. Are we relying on the full strength and might of the Holy Spirit to do the work in us that we see Him doing in them? If not, don’t look inward and get discouraged. Look outward and upward and call on the One that can make all things new!