The paradox of comparison
One day a lady commented to a young minister that she prayed he would be as great as some popular veteran ministers. The young minister answered: “I do not want to be like them, but like Christ.” This response should be the aspiration of every pastor. We should not limit ourselves by aspiring to be like humans, but like Jesus.
Many people find joy in comparing themselves with others. The parable of the publican and the Pharisee is given to warn every Christian to be careful about anthropocentric comparison.
“‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
“‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ ” (Luke 18:10–14).1
The Pharisee left the temple without his prayer being answered. His self-righteous conduct was foolishness. Author Ellen White says that, in contrast, “the prayer of the publican was heard in the courts above, because it showed dependence reaching forth to lay hold of Omnipotence. Self was to the publican nothing but shame. Thus it must be with all who seek God. Faith and prayer are the two arms which the needy suppliant lays upon the neck of infinite Love.”2
The Pharisee considered himself to be perfect and boasted in his self-righteousness. His sins were not exposed in the news headlines; he did not consider his secret sins to be that serious. Comparing himself with others, he looked good.
However, God does not care about the comparisons we make of ourselves with others. Rather, we should compare our sinfulness to the righteousness of Christ alone. Then it will be apparent that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). It is easy to blame the Pharisee for looking down upon the publican in his prayer, but sometimes we behave the same way.
As ministers of the gospel, each may have different spiritual gifts, or some may have privileges others may not have. But, the person, for instance, who has the gift of healing should not think that he or she is higher or lower than the person with the gift of discernment, because they are all gifts of the Holy Spirit. Comparing yourself with others in order to feel better about yourself can only make you proud. And, as C. S. Lewis said, “as long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”3 Ellen White expressed a similar sentiment: “Many measure themselves among themselves, and compare their lives with the lives of others. This should not be. No one but Christ is given us as an example. He is our true pattern, and each should strive to excel in imitating Him.”4
Have you considered yourself to be superior to a colleague, or a colleague superior to you, because of differences in opportunities and privileges? Do you sometimes consider yourself to be closer to God than others are? Again, this is a dangerous temptation. As Scripture says: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12). Comparison brings discord and does not allow the Holy Spirit to do His work of transformation in our lives. Whom do you work to please? Anytime we do something simply to look good to others, we miss the mark. Paul writes, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). The wisdom in Christocentric comparison Jesus Christ alone should be our standard of comparison. When we compare ourselves to Jesus Christ, we see our sinfulness in the light of His perfection. This realization makes us humble and draws us closer to Him in order to be more like Him. The Bible records, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus passed every human test. That is why we should compare ourselves to Him alone, and not to fellow sinful human beings.
Paul appealed to followers of Christ to compare themselves with Jesus Christ alone: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Cor. 13:5–8).
Comparing ourselves with Christ is seeking for the wisdom from above. The apostle James writes: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:13–17).
In the vineyard of God, nobody should compare themselves with anybody under any circumstance, nor do anything for self-glory. We should, instead, compare our weakness to the strength of Christ so that we aspire to be like Christ, who passed through every test possible to man and triumphed. “Humble workers, who do not trust in their great gifts, but who work in simplicity, trusting always in God, will share in the joy of the Saviour. Their persevering prayers will bring souls to the cross. Heavenly angels will respond to their self-sacrificing efforts.”5 Why do we compare ourselves with sinful human beings who should look up to Jesus Christ for everything? Christ draws our attention to the need to compare ourselves to God. Jesus said, “ ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ ” (Matt. 5:48).
Aspiring to be like Jesus
When we think like Christ, we become like Him and reflect the beauty of His character. But how did Christ think, and what was the result of the way He thought? The Bible says
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:5–11).
We, as Christians, should never con-sider anybody’s status when it comes to service. Instead, our goal should be to serve in humility to the glory of God. “Humility is the only true wisdom by which we prepare our minds for all the possible changes of life.”6
If we really want to work for God, humility is a needed virtue. In order not to compare ourselves with others, we should have the mind-set that whatever we are able to do, we do that to God’s own glory. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23, 24).
God gives us whatever we have, which is why we should not boast but give glory only to Him. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18, we should not set ourselves as the standard and look down upon others. Rather, we should compare ourselves only to Jesus, so that we can see our unworthiness in light of His perfection and draw closer to Him. When we compare ourselves to human beings, we become proud and foolish; when we compare ourselves to Christ Jesus, we become humble and wise. We should therefore think and aspire to be like Jesus alone, the Author and Finisher of our faith.
“Compare yourself alone to the holy God,” said Pastor Aaron Bublitz. “Humble yourself before him. Look to Jesus alone to justify you before him. Cling to his work of salvation for you. And God promises that he will exalt you. He will exalt you to live in the righteousness of Christ. He will exalt you to live not to compare yourself to others, but to love others. He will exalt you to live for him, as you live in his forgiveness and in his grace.”7
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1 All Scripture references are from the 2011 New International Version.
2 Ellen G .White, In Heavenly Places (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1967), 69.
3 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, quoted in “Quotes About Pride,” goodreads, http://www.goodreads .com/quotes/tag/pride.
4 Ellen G. White, That I May Know Him (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1964), 174.
5 White, In Heavenly Places, 68.
6 George Arliss, quoted in “Quotes on Humility,” Leadership Now, accessed December 11, 2014, www .leadershipnow.com/humilityquotes.html.
7 Pastor Aaron Bublitz, “Compare Yourself,” sermon for Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013, mtlebanonluth .org/home/180004499/180004499/docs/Series%20 C%20-%20Ash%20Wednesday%20-%20Luke%20 18.9-14%20-%20written%20sermon.pdf?sec_ id=180004499.