The poor little guy was shell-shocked. For his first three years of school he was homeschooled. In September he was introduced to an unfamiliar structure that replaced his self-paced, tailor-made school day. One day, his head fell onto his math homework on the table in discouragement. He looked up, weary, after just a few weeks of grades and assessment. “Mom, I am so tired of numbers! They number everything at school! Your Math, your Spelling, how many times you forget to raise your hand. Every day you are compared to everyone else!”
Thus was his introduction to our competitive and comparative society. Comparing is natural to us. It’s how we have learned to assess our progress, starting as little tykes. We are encouraged in Scripture to be our best, but we are not to use other people as our standard of comparison. Here’s what God says about that our tendency to compare ourselves to others.
1. Comparing ourselves to others feeds our pride. Jesus was humble. Humility should be our standard. Philippians 2:3 says, “Don’t act out of selfish ambition or be conceited. Instead, humbly think of others as being better than yourselves.” In fact, Paul says that all commending should be on God’s part; “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” (2 Corinthians 10:18)”
Comparing is natural to us. It’s how we have learned to assess our progress, starting as little tykes.
Luke 18:11-14 illustrates the type of self-evaluation that Paul warns us against;
“The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We are always able to find someone who is struggling where we excel, and vice versa. It is an arbitrary standard to set for ourselves.
2. We compare ourselves to others to set our standards based on man’s approval, not God’s. We must be careful to not feed our fears of other people’s opinions of us. Galatians 1:10 says, “Am I saying this now to win the approval of people or God? Am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Paul warns us that you can’t serve Jesus if you are trying to please people.
3. Comparing ourselves to other people takes our eyes off of Jesus. 2 Corinthians 10:17 tells us that we should never boast based on human satisfaction; “As the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the LORD.” In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul tells us Who his standard of comparison is; “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
4. Focusing on other people’s lives can confuse your understanding of God’s plans for you. Your destiny is not a carbon copy of someone else’s. In Psalm 138:8, we are told that “The LORD will work out his plans for my life–for your faithful love, O LORD, endures forever. Don’t abandon me, for you made me.”
Your destiny is not a carbon copy of someone else’s.
We all have different gifts and God has unique plans for each of us. He intends us to take responsibility for our choices. Galatians 6:4-5 says that, “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.”
5. Appearances are deceiving, and another person’s life may be seem different than it actually is. Things are not always as they appear. Proverbs 13:7 reveals the interesting fact that, “One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.”
When we focus on other people, we can be discouraged when their ungodly ways seem to be working for them. Proverbs 37:7 “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” God sees the end result, when we only see a deceptive snapshot of the present.
Things are not always as they appear.
6. Comparing ourselves to others can lead to jealousy. 1 Corinthians 3:3 says explains that we must avoid the trap of jealousy; “For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”
When we trust God, we trust that His resources are not limited. There is enough for everyone, and He gives good things to His beloved children. Matthew 7:11 reassures us that “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
7. God is not always “fair.” Fairness is not taught in Scripture. Justice is. So Jesus had to die to pay for our sins. God does not treat us all fairly. In one parable, He gives a full day’s wages for an hour’s work (see Matthew 20:1-16) and the thief on the cross was given eternal life (Luke 23:39-43). We can’t expect that what God is doing in another person’s life will match His ways with you.
Fairness is not taught in Scripture. Justice is.
8. Comparing ourselves to others can lead to discouragement, self-pity and discontentment. We can begin to think that we are entitled to everything that everybody has and does when our standards are earthly. We can confuse wants and needs. God promises to meet our needs and blesses us, according to His will, with our wants. Psalm 23:1 says, “The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” We feed our discontentment when we focus on the things that we don’t have, even if we don’t need these things.
As a basic life principle, Paul says it's not wise to compare ourselves with those around us. 2 Corinthians 10:12 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.” He says that he doesn’t dare make that mistake!
When you're tempted to encourage or challenge yourself by comparing yourself to others, don’t do it. Like Paul says, it’s just not wise. Instead, compare yourself to Jesus. Look not at how far you have to go to be like Him. Look, instead, at how much He has done for you. Your heart will overflow with gratitude and praise. “And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” (Psalm 73:25)