When I was a teenager, I attended some emotionally-charged youth rallies. As I sang along and kept time by clapping my hands, I would silently congratulate myself on being more emotionally-engaged and more spiritual than those who sat motionless beside me. But as I got older, and my views on worship changed, I would silently congratulate myself on being more reverent than those who worship like I used to worship. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who struggles with comparing myself to others, so here are some thoughts on why we all need to stop thinking this way.
I think most people have a tendency to compare themselves to others. And before you comment with something like, “I’m not judgmental like that; I never compare myself to others, like some people do,” I should probably go ahead and tell you, you’re doing it right now.
We Do It to Keep From Feeling Guilty
From the beginning of time, people have tried to “justify” themselves by making excuses, shifting the blame, and pointing the finger at someone else (see Genesis 3:12-13). To this day, we try to justify ourselves by saying, “I may not be perfect, but at least I’m better than that guy over there.” As if being better than others means we have no guilt before God.
Even if you’re familiar with this passage, take a moment to really read it:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get’” (Luke 18:9-12).
Jesus depicted the Pharisees like this because they, “trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” Are we really much different? Do we ever trust in ourselves that we are righteous? Do we believe we stand justified before God because we are more reverent, more spiritual, more emotional, more knowledgable, more forgiving, or more “doctrinally sound” than others?
Don’t we know we cannot trust in ourselves for justification? Do we still not understand we must be like the tax-collector if we hope to be justified before God? Jesus went on to say:
“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14).
You may feel justified when you think you can prove you’re better than others, but the only way you’ll be justified before God is by throwing yourself at His mercy. That’s what we do when we’re baptized (Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21) and that’s what we should be doing when we come to God in worship. Worship isn’t about seeing who can outdo who, it’s about “drawing near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace” (Hebrews 4:16).
We Do It So We Can Boast
It’s easy to compare ourselves to others so we have something to brag about. Many of us are competitive by nature and we love to have something that makes us a little – or a lot – better than the average person.
The apostle Paul said people are without understanding “when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another” (2 Corinthians 10:12). Comparing yourself to others may give you something to brag about in your own mind, but Paul went on to say, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:17-18).
My accomplishments, my knowledge, and even my obedience are nothing to brag about. I have scored no points and I have earned nothing before God. The things I receive from God, I receive by grace and not by merit. Our only boast should be the boast of Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).
We Have to Stop Comparing Ourselves to Each Other
For the sake of our relationship with God, for the sake of our relationship with others, and for the sake of our own spiritual growth, we have to stop playing the comparison game. God does not grade on a curve. Your standing with Him has absolutely nothing to do with how you measure up against others. The only thing that matters with God is whether or not you are in Christ Jesus and following Him faithfully.
And this doesn’t mean we don’t teach, correct, and admonish others when they’re wrong (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But in order to do that properly we have to realize that rightness and wrongness have nothing to do with comparing ourselves to each other. The only comparison we need to be making is, “Are we walking as Jesus walked” (see 1 John 2:6)? He is the standard to compare against.
So let’s stop feeling justified because we’re better than others and realize we have all “sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). And let’s not boast in anything “except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).
I love you and God loves you,