In the age of social media, it seems that comparing ourselves to one another is inevitable. How can you not compare yourself to others when, every day, you are seeing the glamorous photos, funny stories, and insightful comments from a few hundred people who are just like you, except better?
Or perhaps the bait comes from traditional media. Whether through billboards, the radio, or on TV, every day we are inundated with advertisements for products and services that would make our lives better – if only we had them.
Even in our greatest successes, we sometimes choose to compare ourselves with someone who has it better, just in a slightly different way than we do. Maybe my house is bigger, but their home has nicer furniture. Our success is immediately undermined by noticing – and wanting – the distinctive nature of someone else’s happiness. Our heart swings from gratitude for what we do have into envy for what we don’t have.
The temptation to comparison and envy is a human impulse. It is shared by people of every faith and no faith. It is part of life for Christians and pastors.
Think about it: When you are evaluating your own life, who do you automatically compare yourself to?
The challenge of comparison is that we are making judgments based on incomplete information. We compare the totality of our lives to the airbrushed public presentation of someone else’s story.
But we do have another way to look into the reality of the human condition. One of the greatest attributes of the Bible is its unflinching honesty about the people it portrays.
So I wondered: what happens if we truly compared our lives with others? I decided to look again at the stories of five famous people in the Bible: Noah, Abraham, Esther, Paul, and Jesus.
Noah – A man of faith and obedience, Noah lives through the world’s greatest environmental and social catastrophe. His loyalty to God preserves his entire family and the animal kingdom. Nevertheless, I imagine the forty days and nights in the ark was a very sad experience. Besides grieving the death of everyone they ever knew, the family probably worked 24/7 caring for the animals. And have you ever seen the extreme survival shows? It is quite difficult to make by hand literally everything you need for survival. Life after the flood would have been extremely difficult.
Abraham – On the one hand, he is the father of the Israelite nation, the father of many nations, and the father of faith. Impressive! At the same time, at the age of 75, he had to travel by foot nearly five hundred miles from Haran to Canaan. He had to start raising his first child at the age of 86. For a few days, he thought he would have to sacrifice his son on an altar to God. He lived in such fear of the Egyptian and Canaanite political establishment that, on two occasions, he lied and said his wife Sarah was actually just his sister. (Imagine the implications for his marriage!)
Queen Esther – A prominent female leader, her bravery and shrewdness prevents the genocide of the Jewish people throughout Persia. Still, she was also one of hundreds of women in King Xerxes’ harem. The previous queen was banished from the king’s sight because she wouldn’t expose herself to the king’s guests at a royal party. These circumstances only highlight what a powerful, strong woman Queen Esther was – but her life was nevertheless marked with unpleasant experiences.
The Apostle Paul – To his credit, he did write the majority of the New Testament, plant dozens of churches, and mentor the second generation of leaders in the early church. But Paul tells us his life was by no means easy. As he ‘compares’ himself with others in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28:
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Jesus – Ok, what Christian doesn’t at least say they want to be like Jesus? And rightly so. But Jesus’ life involved a forty day fast (just try it). After Jesus did his amazing miracles, like when he raised Lazarus from the dead, his enemies “made plans to put him to death” (John 11:53). And as we all know, Jesus was falsely accused, tortured, and crucified. Beyond the social humiliation and physical pain, he was literally dying for the sins of the world. All of this for the one who had existed, from eternity past, in perfect, loving fellowship with the Father and the Spirit.
The point is, only a superficial or selective look at a list of Bible heroes would lead you to conclude, “Yes, that’s who I want to be like!” A true comparison makes it is far less obvious that you would want to trade places.
Are you struggling with comparison? Then remember these diverse witnesses to God’s faithfulness. Take to heart this encouragement from Hebrews 12:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Instead of looking around at others, decide today to refocus your gaze. Look to Jesus. He knows the start, end point, and entire roadmap for the race he has called you to run. There’s no point in competing with someone else when you’re running entirely different races. So today, start running wholeheartedly for Christ.