Killing a Comparative Spirit

Have you ever had the experience of walking into a room, and, once you enter, you start ranking everyone in that room? You scan the room, then automatically make a mental list, ordering everyone from best to worst. Your scoring system might be based on any number of things: charisma, appearance, or even perceived character. Once you have finished scoring everyone else, you rank yourself. You are better dressed than Mr. Crooked Tie over there but not Ms. Corporate Ladder Climber back there; you feel smug toward him and feel shy toward her. You cannot tell a good story like Mr. Life of the Party in the middle of the room but at least you are not as awkward and reclusive as Dr. Watercooler standing by the wall; you are jealous of the former and you patronize the latter. We have all done this at some point in time. It is comparison. We frequently compare ourselves to others. Many times, we shape our very identities in relation to those around us. This habit is utterly destructive both to ourselves and those around us. But what do we do with our obsession to size everyone up and compare ourselves to them? How do we stop? I submit that one of the key ways to kill a comparative spirit is by hearing and obeying Jesus’ command, “You follow me.”

“You Follow Me!”

While the Gospels record several instances of Jesus calling people to follow him, the only scene we will concern ourselves with occurs at the end of John’s Gospel. After Jesus famously restores the humbled Peter, who had denied Christ three times, Jesus tells him how he will die: Peter will be martyred for the sake of Christ’s name. Jesus declares,

18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” 20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” (John 21:18–21).

It is here that we see a turn in the story. Peter has just learned how his own life will end, then he looks over at John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and inquires how his end will come. Do you see the comparison game being played here? Peter is thinking, “Hey, what about him? Is John gonna get what I’m gettin’? Or is he gonna get somethin’ else?” The Lord’s response cuts to the quick: “Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’” (v. 22). Jesus calls Peter to stop eyeing his brother and instead fix his eyes on him. He essentially says, “What difference does it make, Peter? That’s none of your business. John’s outcome is up to me. You need to focus on me and focus on the task that I have given you!” I do not know what Peter’s motives were in asking about John’s fate, but based on Jesus’ pointed reply, I doubt that it was an entirely innocent question. I can think of at least of at least four sinful motives that are often at the root of our comparative behavior: jealousy, guilt, insecurity, and pride. Let us briefly take a look at each of these.

When Others’ Lives are Easier

What happens when you see somebody else whose path looks easier than yours? You see a classmate get straight A’s without studying while you work late into night just to get C’s. When we see something like school, work, ministry, or everyday life come more easily for others, we feel jealous. We pray, “I don’t want to work so hard, Lord! Why can’t I have the easy route like them?” I assume this is what Peter was feeling; he was wondering if John would have an easier life and death than him. If this is the case, Jesus says, in effect, “If it is my will that his path is easier, what is that to you? You follow me!” Likewise, if you are struggling and are angry that your path is so difficult, listen to Jesus: “You follow me!” You are doing what you are doing for the sake of your Lord and Savior. There is a purpose to what he has given you, and he wants you to embrace it wholeheartedly. He will surely reward every ounce of your labor (1 Cor 15:58). 

When Others’ Lives are Harder

What happens when you see somebody else whose path looks harder than yours? You are disciplined, diligent, healthy, and have money in the bank. When you compare yourself to others, you are tempted to feel guilty that you are so well off. For you, “You follow me!” means receiving what you have been given with gratitude. Be grateful for how God has blessed you. Furthermore, it means being a responsible steward of what you have been given. Use your gifts as a way of loving others. If you have the ability and the resources to minister to others, then do just that—meet the needs that need met. Are you disciplined in your devotional life? Come alongside your brother or sister who is not. Do you excel at your job? Help your coworker who does not. Do you have extra funds in the bank? Give to your church, give to missions, give to the poor. If much has been given to you, much will be required (Luke 12:48). 

When Others’ Lives Seem More Significant

How do you feel when you see somebody else whose life looks more significant than yours? You feel inferior to the pastor of the large, flourishing church down the street. You feel insignificant compared to the CEO masterfully leading his corporation. You feel like a failure when you see the mother who is raising brilliant, talented children who always seem to obey. “You follow me!” reminds you that God has stationed you in a specific role in a unique place with certain gifts. He wants to use you to accomplish particular things in his grand scheme to glorify himself across the earth. He calls you to faithfully man your post and fulfill your duty. You are a vital member of Christ’s body; and the body is weak and in pain if you are absent (1 Cor 12:12–31).

When Others’ Lives Seem Less Significant

When you see someone else whose life looks less significant than yours, what do you feel? If they are the ones serving you the food, shining your shoes, and removing your garbage, you may very well feel puffed up. But “You follow me!” knocks your pride down to size as you realize that you are a servant of Christ—a servant of all (Mark 9:35). Fundamentally, you are a follower; you obediently follow wherever Jesus leads. Humble submission like this leaves no room for feelings of superiority.

Conclusion

Whether, then, your comparative spirit expresses itself through jealousy, guilt, insecurity, or pride, take these three words that Jesus spoke to Peter and listen to him speak these words to you: “You follow me!” Stop looking off to the side, stop looking over your shoulder, stop comparing yourself to others, and look at Christ. Fix your eyes right there. Everyone has been given their own race to run; you just run yours. The Lord Jesus Christ is the lighthouse that you must look to if you are to cut through the fog of comparison and not wreck ship! Hear his words. Obey his words. You follow him.