Peter’s track record of recent choices proved to be a humiliating reversal of the claims he had once proudly made. Peter had declared that even if everyone else fled from Jesus, he would remain (Matt. 26:33). He described that he would even die for Jesus (Matt. 26:35). A quick perusal of recent events would reveal that Peter had denied the very One he swore allegiance to in Jesus’ last moments of life (Luke 22:56–62). Peter adamantly vowed he did not know Jesus. He abandoned Jesus while He was led to die upon a cross. Then, when the resurrected Jesus told Peter to meet Him in Galilee on a mountain, Peter returned to fishing in the Sea of Tiberias (Matt. 26:32, John 21:1).
With love and grace, Jesus appeared to Peter and the disciples who accompanied our fishing friend. John 21 details the account as Jesus restored Peter despite Peter’s shortcomings (vv. 15–19). He invited Peter back into ministering to Jesus’ followers and building up the church. Jesus reassured him that he would not waver in his faith like before, but would validate love for Him after living a long life by being crucified on Christ’s behalf.
The Comparison Temptation
After this pivotal experience with Jesus, Peter rejected the fishing profession he had seemingly returned to, and Acts and epistles give evidence of his crucial leadership role in Pentecost and establishing the church (Acts 2:14–47). This moment was deemed worthy to be included in Scripture. Peter went from the low of denying His Savior to the high of His Savior restoring him. And what did Peter do next? Did he celebrate? Praise God? Reflect in a journal? Tell a friend? No, Peter turned his attention to another disciple, John, and inquired about him to Jesus. Peter turned his focus from the Alpha and Omega, the Good Shepherd, and the True Vine to a fellow man. He took his eyes off of Jesus Christ and wanted to compare notes about his future with John’s (John 21:21). And he received a sharp rebuke for concentrating on comparison.
In 1 Tim. 4:16, Paul exhorts Timothy to “pay close attention to yourself.” He does not instruct to measure oneself against others. Our attention should not be consumed by comparisons of us versus other people. When our eyes drift horizontally toward other people, we inevitably reap the results of comparison. Then, our thoughts are prone to drift from glorifying God, and unbiblical actions often follow. Comparing ourselves to other people is a downward spiral we must be quick to alleviate.
Five Detrimental Results of Comparison
1. Comparison crushes contentment.
Once we begin idolizing the grandeur of someone else’s home, satisfaction with what God has provided for us dissolves. Once we begin dwelling on what someone else looks like, we feel less and less motivated to leave the house. Once comparisons monopolize our thoughts, gratitude for our own blessings disappears. We start to envy bigger paychecks, better cars, longer vacations, easier kids, different neighborhoods, other occupations. Comparisons are a sure recipe for crushing contentment with the lives God has been gracious to give us. It pollutes our thoughts, depletes our joy, and hardens our hearts. Comparison can oust thankfulness for what we have and replace care for others with resentment. Clearly, comparison can be poison to our joy.
2. Comparison ruins relationships.
When jealousy burns toward someone, it is difficult to have a thriving relationship with her. Comparison can hinder developing a friendship and drive a wedge in-between one that is already there. We are created to enjoy fellowship, and comparison can be the very venom that strips us of the sweet blessing of togetherness and unity. God does not intend for us to accept being kind toward someone outwardly while comparison has inwardly soured our hearts toward the person. If comparison has caused bitter roots to grow toward a neighbor who always manages to look flawless and makes balancing several kids and a social life look fabulous, she is unlikely to be the recipient of our help, love, or prayers. Comparison can lead us to reject God’s heart for people He designed us to love.
3. Comparison promotes pride.
If we look to others and measure ourselves as better, we exalt our own egos. We puff ourselves up based on a faulty standard. If we look to others and measure ourselves as worse, we still remain self-focused. Throwing a self-pity party and wallowing in “woe is me” is still pride. When we use other people as measuring sticks to determine our own status, merit, and success, we undermine loving people to use them to establish ourselves along a hierarchical totem pole. People become pegs we slot in below us or above us rather than view them as opportunities foremost to show God’s love and share the Gospel. Comparing ourselves to others is self-centered and does nothing to bolster and build up the body of Christ.
4. Comparison focuses falsely.
When we compare ourselves to others, we often do so two ways. We compare our worst to another’s best. How simple it is to feel small, worthless, and incompetent with this strategy! We also may gravitate toward measuring our best against another’s worst. How simple to puff ourselves up with gloat and glory when we conclude how good we are against the mistakes and sin of others! With this train of thought, we quickly forget that all our righteous acts are like filthy rags before God (Is. 64:6) whose standard is perfection. Unlike God who sees all things, including the heart, our scope is limited, so our comparisons are faulty. We hone in on one element, like how she received the promotion we wanted, and ignore that she is busy working to provide for her handicapped child and parents who have been foreclosed on. Comparison distorts our perception.
5. Comparison eclipses eternity.
We ought to be mindful of what holds eternal value. If we are preoccupied with comparing our dress or dress size to another person, we are certainly not busy loving her as God intends. It is hard to praise God and maintain an attitude of prayer while entertaining thoughts of sizing others up. We begin missing out on what matters for eternity because we fail to see beyond the here and now. We create division, whether externally or only in our hearts. Falling into the trap of comparing ourselves to others might even be at the cost of delivering the life-saving Gospel message to them. No one wants to replace glorious engagement with God with time spent dwelling on comparisons against other people. Unfortunately, it is so easy for us to slip into these patterns of thought!
Avoiding the Pitfalls of Comparison
So, what do we do to avoid the pitfalls of comparison? We must train our minds not to think in such ways! Put off thoughts that measure others immediately and replace them with prayers and praise. Flood your mind with Scripture memorization to combat the sting of comparison’s consequences. Disciplining our minds is necessary but it takes commitment. Do not be daunted or discouraged though; every thought that does not honor God can be taken captive and replaced with ones that do (2 Cor. 10:5). We can create new patterns of thought that make us quick to pray for those we once used as measuring sticks. We can be people quick to praise. Also, we have the opportunity to join God in the eternal work He is doing in people’s lives. Rather than size them up, join God in the good works He has prepared for you to bless them (Eph. 2:10).
Ultimately, Jesus is our standard to measure ourselves. His standard is perfection, and we all fall short (Rom. 3:23). If we are busy comparing ourselves to Him, we will have plenty to keep us busy in our own lives as we develop greater Christ-likeness. There will not be time to waste comparing ourselves to others. Instead, we will be captivated by cultivating spiritual growth in our own lives and worshiping the God who saved us despite our many shortcomings. Our attention ought to be on Christ and His work on the cross. Meditate on Him and His love, and your heart will overflow with grace, gratitude, joy, and abounding love toward others.