Comparison is one of those things that we seem to pick up from a very young age without even being taught. There’s a familiar scene when two young children are together and one has a toy that the other doesn’t have, but finds most intriguing. Inevitably the one who doesn’t have the toy feels like he is missing out and starts to long for the toy that the other child has. He compares his situation of having every other toy but that toy as totally unacceptable and begins to resent what he has because he wants that toy. More often than not the scene that transpires next is where the wanting child, in a totally age appropriate infantile way would seek to reach out and try and elicit some cooperation from the other child to allow him to take it and share that playful enjoyment to satisfy that feeling of despair of not having. This child-centred scene is one that most people are familiar with, but rarely do recognise that sometimes as adults we re-enact these very same emotions in various scenes throughout our own lives.
So what is comparison? When you consider two things that appear to be equal and/or we expect to be equal, but actually appear to have some differences. If we left it there it’s not such a bad thing. A bit like a game in the backpages of a newspaper where you have to compare the difference between two images that appear to be the same; If you look hard enough you’ll no doubt find some very subtle differences. However unlike the newspaper games, we humans have emotions, and that largely dictates how we respond to differences in situations.
Comparison and envy – Whenever we deal with the human psyche and reasoning we are highly likely to come up with some level of subjectivity because our humanity (being in this world) causes us to see life primarily through the lens of our own experiences. However as people of God, we are constantly admonished through God’s Word that we are not to do as the world does because we are born of a different Spirit. Specifically here are a few key things God says about the way we see life:
- Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
For us this is a clear instruction by God for us not to conform to the world’s way of thinking, i.e we don’t follow what is popular culture and customs of the world, but seeing as our minds have more than likely been somewhat polluted by the world’s way of thinking before we come to know God for ourselves, then we have to purge those worldly ways of thinking from our minds, and renew our minds by reading, studying, meditating on the Word of God so that it becomes our way of thinking; It’s the process of renewing our minds. Then as we begin thinking according to God’s Word then we will be able to test what is God’s will for the situations in our lives and approve things presented to us as to whether that is God’s will for our lives or not. This nicely leads me onto the next point, which is at the crux of the issue of our lead topic, comparison!
- “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8
Reflecting momentarily back to how we tend to approach our thoughts in situations of comparison; They are largely based on our expectations, reasoning and understanding of a situation. Just like the example with the child without a toy, we can quite easily get caught up in looking at someone else who seems to have something that we don’t have. Rather than appreciating what we have and accepting that there could be any number of reasons why they have been blessed in such a way, we can instead begin to resent our own life situations, and inevitably regard the blessings in our own life with contempt because they seem to pale in comparison to what someone else has. The very moment that we allow our thoughts to go in this direction, resentment is born and alongside it thoughts of envy, which is a very destructive force. If we are not careful to take hold of those thoughts and align our focus back onto God and repent we may very well allow those envious thoughts to become so deeply entrenched that they get a foothold in our minds. This is why the Word of God says at 2 Corinthians 10:5:
casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ
Envy is the breeding ground of hatred and is no more perfectly illustrated than in the biblical account of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4.
Cain tended the ground for a living and Abel kept flocks. At the relevant time, Cain brought fruits of the soil as an offering to God and Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The bible says that God looked with favour upon Abel and his offering, but did not look upon Cain and his offering with favour. Cain was very angry. The Lord saw this and said to Cain ”If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Let’s pause here. Both worked, both gave an offering to God, yet God looked only at Abel and his offering with favour. It is really important to see what happened here. Cain was angry because he didn’t obtain favour. The anger was a natural emotional response. God saw it and explained to him that if he does what is right, he will be accepted. Seeing as the offering was an act of worship and an act of reflection of the heart of the person toward God, then I tend to think that Cain’s offering was not his best, or perhaps wasn’t his highest way of honouring God. We have seen elsewhere in the bible (1 Samuel 16:7 at the choosing of David) that God is not concerned with outward appearances, but the condition of the heart. God doesn’t need food or flock, but He desires a heart that that is submitted to Him (Psalm 51:17) So perhaps for Cain it was business as usual for bringing the offering, but for Abel the offering was a conscious, reverent and sacred act from the heart toward God, and maybe that’s what made the difference.
Cain could have accepted the Lord’s discipline, repented in his heart and left the anger right there, but no he couldn’t see past his own perspective and because of that, despite God’s warning that sin was crouching at his door (symbolic of decision-making), Cain hatched this sinister plan; He suggested to Abel to go out to the field and whilst they were out there, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. You see what comparison can lead to if it isn’t nipped in the bud? This is why we are told to flee every appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22); Sin is an illusion that entices you to believe you have it all clued up, but when you dip your toe in you get sucked into way more than you bargained for, because as God told Cain sin desires to have you and will lavishly entice you with lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh flesh and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).
So what does this mean for us? In a nutshell it means that instead of being overly and excessively concerned about what is going on in another person’s life, we need to ensure that our focus is on God and that we are careful to examine and judge our own heart toward God using the standard of His Word. So long as our hearts are right before God, and if they are not we are genuinely and deeply repentant to get right before God, that is the acceptable sacrifice to God, and He said that if we do what is right we will be accepted. It all sounds so simple but when you’re in the midst of situations and dealing with all sorts of emotions it takes the fruit of the Spirit Self-Control to be able to put things into the rightful God-perspective and fix up unto righteousness.
God will bless however He wants to and you don’t have to understand it #sorrynotsorry
Remember the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard at Matthew 20:1-16? The Master went out at various points of the day from before 9am right up until 5pm. Each time he went out he hired some workers. At the outset He agreed with the workers that he hired from before 9am that he would pay them a denarius (a usual day’s wage) and it was all good. At the end of the working day the Master told the Foreman to call the workers and told him to call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first. So when the workers who started before 9am saw that those who were hired last were getting the same denarius pay as them, they grumbled against the Master complaining that it wasn’t fair. The Master turned to them and said ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ The bible says that ”the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The point of that parable is this; God is a good and gracious. He will bless who He wants to bless and how He decides to bless another, quite frankly and in the bluntest of terms is really none of your or my business! Our business is making sure that no matter who or what is going on around us, that our hearts are pure and righteous before God and that our hearts are in a constant state of repentance before God.
We must always keep at the forefront of our minds several things:
- God is Supreme. He can do what He wants how He wants and bless whoever He wants and however He wants.
- His plans for us are good. We have to have the measure of faith that we trust Him even when we don’t understand His ways. In fact, especially when we don’t understand His ways.
- God’s ways are higher than our ways. God is the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end of all things. He is omniscient, knowing all things so how could we possibly begin to resent the decisions of God with our own meagre minds and the paucity of our understanding.
- Our hearts are the living sacrifice that we need to surrender to God. That means accepting not our way, but His way and repenting promptly when we are corrected by the Word, because sin crouching right outside the door of an unrepentant heart ready to entice and consume it.
Lastly I will just add this from personal experience. One of the earliest pieces of advice I remember getting from my mother is this “don’t be concerned with what other people have because you don’t know how they got it. Be grateful to God for what you have” which in biblical terms equates to everything above and summarised as count your own blessings. Over the years there have been literally countless opportunities for me to have gotten resentful over what appeared to people being favoured and blessed over me and I always kept that advice from my mother deeply rooted in my heart. Sometimes people were genuinely blessed of God and that is a great thing. However on other occasions time revealed what some people decided to do in order to get what they had gotten. Not everything was righteous. You never know if someone had to sell their bodies, will and/or soul to get what they do. Seeing this over and over again reinforced and solidified in my heart that I am not concerned about other people’s blessings. If it’s from God, Praise the Lord, and if not I wouldn’t know any differently because my focus is getting my heart right before God! Selah!
The thing to understand about comparison is that when it comes to God; 1. you shouldn’t do it, and 2. you will never understand.
Stay blessed and pure in heart!