The Curse of Comparison

“And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)

The Bible is clear that God has gifted us each differently and according to the measure of grace He has determined (see Romans 12:6 & Ephesians 4:7). However, regardless of how He has gifted us, we are all part of HIs body, uniquely qualified by Him to take our place and fulfill the function to which He has called us. The sooner we realize we are to complement one another rather than compete with one another, the sooner we can get on with appreciating, without jealous insecurity, the gifts that others in His body possess.

I love what I am called to do. I love to teach the Word and to write. I believe it is my responsibility to use the gifts God has given me, and to mature in their use, so that I might contribute whatever it is God has called me to supply to His Church. I have never lost my wonder at the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the gift of God’s grace that elevates the faculties and empowers the spirit, enabling us to minister far beyond natural ability. When one comes to terms with the fact that it is God’s ability in us, we can appreciate what God has entrusted to us, knowing that it is not we who have made ourselves sufficient ministers of this New Covenant, but God (see 2 Corinthians 3:5-6). As Paul said of his own apostolic ministry, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). We do not glory in ourselves but in God, Who supplies His ability that we might minister to His people for their growth and maturity.

I appreciate His grace on my life, but honestly, it is other people’s gifts that often inspire the greater wonder. I remember being in a crowded church in Wells, Austria, where my friend and I had ministered for many days, sitting and listening to evangelist Peter Pretorias as he spoke about the orphans in Africa to whom God had called him to minister. I marveled at his gifts, so different from my own, a powerful yet different expression of God’s grace. I have seen others whose place it was to stand beside their pastor, in the shadows and outside the spotlight, faithfully helping him fulfill the vision which God had entrusted to him. Whether praised or unsung, these helpers understood their role in the body and trusted in the reward of Him Who occupies Heaven’s Throne – a crown of glory that shall never fade away. Like parts of our physical body that lay beyond sight or knowledge, they dutifully function day in and day out without fanfare, performing their service with an excellence that is yet another aspect of the multifaceted grace of God (see 1 Peter 4:10-11).

I have seen pastors from all over the nation and even overseas, varied and distinct from one another, yet each successful, working with the gifts they were given by God. Some are content with a smaller work in a provincial setting while others are managing enormous works in the heart of the metroplex. Some lead from the pulpit, casting vision and leading the charge while others find their gifts better suited to a more pastoral and personal style of ministry. If anything is clear in all this, it is that God likes, makes room for, and has engineered diversity into His body. In fact, seeing the seemingly endless examples of diversity, both in nature and in the gifts He seems disposed to impart to His people, I think that it is as unlikely for any two of us to be exactly alike as it would be for any two snowflakes.

Nevertheless, despite all this, I believe many in the body, who are genuinely called to serve God with their own distinctive gifts, are altogether too caught up in the dangerous game of comparisons. Dangerous, I say, because comparison breed competitiveness, which all too often means, in the mind of the one in competition, that someone has to lose. If one’s church is not as large as another’s, he thinks he is failing. If another’s style of preaching seems to be more dynamic, effort must be made to move away from one’s own style to compete with his would-be rival. If one man’s campus is bigger, or his reach seems to be greater, strides must be taken to enlarge the footprint of the ministry to make it as “credible” as the other’s. If one brother is praised by his peers, the one who harbors competitive ambitions cannot rejoice or give honor to his brother, seeing it as a threat to his own image which he deems to be diminished in the other’s light.

The Apostle Paul said, “But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). Comparisons are out of place in the Church because as different members of His body with different functions, we are graced by God with different gifts. Nor do we all carry the same measure of grace, though we may occupy a similar ministry office. These things are determined, not by us, but by the Head of the Church (see 1 Corinthians 12:18). When we begin to compare ourselves with another, we begin to allow something other than God to direct our ministry. Many have over-reached the God-given perimeters of their own ministries, trying to keep pace with another whose ministry assignment lays outside the scope and direction of their own. The result is frustration, failure, and often collapse. It is exhausting trying to do the work of God outside the grace He has given. In fact, once outside the grace or ability He gives, whatever we’re doing can scarcely be called God’s work at all. Rather, it is a labor merely designed to satisfy carnal ambition and worldly success under a cloak of false spirituality.

Real contentment comes, not from being the biggest or the best, but by simply being comfortable with who God made us to be. Our inherent worth is not in what we do for God anyway, but in the fact that God paid an inestimable price to redeem us unto Himself. If the value of a thing is determined by the price paid, then you and I, friend, are indeed valuable. Our sense of purpose is not fulfilled in mimicry or impersonation, but in occupying the unique place God has called us each to inhabit.

You are gifted. You’re uniquely graced by God to serve Him like no other, and I’m genuinely impressed with what God has put in you. How could anyone not be awed by any expression of God’s supernatural grace demonstrated in confident service to the King and His Kingdom. One day we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. In the fire that will try our works, the ambitions of men will burn while service that was rendered in humble response to God’s grace and calling will be rewarded. I wonder, if in addition to the individual rewards, there won’t be team rewards given, like in some sports where it is not the excellence of the individual that makes the difference, but the team’s willingness to work together, respecting one another’s roles and abilities. I don’t know, but I do know that nothing can be accomplished in the here and now if we’re more worried about outdoing someone else than we are simply serving together, appreciating the unique and distinct function of each and every member of His body.

A win for you is a win for me, and visa-versa. We’re on the same team, just playing different positions. I have been inspired by many men and women of God, each of whom were endowed with extraordinary gifts and did great things for God. But I cannot be them. I can best follow their example by using my gifts in the way He directs me, as they did theirs. We don’t need to walk in the steps of another’s path. That’s already been done by one who discovered God’s calling on their life. There is a new trail to blaze with the gifts and calling God has given us. So, we can root one another on to success, secure in the knowledge that there’s room in the winner’s circle for us all.

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