If you have ever formed a higher opinion of yourself than what another might see, I don't think you are alone. In fact, there are times in our lives when we just naturally think of ourselves as doing a better job than another, performing a bit stronger than another, or just plain more beautiful or handsome than another. What is happening when we are forming this "self opinion"? We are comparing ourselves to another's appearance, performance, or accomplishments. Risky business, at best, because we ALWAYS stand the chance someone will come along who out-performs, out-shines, and out-classes us! Perhaps this is why scripture warns us against such comparison, but it is also why scripture reminds us of our "equality" as human beings. ALL have fallen short of the glory of God. ALL have sinned. ALL have no ability to get this redemption thing right under their own power. ALL need a Savior. Plain and simple - none of us out-performs, out-shines, or out-classes another in this thing called grace!
God has given me a special gift, and that is why I have something to say to each one of you. Don’t think that you are better than you really are. You must see yourself just as you are. Decide what you are by the faith God has given each of us. Each one of us has one body, and that body has many parts. These parts don’t all do the same thing. In the same way, we are many people, but in Christ we are all one body. We are the parts of that body, and each part belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:3-5 ERV)
Paul is writing to the Roman church, new believers all of them. None is above the rest in this thing called "faith" - no one has outdone the other on this road to salvation. He reminds them of this fact because it is truly a dangerous thing to allow this "root of comparison" or "one-upsmanship" to take hold in a group of believers. There is enough of this in the dog-eat-dog world we live in without it also being a part of our community of faith! If we dissect this a little, we get some insight into the matter which might just be a little helpful in keeping us from drifting into this dangerous territory:
- Comparison begins in the mind. Whenever we are "assigning" degrees of superiority, inferiority, quality, quantity, or intensity, we are really doing this in our minds. We form certain opinions - which originate in the processes of thought - and those opinions are "attached" to the object we are focusing upon. When we stand in front of the open refrigerator or pantry cabinet, we are going through this process of comparison - assigning or attaching an "value" to whatever it is we are viewing before us. There is fruit, some vegetables in the crisper, and maybe even a carton of milk or juice. Yet, we will assign a higher value to the leftover fried chicken, or perhaps the pudding cup in the snack keeper on the door. Why? We have formed certain opinions over time which are based on what makes us "feel" a certain way when we eat those items. Fried chicken or a pudding cup may go down pretty well at first, but enough of these and our we wonder who shrunk our pants in the wash! When we "assign" degrees of "quality" to an individual, we are in dangerous territory. God considers no man or woman above or below another. His stand is that he "so loved the world" - not this man or this woman - but the world at large! No one falls short of his attention - so no one rises to a place of greater appeal or focus. ALL of us are important to God.
- The best means of examining oneself is by use of a good mirror. As I have grown a little older, what I see in my bathroom mirror is not always as "flattering" as what I used to see! As "reliable" as my bathroom mirror has been in showing me where I have wayward little hairs on my chin just begging to be plucked, or hairs out of place on my head, it has proven to be very unreliable to reveal the condition of my heart and mind. Other than an occasional "image" of myself with a distressed look on my face, or the recognition my shoulders are sagging a bit under some heavy load, the bathroom mirror is quite ineffective in revealing the true nature of my "state of health" - especially emotionally and spiritually. The Word of God is the only true mirror which can get to the "heart" of the matter! As I look into the words penned there, I often find things brought into focus which were a little blurry to me before. The scripture is not just the best way to see our true selves, it is the best way to avoid comparing ourselves to another. When we see how we align with the character of God, we are ALL humbled!
- The value of another is often based on the importance we place in their contribution to the "whole", but we must remember their value may be "masked" at times. I don't recognize the significance of my little toe until I stub it on the nightstand! I don't appreciate the length of my fingernails until I need to pick up needle from the counter top. I don't recognize the strength and thickness of my hair until I begin to see them gathering in the sink and on the floor while I dress in the morning. Sometimes we "see" others all around us and form an opinion of their value based on what we "assess" at the moment. If there is a need to "use" their particular talent, we see their value as significant - if not, we just might gloss over their importance (much as we do our little toe and fingernails). I don't "need" all of the ingredients in my spice cabinet all at one time, but I "benefit" from all of them being there when I am creating a dish to be enjoyed by all at dinner! God's placement of individuals in our lives within this community of faith may not be apparent all at once, but given the opportunity, each member's contribution to the whole will become apparent over time. We ALL serve a part in God's family.
The community in which we grow together is one in which God reveals certain strengths and weaknesses of each member. As we are growing together, we must never lose sight of the dangers of comparing one to another. This "assigning" of value or worth based on what we see on the "outside" of an individual is indeed dangerous territory (and a place where God does not want his kids to go). When we allow the mirror of God's Word to reveal the truths of his grace in the lives of those around us, we find there is much the same in ALL of us. Just sayin!