Comparison is a Trap
Embrace your calling and break the destructive cycle of comparison
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Comparison is a Toxic Cycle
Many pastors I know spend a lot of time thinking about other pastors and their churches. Many executives I know spend a lot of time watching their competitors. Even managers or team leaders within the same company tend keep an eye on other managers. What are they doing? Where are they succeeding? How much are they earning? What kind of access do they have with the CEO?
Comparison is a common behavior. It helps us evaluate our own abilities or understand our position within a team. It allows for self-assessment and motivates us to improve. Those are positive elements of comparison.
But often, comparison can be profoundly negative. Our self-esteem takes a hit when we find ourselves failing, in our minds, to measure up with others. We become obsessed with status. We identify some people as potential threats. We feel inadequate or envious of others. When comparison causes insecurity and uncertainty, it becomes a negative.
One of the most powerful stories in the Bible about comparison may be one that surprises you at first glance. It’s the story of Peter’s restoration after He denied Christ. It generally gets taught as a story about reconciliation and Peter’s role in the early Church than a story about comparison.
Here’s the passage:
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”
And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. 18 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” 19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”—John 21:15-19
Most of us read this exchange and see Jesus restoring Peter through love and grace. It reaffirms the importance of singular devotion to Him, and of Jesus helping Peter realize that actions (“tend My sheep”) are an expression of love. But this biblical account also presents valuable insights into overcoming the curse of comparison.
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Escaping the Comparison Trap
This encounter marks a turning point in Peter’s journey of discipleship because it resolves the relationship between Jesus and His disciple. Prior to this passage, Jesus had been crucified and buried. Then He rose from the dead and appeared to His followers in a variety of settings.
Right before this, the disciples had been together fishing all night when Jesus appeared to them. They caught a miraculous number of fish thanks to Jesus, and then ate breakfast together. The disciples are all present when Jesus pulls Peter aside.
“Simon…do you love Me more than these?” Jesus asks.
Bible teachers and scholars have argued about what “these” refers to in this question, but most agree that Jesus is asking Peter if Peter loves Him more than the others gathered around the fire. It’s a question of comparison, and it’s interesting that Jesus asks the question that way.
Right before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, the disciples had been arguing with each other in the Upper Room about which one of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24-27). It wasn’t a good look. But Jesus knew comparison had been on their minds. They struggled with status, even within a small group of 12.
All of us share that struggle. Whether conscious or subconscious, we tend to compare our blessings, achievements, and even our challenges with those of others. We long for equality or superiority, and any perceived inadequacy often leads to feelings of discontentment. This fosters a toxic cycle of comparison. Jesus may have been getting at this in His initial question of Peter.
“What is that to you?”
The story of Peter’s reconciliation to Jesus, however, doesn’t end with verse 19 and Jesus saying, “Follow Me.” There’s more:
Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”
22 Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”
23 Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?”—John 21:20-23
Jesus offers profound words about Peter’s future, then Peter looks back and immediately compares himself with John. “What about that guy?” he asks Jesus.
In responding to Peter, Jesus reveals a divine lack of sympathy for this comparison trap. He literally says, “What is that to you?” Here, Jesus underscores that the torment of comparison is unnecessary and entirely self-perpetuated. Jesus has a plan for Peter. Jesus His own plan for John, too, and that plan should have no impact on Peter’s obedience or calling.
God’s answer to the problem of comparison is simple: stop comparing!
When comparison generates arrogance or insecurity, it can shift our focus from God’s unique plan for us onto worldly things. Romans 8 underscores the importance of setting our minds on “things of the Spirit” rather than obsessing about others:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.—Romans 8:3-8
This scripture suggests that unhealthy comparison stems from a carnal, non-spiritual mindset, which gets in the way of our relationship with God. Comparison prevents us from being content with who we are, what we have, and where we are in life. It breeds resentment towards others who possess what we covet. It pushes us to strive to become what we are not, potentially abandoning our true calling.
James 3 goes even further:
But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.—James 4:14-16
This passage links envy and self-seeking—the root of comparison—to confusion and evil. James says it’s demonic in origin! Comparison holds destructive power in our hearts. It’s a gateway for the enemy to wreak havoc in our lives.
Contentment and Fulfillment
Elsewhere in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul reminds the Church that all members of the body of Christ have different gifts. We all have unique roles to play in the Kingdom of God. It is not about who is superior or more influential; instead, it's about playing our part in God’s grand design.
The business world works in a similar fashion. Whether you lead a small business or a large one, I’m pretty sure there is no one person on your team who can do everything. (Even sole proprietors tend to outsource accounting, legal and other specialty responsibilities.)
On a true team, everyone has a role. Most of us have talents that make us good at that role. If we could do everything, we wouldn’t have employees. We wouldn’t need multiple pastors or ministers on a church staff. We wouldn’t need a large team.
To overcome comparison, we need to recognize that everyone is uniquely equipped and no one person has it all. For this reason, we should desire to make a significant impact rather than trying to build a vast influence. Furthermore, we should appreciate that God bestows profound gifts upon those we least expect. This understanding helps foster humility and celebrate diversity within the body of Christ or among your employees.
In the words of Jesus to Peter, our singular focus should be this: “Follow Me.” We each have a unique journey with God, a distinct path that can’t be compared to another’s. Our contentment and fulfillment lie in following Jesus and embracing His unique plan for us. When we compare ourselves with other pastors, other executives, or other leaders, Jesus says, “What is it to you?”
The Comparison Cure
Reaching our full potential as leaders starts with breaking free from the bondage of comparison. Based on the story above—and my four decades in church and nonprofit leadership—I have found there are four distinct ways to combat comparison:
Acceptance and gratitude: Thank God for who He made you to be. Acknowledge the gifts He has given you and learn to embrace them. Identify what you’ve accomplished so far and what it took for you to get there. When we start appreciating our unique qualities and stop wishing we were like others, we begin to break the chains of comparison.
Trust God with your journey: Trust God with your needs, desires, and your journey of becoming the person He wants you to be. Ultimately, we find our worth in being children of God, not in our accomplishments, possessions, or societal status. God’s opinion of us is the only one that truly matters.
Trust God with others: Worry about your spiritual journey and not the pathways of others. Let God work in others’ lives without your becoming envious. When you say, “What about this person?” Jesus ignores the question and says, “Follow Me.”
Stay focused and use your gifts: We can proclaim our love for God all day long—and we should—but Jesus kept telling Peter that love finds its fullest expression in action (“Feed My sheep”). We show appreciation for our gifts by using them. Do what you do well. Be a blessing, but also celebrate others’ blessings. Strive to be a giver and an encourager.
Show gratitude, follow God’s path for you, trust Him with others and bless others with the gifts you’ve been given. This is the road to healing and true self-acceptance. Remember, the more secure we are in God, the less dependent we are on others to make us secure. Let’s walk in the love and peace God promises us, free from the shackles of comparison.
Paul sums this up in Galatians:
But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load.—Galatians 6:4-5
This is the antidote to comparison—owning our own work and rejoicing in the gifts we’ve been given. That’s what it means to carry our own load as we move from comparison to contentment, focusing on the unique calling and path that God has set before us. ~ Jimmy Evans
Sermon notes and discussion questions below…
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