I recently listened to a three-part sermon series by Andy Stanley, the pastor for a bunch of the Atlanta megachurches, called “The Comparison Trap”. He talked about the very natural and very destructive habit we have as humans to compare ourselves to each other—what possessions we have, our jobs, our kids, our overall lives.
But while it may be human nature to do this, there’s absolutely no way to win by comparing ourselves to others. Or as Andy says, “there’s no ‘win’ in comparison”.
There are two sides to comparing ourselves to those around us—one is wanting what they have, while the other is using them to feel better about ourselves and our sins. Neither is okay. Comparison is the wide, easy path to both envy and self-righteousness.
“That should be me…” – the path to envy
“Better a handful with quietness [restfulness] than both hands full, together with toil [weariness, worry, travail] and grasping for the wind” (Eccl. 4:6)
In today’s society, the word envy has been softened, de-fanged. It isn’t used as often as it once was (we typically use “jealousy” instead), but we might say we’re envious of someone’s long eyelashes, or the gorgeous car they’re driving. We almost never use it in a negative way, but instead use it as a means to give someone a compliment. If we think about it in a biblical context, it’s often relegated in our minds to a list of “minor” sins like gossip or slander. However, envy (or jealousy) is frequently and direly warned against in the bible. Many terrible things happened as a result of people giving in to envy—Joseph being sold into slavery, Cain killing Abel, Saul trying to kill David, the Pharisees delivering Jesus to be killed. And the New Testament writers included it in many lists of sins, mixing it in there with murder, hate, disobedience, and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:28-34, Gal. 5:19-21, Tit. 3:3). Why would such attention be paid to this sin that, to us, occurs in our minds and doesn’t seem to be hurting anybody else?