We like to measure and compare things. We compare the coffee at one café to another. We compare one internet provider or phone plan to another. We compare one school or university to another. But we also like to measure and compare ourselves in relation to other people. At work or in our study we will compare ourselves and our performance to our peers. Trawling through social media, we can’t help but compare our life to others’ (or to what they want us to think their life is like!). Maybe you are someone who consciously compares your appearance to other people. We compare ourselves to other people all the time.
We even compare our Christianity. How often do you find yourself measuring your faith and godliness in relation to that of a fellow brother or sister—or even an unbeliever’s? How often do you compare yourself to another believer by the church that they go to or the amount of ministry activities that they do?
But when we compare ourselves to other people we fall into two big problems: comparing down, and comparing up.
When we compare down we elevate ourselves above someone else; we compare ourselves to them favourably. In the Bible we see this play out in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. This Pharisee is a classic example of someone who compares down, and as he prays we are left in no doubt as to what—or who—he measures himself against: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11).
By elevating yourself above others, you look down on them. You use a person whom you judge to be ‘worse’ as your measure. This stems from our pride and our over-inflated view of ourselves and our superiority. It’s the sentence or the thought that starts “At least I’m not as bad as…”. We do it because it makes us feel better and gives us a greater sense of self-worth, but it is dangerous and wrong. Jesus had some stern words about the Pharisee and taught that this proud attitude was not the path for those who want to be right with God (Luke 18:14). Let us heed this warning.
On the flipside, we also compare up. This is where we compare and see others as being greater than we are, or even the ultimate. A fellow human being becomes the benchmark we must reach. The Bible speaks sharply about how, in our rebellion against God, we humans have idolized and worshipped creation—including fellow humans—rather than God (Rom 1:21-23). When we compare up, we search for the ideal in the creation and not the Creator.
How often have you said or thought something along the lines of “If only I was like….” or “If only I had…”? Comparing up shows our lack of contentment and ungratefulness towards God for how he has made us according to his good design. It also shows us where we find our value: in someone or something other than God. Rather than promoting an attitude of thankfulness to God for how he has made us and the circumstances he has placed us in, we become jaded and dissatisfied with God as we chase what we have idolized.
Measuring and comparing ourselves against others, both favourably and unfavourably, hinders our trust in God.
When it comes to making comparisons with others, the bottom line that the Bible draws is: no-one and nothing can compare to God. When God addresses his people through the prophet Isaiah he says:
To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike? ... Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. (Isaiah 46:5, 9b)
The true measurement for all things is in relation to God. The humbling truth of the gospel is that in our sinfulness none of us can reach the perfect standard of God. We fall dreadfully short because of our sin; we are not even close. But the liberating truth of the gospel is that Jesus is the ultimate one who doesn’t fall short of God. When we look to Jesus we see that the only standard and measurement that matters is who we are in Christ, not in relation to someone else. Through Christ’s finished work on the cross and his merits—not our own!—we can measure up to God.
Looking to Jesus gives us enormous comfort as we find our true self-worth in him, and leads us to far greater joy and humility than engaging in the fruitless exercise of comparing ourselves to other people.
So how can you fight the urge to compare yourself to other people? Here are three suggestions: