Not surprisingly, ministry sessions are often filled with words of justification and/or comparison. It is the “natural” tendency of mankind and has been since the Garden of Eden (“the woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree….”). Rarely does a man come to my office and say, “Pastor, help me, please. I am a horribly selfish man. My wife is a wonderful woman and is trying so hard but I am making life miserable for her.” Nope, rarely hear that. Usually it is, “Nothing I do seems to make a difference. I am doing the best I can but she is so hard to please. Most men would have given up and left by now.” And then the wife comes in another day and proclaims, “If Jim were just more like John then I could easily love him. He doesn’t realize how lucky he is. I could treat him like Sally does Fred but I don’t.” And on it goes.
We (to be real, I must include myself) compare jobs, ministries, homes, marriages, sins, weight, words, attitudes – testing others to see if they make the grade, to see if they make us look good. If we try hard enough we can justify most every action we do and every word we say by referring and deferring to someone else’s actions and words. And God hates this. The only times I can find in scripture when He condones comparison is when it is to fulfill our need for concrete examples of Christian living (consider Hebrews 13:7 – “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”)
I recall a time when my pastor taught an excellent but challenging message leading into the observation of the Lord’s Supper. Teaching from 1 Corinthians 11, he reminded us that intentional and intense (dare I say, brutal) self-examination should be a regular part of our lives, so much so that Jesus Himself instituted a regular opportunity to do so. Although the Lord’s Supper is observed in community, it is to become a time that is intensely just me and the Lord. “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” Basically Paul is saying, “Do not look to the left or the right so as to compare and justify. Quit looking at Jim and John, Sally and Donna. Look at Jesus alone and honestly present who you are and what you have done. Your refusal to do this is why so many of you are sick and have died.” Paul reinforces this thought in 2 Corinthians 10:18 where he states, “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”
Jesus is the Ultimate Standard. Jesus is the only One to whom I should compare myself – and, in so doing, there is no self-justification for what I discover – but that is when I get to experience “For God so loved the world…..”