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Friday, October 1, 2010

Recognizing and Combating Comparison Envy

Dr. Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

I need not remind you that the workplace is competitive, even "cutthroat," by its very nature. As Christians, we are called to compete, but against what and whom? One key to uncovering the truth is grasping the nature of excellence, but how does God define it?

It is not accidental that the Bible does not contain a single reference to the modern HR mantra of "high performance." Godly excellence entails four factors: obedience to God’s will and word; the presence of holy motives (the desire of the heart); giving our best efforts regardless of the circumstances; and fourth, to learn from our mistakes. It is a personal standard of accountability based upon how well we use the abilities, gifts, talents and opportunities God grants each of us. God does not grade on a curve nor compare us to others! This is both comforting and disconcerting given the implications. Let us take the issue of comparison first and leave the issue of defining excellence to a later devotional.

From a scriptural perspective, the only appropriate standard is that of humility. The ultimate criterion is set by the life and ministry of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As such, we all fall far short of godly standards. There is a Grand Canyon gap between every human being and God’s standard of perfection. You may be the world record broad jumper, but leap off the rim, and the end result is an unpleasant plunge into the abyss, just like the rest of us! No one can soar across this void unless they are carried on the wings of the spiritual eagle, Jesus Christ. Given that we all fall short of Christ standards, earthly comparisons are vanity. Paul makes this point very clearly in 2 Corinthians 10:12-13, when he is speaking of the false teachers who are self promoting their "talents:"

12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 13 We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you.

When we compare ourselves to others, we are prone to self-deception on multiple levels. Comparison generates pride if we feel superior, envy if we perceive inferiority, and complacency if we are at the same level. Our only standard for comparison is the degree of faith that God has given us. It is an internal heart-growth standard on our life-long sanctification walk. This is beautifully communicated in Romans 12:3-8.

3 As God's messenger, I give each of you this warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you. 4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ's body. We are all parts of his one body, and each of us has different work to do. And since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others. 6 God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out when you have faith that God is speaking through you. 7 If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, do it! If you have money, share it generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

The lie lurking beneath the comparison process is that people who are more productive, intelligent, charismatic, successful, and attractive (and so on and so on) are better or more worthy than we are. On the flip side, superiority breeds a false sense of security and pride. In essence, we are rebelling against God by expressing dissatisfaction with how He made us. God never makes mistakes. These vain comparisons can become a life orientation that increases our feelings of vulnerability as we conform to the world’s standards instead of godly ideals. We bury our talents out of fear, experience life long frustration as we live someone else’s life, and harden our hearts by pridefully using our gifts in unauthorized and self-centered ways. To get off this road to nowhere, we need to look no further than the life and ministry of Jesus. He willingly and humbly left the eternal realm of glory exchanging his exalted place for the temporal world of pain, suffering, and humiliation. The ministry of Jesus shatters worldly wisdom that our value is determined by position, accomplishments, wealth, power, abilities, or appearance. Our worth is intrinsic to our personhood made in God’s image.

As a final dose of humility, keep in mind none of us can take credit for our accomplishments, gifts or abilities. As the apostle Paul states, all we possess or earn comes from God’s endowed power to perform a role and mission that no one else can perform. Like the analogy of the body, each part (person) is essential to the whole. God loves the individual with 2 talents the same as those endowed with 10 or a 100. Our obligation is to be faithful stewards of what God has given. Do your best and strive to develop your talents to be the best you can be. Learn from others, but do not try to place your round peg in their square hole. Take joy in the accomplishments of your coworkers, as their success does not diminish your accomplishments and talents. Using a baseball analogy, the team needs the reliable 250 hitter as much as it does the superstar. Finally, realize the great value that God places on those who are humble and promote the interests of others over their own. Servant leaders possess an honest estimate of themselves and their employees! When the focus in the workplace shifts from individual players to a team approach, we experience the freedom and joy of discovering our true selves. So let us all commit to using the godly faith standard of Romans 12:3-8 as the measuring stick for all that we think, say or do.

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