How Comparison Kills Contentment

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Written By: Pastor Wayne Staker

I think we would all agree that social media has had a major impact on our world. Some of the impact has been good: it has been a great way for folks to keep in touch with long lost friends; to share activities we enjoy with friends and family; to wish each other happy birthday; the list can go on and on. But I have also talked to many people over the last few years who say they need a break from social media because they are becoming discontented with their own lives.

It is too easy to look at what people are posting and start comparing my life to theirs. And when I compare my life with the lives of others as portrayed on social media, I too easily become discontented with my life: I don’t get to travel to all those cool places; I don’t have anyone throwing a party for me; people don’t “like” what I post; they got 80 happy birthdays, I only got 10; their job seems terrific, my job stinks and on and on we go.

We know we shouldn’t compare. We know how it makes us feel. We know it can even make us dislike the person we are comparing to. Worst of all, we know it causes us to be discontented with our own lives. So, what is God’s perspective on comparison and contentment?

Examples of Comparison in the Bible

There are several accounts in the Bible of comparing, let’s look at just a few. Remember Cain and Abel? Both brought offerings to God, Abel’s was accepted by God, but Cain’s was not.

Genesis 4:3-5 – So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.

When the Bible says, “his countenance fell,” it means he was displeased. Displeased with God for accepting Abel’s offering and not his and displeased with Abel because he was “the good one.” Cain compared God’s response to the offerings and became angry and discontented with his situation. To the point that he killed Abel and was cursed for the rest of his life by God.

When Cain was in comparison mode, he forgot about all that God had done for him (he was talking directly to God, after all) and focused on the one or two things God hadn’t done for him leading to discontentment with God and his situation. Most of us can probably point to a time in our lives as well where we became discontented with God and with others because God seemed to favor someone else and not us.

Or how about Martha and Mary? You remember the story–Jesus comes to Bethany to the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus for dinner. Martha, ever the servant, is bothered because Mary is not helping her with all the preparations.

Luke 10:40 – But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.”

Martha wasn’t so much worried about getting help as she was making sure Jesus knew she was doing all the work and Mary wasn’t doing any. In comparison mode, Martha wanted her sister to look bad. She wanted Jesus to reprimand Mary. She wanted everyone to know she was being the good one.

But as often happens when we are comparing, when we are trying to make ourselves look good and others look bad, just the opposite happens. Jesus tells Martha that she is worried and bothered about many things, but Mary had chosen to the good part, sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him.

In her distracted state, Martha had forgotten that Jesus Himself, the Messiah, the Savior of the world was sitting right in front of her–yet she was discontented because she was distracted with serving and who was or wasn’t helping. We know serving is good, but Martha is a great example of how serving can distract us from Jesus and cause us to compare our efforts with those whom we don’t think are doing as much as we are. We not only become discontented, we risk missing our Lord right in front of us.

Let’s look at one more example of comparison. To set the stage, Jesus has died, and His disciples don’t know what to do. They are in fear of their lives and distraught over His death. So, they do what most of them know best, they go fishing. As dawn is breaking over the Sea of Galilee, they see someone on the shore. He asks if they have caught anything, then tells them to lower the net where they are, and they end up with a huge catch. They recognize it is Jesus and they come ashore and eat breakfast with Him.

This is a critical time for the disciples, especially Peter. Remember when Jesus was on trial just before His crucifixion, and as predicted by Jesus, Peter had denied him three times? So, Peter needs this time to have his relationship with Jesus restored and to be ready for the next step Jesus has for him, which is an important position in the leadership of the new church that will soon be formed.

But before the Book of John ends, an odd thing happens, Peter turns and sees John following them and asks Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”

What a time for Peter to drop into comparison mode, right? He just had a deeply personal experience with Jesus, who had been resurrected from the dead and was talking one-on-one to Peter. Instead of being content with having his relationship restored to Jesus, instead of being content knowing Jesus had a plan for him in the future church, Peter compared. He wanted to know if what Jesus had planned for him was better than what the Lord had planned for John. But Jesus, knowing this, gives a valuable response that helps us all, “What is that to you? You follow me.”

When we get in comparison mode, it is so easy to look at other believers and compare what God is doing in and through them with what He is doing in our lives. And Jesus’ response will always be, “What’s that to you? You follow me.” We have no reason to compare ourselves with other believers because we don’t know their hearts and we don’t know what God is planning to do in their lives. We need to ask ourselves, “What’s that to me?” and focus on following Jesus. And instead of comparing, be content with what God is doing in and through us right now.

Comparison Can Be A Distraction

Sadly, we too often find ourselves in comparison mode. And in so doing, we become discontented with God, discontented with others we think God is favoring, and discontented with what God has given us to do. And unfortunately, during all this comparing and discontentment, our focus is not on Jesus. No wonder Paul had to remind the Corinthian believers–and us by extension–that comparison is foolish.

2 Corinthians 10:12 – For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding (foolish).

And no wonder one of the greatest points of advice Paul gave to Timothy dealt with contentment:

1 Timothy 6:6 – But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.

If we are willing to be honest with ourselves, I would guess all of us can point to times in our lives when comparison has killed our contentment. May we be believers who recognize the foolishness of comparison, and may we be believers who are content with what God has done and is doing in and through our lives.