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Comparing Oneself with Others

2Corinthians: Paul's Most Underappreciated Epistle

Oct 11, 2020


by: Jack Lash Series: 2Corinthians: Paul's Most Underappreciated Epistle | Category: NT books | Scripture: 2 Corinthians 10:12–10:12

I. Introduction
A. We have talked about the fact that some false apostles had infiltrated the church in Corinth and begun to question the legitimacy of Paul’s apostleship.
B. Paul now begins to critique these men, from 2Cor.10:12 through most of chapter 11.
C. 2Corinthians 10:12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
D. Paraphrase: (Sarcastically) Oh no! We don’t dare to compare ourselves with those who have advertized themselves to you. But don’t you see that when these guys play the comparison game, and measure themselves by each other, it proves that they just don’t get it?
II. Explanation
A. For the Corinthians, the issue was, Who is a true apostle of Christ and how do we know?
1. Of course, from our perspective, it is laughable. We all know that Paul was a true apostle and that he wrote 13 of the 27 books in the NT. We don’t even know the names of these other guys.
2. But the Corinthians weren’t so sure.
3. Some men who claimed Paul was not actually an apostle had infiltrated the church at Corinth.
4. Sadly, they had fooled many.
B. But not only did they question Paul’s apostleship. They also claimed that they were apostles.
1. You know what a hoax is. A modern example is when a man with malicious intent pretends to be a teenage boy on social media.
2. How can you more easily get a girl to do what you want when you convince them that you’re a boy their age or a little older who really likes them a lot.
3. These false apostles were up to the same trick.
4. How can you more easily get people to listen to you than to convince them that you’re an apostle?
C. We are in the season of election campaigns, a time when the candidates are all trying to prove themselves better than the others. And often they lie and exaggerate and stoop to almost any level to try to win.
1. It shouldn’t surprise us that in the ancient Greek world, there was a similar culture. One place this kind of venomous culture existed was among teachers competing for students.
2. Scholarly studies on ancient Corinth tell us that there was cutthroat competition for students, and teachers would use virtually any means to win students and deny them to their competitors. (E.g. Stansbury, Corinthians Honor, Corinthian Conflict: A Social History of Early Roman Corinth and Its Pauline Community; B. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology; and P. Walcot, “The Funeral Speech, A Study of Values,” Greece and Rome 20 (1973)
3. Arrogant boasting about oneself and one’s achievements was routine – and actually admired – as was maligning one’s competitors. It was a constant game of character assassination and one-upmanship.
4. This was the environment in which these opponents of Paul had thrived. And now it was being directed against the apostle Paul.
D. This helps us understand Paul’s comments in v.12 about comparing oneself with others: “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.”
1. These men were constantly comparing themselves to one another, competing to be better than each other, competing to be thought of as more dynamic, more eloquent, more impressive.
2. Their whole critique of Paul was that he didn’t measure up in these kinds of things.
E. Paul wasn’t going to play that game. Apostleship wasn’t a status position earned by impressing others with one’s ability/performances.
1. Apostleship was a matter of being called by Christ – to be His ambassador. He chose the original 12 and walked with them for 3 years (Mark 3:13-19). After Judas, He led the remaining 11 to choose Matthias from among those who had also walked with Him (Acts 1:15-26). And then He chose Paul, “as one untimely born” (1Cor.15:8-9), and approved by the other apostles (Gal.2:6-9).
2. So, an apostle doesn’t need to assert his superiority over others by comparing himself with them.
a. He is who he is not because of what skills he has or what he has accomplished.
b. He is who he is because of what God does in and through him.
c. So, he doesn’t need to brag about his achievements or strut around like he’s high and mighty.
3. His rivals, on the other hand, were trying to advance themselves rather than the cause of Christ.
a. Nothing meant more to them than themselves. Their whole goal was to gain favor and fame.
4. Paul doesn’t want to play their game – but, with great hesitation because he feels like the game is so foolish, he eventually does. “But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.” (2Corinthians 11:21–23)
III. But here in this verse, we have the most direct statement in all the Bible of a perpetual snare: it is foolish to compare oneself with others in order to commend oneself or condemn oneself.
A. One of the traps we frequently fall into is comparing ourselves with people instead of looking to God for an assessment: Am I beautiful? Am I valuable? Am I loved? Am I acceptable?
1. We compare our performance
a. at work with other employees
b. at school with our classmates
c. at home with other moms and dads
2. We compare our homes and our furniture and our clothing.
3. We live in world which of people who compare themselves with one another constantly.
B. And there are many who help us fall into this trap of comparing ourselves.
1. There are those who mock us and make fun of us based on human comparisons: both real and imagined.
2. There are those who praise us and exalt us based on human comparison: both real and imagined.
C. This practice of comparing ourselves with others not only results in a self-image either too high or too low, it roots our identity in the wrong place.
1. A self-image problem is really an unbelief problem. We evaluate ourselves by the wrong standard.
2. The question is, Are you going to believe what God says about you or are you going to believe the way you look when you compare yourself to others?
3. Just like Adam and Eve: Are we going to believe what God says or are we going to believe what seems right from our perspective?
D. The world says: You are too short or too tall. You aren’t pretty enough. You’re not very smart. You’re poor. And even if the world says we’re smart or we’re good-looking or we’re nice, it might say that one day and take it away the next.
E. But God says in His unchanging word: You are my child, I am your Father. I give you all things.
1. I invented you before the world was created. And I knew you and planned out every day of your life before you ever existed. I knitted your body together when you were in your mother’s womb.
2. I made you just the way I want you. I chose every chromosome. I chose your hair; I chose your height; I chose your nose; I chose your health conditions.
3. Everything you see as an imperfection is what I chose in my infinite wisdom to give you – because I love you so much.
4. I chose your personality. I chose your talents. I chose your family. I chose your birth date and your birthplace.
5. I chose you for Myself from before the creation of the world. I loved you so much that I sent My Son to lay down His life for you to make you My own.
6. You are My friend; You are My beloved. Your name is written in Book of Life!
7. My Holy Spirit lives in you as a seal & down payment of your inheritance!
8. Now, I am with you in everything you do. I watch over you and make sure everything happens for your best. I hear all your prayers. I give help when you need it. My thoughts of you are more than the sand on the seashore. I have you in My hands and nothing can separate you from My love.
9. You are the apple of My eye & no one can snatch you out of My hand!
10. I send troubles and hardships only because I love you.
11. I am for you, and if I am for you, who can be against you?
12. I am preparing a place for you. One day you will be with Me in paradise forever!
F. But we have trouble believing God's assessment of us.
1. Instead we are tempted to evaluate ourselves on the basis of how we compare to others.
2. When other people’s lives seem to be flourishing, and our lives are full of struggles, we think that God is taking care of them but not of us.
3. And so if God is not making our lives as comfortable and easy as theirs, we doubt His love.
4. Here’s the question: Are we going to listen to what God says or listen to the comparisons? Are we going to judge ourselves by comparison or are we going to let God's judgment stand?
G. Part of our problem may be pride: we want to be better than others, or at least just as good.
1. God’s grace is the basis for our self-image, but grace can be offensive! It implies that I deserve nothing on my own! We would prefer a self-image based on our strength and accomplishment than based on God’s grace in spite of our sin.
2. Unlike Paul, we are not content with our weaknesses and insults.
3. We want to be strong. And we can’t bear to be insulted.
4. In this case, our identity is not wrapped up in Christ, it’s wrapped up in us.
5. And, if we belong to Christ, this will probably move Him to begin taking away things in which we invest our identity.
6. Here’s a question to ask ourselves: would we prefer to be rejected by everyone around us, and fail at every venture we attempt, and be complete nobodies in the eyes of others, and yet be loved by Christ. Or, would we like to gain the whole world, but forfeit our own soul?
H. All this is very true even in the realm of ministry.
1. How am I doing as a pastor? One of the great temptation of a pastor is to evaluate himself by comparing himself to other pastors, and comparing his church to other churches.
2. Instead of asking questions like, Am I seeking first the kingdom of God? Am I abiding in Christ? Am I walking humbly before God? Can I truly say, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me!”?, there is a temptation to judge myself by other pastors, and my church by other churches.
3. When your church is smaller than other churches, or isn’t growing in numbers like other churches, you tend to take it personally: “I’m just a bad pastor.”
4. And when your church is doing well, it is tempting to say, “Boy, I’m good at this!”
a. It’s very easy to gain our joy and identity from ministry success instead of from the gospel.
b. Our joy should not be in the work God does through us, but in the work God does for us.
c. It reminds me of when the disciples were so excited about being able to cast out demons in Luke 10:17–20. And Jesus said, “Do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
d. It’s the same issue! They were focusing on earthly results, instead of heavenly realities.
5. Church history is the story of ebbs and flows of kingdom growth. In God’s providence, sometimes the gospel advances and it is so exciting!
a. It’s like the seasons. In the spring and summer, you can tell that the trees are growing. But in the fall and winter, it looks like they’re dying, even though we know that they aren’t.
6. Sometimes it looks like everyone else is getting blessed but you. And we need to refuse to believe that lie – and believe God’s promise that He loves us and has us just where we’re supposed to be.
I. This is why God gave us His word. This is why Jesus told us to have His word abiding in our hearts.
1. It can’t be a matter of just hoping you’ll remember it when the moment comes when you need it.
2. It must be a matter of continually putting it before your eyes, and into your ears.
3. It’s a matter of “letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” (Col.3:16)
4. We need to recognize the potential of comparisons to get us off track.
5. We need to make the choice to listen to God’s word, for favorable and unfavorable comparisons with others must be tempered by the truth of what God has done for us in Christ.
J. A while back, I told you the story of the man coming out of oncologist appointment where he had learned that he had terminal cancer. He and his wife walked out in stunned silence, but once they were in the car he said to her: Nothing has changed! All the important things are the things God says. And all those things are still true.
1. This is so different from the way the world thinks. The world says, What do we have but our lives? We have but one life to live. And we’re tempted to have the same attitude.
2. But the truth is that we al have two lives to live. And the second one lasts forever.
3. And while we’re living this life, God says, “You have Something bigger than life, Something bigger than your inferiorities and your superiorities. You have Me. You have My love for you. My lovingkindness is better than life!” (Ps.63:3)
4. It makes trivial our worst failures and our greatest successes. It makes trivial our greatest weaknesses and our most prized strengths.
5. And when we grasp what a Treasure Christ is, it doesn’t matter whether we are a vibrant youth with his whole life in front of him or an old lady on her death bed, we say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil.1:21)
6. “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” – Romans 14:8
IV. Conclusion
A. Comparing yourself with others is a subset of keeping your eyes fixed on the things below: Col.3:2 “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
1. Comparing yourself with others is a form of setting your mind on things below.
2. Paying attention to what God says about us is setting our minds on things above.
B. The question is: how do we view things?
1. According to what is down here?
2. According to what is up there?
C. Those who “measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.”