Can Any Good Come from Comparisons With Others?

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Today when I opened my Logos Bible Software program, I was greeted with this message:

How does your pastoral book budget compare?

I clicked.

I was redirected to thepastorslibrary.com where I was invited to take a 10 minute survey.  After completing the survey, I could (in their words) see “how my budget stack[s] up with others”.

Some full time church workers get an annual allocation for buying books and other resource materials.  Some don’t get anything.  Some get a lot.  While I was initially intrigued by the opportunity, I decided that ultimately nothing good could come from comparing my book budget with others.

Why?

I suspect one of two things would happen:

  1. I’d feel proud of the fact that I have a larger book budget than others who are working in full time church ministry.
  2. I’d feel jealous that I didn’t have as much of a book budget, and I’d start drafting my letter to ask the leaders to increase my book budget because it’s x% below the average.
Either way, I’d probably end up with a false sense of happiness or sadness.

Can Any Good Come from Comparisons With Others?

Yes, there are situations where comparing with others is a very smart financial decision.

My wife and I are going through the process of buying a house.  We wanted to know how much people around us recently paid for their houses. Comparison helps us determine the true value of our home.  When I buy things online, I always like to compare the price with one or two sites to be sure that I’m getting a good deal.

So, yes, there are times and situations where comparing is healthy.

No.  There are many, many situations where comparing with others just leads to more dissatisfaction with what you have.

Matthew 20:1-16 is the story of the workers in the vineyard.  Some men began early in the morning, some at the third hour, some at the sixth hour, and some in the evening.  The workers who started in the early morning received one denarius just as they had agreed.  However, the fact that those who started working later in the day were paid the same upset those who started early in the morning.

They were frustrated – not because they did not receive what they were due, but they were dissatisfied because it was not in line with what others received.

Comparisons can plant seeds of jealousy, bitterness, envy, and strife.

I honestly can’t see Paul, in his effort to be content, spending much of his time comparing his salary or his book budget with others.  It seems like there are more things that can go wrong when you start playing the comparison game.

Jason Zweig puts it bluntly:

If you cannot control the ancient urge to measure your success against that of your peers, your happiness will always depend less on how much money you have than on how much money they have.

Isn’t that the truth?

He even shares a story to illustrate the point. (I might be off on the numbers here.)

Two friends go to a movie theater.  When the first enters, music begins to play and balloons are released.  The manager comes up to the first person and gives him a check for $100 for being the 1,000th customer of the day.  Then the next person enters, and once again the balloons are released and music blasts.  The manager approaches that gentleman and gives him $1,000 for being the 1,001st customer of the day.

How did you feel if you won the $100?  How do you feel once you find out that if you were the next person through the door it would have been $1,000?

Too often, our happiness has little to do with what we have, but with how it compares to others.

As such, I don’t plan to fill out the survey to find out how my book budget compares to others.  I’ll just be content with what I have.

Thoughts?

Comments

  1. Mary says

    Such true words, Craig…..this is something I work on and have found it’s easier when you’re not swept into the hectic lifestyle so many practice these days.

  2. says

    Craig,
    I absolutely agree with the article, but there is a sense that we should compare ourselves to others. For example, Paul told Timothy to be an imitator of Paul, as Paul was like Christ. Every Christian ought to be able to say that their lives are open for comparison to teach by example, younger or even fellow Christians. When older Christians compare their lives to those who are young and faithfully serving the Lord, it inspires older people to re-focus on the Godly goals. Certainly, when Deacons and Elders are chosen, their lives should not compare to the world. See I Tim 4:12, Heb 13:7, 3 John 1:11, I Tim 3:2-12, and others.

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