(2 Corinthians 10:9-12)
There is a failure in human nature that is highly destructive and divisive. It appears first in young children and remains with most people to some degree throughout their lives. It is the propensity for people to make comparisons between themselves and others.
This failing has led to great destruction and evil over history. It led to the dehumanisation and down-treading of black people in the apartheid regimes of South Africa. It led to the evils committed against the African-Americans who were deemed somehow to be sub-human. And it led to the wholesale slaughter of Jews at the hands of Adolf Hitler.
All of these and many more inhumane actions were as the direct result of making comparisons that deemed one person, group or nationality to be better or more superior than another. All of these actions were evil and were wrong.
But comparisons of an evil nature still occur daily. People still make comparisons saying that one person or group is better than another. They may not have the same devastating impact as the few examples quoted above, but that does not mean they are any less dangerous or evil than those. In fact they may be worse as they can change the way a person thinks or believes about something or someone, and it is this issue that most severely impacts the faith of believers today and what Paul was concerned about in this section of his letter to the Corinthian church.
The Basis of Evil Comparisons
First we should look at the underlying basis of what drives comparisons. Why do people think they are better than another person, or conversely think that someone else is better than themselves?
Such thinking is at the core of human behaviour and is driven by the things in human nature that are evil. These thoughts are driven by evil judgement, pride, jealousy, envy, covetousness and idolatry. When a person thinks they are better than someone else for whatever reason, it is pride. There is no humility in thinking you are better than another person. To even think it is a failure because such thinking is one dimensional and does not consider the whole person.
Let’s consider the case of Muhammad Ali, possibly the greatest boxer of modern times. There is no doubt that he was very good, but his claim that “I am the greatest” could only stand until someone beat him…and they did. His pride in the latter end of his career when he said he would take on all comers from all forms of pugilistic or martial arts led to a fight between himself and Antonio Inoki, a professional wrestler and martial arts exponent.
Ali may have been the greatest boxer, but Inoki, knowing he could not withstand the punching power of Ali, attacked him with his feet and legs while spending most of the bout on his back on the mat. Ali could not fight Inoki and the match ended up being called a draw. Ali was “the greatest” with his fists, but not the greatest in other ways of fighting, and clearly Inoki was a better strategist because he knew he could not stand toe to toe with Ali or he would be severely beaten.
When a person puts down someone else because of some difference, such as race, religion, skin colour or whatever, they are not acting from wisdom. They do this through jealousy, envy or pride.
When someone thinks they are better than someone else because of what they have or can achieve, they are succumbing to covetousness and idolatry. For example, if someone owns a top of the line Rolex watch and looks down their nose at someone who has a two dollar watch from a bargain store, what is that but arrogance and pride? And if the second person covets the expensive watch thinking it will be better or make them somehow better than they are, what is that but idolatry and covetousness? The bottom line is that both watches tell the time, and that, after all, is why you wear a watch. A two dollar cheapie does the job as well as a watch that can cost a thousand dollars or more.
The whole issue, and the one that Paul is concerned about here, is the falseness and futility of making comparisons.
Comparisons of people are futile. They are worthless and meaningless and should be avoided at all costs. They only promote judgement of others, factionalism, separation, divisions and heartache, especially in the church. Paul’s words in this section show us the truth about comparing people.
Not that we venture to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. (2 Corinthians 10:12)
To make comparisons and distinctions between people shows a lack of understanding. It shows prejudice and bias, as James also wrote.
1 My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while you say to the poor man, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
Who can truly say one person is better than another? Who even has the right to make such a comparison and such a judgement? God is the only judge and if we choose to make distinctions through judgement and comparisons, we are standing in the place of God, and no man has that right.
Comparisons are evil, as Paul showed here. He condemns those who compare themselves to others or who compare others to themselves.
Every person on this planet is unique, with different skills, gifts and abilities, given to them by God. Nobody is good at everything.
Using the Muhammad Ali example again, he may have been the greatest boxer of his time, or even of all time. But there are millions of people in the world that could run rings around Ali at singing, swimming, carpentry, business, or whatever other endeavour that might come to mind. He was good at that one thing, but it does not make him any better or greater than any other person on earth. He one particular skill set that he was very good at. But there were many skills where he was just average or even below average.
Just for the record, I am a great admirer of Ali as he overcame man y difficulties in his life, both in his early and later years. He wrote and said many things that are truly inspiring. I could as easily have used any famous person as an example, but I am using Ali because of his statement saying “I am the greatest.”
The truth is, comparisons are futile. Some people are good at some things while others are not.
Another example that comes to mind that is a poor use of comparisons is in the education system. Children are pressured to perform to achieve certain grades and schools are rated on standardised performances of students. And unfortunately the focus of education is primarily academic. Those kids who are weak academically may be excellent with other skills, such as sports, athleticism, creative pursuits and so on, which have a lesser focus in the education system.
Comparisons are evil because they look at only one dimension of a person, not the whole person. No person knows the true heart of another, and so they are not in a position to even make an accurate or realistic comparison. That is why only God through Jesus Christ can and will be the final judge of all people for He alone knows the fullness of all people. God alone is the only one in a position to compare and judge anyone.
This is why humility is the way of the Lord. The humble will be the ones to inherit the kingdom of God because humility does not judge or compare people against one another. The humble sees everyone as equal. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and we are all in need of a Saviour to redeem us from this evil world.
We all come into the world with nothing and we leave with nothing, regardless of what we may have achieved or done in this life. To God, we are all the same and are all equal in His sight and it is His hope that we will seek Him and come to Him through Jesus Christ.
Don’t fall into the trap of evil comparisons.Don’t look up to anyone thinking they are better than you, or look down on anyone thinking you are better than they. We are all in the same place and need to look to God in humility. Evil comparisons will lead us astray, as the church of Corinth was in danger of falling into evil comparisons by considering certain religious leaders as better than others.
Letters of Recommendation
The religious leaders of the church today have a difficult job. They should not be idolised or put on a pedestal, as some are. They are human too, just like the rest of us, and suffer the same issues, doubts and foibles that you and I do. And as Paul showed in 2 Corinthians 10:12 quoted above, when they commend themselves, they are without understanding.
What does it mean to commend themselves? Some may self-promote or be promoted by others as if they are something special, as Simon the magician did in Acts 8 where he was proclaimed as being “…that power of God that is called Great.” Some commend themselves through letters of recommendation as Paul showed in 2 Corinthians 3. Indeed, those who chase qualifications in theology or divinity through bible schools, colleges and universities are actually seeking a “letter of recommendation.” Many churches will not even allow a person to preach and teach unless they have some certification from a school suggesting they are qualified to teach the bible.
But what does Paul say to this? He says that he, and the other apostles like him, received their competence not from any school or university, but from God. He says,
5 Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)
And as Jesus Himself quoted from the prophets:
It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. (John 6:45)
Comparisons, especially of teachers of the gospel, are evil. Teachers and preachers of the word should not be compared and should not be immediately rejected just because they do not have a letter of recommendation in the form of a degree or certificate from a bible school. It is God who teaches people His word and it is God who appoints His ministers to be teachers and preachers of the word as He chooses to allocate the ministry gifts to the church described in Ephesians 4:10-14.
Any other form of comparison is evil and should be shunned and avoided.
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