By Josie Siler, Crosswalk.com
Comparison is the thief of joy. It’s something we’ve all heard, but is it true? Is it Biblical? In my own life, I’ve seen how comparing myself to others all too often brings me pain. Feelings of discontent can quickly settle in. But then again, there are times when comparison brings gratitude and great joy. How can this be? I think it comes down to what—or whom—we’re comparing ourselves to. Let’s take a closer look at this phrase.
What Does Comparison Is the Thief of Joy Mean?
In the spirit that the phrase is intended and most often used, it means that when we compare ourselves with another person, we’ll be robbed of joy. Glory Dy writes, “Throughout history . . . many people have struggled with comparing themselves to others. In fact, the dilemma is mentioned in the Bible through the stories of Rachel and Leah, . . . and even Jesus’ disciples.”
Dictionary.com says to compare is, “to examine (two or more objects, ideas, people, etc.) in order to note similarities and differences.” But often our comparison goes beyond this to looking for superiority or inferiority in our comparisons. When we compare ourselves to someone else, or our possessions to their possessions, we will either feel superior or inferior. Either feeling will rob us of true joy that’s found in Jesus Christ alone.
What Is the Origin of Comparison Is the Thief of Joy?
Blair Parke attributes the phrase's origin to Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States. Roosevelt used this phrase in one of his speeches, yet it’s a concept that has been around since the fall of man.
In Genesis 3:1-7 (NLT), the crafty serpent tempts Eve to compare herself to God, to put herself on the same level as Him. He tempts her to eat the fruit so she can be like God, knowing the things He knows. Here is how the Bible describes the aftermath of eating the fruit:
"So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves."
Eve ate from the forbidden tree because she wanted to be like God, to have the same wisdom and knowledge. After she and Adam ate the fruit, they were immediately were robbed of joy, feeling shame instead. The comparison to God robbed Adam and Eve of a joy that no one else in the world has experienced: the joy of walking with the Lord unhindered by sin.
Is Comparison a Biblical Concept?
Scripture shows us again and again that comparison causes problems. It doesn’t end well, whether it’s comparing ourselves to someone else, like Rachel and Leah did, or comparing a person against another person, like Jacob compared Rachel to Leah. Rachel and Leah’s comparison feud ruined their bond as sisters and caused competition hurting both their families. Jacob’s preference for Rachel and the favoritism he showed her and her children led to all kinds of family drama and pain. You can read their story in Genesis 29-50.
Jesus’ disciples played the comparison game too. Luke 22:24-27 describes the disciples arguing about who would be the greatest among them. Did the disciples feel joy while they were arguing about their greatness? Probably not!
“Jesus told them, ‘among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.’”
During His life on earth, Jesus made a point to teach His disciples to be humble, and He led by example.
We read about the body of Christ, the church, in 1 Corinthians 12. The Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Corinth about spiritual gifts. It seems the people of Corinth were comparing their spiritual gifts and elevating some over others. Paul tells them in verse 27, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” Comparing our gifts and putting down those with seemingly lesser gifts only serves to cause division and rob the church of joy. This is why Paul writes to the church in Galatia that Christians should avoid comparing each others' good works (Galatians 6:4-6).
How Can We Avoid Comparison in Our Daily Walk?
We can avoid comparison in our daily walk with the Lord by loving others. Paul ends 1 Corinthians 12 with this statement, “But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.” Next comes one of the most recognizable Scripture passages of all time, 1 Corinthians 13. It’s often read at weddings, but it’s a guideline for how we should live our lives each and every day. It’s a map of sorts, for how we are to live in a divisive world that loves nothing more than for people to play the comparison game while they scratch and claw their way to the top.
We see this play out on social media every day. Never has it been so easy to compare ourselves with hundreds of thousands of people across the world. Social media can be a beautiful thing and can be used for great good. I met some of my closest friends on social media and now they’re real-life friends too! But scroll too long and the comparison game will become one we’ll never win.
Sarah Garrett wrote a great article entitled, Is Social Media Stealing Your Joy? I highly recommend reading it and following her tips for avoiding comparison and making sure social media doesn’t steal your joy.
Can Comparison Be Good?
I’m going to go out on a limb to end this article and say I think there are times when a certain kind of comparison is good. This kind of comparison is different from what Paul warns about Galatians 4. It fills us with joy and is a good thing. Stay with me here as we look at two passages from the Bible that back up this idea.
In Matthew 6:26-34, we find two things we can compare ourselves to. The first is birds, “They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?” (Matthew 6:27).
The second is flowers: “Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you” (Matthew 6:28-30). These beautiful and encouraging comparisons cause us to be thankful and look to the Lord to meet our needs.
Galatians 2:20 reads, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
When we compare ourselves to who we used to be, we’re actively remembering what Christ has done for us. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from the TV series The Chosen. In recounting what Jesus did for her, Mary Magdalene tells Nicodemus, “I was one way and now I am completely different and the thing that happened in between was Him.”
The love of Jesus transforms us and our love for others can transform their lives too. The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that our greatest achievements mean nothing if we don’t love others. Our greatest sacrifices mean nothing if we don’t love others. Our gifts will be useless one day, but love lasts forever. Comparing ourselves to each other will indeed rob us of joy. Comparing our past selves to our present selves can be a means to gratefulness, motivating us to love others as Jesus does, and that can change the world!
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/ktsimage
Passionate about helping people find joy for their journey, Josie Siler, a small-town Wisconsin girl, has big dreams. As an author and photographer, Josie shares God’s gifts of beauty, hope, and adventure with people who are overwhelmed by life’s circumstances, encouraging them to walk in the freedom and joy found in Jesus. Josie is the author of the award-winning picture book, Howie’s Broken Hee-Haw, published by End Game Press. She's also a chronic illness warrior who believes every day is a gift that should be celebrated. When she’s not writing or taking pictures, you’ll find Josie looking for adventure, curled up with a good book, or cuddling her teddy bear dog Ruby Mae (a.k.a. The Scruffy Princess). Connect with Josie at JosieSiler.com.