The Insatiable Hunger of Comparison {a Bible study}

A few months ago I was asked to teach a Bible class on the topic of confidence and insecurity, and I was thinking lately that I’d like to share that Bible study with you all. I really enjoyed preparing for this Bible class, because I gained so much clarity on the life of the disciples and how they were just like us in all our pettiness — and also how much hope we can have for ourselves when we see the way that Jesus transformed them so completely. I didn’t convert my study notes to blog format, but they’re here for you if you’re interested in digging further into the always-relevant topic of comparison and competition. ~Elizabeth

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Intro: Let me throw out some words and see if you’ve ever felt them:

insecure
insecurity
low self-confidence
rejection
rejected
unworthy
Fear of judgement
fear of not measuring up
competition
comparison

Maybe you can think of some others?? Because this is what I want to talk about tonight.

 

Warmup/Reflection Question: Who in your life do you feel you don’t measure up to? Alternatively, who in your life do you compare yourself to and find yourself better than? Think of that person and that relationship as we study these matters tonight.

 

Competition and comparison among the disciples:

  • In Mark 10:35-45, esp vs 37, brothers James and John are competing together against the other disciples. They are wanting more glory, fighting for their worth. And it wasn’t just their problem; when the other found out, they were “indignant.” What does Jesus do? (He will not grant their request.)
  • In Luke 9:46, all the disciples are arguing over who is most important. What does Jesus do? (He corrects their wrong ideas.)
  • In Luke 9:53-54, Samaritans reject Jesus and the disciples, and brothers James and John want to punish them with fire from heaven. Basically they want to reject the Samaritans for the rejection they’ve received. What does Jesus do? (Again, He rebukes them.)
  • In John 21:15-22, Jesus asks Peter a series of questions. How does Peter feel about this conversation? (His feelings are hurt.) How does Jesus respond to Peter’s question in verse 21? (He does not answer the question – says it doesn’t matter — and tells him to “Follow Me.”)

 

There was a lot of competition and comparison among the disciples! Even amongst the 3 most heavily invested-in, privileged, and “most important” disciples (Peter, James, John). So it’s not external success that drives out the fear of not measuring up. Glory and prestige and honor can’t inoculate us against the fear of being not valuable, unimportant, or unworthy. And what we look like on the outside doesn’t necessarily match what we think or feel on the inside. (But wait, because it all changes in the end!)

 

Of course that last example was from the book of John. I used to be so annoyed at the way he called himself “the disciple Jesus loved.” I thought it was arrogant, proud, to assume he was the one Jesus loved, almost implying he was more greatly loved.

And then he went and wrote I John. I could not even handle I John, it was such a heavy burden of shame and guilt and not measuring up, if I were feeling in a particularly non-loving way toward a brother or sister. There was so much in there about needing to love people – and if I didn’t, I was afraid I must not have been a Christian. I couldn’t force myself to love, and it depressed me. So much pressure to be perfect, I felt condemned, without hope.

Then I learned some things that changed everything, and now John is my favorite (well, along with Peter’s passion and impulsiveness). John was the youngest, so less important in the world’s eyes. And he was the only one not to die a martyr’s death, the only one who didn’t have the honor of dying for his Master. In fact, he was more like a babysitter to Jesus’ mother Mary.

To lack honor in the traditional sense, and to still follow Jesus wholeheartedly to the day he died, he had to be absolutely convinced of Jesus’ love for and acceptance of him (which is perhaps where “the disciple Jesus loved” came from). Walking with Jesus for those 3 years must have so utterly changed him from who he was before, that he was convinced to his core that Jesus loved him. And since he was convinced of Jesus’ love, he was freed to love others, and he could go on and write all about loving each other in I John.

He used to be insecure! He used to grasp for his worth. But everything changed because of Jesus. Years and years of following Jesus irrevocably changed him.

 

So I want to re-examine John’s writing in light of a man who knew deep down in his core that Jesus loved him

  • I John 3:1: See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 
  • I John 3:23: And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. (We BELIEVE, and then we LOVE.)
  • John 6:29: Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (there it is again, BELIEVE)
  • I John 4:16: We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. (We simply trust in his LOVE.)
  • I John 4:18-19: Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. (I used to think that meant I was a bad person if I had fear or didn’t have enough love. Now I know it just means I haven’t fully experienced it yet, and just need more gentle, relaxed time with God. “Not there yet.”)
  • I John 5:1: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. (Again, no pressure here. Simply a timeline: first we believe in Jesus and His love for us. Then we are able to love others.)

 

Tell the Jesus Loves Me This I Sometimes Know story

 

Last year when I was going through all this, we were reading Ephesians 3:14-20 each Sunday at church. I already had a special love for the book of Ephesians because it was the first book of the Bible I read and truly enjoyed when I was coming out of a deep depression nearly 10 years ago (another long story).

I love the words of Paul in Ephesians 1:7-8: He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

And I love Ephesians 2:18: Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

I even grew up hearing a song set to the words of verse 20. But week after week I kept hearing verses 14-19 in a newer, deeper way than ever before:

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

 

Conclusion:

This is what I want us to know: Comparison is a thief. It wants to steal, kill, and destroy us. It never stops wanting more, never stops devouring. God’s LOVE is the weapon that fights back against comparison and competition. God’s love makes us – all of us – worthy. We are all equally and incredibly unbelievably worthy in His sight, because of His love and because of His Son. He made us. He saved us. He forgave us. We’re His. We belong to Him. We are His children. That’s all we need to know, all we need to believe, to defeat comparison, rejection, unworthiness, low self-confidence, and insecurity.

Pray along with Paul in Ephesians 1:17-19:

I ask God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. 

2 thoughts on “The Insatiable Hunger of Comparison {a Bible study}

  1. So, so good Elizabeth. I was particularly struck by how perfect the picture was – I am those birdies, clamoring for more, never fully secure. I love your emphasis that external success had nothing to do with what was going on inside. While I wish I could have been part of this in person, I am so grateful to you for sharing it. May I too be irrevocably changed the more I learn about Jesus and his perfect love.

    • Thanks Marilyn 🙂 I think we have all been in that place where no amount of affirmation is enough for us. 😦 What I found particularly moving about this class was that it was basically half Cambodian and half Filipina, yet they could all relate to my personal “American” experiences. After my lesson, four of the women shared their own personal experiences with comparison, insecurity, and receiving God’s love, teaching me that this is an even more universal experience than I had before thought; it crosses cultural, national, and East-West lines. It showed me that our need to be loved and affirmed is perhaps even deeper than I realized, and that we all have more in common than we sometimes assume.

      May you feel that Love today.

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