I was watching the running at the Olympic games with my husband a few weeks ago, and we were talking about how interesting it is that the runners are given different starting positions along the track. This is called a ‘staggered start’. “If you’re running in one of the outside lanes, you’re running around a bigger oval -the farther out you go, the longer you’d have to run if you were running a full lap. Races have staggered starts so that everyone is running the same distance”.1 That was the perfect illustration for my thoughts about comparison: even though it seems that the runners in the front positions have an advantage over the ones in the back positions, they are all running the same distance.
Hebrews 12 says that we are all running a race, and the author gives two important instructions: run with endurance, looking only at Jesus.
Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-2
The fact that the author of Hebrews tells us to run with endurance shows that it’s not supposed to be an easy run, otherwise we wouldn’t need endurance. Professional athletes know that endurance comes by sustaining, as long as they can, the unpleasant or painful activity they are doing. Whether it is the 30th leg lunge they need to finish the set or the last point of a tennis match, they need to endure it. In our lives that means enduring trials, persecution, or any other obstacle that might come our way. James 1:2-4 says that the testing of our faith produces endurance, and we need endurance to run our race. That is the whole reason why James says “count it all joy”, because we need the trail, so that we build endurance, so we can finish the race.
The second point the author emphasizes is that we should run looking only at Jesus. It’s so tempting to run looking at other people, instead of looking at Jesus. We want to make sure we are ahead of everyone, and if it seems like we are behind in the race, we get upset. And when we get upset that reveals two things: first that we are unsatisfied with the run God has set before us; and second, that we are focusing on what it seems to be, rather than running our own race. The problem with comparison is that it is a heart issue. We don’t necessarily tell everyone about it or act on it, but it is there. And if we don’t deal with it in the right way, it will develop into other issues such as envy, jealousy or pride (that can be perceived as low or high self-esteem). The Bible tells us that our “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9). That means we are susceptible to being allured by our feeling at any time.
After God gave the Israelites the 9 commandments focusing on external attitudes and behaviors, the 10th commandment (do not covet) focused on the internal: thoughts and desires of the heart (Ex. 20:17). ” A strong longing to have what another has is wrong”2. God is turning His attention from the external to the internal, and teaching us that our thoughts matter. And God knows our thoughts (Ps 139). When we compare ourselves, we are not only being ungrateful but we are also sinning. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he says “for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” (Phil 4:11). Paul says that right before he contrasts situations of prosperity and struggle, and then he concludes saying “ I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). His atitude is a great example of being satisfied in what God provided for him at that moment. Lastly, James 3:16 warns us: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”
Another great example is the story of David when he was anointed King of Israel. In 1 Samuel 16:7 we see put on display our limited understanding and assessment of the situations: “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Comparison is most often a matter of appearance. Some people might appear to be ahead of the race, but God is the only one who truly knows our place in the run. Appearance is not a good indicator of reality, and comparison is just a distraction from what really matters. For that reason Paul instruct us to get rid of every obstacle and sin which can easily interfere in our race (Hebrews 12:1).
The remedy for comparison is humility and contentment. Paul, one more time, gives us a great example of that (2 Cor 10:12): “ It is a mark of Paul’s humility that he refused to compare himself to others, or engage in self-promotion. His only personal concern was what the Lord thought of him.”3 It is no coincidence that the author of Hebrews instruct us to run our race looking only at Jesus. He knew He is the only One who matters.
For we do not presume to rank or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they have no understanding.2 Corinthians 10:12
In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul admonishes us “Run in such a way you may win” (1 Cor 9:24). We know the way now: with endurance and looking only at Jesus. Amen!
References: 1 https://www.sbnation.com/2016/8/15/12486250/rio-2106-track-athletics-lane-staggered-start-400-record-wayde-van-niekerk; 2 NASB, MacArthur Study Bible, 2nd Edition, Leathersoft, Brown, Comfort Print: Unleashing God’s Truth One Verse at a Time; 3 NASB, MacArthur Study Bible, 2nd Edition, Leathersoft, Brown, Comfort Print: Unleashing God’s Truth One Verse at a time
Ana Luiza Lupinetti is passionate about helping and serving people. As a pastor’s daughter and a pastor’s wife, she loves using her gifts and talents to help ministries succeed.