Worst of Sinners

A few weeks ago I had a friend from college who was talking on Facebook about the words his son was saying. His son is a few months younger than my daughter, and she is not talking as much as he claimed his son was.

I went into a panic. Why isn’t my daughter talking more? Am I not reading enough to her? What should we do?

I got home and my wife had seen the post and she said: Why isn’t our daughter talking as much? Are we doing something wrong? What can we do?

We both eventually calmed down, but it is amazing how one little thing like that can send you into a spiral of shame and worry.

Facebook tends to create this kind of problem. Facebook allows us to selectively choose which events and thoughts we want other people to see. So we are able to make ourselves look exactly how we want them to look. So I begin to take everything I know about myself and compare it to a small sliver of someone else’s life. If we aren’t paying attention, this can really mess with our heads.

I think this aspect of Facebook plays on one of the most destructive patterns in life: Comparison. It’s one thing to use Facebook to compare how your kids are doing or what vacation your best friend from High School just went on. But comparison often goes deeper.

better-yoga-wellness-articlesComparison is so dangerous because it becomes the place where we seek our identity. We decide how much value we have based on how we measure up with other people.

Their kids are well-behaved, quiet, artistic, or bathed so I must be a bad mother.

They live in a particular neighborhood, so I must be better with money.

He is always so articulate in Bible class, he must be so much more holy than I am.

We even compare our righteousness with others. When we see someone who has more problems or has a more sinful lifestyle, we slowly gain a sense of superiority over them. I may have my struggles, but at least I am not ________.

This is the root of the dualistic thinking we are talking about this week. We draw lines in the sand because we compare ourselves with others and find “those people” to be inferior to “us.”

Luckily in our readings we find the solution. (Greg Boyd has a fantastic talk on this.)

When Paul begins his letter to Timothy he talks, as he often does, about how he is “the worst of sinners.”

I used to always struggle with this phrase because it seems to stink of false humility. I don’t blame Paul for this, I blame the Christian speak we often get used to. When we hear someone talk about how they are “the worst of sinners” it usually is not genuine. We give it lip service because it seems like a Christian thing to say.

But what Paul is doing here is revealing his posture towards the world. Paul is getting rid of the comparison problem. When I am unwilling to see other people’s sin as worse than mine, I no longer have to play the comparison game.

Everyone is now on equal ground.

No ranking sins.

No drawing worth from what people have that I don’t.

No judgment and superiority.

Just a posture of needing grace.

“We” need grace. “They” need grace. End of story.

Seeing myself as the worst of sinners is not false humility. It is not trying to manipulate myself into thinking I am a degenerate. And even though he uses the word “worst” it is not about comparison. It is about resignation.

It is quitting the comparison game. It is seeing “their” sin as a speck and mine as a log. It is being unwilling to judge other people’s faults because I have yet to get rid of mine. It is no longer needing to draw worth from others because I think I am superior. It is finding my worth in the right place.

So this week, try to notice the places you tend to fall into the comparison trap. What are the places you determine your worth based on what other people are doing? Who are the people you give you satisfaction because you are “better” than they are?

It is a tough exercise but it is one which can change how see the world. It is one in which we stop trying to get our identity from anything but Jesus. And it is one which frees us up to love more people, and make the world around us a better.

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