In the beginning, God created mankind—man and woman—in His image, with a significant purpose. This, in God’s own words, was very good. A foundational truth of humanity is we humans are created for eternal glory and eternally glorious purposes. But all too soon the glory is masked in sin. We read in Genesis that Satan, in the form of a serpent, initiates a conversation with the woman. The end result is that Eve is pulled into what I call The Garden Game. She makes a choice to do life herself, grasping the fruit that would make her like God and independent of Him.
As the man joins the woman, Adam and Eve experience fear and shame instead of the power and freedom they undoubtedly expect. And so it becomes more and more difficult to feel significant, created for glory. What follows in the stories of Genesis is what I call the Compare and Compete Game: Since it can be pretty difficult to feel good about ourselves as our sinful selves, we settle for comparing ourselves favorably to others. It begins when Adam blames Eve—and God Himself, who gave her to him—for his fatal choice in the Garden of Eden. The Compare and Compete Game continues with the stories of Cain and Able, Sarah and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, Joseph and his brothers, and so on….And God’s glory continues to fade.
A few weeks ago, Andy Straubel, Windsor Chapel’s pastor, preached a sermon from James and highlighted the conflicts that arise when believers compare and compete with one another. We grumble and complain, quarrel and covet as we pursue significance apart from God. And the phenomenon of feeling good about ourselves by comparing ourselves to others is front and center as our world deals with inequality and injustice at the hands of racial, gender, and socio-economic differences.
It is becoming more and more evident to me that I am highly skilled at playing the Compare and Compete game in particularly quiet and subtle ways. While I may not often quarrel and covet, I am very sorry to admit that it is all too easy for me to look at others from a critical perspective. This is not my intention or desire! I am committed to honoring and encouraging others as image-bearers of our Creator. But if I am not vigilant, it can be terrifyingly easy for my sin nature to poke and prod me, to twist and tweak my perspective so that the first thing I notice about someone is something that is on the negative side of the ledger.
As I have brought this before the Lord in confession and repentance, I have been met with an invitation to take responsibility for the way I view and subsequently interact with others. I am consciously and actively directing my eyes and heart toward the God qualities manifested in each person I encounter. I am learning, by persistent practice, to be quicker to notice good qualities and less quick to notice the not-so-good qualities. This is not to deny sin, and it does not preclude the setting of appropriate boundaries on my part. But it is an exercise in honoring my Creator as I honor His creatures. It also honors the Lord’s desire for me, to find my identity, value, and significance in Him and not in my relative place among my peers, my reputation, or what others think of me.
Our Christian faith is founded on the truth that Jesus Christ died for our sins, to save us from the penalty and power of sin. And yet we continue to struggle with our sin nature as we wait for Christ’s coming and initiation of His eternal kingdom. As the body of Christ, we can learn from Christ as we study the Gospels. The Gospels are replete with accounts of Jesus looking beyond sin and the accoutrements of sin in order to touch hearts and lives with His truth and grace. It is not that sin did not and does not matter. To be sure, sin matters enough that Jesus died on the cross to earn our salvation from the its penalty and power. But Jesus has demonstrated for us in the Gospel accounts that the most effective way to confront sin is by relationship, and relationship is rarely built on a foundation of comparison or nurtured by a spirit of condemnation. As we affirm others as image-bearers of the God of the universe, we bring God into the sin picture as well, and this in turn brings confession and repentance out of the realm of our performance and into the realm of His truth and grace. He invites us to join Him in this exercise. It blesses others as we become more able to genuinely bless and encourage. And it blesses us as we partake in the nature of Christ, become more like Him, and are better able to participate in His kingdom’s work.