The Comparison Trap: Luke 18:9-14

Focus Passage: Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Read Luke 18:9-14 in context and/or in other translations on!

Have you ever felt picked on or put down by someone?

Or let’s turn this around. Have you ever picked on or put someone else down?

In this short passage, the setting is that Jesus witnesses some individuals (intriguingly the passage does not describe who they were) who were over-confident in their standing with God and who looked down on others. It’s possible they were Pharisees, since Jesus uses one in His example, but it’s possible they were not, and instead were people who looked up to the Pharisees as models for their lives.

I am sure that seeing this scene irritated Jesus and it is what prompted this really short illustration about who God really accepts. Woven through these two prayers is a theme that is vital for us to understand: Don’t compare yourself to others!

Yes, it is a little simplistic, but it is 100% the truth.

In our lives, it is so easy to make this comparison, but with only one or two exceptions, this comparison trap never leads to anywhere good. By looking at others, we might be inspired to live a better life, or interested on learning how they achieved success, but with these two potential positive comparisons, there still are an uncountable number of differences between our life and the life we are looking at.

It is like comparing a potato with a banana. Both are edible and both have an outer skin, but almost everything else is different between them. This is what it is like when you compare yourself to someone else – way more differences than similarities can be found.

This is even more important in the spiritual areas of life – especially within our own relationship with God. If we look at the Pharisee’s prayer, he is all about comparing and validating himself. He starts off by comparing himself to others – even someone standing nearby before comparing himself to the requirements of law that he keeps. His prayer is a “look-how-good-I-am” prayer.

In the Pharisee’s prayer, God doesn’t need to justify him – he already justified himself. But the trap is that God looks only at two areas: individuals and large groups of people (i.e. cities and/or nations). The personal relationship is important to Him, as well as the corporate, community relationship as well. What we never see God doing in either case though is making a comparison between individuals.

Any sin in an individual’s life is important – not only because it affects that individual, but also because it affects the community as well.

If God doesn’t compare us to others, we should not make that comparison either!

The tax collector (or really anyone on the opposite side of the social status scale) had a different focus – and that was on receiving help/mercy from God. The focus of the tax collector’s prayer was not on building himself up; it was on admitting where he really was and that he needed God’s grace. If he made a comparison, it was not between himself and the Pharisee; it was between his current life, and the life he knew God wanted him to have.

We should not compare ourselves to others. If you want to compare yourself to something, compare it to God’s ideal life for you – that life where you never make any mistakes. Only with that comparison in mind will you have the right attitude for God to accept your prayer.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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