We live in a relatively narcissistic society. Everyone is typically out for himself, we work our circumstances for our own best interest and call it human nature. We naturally focus on ourselves, right? I was watching a show this weekend with my husband and the narrator joking stated that when a friend has good news we celebrate that good news for a moment and immediately begin evaluating our own circumstances in light of that good news. How will their change affect us? How do we line up against their newfound success or change? We can even find ourselves bemoaning their good fortune because we desire the same for ourselves and would prefer others to not experience it before us.
The Bible has much to say about how we should interact with one another. God has purposefully and intentionally created us for community. Much has been written and observed about this community: We as Christians are the body of Christ, we each have specific gifts and abilities that were given for the sake of serving the church (1 Cor 12.12-27), and we should consider one another regularly – putting each other before ourselves and pushing one another on to good deeds (Phil 2.3, Heb 10.24).
In response to our natural bent towards comparison and self-righteousness, however, Jesus commands what seems to be the opposite. Jesus called twelve men to follow after Him. One of those men denied Him and hung himself, and the remaining eleven plus Paul were those by which God built the Church. Of these men, there were three with whom Jesus was the closest – they are often referred to as the “inner circle”. These were Peter, James and John. Peter is often known as the vocal one and John, who wrote the Gospel of John, is referred to as “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13.23-25). During Jesus’ final night before the crucifixion Peter declared his unwavering commitment to Jesus and yet Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the sun rose the next morning. And Peter did exactly that (Matt 26.34).
Peter felt extremely guilty for denying Christ. However, unlike Judas, he did not kill himself and was restored by Jesus. Jesus met the disciples on the beach and had a one-on-one conversation with Peter to restore and forgive him. Three times Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?” and Peter stated that he did. Jesus commanded Peter to feed and care for the Church (John 21.15-17). He then prophesied that Peter would die a martyr’s death. In the very same breath, Peter turned around and saw John walking behind them on the beach and asked Jesus “What about him?” Jesus’ response was simple and profound:
“Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’”
– John 21.22
Jesus actually said, “What is that to you?” Peter, do not waste your time or energy worrying about John. You just follow me. Do what I have told you to do, focus on what I have taught you, and let me worry about John.
It sounds very much like a father disciplining a child, does it not? “I will take care of your sister, you just do what I have told you”. And when does this chastisement typically come? When the child has cried out “That’s not fair!” or “Why do I have to and she does not?” A parent never has to discipline a child to focus on his own task and forget a sibling’s when the child feels he has been shown favor, it is when he feels he has been slighted and the sibling is receiving an extra benefit.
And even as adults we do that with God. We compare ourselves to one another. We wonder why so-and-so got the promotion, was born into a wealthy family, was given extra comforts or abilities that we were not. We tell God that it is not fair and we gripe about our lowly circumstances when we feel slighted. And Jesus simply says to us, worry about yourself. He has a purpose and a plan for so-and-so, just like He has for each one of us and we need only to trust Him in His plan for us.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
– Rom 8.28
Each one of us has a unique personality, and unique personal disposition and unique Spiritual abilities and gifts. God has purposefully and perfectly established a plan that will bring about our Spiritual maturity and Spiritual best in His timing and in His way. He does place us in in community so that we can push one another on to maturity and to know and love God, but He also teaches us not to compare ourselves to one another.
Life is not fair. God never intended it to be. He intends for us to trust Him and His perfect plan for our own lives, and to rejoice with one another in successes, blessings and abilities. So, in the words of all of our mothers, “you just worry about you” when you are concerned that you are being overworked or given the short straw. God has a plan. God is in control. He is working your circumstances out for your best and His glory. He is working my circumstances out for my best and my glory. And while it may appear that so-and-so is getting special treatment, remember that we do not know the full story and God’s plan is bigger than anything we can imagine.