Before I was paralyzed I really enjoyed running. My high school didn’t have any track and field sports. I didn’t do it as part of a team. And I wasn’t the best runner out there, but I like everything that has to do with running.
Paul talks about running our race, a reference to walking with Jesus and becoming more like him (). Walking with Jesus is the greatest race we will ever run. The Holy Spirit helps us grow in Christ and be conformed to his image.
But many times on the path we tend to look at others and want to be like them. I remember some of the older Christians I looked up to when I was a teenager in church. It seems like they had it all together and all figured out. Now I know none of us have it all figured out.
We have already talked about Christian maturity but I want to talk specifically about comparing ourselves to one another. Is there any benefit to looking at other Christians’ lives and wanted to be like them?
Different Steps, Different Pace
Before we can talk about comparative Christianity we need to talk about the path we walk with Jesus. For every Christian there is a path to holiness. It begins at the moment of salvation and ends in heaven when we are glorified in Christ.
Each Christian is on a different step on this path going at a different pace. What I mean by this is that a brand-new Christian is not at the same maturity level in Jesus as a Christian who has known and walked with him for 40 years.
The more time we spend with Jesus the more we learn about him and grow in our relationship with him. We all have different approaches in our path to holiness as well. A person who has a different background than me is going to have different approaches to holiness.
For instance, if another Christian has a background issue with alcoholism they have other issues to deal with than me. I have never had alcohol nor desired to try it. I am not threatened by it and it is not a weakness that I need to fortify. The Holy Spirit will most likely not address this issue for me. But for a person who has the background of alcoholism the Spirit will want to address that.
We all have different backgrounds and different things in our pasts at the Holy Spirit must deal with. In comparing ourselves to one another we have no idea what those backgrounds are. And even when we find out, they may not be comparable to our own
A brand-new Christian, or a young Christian for that matter, can’t compare his or her place in Christ with a much more mature Christian. However, without comparing ourselves to them, we can look up to them as heroes in the faith.
There are markers along the path to holiness that we will all experience. Salvation is the first marker, followed by advancements in becoming like Christ. In the book of Acts the apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit before they began ministry. Then during their ministry the Holy Spirit added spiritual gifts to them.
Each of them suffered in some way for Christ. They were teaching other Christians younger than them in Christ about the faith. Some suggest that discipleship is a circular process of knowing Jesus, growing in him, teaching others, and learning more yourself. Then this wheel continues as we learn more about him, and grow in him, and teach others, and so forth.
Apples to Oranges
But the Scriptures tell us to not compare ourselves to one another (Galatians 6:1-5). The worst thing we can do is try to live up to the example of others. We can learn from more advanced Christians but we must not compare ourselves to them.
“Brothers, if a person is also caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore this person in a spirit of humility, watching yourself carefully, and also not being tempted yourself. Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill Christ’s law. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself, but let each one examine his own work, and then he has reason for boasting only to himself, and not in someone else. For each one will bear his own burden.”Galatians 6:1-5 (My Translation)
Paul talks about a matter of Christian discipline and then expands to a discussion on how we should walk the path with Christ. He starts out by saying that those who stumble in their walk with Jesus can be restored, but by mature believers.
You know you are a mature believer when you can help another without being tempted yourself and watching your own walk. Being an accountability partner is one of the hardest things you will do as a Christian. It will test you as much as the person you are holding accountable.
This is why Paul begins by warning us to be careful as accountability partners. I suggest it is better to become an accountability partner for someone of your same gender, someone without the same temptations and desires you are battling, and someone who is less advanced on the path to holiness than you.
These are safeguards that will help you avoid being tempted by the other believer. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but that it would be more implausible for you to get caught up in the same problems your accountability partner is facing.
I would avoid becoming accountability partners with a person who has the same temptations as you. It’s very possible you will both fall into those temptations. However, there is something to be said for Christians who have had the same struggles talking about them together. There may be wisdom one can give to another. But even if you have an accountability group with the same issues you should make sure that more mature believers help the younger ones.
Comparing ourselves to one another is like comparing apples to oranges. Because there are so many differences among us it is better to not compare ourselves to one another. We are on different parts of the path to holiness. We have different backgrounds and issues to deal with. And we have all known Jesus for different periods of time.
Only after understanding these issues do we realize how amazing Jesus is. He is able to keep all of these different diverse parts of his body together and hold them in unity by his Spirit. Even though we’re all different we all share in common Jesus, the Spirit, the faith, and our common experience of knowing Jesus and being a Christian.
Running Your Race
So now that you don’t compare yourself to others but admire them for their own walk with Christ, you must turn to your own walk with Christ. While others can be inspirational in their faith, their sufferings and how they are dealing with them, and how they follow Christ despite them, you have your own race to run. You have your own sufferings and faith in Christ.
First, don’t be too flattered by others who admire you for your faith in Christ and your walk with him. Christianity is not about you. It is about how you minister to others through the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t get a big head. This is exactly what Paul warned us against.
Paul tells us to run our race with Christ with purpose (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Run your race to win the prize. The prize is to know Christ and to be with him forever in heaven. Elsewhere Paul describes his own walk with Christ as he runs after him with his whole being (Philippians 3:7-16).
Paul uses an example of the athletes in the Olympic Games who train and discipline themselves for years. Imagine what it’s like to be an athlete in the Olympics. They have four years to prepare for one moment. When your moment comes you must be successful in Jesus.
When that moment of temptation hits you must decide that you are dead to sin. Use that training to prepare yourself for when temptations come. Shore up all of your weak spots. Fortify them with plans against temptations. Be ready for the moments Satan will challenge you.
Those athletes work so hard for one moment of fame. Even if they get the gold medal, and some are pleased just to be on the podium, they have worked all that time for that one moment. We work harder and all the more because we want to know Jesus and be secure in our eternal destination.
We must be disciplined and prepared for every attack. The path to holiness is a serious matter because it is the way we grow in Christ and assure that we will be with him forever. Paul’s one desire was to know Christ in every way.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”Philippians 3:7–11, ESV
Paul gave up everything he knew and thought was valuable when he met Jesus. His lifelong pursuit changed from his former way of life and desires to focus on becoming more like Jesus. None of those things had any value to him anymore.
And yet we tend to hold onto one or two things from our past. Those desires fuel temptations that continue to revisit us. We must only look forward to Christ, not sideways or backward to the former things. He must be our chief pursuit in life.
So run like Paul did, to win the prize of knowing Jesus more fully each day. Only this pursuit matters now that you know him. Paul ran toward the goal of knowing Jesus and that was all that mattered to him. What matters to you? Read the next part of the passage for inspiration.
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”Philippians 3:12–16, ESV
Listening and Learning
Though we do not compare ourselves to one another, we can learn from one another. Most of the Christian situations you will find yourself in are either mentoring the younger Christian or being mentored by an older Christian. Every once in a while you will find a Christian around the same area of the path that you are on.
But those relationships can only serve as comradery. It is good for you to be involved in both ends of the process. You should be a mentor to someone who is younger than you in the faith. And you should be mentor by another who is more mature than you.
In this process of having both relationships you are learning and growing at the same time you are helping others learn and grow. You are being fed, and you are feeding others. In these relationships you’re sometimes listening and learning, and other times you are speaking and teaching.
No one ever “arrives” in Christianity. I have heard it said that the moment you are perfect in Christ you are in heaven. So while you are on earth you have not arrived. You are helping others and being helped yourself. And this is why we need the Christian community. We grow in community better than on our own.
Especially when you are being meant toward by a more mature Christian you must be teachable and malleable. Allow yourself to be molded by God’s Word and his Spirit. Let the Spirit and the Bible inform you and make you like Jesus. The guidance of a more mature Christian is tremendous help but be careful not to mold yourself after that Christian instead of Jesus.
As a more mature believer teaching a younger believer, I am careful to not let them think I am the most mature Christian in the world. I talk about Jesus more than myself. I do use examples about myself, but Jesus is the center of my discussion with them.
We must always keep Jesus at the forefront. This is one of the ways we can avoid them emulating us instead of him. Paul told people to follow him as he follows Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). But I’m sure he made clear to them his own mistakes, and they knew anything good in him was the result of Christ working in him.
As you mentor younger Christians give them the next step without becoming too advanced. This will be hard to do at first, but as you get to know those you mentor you will know exactly where they are. If you give them too much too fast they will either quit or will be confused, missing important steps along the way.
Being a teacher can be a very perilous calling (James 3:2). Everyone can do it for a Christian younger than themselves. But we must be careful to honor our privileged place in Christ. There are several warnings about those who lead others. But you can do it. As long as you keep Jesus in the forefront, and yourself in the background, you will do him justice.
The Bible is clear that we do not compare ourselves to one another. Some Christians are more mature than others. The more mature should teach the less mature. And the less mature must be teachable and ready to learn about Jesus.
Jesus wants us to help one another grow in him. The saints help us grow in Christ. But we must remember that the Bible and the Holy Spirit are our first teachers. Whether we are mentoring young Christians were growing through being mentored by more mature Christians we must know our place in these circumstances.
There’s nothing wrong with looking up to more mature Christians. But we must not aim to be more like them than Jesus. Let us all run our race and glorify Jesus in our own environments. How do you teach younger Christians and stay teachable by more mature Christians?