Why do we define success according to the accomplishments of others? The human condition is such that we ask ourselves questions like:
- “Why am I not as popular as (insert name here)? I know I have more talent.”
- “Why didn’t I think of that, or have that idea first?”
- “That person is not a very good role model, why do people look to him or her and not me?”
- “Can I achieve what that person has achieved if I model my career after him or her?”
Comparing ourselves to others takes our attention from God and keeps us from fulfilling the unique purpose that God has for our lives as we work in His name. As we live our lives in worship to God, we should remember that those who simply try to be like others fail to make a lasting positive impact on the world and fail to honor God’s unique plan for their lives. Consider the apostle Peter:
So Peter turned around and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them. That disciple was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and asked, “Lord, who is the one that’s going to betray You?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord — what about him?”
“If I want him to remain until I come,” Jesus answered, “what is that to you? As for you, follow Me.”
So this report spread to the brothers that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not tell him that he would not die, but, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”
This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if they were written one by one, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written.
John and Jesus
Peter, the disciple with whom Jesus had just conversed about feeding the sheep and about his mode of death, turned and saw John approaching. John was seen among the other disciples as having a close relationship with Christ; so much so that he was the one who sat next to Jesus and leaned against Jesus at the Last Supper to ask who would betray Him.
In reading this, there is an inconspicuous air of jealousy about Peter as he asks, “What about him?” in reference to John as he approaches.
I do not claim to know the heart and motivations of others, but I can say that this is true of me. Many times, I find myself comparing my own work to the work of others or comparing my own success to the success of others.
- One day I will be a New York Times Bestseller.
- One day I will have an impact for God’s kingdom similar to David Platt.
- God, why have you not given me more readers or a greater influence?
I have a feeling that each person experiences something similar. The artist wants to be recognized for his work. The musician desires exposure. The athlete yearns to be considered. Naturally, in this fallen state, we compare ourselves to others and assume that because we are not as successful as others that we need to somehow become something more. We experience jealousy just as Peter experienced jealousy.
Peter’s death (vv. 18)
Leading up to this moment, Christ had revealed to Peter that he would be martyred for the sake of the Gospel. Peter’s place in God’s kingdom was such that Peter would “feed Christ’s sheep” and be murdered because of his work:
“I assure you: When you were young, you would tie your belt and walk wherever you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will tie you and carry you where you don’t want to go.”
As Peter asked about John, who was approaching, Jesus replied, ““If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? As for you, follow Me.”
Peter, at this moment, viewed himself in comparison to John. Christ literally told him not to worry about John’s place in the kingdom. Peter was to do what God wanted him to do. He was to fulfill the role that had been chosen for him by God, and he was not to worry about the role of anyone else.
In the same way, we are not to compare ourselves to others. Our success does not depend on how we compare to others and our ability to do what God wants us to do does not rely on how we compare to others in any way.
It remains true that God has given us passions and talents and ideas so that we might serve Him in all we do. At the same time, we do not measure our own success. God rewards each person as he stewards well what God has given him. This does not mean that God will give us what we perceive to be a great influence or that God will even make us known at all. God has placed us in a specific circumstance with a specific amount of influence so that the purposes that He has determined might be accomplished in us and through us. We are to pursue those purposes, not worrying about the work God is doing through others. We each have a unique place in God’s kingdom.
So what if I do view myself in light of another person? Should I not model my work after those who have succeeded before? Looking to someone as an example and comparing ourselves to that person are two different actions. I should learn from others, but I should do what I do to honor God, not to compete with others.
If I compare myself to others, I am missing entirely the unique role that God has for me in His kingdom and I reject God’s work in and through my life as a consequence. I hope that we all pursue with urgency the things that God has called us to for His glory, never comparing our successes to those of others. God is the only one who sees the true impact of our work. Do not be discouraged as you pursue God’s calling on your life. Even if you do not feel as though you are making a difference, persevere in the pursuit of those passions, use your talents and develop your ideas all for God’s glory. Never back down, for we work to honor God, not men!
 John 21:18