(Note: This question was raised this past Sunday near the end of our time together and was not introduced into our gathering, but I thought it should still be given and answer. –geno)
I spent a good deal of time teaching that followers of Christ should not compare themselves with one another, nor should they compare their favorite leaders or teachers with other leaders and teachers. I believe both Jesus and Paul taught this. Jesus, in Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:37 and elsewhere taught, “Judge not, and you will not be judged;…” and Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:12 and 2 Corinthians 10:12.
And yet Paul also wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:15, “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.” And later in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.'”
Our English words betray us somewhat. In English we use a number of words to describe the act of telling the difference between two things and whether we should embrace one over the other. Included in this list (as verbs) are the words compare, discern, discriminate, and judge. There may be others, but these are the main ones.
In the case of each word there is a neutral way to use the word and there is a value-laden way to use the word. To discriminate racially generally means to put down a race of people other than one’s own. Certainly to issue judgment against someone means, in the main, to render a decision that will harm the other.
To compare two items or to discern between the relative merits of two options is more neutral in meaning, but can still be used to mean, ‘to compare with the intent to render a value judgment.’ The same thing can be said of the meaning of ‘discern.’
What I believe the teaching of both Jesus and Paul is getting at is this: we are not to compare ourselves with one another in order to render a value judgment. This is a common human way of assessing our place in the world. We see ourselves as better is some ways that others and not quite so good as others.
This wicked practice is based in a set of values that is antithetical to the kingdom of God where the only status that matters is whether one is in the kingdom of God or not, whether one is a chid of God or not. Only God can make this judgment because only God can see the heart.
Also, among brothers and sisters in Christ we tend to judge one another’s spiritual state, meaning whether someone is more deeply spiritual than another. This, too, is an error, and is generally engaged in to make us feel better about ourself, (e.g. ‘I am more spiritual than that person.’) In this case the bar is far too low. Any comparison should be measured by the depth of the person of Christ and not one to another. In that event it is clear that all of us fall far below Jesus.
And yet Christians will one day judge the world and therefore should be adequate to render judgment between quarreling brothers willing to go to court against one another (1 Corinthians 6:2). I believe there is a vast difference between used good judgment to help decide between two quarreling brothers’ various claims and judging my own or another’s relative importance or value in the kingdom of God.
Finally, God gives His people wisdom to judge the fruit of another’s life (Matthew 7:15-20). Every day we discern between things that are dangerous to us and things that are not. We appropriately discriminate between various items we wish to purchase. We compare the relative beauty of works of art or natural habitat.
These functions become wicked when the intent of our heart, when the goal of the judgement is to improve our own self-esteem by comparison with another we deem less than ourselves, or when we do the opposite–put ourselves down by exalting another.