It is a mistake to compare ourselves to others. Yet we still do it, even in our walk with Jesus.
Of course, there are people with exceptional gifts, or highly visible roles, or a clear calling for a specific ministry. It is easy to be envious—and even fool ourselves into thinking that it’s a holy envy—when God appears to be working so clearly in the lives of others, but not so clearly in our own lives.
Maybe we are enduring a season of suffering, or long-term suffering, that others don’t have to face. We ask, “Why me, God?”
Or maybe there is someone who has made a big spiritual impact on us, and we want to be like them and bless others in similar ways. The only problem is, we are not our spiritual heroes and that is okay. God may be calling us to something else.
There are many ways we compare ourselves to others. The comparison game, though, keeps us from seeing who we are and how Jesus is calling us to follow him.
The Gospel of John ends, not with the Great Commission or a resurrection account, but with a personal call to discipleship (John 21:15-22).
First, there is a powerful exchange between the risen Jesus and Peter. Earlier Peter denied Jesus three times, but now Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?” three times. Three times Peter confesses his love for Jesus, and three times Jesus commissions Peter to “feed my sheep.” Further, Jesus predicts that, one day, Peter will not deny Jesus as he did before but will follow all the way to death. Certainly Jesus’s words of forgiveness, commissioning, and assurance were a blessing to Peter.
Peter, though, points to another disciple and asks, “What about him?” This other disciple is “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” traditionally identified as John. Everything we read about, and from, Peter and John suggests that they are quite different people. Jesus responds, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22, NIV). You follow me: the you here is emphatic.
Essentially Jesus says, “Peter, let me worry about John. I want you, with all of your failures, with all of your gifts, with all of your limitations, with your station in life, and with all of your suffering—I want you to follow me.” These are Jesus’s last words in the Gospel of John.
There is another interesting, though admittedly speculative, point at the end of John’s gospel. The word martyr comes from a Greek root that means witness or one who testifies. Peter was a martyr in that, ultimately, he died for the faith. John was also a martyr since he was the one “who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (21:24, NIV). In their own unique ways, both Peter and John were martyrs, or ones who testify, to the gospel of Jesus.
In Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton observes, “The soul of leadership begins with who we are—really. Not who we think we are, not who we would like to be, not who others believe us to be” (76). What is true of leadership is true of discipleship in general.
Jesus says to each one of us, “You follow me. Yes, you, with all of your failures, with all of your gifts, with all of your limitations, with your station in life, with your suffering. Don’t worry about others. You follow me.” If we follow, we can know that God will use us, just as God used Peter and John, to testify to the gospel of Jesus.
Mark Powell is professor of theology at Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tennessee. His latest book is Discipleship in Community: A Theological Vision for the Future, co-authored with John Mark Hicks and Greg McKinzie, forthcoming in Spring 2020.
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