Improper Comparisons

Joel Stephen Williams

Barney Colson was an elder for University City Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida, for thirty-three years until his death in 1998. During World War II at the age of twenty-one, Barney Colson was a skipper of an amphibious ship in the South Pacific. His and three other ships had unloaded their cargo on an island near the end of the day. They backed away from the shore and dropped anchor as the sun was setting. An anchor watch was assigned to make sure the ships did not drift. Everyone else went to sleep. When morning light came, all four ships were within sight of one another with about a quarter of a mile of spacing for safety. When Colson questioned the sailor on anchor watch, the sailor pointed to each of the ships nearby. But then Colson asked him: "Where is the island?"

During the night with the limited light available on the dark ocean, the watch had been able to discern the nearby ships. He did not think they were drifting, because the other boats were nearby all night long. What he did not realize was that all four ships had drug their anchors and were drifting together. They drifted over twenty miles, so that the island was completely out of sight over the horizon the next morning. By comparing themselves with one another instead of a fixed point such as the island, they were able to drift all night long while thinking they were securely anchored. When we as humans compare ourselves with one another, we are likely to be deceived into thinking we are doing well. If we are at least average, we think we are making progress, even though we may be drifting away from the standard. If we compare ourselves to a reprobate, even the lukewarm person will be deceived in a smug self-satisfaction.

Paul warned against such comparisons: "We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense" (2 Cor. 10:12). If we are going to compare ourselves with others, we ought to pick the very best, the holiest, and the most devout persons we know. This will show us where we need to improve and grow. Best of all, we ought to compare ourselves with God and Christ. We ought to strive to be "perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48; cf. 1 Pet. 1:15-16). Beware of improper comparisons with an inadequate standard.

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