Have you ever noticed when you’re in a room full of women, everyone seems to be sizing up everyone else? Some women enter confidently, some approach with questions, and others slip in and slide into the corner unnoticed. The bold flaunt airs (whether overtly or subtly) while the insecure hope no one notices their inadequacies. Why do we as woman play this constant comparison game? She has it all together, so I must not measure up in some way. And when someone else is struggling, it just makes us feel all the better about ourselves.
We take extra time before going to meet with ladies to fix our hair, our clothes, our kids, our face, our attitudes. What mask do I need to wear today in order to feel good about myself? I wonder how many compliments I will get today (about my outfit, my kids, or the dish that I cooked)? We look for those, don’t we? We walk away with a count, and if we didn’t get enough we try to change something for the next time so that our “approval meter” is filled.
Call it what you may—competing, comparing, judging, insecurity, longing—it all boils right back down to idolatry. God has been showing me recently that my competitive nature, my judgmental heart, my inclination to desire the applause of men, is really rooted in a desire to be worshiped. What is this tendency to desire the praise of men? Where does it come from? And what can I do about it? Because in my deepest heart, I long to worship and glorify God alone!
In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul addresses the judgmental attitudes of the Corinthians. He asks three rather rhetorical questions:
- For who sees anything different in you?
- What do you have that you did not receive?
- And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
Before we look at these questions, let’s look at the original audience. The Corinthian church was primarily an outcropping of Paul’s ministry. After leaving the region, he began to hear of divisions and sins that began creeping into the church body.
The country of Corinth was well-to-do. Located on an isthmus between two bodies of water and two masses of land, it was a crossroads for the Grecian culture. The city was fed by a constant water supply from a natural spring, “protected by” the patron saint of seamen, “blessed by” the goddess of love, booming economically, and for all intents and purposes was rich, well established, and deeply rooted in sin culture.
Some of their falling back into old practices was ignorance, yet some of it was familiarity. Paul found out that they were esteeming certain teachers over and above others, and they had the mentality that they had already arrived at their “kingdom.” So he admonishes their judging hearts, emphasizes that which is not seen (the hidden things in darkness that will be exposed by the light), and asks them the three questions to really get them thinking about their judgmental attitudes in a truthful way!
Three Questions to Evaluate Our Attitudes
1. “For who sees anything different in you?”
I found my answers to this question ironic. As I think back to my junior high and high school days, and even some in college, I found myself frequently trying to look like, act like, and talk like those kids that I thought were popular or well liked. I wanted the same approval they had. I wanted to “fit in.”
The crazy thing about this is that I wanted to fit in so that I could stand out. My current struggle, however, is more defined: I want something unique to offer the world around me—something that no one else can. I want to be the best at one thing. Even if it’s a small thing, I want to be approved, I want to win. I want to be the best so that I can feel people giving me worth (a.k.a. giving me worship).
Paul gives us a reality check in this passage.
Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God (1 Cor. 4:5).
I have no right to judge the women around me because I can neither see nor know their hearts. And when we start talking about hearts, ultimately, we all wind up on a level playing field from God’s view.
Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned, and James 2:10 goes on to explain that even if we keep the law in every way except one, we are still guilty of breaking the entirety of the law. Being separated from God due to sin, we are all deserving of death. But praise be to God that the death He died, He died to sin, once for all (Rom. 6:10).
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (Col. 1:21–22).
So Christ, who sees the heart, knows our thoughts, sees our past, our present, and our future as the Great I AM, sees me, you, and our sisters in Christ as equals. Made in His image, we sinned and fell short. We deserved death, and He came in order to reconcile us back to Himself. Now, through His blood, we are holy. I am holy. You are holy, and we owe all worship to our Savior.
In God’s eyes, we are saved, rescued, redeemed, clothed in the righteousness of His Son, worthy, holy, and approved! When our vision begins to clear and we can see ourselves and our sisters for who we really are, the comparison games can all step aside. We all reside on a level playing field!
The next two questions seem to address one of two perceptions we as women have of ourselves in relation to others: superiority or inferiority.
2. “What do you have that you did not receive?” (Superiority)
Here, Paul is addressing believers here who are stuck in the pride of self-made righteousness—the “dos.” Many of the Corinthian believers resorted to a mentality of working hard and receiving all the glory for their achievements—how often I find myself here, too! Throughout my growing up years, I looked at the fruit of the Spirit as actions that I needed to work harder at so that I could be more like God. If only I could make myself more patient, more kind, more joyful, more self-controlled, if I could just work hard enough, maybe I could finally be a “good Christian girl.”
But it doesn’t work that way. Ephesians 2:8–9 tells us that our salvation is through grace, not by works that we have done—so that we cannot boast! Furthermore, if we look at the idea of a fruit producing plant, we see that it must be supported and fed by something (the roots). A plant can never bear fruit of its own effort or desire but must remain connected to the main vine/root system.
When I think I have the power to produce my own fruit, it’s pride. I don’t like that word. I don’t like the people it compares me to—the descendants of Noah at the tower of Babel, Ahab, the rich young ruler, the prodigal son’s brother. Pride is anything that has “I” at the center of it. Look what I have done, what my hands have made, the weight I lost, the kids I have, the dish I made, the gift I gave. It’s all about me, me, me.
Proverbs tells us that pride brings a man low and that it is an abomination to the Lord. First Peter 5:5 reminds us that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Christ Himself, even though equal with God in all respects, did not take advantage of that equality but humbled Himself and became a servant—thinking of others before He thought of Himself (Phil. 2).
When my thinking about all that I have been given is redeemed, I can see myself in light of Christ and then learn to walk in humility as Christ did—no longer taking pride in something I did not even accomplish for myself but learning to see myself in sober judgment and thinking of others as more important than myself. Then in turn, directing all worship back to God, to whom it is due!
“If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (Inferiority)
Here we see the pendulum swing is to the other extreme: the stereotypical Eeyore. Woe is me; I’m not gifted like anyone else. How could I ever be that good? Sometimes, this mentality is a result of years of wounds, sometime it is misinformation, and sometime it is lack of knowledge. Sometimes I swing to this side when once again, I am “trying” to humble myself—not realizing that this false humility puts me in the same place as my pride.
True humility is knowing who God is, knowing who you are, and knowing where they each properly belong. I think many Christians get the idea that humility is an melancholy sort of mentality. Unfortunately, this “woe is me” mentality is also pride in its own way—inward self-focus. “I” is once again at the center. When I find myself in this position, I’m still longing for my own worship rather than turning my eyes toward Christ. I just get the feeling that it could never happen, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still what I am looking for.
Back to Reality
Paul is urging the Corinthians to seek, know, understand, and admit all that they have been given. He goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 4:8, “Already you have all you want!” (They had direct access to God, they had been given salvation, blessed with the Holy Spirit, rescued, redeemed, reconciled.) “Already you have become rich!” (They were blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places; they were co-heirs with Christ.) “You have become kings!” (They were royalty, a chosen generation, a royal people—a people belonging to God.)
Our judgmental attitudes will only disappear when we begin to humble ourselves as Jesus did. When we can look at the people we interact with and see that we all start on level playing fields, when we understand that our righteous standing in God’s eyes does not depend on our own works and when we grasp the reality of how blessed we are in Christ, we too will be able to walk as Jesus walked—in humble surrender and in the Spirit’s power.
Lord, give us Your grace and strength to uproot deep seeded pride in our lives and to walk in light of who we are because of Your grace and how You want to use us to impact the world!