compared to whom?

In Genesis 37:12-39, Joseph’s brothers are angry and jealous. Joseph has been talking about his dreams of grandeur, and he’s been getting special attention from their father. They can’t take it anymore. They decide to kill him. But then Reuben steps in. He tells the brothers not to shed Joseph’s blood, but to throw him in a pit instead. He saves Joseph’s life. Reuben is a hero.

Or is he? Verses 29 & 30 tell us

Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments. He returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?”

So, Reuben let his brothers gang up on Joseph, likely rough him up a bit, and throw him into a large hole. Then, he leaves. He leaves his young brother alone with those who had plotted to kill him. Then, when he returns to find it empty, he is upset... because of how it will effect him.

When we read this story quickly, it can be easy to put Reuben in the "good guy" category. But really, Reuben’s actions only seem “good” when we compare them to the actions of  his brothers.


And that’s the danger of comparison. Comparison makes us numb to the depth of our own sinfulness. And comparison is so easy. We do it without even trying.

I may not be as generous as I could be, but at least I’m tithing. That means I’m giving more money away than most people…. I may not read the Bible regularly, but at least I do once in awhile. Most people don’t crack it open outside of Sundays….

Oh, how often I have justified my own actions by comparing them to the actions of others. So what do I do? 1 Corinthians 9:24 says,

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

In a literal race, everyone can't actually win. So what does this verse mean? I think it means I need to run as if I am the only person in the race. It doesn’t matter who is behind me. My eyes should be on the finish line.

But, that doesn't mean there isn't a place for community. The people around us are not meant to be our competition; they are meant to be our cheerleaders, just as we are meant to be theirs.  Hebrews 10:24 says we are to "stimulate one another to love and good deeds." Others who follow God, those living and those who have already passed on,  are our inspiration to not just strive for a life of "betterness" but to strive for a life of faithfulness and holiness.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:1-2