This is part two of this article. Please click here to read part one.
Second Corinthians 10:12 “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”
Most men have a competitive nature. They grew up competing in sports, and there are many valuable lessons to be learned from competition. I still like to play basketball and try to win. When following my favorite football team, the Oklahoma Sooners, I always want them to win, especially when they play Texas!
In spiritual warfare, the devil can use this characteristic to discourage us or hurt our relationships with others and the Lord. Jealousy is a problem with missionaries just like it is with everyone else. Most men, including myself, are tempted to get jealous of others when God is blessing them.
Being ambitious is not wrong in itself. The Apostle Paul was very ambitious. In the Great Commission, Jesus sent His disciples into all the world to preach to every person. What ambition! We should be very ambitious for the Lord but not for ourselves. In the forward to Howard Taylor’s biography of Hudson Taylor, Arthur Glasser writes:
"In the first place, Hudson Taylor was ambitious without being proud. His ambition was nothing less than, to evangelize all China, to preach Christ to all its people by any and all means that come to hand. 'Significantly, God largely granted him his heart’s desire. Men strongly differed with him and harshly criticized his methods. They thought the vast range of his vision almost arrogant. They were repelled by the tenacity with which he pursued his objectives. They could not help having misgivings over the drive that took him to the forefront of all missionary work in his day. Such consuming ambition!
"And yet, Taylor’s sharpest critics again and again went out of their way to comment on his humility: 'How lowly he remained in his own eyes. God was able to take that beloved man and make him a prince among all the missionaries of the Victorian era' – this from Eugene Stock, the able leader of the church Missionary Society."
Missionaries may feel that supporting churches expect them to do as well as other missionaries so they constantly compare what they are doing to others. This is very harmful to a missionary, although it is a good thing for a missionary to be challenged by the blessings of God on another’s ministry.
There are two areas in which a missionary may be tempted to compete or compare.
1. Financial blessings
Looking at a missionary who has more or less support than we do may lead us to be jealous of the one who has more, or it may make us proud if we have more. The devil is really good at tempting us to be jealous in the area of finances. If you know that a church or individual gives a very large sum of money to another missionary, if you let yourself, your mind can think all kinds of wrong thoughts. You may think that you deserve it more than they do or that your ministry would use it more wisely. This can lead you to think critically of the other missionaries.
2. Ministry blessings
The devil will use comparing and competing in our ministries to actually hurt the blessings we could have had if our hearts and motives were pure. A missionary can think that it is not enough to be blessed and that he has to be blessed more than another. If you have God on your side, that is all you need. And if you have God on your side, you will pull for everyone else on His side to do as well as possible, even if their ministry seems to prosper more than yours.
Arthur Glasser continues his description of Hudson Taylor’s desire to see all the Lord’s work progress:
"The China Inland Mission was his great creation. To all its details he paid the closest attention. He loved organization and was a master at it.
And yet, those who knew Taylor intimately found that his heart extended far beyond China and the CIM…A friend commented: 'It was just as much joy to him when men went to Africa, or to Japan.' "
With this kind of attitude, it was no wonder God kept His hand on Taylor and his ministry for so long.
Competing or comparing can lead to sin.
1. It can lead to the sin of jealousy.
2. It can lead to the sin of dishonesty.
When we try to compete, it may cause us to misrepresent our ministry by exaggerating or by not giving an accurate picture of what is happening.
3. It can lead us to get our eyes off of God.
The church at Corinth made this mistake. The church was divided into groups with some bragging about how they were followers of Paul and others were on Apollos’s side. There was no problem between Apollos and Paul, the problem was only with the Corinthian believers. They took their eyes off God, and in doing so, they hurt His work by their pride.
4. It can lead to discouragement.
When I dwell too much on comparing the ministry God has given me with others, I nearly always end up being discouraged. If I am not doing as well as someone else, I begin to feel as if I have failed. And if I think I am doing better, I can become proud.
Comparisons are not always put in proper perspective. A missionary in the Philippines is almost always going to have more people saved compared to a missionary in Japan. However, a missionary in Japan is almost always going to have larger offerings in his church, compared to a missionary in the Philippines. Differing circumstances always make it difficult to compare properly anyway.
The author of the book From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya tells of a missionary who made a foolish mistake in competing with another missionary, Robert Morrison, who God greatly used:
That the East India Company would be irritated by Morrison’s translation work was to be expected, but that other Christians would resent his labors caused him additional anxiety. How unfortunate it was that there was to be bitter competition in the effort to translate the Bible into Chinese, but such was the case. In 1806, before Morrison even arrived in China, ___ had begun to study Chinese with a view to translating the Bible. When Morrison heard of ___’s plans in 1808, he immediately wrote to ___ but never received an answer. ___ apparently wanted to be remembered as the first to have translated the Bible into Chinese. There was a sharp rivalry (though never expressed to each other personally), including an unfair accusation of plagiarism against ___ by some of Morrison’s colleagues. In the end, ___ won the race, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. His translation, according to his own son, “Was necessarily imperfect,” to be valued “Chiefly as a memorial to his missionary zeal and literary perseverance” and, it might be added, stubborn pride. Morrison’s translation, which was thoroughly revised before printing (and thus delayed), was considerably better; and Morrison rather than ___ is generally remembered for pioneering the translation of the Chinese Bible.