The Danger of Comparison

Philippians 4: 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

September 16, 2018 will long be remembered for two incredible athletic performance.  Eliud Kipchoge destroyed the men’s marathon world record running an astounding 2:01:39 at the Berlin Marathon.  Not long after, on this Super Sunday in Talence France, Kevin Mayer completed a remarkable two-day decathlon to set a new world record.  Breaking, what many had considered an unbreakable record held by Ashton Eaton, Mayer’s 9126 points surpassed Eaton’s mark by a substantial 81 points.

These performances made we wonder what the runners-up were feeling.  In the Decastar Decathlon, although scoring a world class 8,310 points, runner-up Arthur Abel was more than 800 points behind France’s Mayer.  Watching the celebrations afterwards, it was clear that Abele and all the other competitors were thrilled for Mayer and the opportunity to be a part of history.  This seems to be a part of the decathlete culture.  What if Abele, however, just compared himself to Mayer rather than appreciate his own silver medal?  All eyes and attention were on Mayer this day; everyone else was just a sideshow.  Being “second fiddle” can be an extremely humbling experience, and few do well in this place.

To be clear, striving to win is not bad in itself.  Even Paul recognized that this was the ultimate goal of a runner.  “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.” (1 Corinthians 9:24) .  The reality, however, is that I do not believe another decathlete in the field at Decastar 2018 has the genetic make-up to do what Mayer did.  Mayer, like Eaton before him, is a bit of a genetic freak.  So, if the others in the field spent their lives wishing to beat Mayer and his world record, they will have a very long, disappointing career ahead of them.

The Apostle Paul was a hard working, competitive guy.  I can see it in the many sports-related analogies he uses such as today’s scripture that he wrote to the Corinthian church, but also Hebrews 12:1; Philippians 2:16; Galatians 2:2; Galatians 5:7; and 2 Timothy 4:7. However, Paul also learned something more important – contentment.  11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:11-12).  The challenge for many people with a long list of goals is that many of them never find contentment.  Rather than enjoying the moment when they achieve one goal, their mind is already onto the next, and many are shocked that when they reach their final goal, there is no contentment there.  Deion Sanders is the only man to ever play in a Super Bowl (football) and World Series (baseball). After he won the Super Bowl, his teammates were still partying, and he slipped out of the locker room.  He lay in bed thinking of the Lamborghini he had just bought, the Super Bowl he had just won and said to himself: “No that’s not it.  That’s not what I’m looking for.  It’s got to be something else, I’m so hungry’”[i]

Contentment will never come from athletic success.  True contentment comes in the arms of Jesus.  May you, like Paul, learn to be content “whatever the circumstances”.


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