Jesus' Warning Against Comparing, Competing, and Copying
On an initial reading of the Gospel of John it seems as though John could have ended his Gospel with chapter 20. However, the Gospel ends with chapter 21 which serves as a unique epilogue.
In many ways, the chapter exonerates Peter and demonstrates Jesus' redeeming nature. Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to confess three times that he loved Jesus and that he would "feed his sheep" (21:15-17). This parallels Peter's denial of Jesus three times during the crucifixion.
Jesus goes on to indicate to Peter that he is going to die a martyrs death (21:18-19).
The most interesting part comes in the final paragraph. Peter, John, and Jesus are in the scene.
Peter has just been given a hint as to the death that he is going to die and he looks at John and asks Jesus, "Lord, what about his man?" (21:21).
Jesus replies, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" (21:22).
There is one word that comes to mind when I read these words of Jesus...
It is evident that the issue at hand is Peter's desire to compare himself with his fellow disciple.
And while comparing happens in many aspects of life, I find that in ministry comparing happens quite frequently.
I have been in vocational ministry for about 14 years and in that time I have to be honest - I've battled comparison along the way: Comparing my position to another person's position, comparing my style to someone else style, comparing my speaking style to someone else, comparing the size of my ministry to another ministry, etc., etc.
I have a note in my Bible by verse 22 from 2015 where I wrote a personal journal entry about this Scripture. The challenge that I felt was a call to not concern myself with the ministry position or opportunities of others, but rather to focus on what Jesus called me to do and follow him fully in that.
When I do this, I find that I am less discouraged and less focused on how I can be like someone else. As a result, this makes me far more effective.
One of my mentors once told me, "Compare and compete and you will live in defeat."
This is profoundly true.
The more that I find myself comparing, competing, or copying - the less I am focused on what God has called me to do.
In this Scripture, Jesus is combatting Peter's tendency towards comparing, competing, and copying. When Peter started going down this road, Jesus' response was, "Hold on! Don't worry about him...follow me the way that I am calling you to follow me."
What difference should it make to Peter what God's plan for John was? Peter's job was to follow Jesus fully in the plan that He had for him.
In the same way, what difference should it make to me as to what God's plan is for someone else? My job is to follow Jesus fully in the plan that he has for me.
My call will differ from the call of someone else. While it is tempting to compare, compete, and copy if I neglect my call in an effort to compete with someone else than no one has benefited and I run the risk of missing out on the amazing things that God wants to accomplish in and through me.
I believe that as much as there is an individual charge in this Scripture, I think that the principle applies in a corporate sense as well.
Sadly, many churches and ministries are quick to compare, compete, and copy one another.
Gleaning and learning are certainly important, but there is a fine line between this and outright mimicking.
I cannot help but think that Jesus' message to churches and ministries that compare, compete, and copy would be the same that he gave to Peter, "Church, follow me!"
In all of this, the message to both individuals and churches is the same: It is only by following Jesus call (not someone else's) that an individual or a church can truly become all that they are intended to be.
Let us all follow Jesus' call for our lives and the life of the churches and ministries that we lead, and may we see God demonstrated in and through us for His glory and our good.