“It is only in your brokenness in the face of your sin that you can give grace to the fellow rebels to whom God has called you to minister. It’s only when your identity is firmly rooted in Christ that you are free from seeking to get your identity out of your ministry” (Paul David Tripp in Dangerous Calling, page 64).
There are two types of comparisons that can be made in life: vertical and horizontal. A horizontal comparison is where we compare ourselves with others around us. It is an outward comparison. A vertical comparison, however, is upward. It occurs when viewing ourselves against the Lord. (You may be asking at this point, “What do comparisons have to do with ministry? What do they have to do with the Christian life?” Glad you asked.) Spiritually speaking, we may compare ourselves to the Lord or to other people.
When we compare ourselves horizontally to other people, one of two responses may occur. First, we may experience pride. A biblical example of this type of comparison may be found in Luke 18:9-14. Scripture says that the Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not the like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (v. 11, italics mine). The Pharisee’s gaze was not on the Lord in that moment. It was on himself. Compared to the man next to him, the Pharisee viewed himself in “better” condition.
A second response that horizontal comparison may lead to is jealousy. Saul experienced jealousy when comparing his lot to David, thinking, “They have credited David with tens of thousands but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” (1 Sam. 18:8). When tempted to look at what others have and we come up short (e.g. numbers of congregation members, followers, friends, etc.), jealousy may be lurking at our heart’s door.
Vertical comparison differs greatly from horizontal comparison because it leads to humility. When we look upward to the Lord, we will always fall short (Rom. 3:23). In Luke 18, the tax collector was not concerned about comparing himself to the Pharisee next to him. Instead, he turned his heart upward to God: “But the tax collector stood at ta distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’” (v. 13).
In ministry, looking upward to the Lord is vital. It is only as we see our shortcomings in light of a Holy God that we view ourselves as fellow sinners in need of God’s grace. We see that we are more like the person that struggles with _______________ (insert sin struggle here) than we realize. Though our sin may be “better or worse” from a human perspective, compared to God Almighty we all fall short. Even on our best days, we may be tempted to puff ourselves up, thinking, “Well, I handled that better than so and so.” My friend, look up. When gazing upward, those same “righteous acts” are “filthy rags” in God’s sight (Is. 64:6).
Tripp notes that it is only in the face of “your sin that you can give grace to the fellow rebels to whom God has called you to minister.” Facing sin is not something that can be done horizontally (comparing ourselves to other people) because it may lead to pride or jealousy. We must look up to our Perfect Lord. Without His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, we could not stand. Seeing Him for Who He is (and our identity in Him) sets us in a much better place to serve and minister.
Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry By Paul David Tripp / Crossway Books & Bibles