Different People, Different Abilities, Different Assignments
“Each according to his ability.” That is a fundamental issue in this matter. It means that people indeed have different abilities. And this explains the futility of competing someone whose ability is more than ours—and then getting mad after the person wins against us. In the same way, there is no point despising those who are not as good as we are. There is nothing we have that we didn’t receive. In her novel, A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle correctly observed, “We can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.”
Our ability determines what God gives us to manage. If we are faithful, first in putting to use what we are given and second, not misappropriating the proceeds, God will ensure that we grow from our initial ability. It is one thing to do the work we are asked to do, it is another to manage the proceeds from the said work.
It is the personal passion to keep away from being polluted by the world and to work with the ability and resources God gave us that will raise our spiritual capital. This is what the apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to do.
“If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.”—2 Timothy 2:21.
The Bible counsels us not to compare ourselves with one another. It only results in commending ourselves after feeling that we have outdone others. This is not healthy, it is actually a manure for pride.
“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. But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you.”—2 Corinthians 10:12-13.
The apostle Paul discourages comparison and competition for obvious reasons. Environments under which people operate may be different; abilities are different; assignments are different and goals may be different. Take for example athletes who set out to run. Among them are those who will be running a hundred meters and they are done, others will be running marathon. It is foolhardy for a marathoner to burn himself out trying to keep pace with a sprinter. Equally, it doesn’t work if an athlete sprints himself out in a marathon race.
From the above illustration, what then can we say about competing people with identical disposition? Is there anything wrong, for example, with competing marathon runners if we ourselves are marathoners? If we read slightly down the line in the above scripture, part of verse 14 says, “For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure...” In life, there are always elements of competition around us. We compete consciously or unconsciously.
In spiritual matters, it is not healthy to compete and compare. In general life, we need a healthy perspective as Christians in order to manage competition in its various forms. If we perceive that we are in a competition, we must refrain from working hard to slow down our competitor; instead, we should work hard to increase our pace. We must not do both because our efforts at slowing down our competitor will not only utilize our resources but also our time and energy—we need to concentrate everything we are and have on improving our position.
The virtue in Christian stewardship is based on the wisdom of sharing resources rather than compete for them. If we understand this, we will appreciate the beauty of true success. True success is where we consider ourselves successful only if our ‘competitors’ are also successful; we only have peace if our neighbours also have peace.
A healthy attitude towards people we compete is to maintain that they are helping us realize our potentials by pushing us to our very limit. The person who wins against us is not our enemy. Even more important to remember is that we really don’t compete people, we compete standards.
If we continue to use the illustration of the athletes, the athlete should aim to break the record and even after breaking the record, it doesn’t end there, a challenge to break it afresh beckons. The people competing by his side are only helping him push himself to the maximum of his ability.
I once watched athletics competition heats where there was a false-start. The margin however, was so small that the umpire failed to call back the athletes. All except one started off at the same time. The one who didn’t start appealed and when videos were scrutinized, it showed that indeed the other athletes had a false-start. It was decided that instead of repeating the whole race, the concerned athlete would run alone. He had to at least beat the time of the last qualifier in the race he was to participate in. He indeed ran the 400 metres alone and qualified.
If we have to compete, we must use it to grow in your ability. Otherwise, our ability is not the measure of our worth—that is something we must always remember. Something is wrong when we begin to think that because God has given us more ability than others, our personal worth is also greater than others.