Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” How true. How often does our contentment vanish when we see (what we perceive to be) the superior condition of another person. We lack nothing until that catalog arrives in the mail, and suddenly we are awakened to all the items we are missing. We experience a heart of gratitude until the Instagram reel informs us that we are, in fact, deprived of something.
This principle can extend to the lot in life that God has ordained for us. In the last chapter of the Gospel of John we see Peter struggling with the different paths that Jesus laid out for him and John. Peter and Jesus are walking down the beach after Jesus has just asked Peter three times if he loved him. Jesus cryptically informs Peter that he will be martyred for his faith and exhorts him one more time to “Follow me.”
Peter must have been troubled at the prospect. At the same time, he turns and sees John walking behind them. He then asks the question we all tend to ask when faced with a difficult future: will others share this fate with us, or will we walk that path alone? The wording in John 21:21 is interesting. Peter doesn’t ask, “What about John?” but “What about this man?” It is not as though Peter doesn’t know John; after all, they had fished together on the sea of Galilee long before they met Jesus.
Why “this man” and not “John?” Comparison tends to depersonalize. The one who is my brother or sister, with whom I ought to rejoice over their success, prosperity, and happiness becomes a rival—“that one.” We become like petty children consumed with sibling rivalry, sulking at our sister’s birthday party because she is getting all the presents. Our close kin become objects of resentment.
It is interesting that verse 20 refers to John as “the one who had been reclining at table close to him” right after Jesus gives Peter a chance to retract his threefold denial of Jesus with a threefold affirmation of his love. We could easily surmise that Peter the Denier is going to suffer martyrdom while John the Beloved will escape such a fate, and each will do so based on their faithlessness or faithfulness. Yet, there is no hint in the text that this is so. Their differing fates were the result of the good pleasure of God—“if it is my will.”
When I was young it was common to tell nosey people to “mind your own beeswax” instead of “business.” I don’t know why, but it seemed cleverer. This is essentially what Jesus tells Peter. John’s fate was not Peter’s concern. Jesus was not bound to explain this any more than he was bound to be “fair” in how their lives panned out. Peter simply needed to obey the call of Jesus to follow him.
What motivated Peter’s question? We don’t know for sure, but it was probably more than simply curiosity. It could very well have been rooted in covetousness. Peter certainly wasn’t happy at Jesus’ prediction and perhaps wanted someone to share his misery. Perhaps he felt that if the Beloved Disciple was going to share his fate that it wouldn’t be so bad and he wouldn’t feel so singled out.
John Piper shares his own struggle with comparison. “That’s the way we sinners are wired. Compare. Compare. Compare. We crave to know how we stack up in comparison to others. There is some kind of high if we can just find someone less effective than we are. Ouch. To this day, I recall the little note posted by my Resident Assistant in Elliot Hall my senior year at Wheaton: “To love is to stop comparing.” What is that to you, Piper? Follow me.”
“To love is to stop comparing.” Hmmm. Jesus has just asked Peter three times if Peter loves him. Yet, here Peter is, comparing his fate with John’s.
None of us like to suffer alone, and it is doubly vexing when you are suffering and others around you are living carefree lives. You can be drowning in difficult trials and overwhelmed with pain and grief, while all around you, others are enjoying the good things in life. It is difficult in times like that to not be overcome with envy. Nothing can be more disheartening than when you are denied the blithe sunshine and rainbows that others seem to experience in uninterrupted succession. After a while you feel singled out. You feel rooked, cheated, targeted.
John Calvin said, “We have in Peter an instance of our curiosity, which is not only superfluous, but even hurtful, when we are drawn aside from our duty by looking at others; for it is almost natural to us to examine the way in which other people live, instead of examining our own, and to attempt to find in them idle excuses.”
And then you realize how entitlement and ingratitude have snuck into your heart. You have forgotten that God does not owe you the same life that he gives others. This is understandable. Suffering can wear you down and make you resentful if you are not careful. You can begin to think like Job who grew to view his suffering as a culpable oversight on God’s part (Job 23). Job, too, struggled not to resent those who were free from suffering.
This is not even a case of envying the wicked, as the Psalmist does in Psalm 73. This is simply wondering why God ordains suffering for some and not for others, or at least great suffering for some and minimal suffering for others. But Jesus’ words bring us up short: “What is that to you?”
In other words, stop focusing on what others have or get, and live faithfully in the path that God has laid out for you. Don’t worry about what others are doing or whether you feel you deserve what they receive, follow Christ faithfully in the life he has given you. Piper again: “Jesus’ blunt words—’None of your business, follow me’—are sweet to my ears. They are liberating from the depressing bondage of fatal comparing.”
This is difficult. This requires fixing our eyes on Jesus. This demands a heart with no attachments to comfort or possessions, but only one that desires to please Christ. This calls us to kill covetousness and refuse to desire what others have. This is taking up your cross and following Jesus. Jesus sets the example by fixing his eyes on the joy of accomplishing redemption (Heb. 12:2-3), not on the release of Barabbas or the injustice of his accusers. So who was Peter to lose his focus?
Calvin exhorts, “As there are various kinds of Christian warfare, let every man learn to keep his own station, and let us not make inquiries like busybodies about this or that person, when the heavenly Captain addresses each of us, to whose authority we ought to be so submissive as to forget everything else.”
So, are you struggling with the difference between your lot in life and someone else’s? First, remember all that God has done for you in cleansing you from sin (2 Pet. 1:9). Second, accept your path as specially chosen for you, and that it will be different than that of others. Embrace God’s will for your life and take to heart the admonition to refuse to concern yourself with what God lays out for others. This is tough love, but it is exactly what we need. Piper concludes: “O the liberty that comes when Jesus gets tough!”
 John Piper, “What Is That to You? You Follow Me! Freed from Comparing by Blunt Words”; https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-that-to-you-you-follow-me