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.
—1 Corinthians 10:12 NIV
We were west bound on Highway 58, crossing the southern reaches of the Commonwealth of Virginia. On the south side of the roadway I observed an interesting sight. I was struck by the presence of, one right after the other, a John Deere farm equipment dealership, complete with a well supplied lot full of numerous types of machinery and a variety of implements for sale. On the adjoining property sat a Dairy Queen. Through the windows I could see practically every booth occupied. I could almost taste the brazier burgers and thick chocolate shakes, too. Next door was a convenience store—7-11, I think.
Parked near the storefront were several pickup trucks, while near the parking lot entrance, just under the DQ sign, were several cars. Young people, who appeared to be visiting with one another, mingled around these vehicles. That’s all there was in this little cluster of businesses—just these three.
As we passed by, I mentioned to my wife that, if I didn’t know better, I’d think we were passing through western Oklahoma. Many things about the scene were strikingly similar to familiar sights there. For the next several hundred miles, I reflected on this scene and the thoughts it evoked. It occurred to me just how often we make such comparisons. We all have a tendency to see things through the lens of our own experiences, don’t we?
While there are many things to say about the value of diverse life-experiences, there is much to be said in a cautionary manner, as well. This is especially true if we tend to draw conclusions, with little or no concrete information to process. If we tend to take into consideration only a couple of surface observations, along with a litany of assumptions, there is a potential for being mistaken in our conclusions.
Perhaps there is no harm done by forming a stereotypical view of a place, which we equate to something from our childhood experiences. There can be great harm done, however, if we characteristically categorize people on the basis of prejudicial, stereotypical, biased thoughts.
In 2 Corinthians 10:12, the Apostle Paul indicates this is not the way of wisdom. He states that it is unwise for people to measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves. Although the context differs, the principle is far reaching. There are many reasons for this, as well. Operating from such a limited perspective increases the likelihood we will unfairly judge and, consequently, mistreat others. No doubt, we hope for better treatment from the people we encounter along life’s way.
What if everyone made a couple of quick observations about you, associated you with someone from their past with whom they perceive similarities, and assumed you would always act just like this person? This is certainly not the way most people want to be treated. Most of us prefer the ideal set forth by Jesus in the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. We know we are unique individuals, with special gifts and unique talents, and prefer to be treated accordingly.
Operating from such a limited perspective will, quite likely, cause us to miss a host of blessings along life’s way. Most of us have experienced the blessing of sincere friendship and warm fellowship in Christ. Amazingly, these blessings often come from unexpected sources—from people that surprise us with their depth of love for the Lord and desire to encourage us in following Him.
What most of us need is someone who can see things differently than we see them. Yet, what most of us strive to do is convince everyone to see things the way we see them. We try to make people fit into the pattern we have constructed for them rather than experience the special blessing they are uniquely qualified to bring into our lives.
If we are constantly governed by our prejudices and presumptions, we just might miss many opportunities to teach others about Jesus. How many people who, just because he or she resembled someone we once knew who wasn’t open to the Gospel, has been sized up and counted out before they’ve ever had an opportunity to hear about Jesus? We must see beyond the appearance on the surface and realize that the soul within is what matters. We must set aside our preconceived notions about people and be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks us the reason for the hope we have!
Tomorrow we will be west bound once more. Hopefully, a little wiser than before.
© Bill Williams
October 27, 2005