Around the world, there are a number of “Standards” organizations. For instance, ISO1 is the International Standards Organization, and NIST is the National Institute of Standards and Technology2. These and other groups help people throughout the world agree on how heavy, reliable, or magnetic something is, as well as how to measure properties like temperature, size, and many others. If a laboratory claims to be able to measure something with great levels of precision, their instruments and processes are likely calibrated back to a standard, somewhere.
In ordinary life, we usually measure things much less precisely, gauging distance through the odometers in vehicles (or trusting a GPS signal), and weighing things at the store in tenths of a pound (or maybe hundredths of a kilogram). We still have standards, but the precision often isn’t as important. For some reason, though, we measure money pretty exactly, and we can count how much is in our pocket or purse down to the cent.
What if this wasn’t the case, though, and we just based our measurements on whoever claimed the loudest that their measurements were best? Individuals might claim that they had a better ruler or a better scale. Distances might be “tweaked” by rental properties, and one might find that a cabin “just a few yards from the beach” actually requires a hike through several city blocks in order to see water. There would be a lot of chaos, and civilized economies would struggle to transact commerce fairly (especially if today’s 5-pound bag only had half of the flour as the last 5-pound bag that we purchased, leaving us short for the day’s baking needs).
This is not a new problem, though. Dishonest (or inaccurately-defined) measures have existed for millennia. However, while the verse below relates to measurement standards, it isn’t talking about height, time, or mass:
We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.
2 Corinthians 10:12 NIV
Trying to measure our character against those who brag about how great they are is a losing proposition. Not only is the war of arrogance and overbearing self-confidence unwinnable, as each party claims to be superior to the other in turn, but using our peers (or ourselves) as our measuring line is just not smart. We’ll never improve if our goal is to be like people who are just like us. We have no indication of whether or not our metric is a good one if we only look at ourselves. There’s no real benefit in comparison when our baseline is not something that is demonstrably correct and perfect, nor when results cannot be measured honestly or accurately.
I suppose that there is merit in working to better ourselves, and measuring how far we have come. Even our spiritual growth can be gauged (if not precisely measured) by spiritual disciplines and the evidence in our lives of walking with Jesus.
However, a few verses after the passage above, we learn what the true calibration should be for our lives’ accomplishments:
But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.
2 Corinthians 10:17-18 NIV
Why is Jesus the standard? He is the source of our salvation, our Lord and Master who gives us instruction, and the perfect example of what it means to live according to God’s will.
In addition, our goal is not to achieve accolades from other people. Being perceived by other fallen human beings as “more righteous” or “better” than them isn’t the ultimate achievement. Instead, our goal is to follow Jesus, and to strive to do what He calls us to. That doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily be perfect, but it does mean that we will live for Him, listening to the Holy Spirit’s direction, and glorifying Jesus in our everyday activities.
What better goal could anyone have than to hear the Lord of the universe, Jesus Christ, tell us “well done” (see Matthew 25:14-30), based on His perfect estimation? After all, His measurement, as well as His standard, is the only one that matters.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.