Joyce, I think your question is an excellent one and one that I was attempting to understand. I so appreciate it as it exhibits your heart that desires to seek truth. I would so love to hear what others would have to say but I’ll add what I get from it, as incomplete as to what the verse is actually saying, I’m sure.
First off, I feel that it is a dangerous verse because it could evoke false humility. We say they are better than me but in my heart I know that I am better. It needs to be something that it is an attitude of the heart. However, I feel that our natural inclination is to see others faults, such as you mentioned Joyce, and we conclude that we are actually better than them.
I looked up the word “better” and it seems to be just that - not equal or below but better. How can that be when we see that bullying is terrible and we wouldn’t do that? I thought so much about this and here is what I conclude.
When I was convicted of sin, I realized that the Lord doesn’t grade them. Sin is sin. However, when I consider what I was saved from, I feel that Paul was wrong to call himself the foremost of sinners because I am. Oh, that is a very nice, humble thing to say but I’m not mouthing it, I feel that way. If you knew my past you’d say that I was a good guy. In fact, I had a conversation with a Christian that while we worked together, he told of how he once was into drugs, selling them to children, theft and atrocities that I never committed. He concluded by stating, “Wasn’t I just terrible?” My reply was that he certainly was but I was actually worse because I thought myself good and in no need of a Savior but, in fact, we were both sinners - he just knew it and I didn’t. So I was worse as it was more miraculous that the Lord got hold of me than him.
So as we realize what we were saved from, it is a first hand reality. Sure everyone lies, but I know how wickedly deceptive my heart was. So Joyce, you committed sins I never did and some that I did but as I consider you, I say that we are on an equal plane because are both sinners. But I don’t know your sins but I know mine that make my skin crawl. They say that at the last judgement, our lives will be televised for all to see. I sure hope not as I don’t want everyone to see what was the real motive of my heart, how deceptive I really was, how pride dictated much of me, etc. Your biography will be shown right after mine but, truly I believe, your video will not be as alarming as mine. Yes, you sinned and that is separation from God, but my life will be worse, because I’m the only one who really knows me and my motives. I know you have sinned but I really don’t know inside your life.
Sorry for this book, but back to the bully. His actions disgust you and they should. He’s a jerk! But he isn’t looking to Jesus for His feeling of inferiority so he has to protect himself. You’ll see him, Hitler, the serial killer all around you. Terrible! Evil! But if you see them when Jesus gets hold of their hearts, you begin to realize that in Jesus, how, when their hearts changed, the courage they took, the generosity they displayed is amazing. Zacchaeus was a terrible sinner. But he hopped down from the tree and he shames me as how he responds - not just paying people back those he over billed but doubling and quadrupling payments back to them. Gee, I would just pay them back - maybe with a little extra. Suddenly this terrible guy, well, he’s better than me. He did it in a more godly way. But I was not Zacchaeus, I was just looking from the outside in.
We like to see others err because it shows that we are superior. But if we deal with our pride, we see people with such appreciation, we don’t consciously say, “They are better than me” but we see Jesus in them and there rises a deep heart for them that we forget ourselves and see Jesus. They are better than us left to ourselves. For we can do nothing good apart from him.
When you see the bully being taken ahold of by Jesus, you’ll forget about you and praise Jesus for His transforming work. We know what we are like apart from Jesus.
I said a lot but I don’t know if I made sense. If you don’t get it, I’m not embarrassed but fire away and I will try to do better!