One of my favorite lines from Seinfeld is the one where Jerry meets the Mandelbaums, who repeatedly accost him with the phrase, “You think you’re better than me?” Hilarity ensues when each of them try to lift heavy objects and end up injuring themselves. All the while, an exasperated Jerry reassures them all that he thinks they are indeed better than him. The running gag is obvious: they clearly aren’t, but Jerry doesn’t care.
My entire life I have noticed this particular Mandelbaumian attitude in the world, but recently it has been picking up steam. Does this sound familiar?
“Boy, he sure thinks he’s better than everyone else.”
“Well Miss La-dee-dah sure has her nose held high.”
Maybe you’ve even said it about someone. It might have been true, too. But why do you care so much? If someone really does think they’re better than you, who does it injure but themselves? And if someone says it about you, well … should you care what they think? Maybe for self-reflection purposes, but probably not.
In no other non-political entity does this accusation receive the most verbal assault than the church:
“They think they’re better than everyone at that church.“
“Those ‘Christians’ think they’re the only ones who will be saved.”
“You just think you’re a better Christian than everyone else, you Pharisee.”
And so on. How should you react?
The clearest direction for Christians in this position is from Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Paul goes on to sing about Christ, who didn’t consider his divinity to be something lauded over people. He really is better than everyone else—and he knows it—but he still humbled himself in service and obedience to God.
[Fun facts: That word translated into “more significant” only shows up 5 times in the New Testament. It refers to the “supremacy” of the emperor and governmental authorities in Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13, and it refers to the “greatness” of knowing Christ and peace of God that “surpasses” understanding in Philippians 3:8 and 4:7, respectively.]
So you, dear Christian, are to have an attitude (a thought process) of considering the needs of others as more significant than yours. And what you do is reflective of that thought process, as Phil 2 suggests. Jesus had this mind, and because of that he sacrificed his own comfort and life so we could be saved.
However! Jesus was and is better than everyone. And—hold on to your hat—because of him, Christian values are ipso facto better than everyone else’s; better still is the value that the needs of others should be considered as more significant.
You see, the Mandelbaums of the world are misguided in their accusations. Their criticisms come from their own insecurities and jealousy of others, and by complaining about those people who think they are better than everyone else they themselves think they are better than everyone else. In a perverted devilish trick, suffering and hardship become the contest for being “better than” everyone else (Identity Politics, anyone?). Thus, those who make better decisions must be Pharisaical because they do not suffer as much.
I once had a difficult conversation with a friend who asked me for advice. After giving it honestly (if not kindly), the reaction was basically an attack on my cushy life of familial peace and success. I was told that I’d never understand their suffering, and the implication was that I thought I was better than them. I was stunned, and not a little irritated. Basically they told me that they were better than me because I hadn’t made the same stupid mistakes and ruined my life like they had. They were suffering more than I was, so I was a Pharisee and should repent.
I’m sure I could have been kinder (and I actually did apologize for not speaking the truth with more love), but I was right. I was right about everything. What’s more, my life is so “cushy” precisely because I have made and make a LOT of good choices, and God has blessed those decisions. I should not think of myself as more significant than others, but I can absolutely think of my life choices as being better than others’.
Jesus didn’t consider others more significant than himself by jettisoning the will of God and not acting rightly—that would’ve made him a sinner. He did consider the needs of others as more significant than his needs, and he took the abuse from his accusers even while he said, “Whoever listens to these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
So the next time someone says to you, “You think you’re better than me?” don’t try to justify yourself. Instead, reassure them that you’d like to consider them as more significant as you, and ask how you can help. Then, like Jerry with the Mandelbaums, don’t give it a second thought.
Besides, your heavenly Father, who sees in secret, will keep score. (Spoiler alert: Jesus wins.)