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(NOTE: Until now, I’ve been sticking with the ESV for my Bible quotations. From here on in, I’m going to try and focus on the NIV instead.)

Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Make New Friends but Keep Discord”

Envy is a serious and prevalent sin. It takes a lot of forms, such as causing the envious person to brood and stew with jealousy so much that they refuse to associate with their object of envy, or violent outbursts from repressed rage and feelings, or even efforts to undermine and discredit the target of their envy (something that Jesus Himself was frequently beset by from the religious leaders of the day). This episode, however, illustrates one of the more subtle yet annoying ways in what Discord does.

When he suspects that Fluttershy has made a friend, Tree Hugger, that was either out to replace him or be “better” than him, he does his share of stewing, and eventually even goes to the point where he forcefully tries to rid himself of the competitor, but for the bulk of the episode he tries to show it’s no big deal by showing off a “friend” of his own better than Tree Hugger, telling stories of having more fun with Fluttershy than she has had with Tree Hugger, showing himself off as funnier than Tree Hugger, etc., etc. In other words, trying to do what in office lingo is termed “one-upping”.

“One-upping” or “topping” refers to whenever someone tells a story, shares an accomplishment, or notes something incredible they did…someone interjects and says how they have a better story, a greater accomplishment, or in some way did something even more amazing. Occasionally in groups this goes around in a circle. I know if you get a bunch of guys together and get them talking about sports, video games, parties, or whatever, they’ll eventually all start talking about the best moment any of them had to try and have the best one of the bunch. Yet there are certain individuals who do that and only that all the time: “one-uppers” or “toppers”.

These people quickly get intolerable.

As anyone who has ever been in a conversation with these people has realized, all talk quickly becomes about them. You can’t share any story or moment in your life without them saying about how they did it better or how they experienced greater. It’s not long before someone’s ego gets too much to bear and discourages anyone from saying anything. I myself know someone like this, and most of the time I’m just silent as he seems to only care about what’s going on in his life, and never reacts to anything I say unless it’s to say how he or someone close to him has done it better. (Otherwise he largely ignores me.)

However, I know someone else who has one of the worst examples: she actually had a boss that was like this. Worse yet, he constantly went around to his employees, most of which were far lower income than him, and talked on and on about how much he could afford, all the expensive trips he went on, all the nice places he could eat, etc. Even hearing this once would be incredibly rude. If this went on day after day, week after week, it could quickly turn a workplace environment into a hostile place and make employees lose respect for their supervisor; neither of which is good for the individual or the business he or she is responsible for.

People who feel the compulsion to be “one-uppers” or “toppers” are likely highly insecure about themselves. They feel awkward or inadequate in some way, such as how Discord was fearful that Fluttershy had replaced him with a “better friend”, and as a result they try to overcompensate by making themselves look better in every way. But rather than getting people to see them as better, they’re soon put off by their ego and insecurities, and being around these people becomes uncomfortable and unbearable. These individual become so obsessed with being better and “advertising” it that they become toxic to everyone around them, including themselves. Worst of all, they are being totally, blatantly fake…which is the most dangerous thing of all, as God can only work on us to the degree we are truthful about ourselves.

In the Bible, God had little patience for those who sung their own praises, such as in Daniel 4:28-33. “All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.” Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.”

Furthermore, Lord Jesus Himself warned against singing one’s own praises and accomplishments in regards to the religious leaders of His day. “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him… When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6: 1-8, 16-18)

If you happen to be close to someone who is in the habit of “one-upping” and “topping”, you might try subtly hinting to them what they are doing with emphasis on the behavior rather than the individual personally, but as people like this are often insecure about themselves don’t expect them to take too kindly to a call to be introspective about their own behavior. Rather, my main encouragement for this word is to be on guard ourselves, especially if, on taking a hard look at ourselves, we find that we too feel the need to constantly “top” others around us in conversation. If such is the case, we need to try and find the source of our insecurity and break the habit. Failure to do so is not only poison to potential and existing relationships, but also to ourselves.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that you always accept me in spite of all of my weaknesses and insecurities. If I am guilty of the sin of envy, please confront me with it so that I can find the source, resolve it, and repent of it. Grant that I may never fall victim to the compulsion to make myself ‘look better’ than others around me in order to feel better about myself, and give me the courage and wisdom to always be honest about myself to others and especially to you. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

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