Have you ever been around a “One Upper?” This is the strange, yet common breed of person that no matter what you have done, seen, or planned to do, can “one up” your story. A typical conversation with a “One Upper” goes something like this:
YOU: “I was just diagnosed with cancer and have ten weeks to live.”
ONE UPPER: “Oh really? I was diagnosed with an even worse strand of cancer and should have died ten days ago.”
Sadly, I am not exaggerating that much.
We all have “One Uppers” in our lives who have experienced better and longer vacations, have undergone more painful surgeries, and have a more dysfunctional family than us. Further, they are not afraid to tell us about them.
Interestingly enough, we do not pity the “One Upper” for the depth of their suffering, or celebrate them for the grandiosity of their success. Instead, we typically turn silent around the “One Upper.” We know they have a “better” story than ours, so we tend to swallow our own stories rather than have them topped like a bid at the county auction.
I think the reason we do this is because there are few things more personal than someone’s story. The things that you and I have experienced are very important extensions of who we are as people, therefore, to have our stories topped somehow lowers us on the pecking order of the human race. In a sense, our stories are many times about us, and by keeping our stories to ourselves around a “one upper” we protect ourselves from appearing second class.
As I read the book of 2 Timothy, I see the stories of two men who are both heroes of the Christian faith, Paul and Timothy. At the time that 2 Timothy was written, both men were leaders in the early church. Both men had been used by God to do great things. The path to church leadership for both men, however, was quite different.
Paul grew up a Hebrew of Hebrews. He was a Jew through and through who studied under the greatest teachers of devout Judaism. Like many Jewish leaders of his day, Paul rejected the teaching and person of Jesus Christ and set out to destroy the church that Jesus had founded. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that Paul was “dead set” against the church, as he stood by and participated in attempts to assassinate leaders in Christ’s earliest church. This path of destruction for Paul was radically changed (in Acts 9) when Jesus appeared to Paul as he was heading toward the city of Damascus to round up and persecute more Christians. Jesus called Paul out of his life of destruction and to a life of being a minister of grace in the name of Jesus Christ to all the non-Jewish people of the world. Paul repented of his past ways and accepted the new life offered to him in Christ, and his transformation is remembered today as maybe the greatest 180 in church history.
Timothy, on the other hand, had a much different testimony (as 2 Timothy 1:5 tells us). Timothy grew up in a home where his mother and grandmother believed in Jesus Christ and taught him to place his faith in Christ at an early age. Timothy had no “Damascus Road” experience like Paul did. He grew up embracing Christ by faith.
I can imagine if the leaders of the early church got together to share their testimonies that no one would have wanted to follow Paul. After all, his story could “one up” all of theirs. By our subjective scale, Paul’s story is just more impressive. However, it is interesting to see that in the opening verses of 2 Timothy, Paul celebrates Timothy’s testimony. The man who would have been able to “one up” Timothy does not take the opportunity to do so. He recounts Timothy’s legacy of faith with great admiration and appreciation.
I believe Paul does this because he realizes that the faith story of any Christian is not about Paul OR Timothy. The faith story of any Christian is really the continuing story of Jesus Christ. Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:8-9, “But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life – NOT BECAUSE OF ANYTHING WE HAVE DONE but because of His own purpose and grace.” In other words, it was Jesus’ plan, power, and creativity that authored each of our testimonies. While each story is different, each can be celebrated because the Master’s hand can be seen in each one. In Paul’s life, the depth of God’s grace can be seen as He can change the heart of His greatest opponent. In Timothy’s life, the depth of God’s grace can be seen as He works through a loving mother and grandmother to bring up a child with a soft heart for the things of God and an enduring faith in the person of Jesus Christ. Each story can be shared boldly and proudly because each story is not about them, but is about Him.
Remember this the next time you are asked to share what God has done in your life and you pause, wondering if your story is “good enough” or will be “one upped” by the recovered drug addict sitting next to you. Your spiritual story is not just about you. It is about Him. The spiritual stories of all Christians point to Him and He can never be topped.