May 5, 2014

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Church

This weekend I asked a friend, a church-planter’s wife, how the new church was going. 

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t have any other churches to compare it to.” 

And I could only think, “What a blessing!” 

For most of us, the opportunities to compare our church to other churches are numerous. Particularly in the coming months—the season of big Christian conferences and denominational mega-meetings—we are likely to meet multiple pastors and their wives whose churches seem just so . . . perfect. 

Some of them will have a shiny new building. Others will be excited about their highly-effective new outreach ministry. Even more will have numerical data about their throngs of diverse and gifted new members. 

In my experience, looking over the fence into the churchyard next door is the perfect opportunity for sin. 

Seeing my neighbor’s church’s spiritual harvest, its abundance of gifts, its overflow of zeal, and then looking back over my shoulder at the all-too-obvious weaknesses in my own? Holding up two sets of membership numbers and budget totals to the light of the same sun? Standing at the property line between ours and theirs? Oh my friends, that’s where Satan hangs out. That’s where the ancient Evil One slinks up beside us whispering envy. 

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shalt not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Ex. 20:17) 

And you shall not covet your neighbor’s church. 

The only way I know to silence that lion is to roar louder. The best way to shut up Satan and my own covetous heart is to pray. 

I am frequently convicted by the words of my church’s catechism about the positive requirements of the tenth commandment. It says that we are to cultivate “a charitable frame of the whole soul toward our neighbor . . . and further all the good which is his.” (Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 147, emphasis mine) 

So when my neighbor has some good thing, when my neighbor’s church is experiencing blessing after blessing after blessing, I ought to seek to multiply its blessing. If my neighbor’s church is adding those who are being saved, I should beg the Lord to add more. If their pastor is preaching and their congregation is praying with evidence of the Spirit’s reviving power, I ask for a greater outpouring. If they are planting other churches and sending mission-workers and reaching their community, I plead before the Throne: 

More, Lord! More, more, more! 

In The Envy of Eve, author Melissa Kruger writes, “If you set your desires or affections on what belongs to your neighbor, you will never be able to love that person well. You will think of them only in terms of what they possess instead of who they are.” 

It’s all too easy to reduce the church next door to that one thing I covet. That church with the new facility. That church with the great youth group. That church with the huge missions conference. That church. 

And praying for my neighbor’s church teaches me to consider them instead as a true body of Christ’s people, with joys and triumphs, yes, but with weaker members and besetting sins and needs and sorrows, too. They are, in fact, a church just like my own. A church just like my own, standing in the need of prayer. 

But, for me, the best part of praying for those growing, diverse, vibrant, Spirit-filled churches—those churches across town or in my denomination or on the home page of popular Christian sites—is that I get to participate. When I pray for another church, I have a share in their work. 

Because Christ has one church. One kingdom that He is advancing. One bride that He is perfecting. One body that He is supplying. And in praying for my neighbor’s church I am praying for the universal church of Jesus Christ, in which we each have a small share. The spiritual victories next door are my victories, too. Their blessings are my blessings. And on the last day, gathered before the Throne with the whole church, I will see fully how God glorified Himself in the church through my prayers. 

Please. Tell me about your church’s blessings. I want to pray

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