There’s something in us that discounts our current circumstances: our lives, our location, our role, our life. We look at others and want more. It’s sin, of course, a direct violation of the tenth word:
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall 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. (Exodus 20:17)
I’m always struck by how comprehensive this command is. It goes into detail, because our hearts covet in detail. I’m also struck by how often we break this command without even noticing — even, maybe especially, pastors.
They Look So Good
Studies suggest that spending goes up with social media consumption. We see how others live, and we expect that we should be able to keep up.
I’m guessing that the same applies to pastoring. Every week I see images of full churches and read about how God is moving in churches across the world. I see pictures of baptisms and crowds.
I also hear the podcasts. I can’t possibly keep up with the best of the preaching out there.
It’s good when I can rejoice in how God is using others. It’s dangerous if I begin to envy the ministries of others.
The social media images and podcasts don’t give the full picture. Even if they do, they don’t mean that I deserve the same. Our churches aren’t always ready for social media, and that’s not a bad thing. This side of glory, churches are made to be messy.
We can fight pastoral covetousness in two ways.
Positively: cultivate contentment. Find satisfaction in your work and your place. Pray for joy. Base your identity not on how well your ministry is going, but who you are in Jesus.
After all, one day you’ll long for what you have now. Besides, I hear those who have larger ministries who long for a church like yours. Don’t miss the blessings that are yours that would be absent if your ministry was larger.
Second: love fellow pastors and churches. Pick one you’re tempted to envy, and pray for them. Ask God to give you joy when other ministries succeed. Ask God to free you from coveting their success. See their success as kingdom success, and remind yourself that we all work for the same master.
“Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot” (Ecclesiastes 5:18). What God has given is enough. We can enjoy it and praise God for what he’s given others.
Nothing will rob a pastor of joy as much as covetousness. Nothing will remove our focus from the good gifts that God has given us. Nothing will rob us of the partnership we’re meant to enjoy with our fellow laborers. Let’s recognize pastoral covetousness, and let’s commit to fight it for the sake of our souls and the health of our ministries.