The tenth commandment reads as follows: “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). This is simple enough to understand – don’t envy your neighbor for what God has given him – but it can be hard to follow. Our daughter Elizabeth really struggles with this one. Elizabeth will be playing away, happy as can be, but as soon as her sister Anna grabs a new toy, Elizabeth quickly decides she wants that same toy. Elizabeth makes her wishes known very clearly to Anna (and to all) and is not satisfied until she has that toy. Perhaps you have toddler like our precious Elizabeth who struggles with envy. This doesn’t surprise us when it comes from a child, but how often do we “grown up” Christians struggle with this same sin? Even pastors, if we were honest, would admit that we too struggle with envy at times. As we encounter fellow pastors with larger churches, the sin of envy is always lurking nearby.
This past Sunday, while preaching on 1 Peter 5:1-4 and “Shepherding the flock of God”, I reminded our congregation to pray for the elders. After all, we are fallen sinful men right in the middle of our own sanctification. Just because God has appointed us to lead and shepherd does not mean we do not still struggle sin, including envy. As John Brown (1830-1922) said to one of his ministerial pupils who was newly ordained over a small congregation: “I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will be mortified that your congregation is very small in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment seat, you will think you have had enough.” (Taken from Mark Dever’s book – The Church)
Small church pastors (like myself) can be prone to this, but I have also learned that larger church pastors also struggle with envy and covetousness. There is always someone with a bigger or more fruitful church that we compare ourselves to. Where Brown’s words are particularly helpful is in his reminder that we will all give an account to the Lord. The writer of Hebrews tells us “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). One day, each pastor-shepherd will stand and give an account before God as to how he led, fed, cared for, and protected the flock God entrusted to him. Whether your church is 50, or 500, or 5000, the responsibility is monumental. This is why the small church – big church measuring stick is not always helpful. The business of soul-care has eternal ramifications and this is what makes pastoral ministry so challenging but at the same time very rewarding.
Rather than focusing on how big our friend’s church is (and how small our church is), may we commit ourselves to pray for our brethren in the ministry. Rejoice in how God is blessing and working in your friend’s church and remember that he desperately needs your prayers. He will stand before God to give an account. Along with that, commit yourself to caring for the flock of God entrusted to you. This is a stewardship like no other stewardship, and only the deepest commitment to God’s people in your midst will do.