Being for someone means I celebrate their victories and mourn their setbacks. It means I deeply and sincerely wish them well.
This is not easy to do. It doesn’t take much truth-telling for me to admit that I don’t want my enemies to succeed. More humbling is the fact that, deep down, I often don’t even want my friends to succeed too much.
One of my earliest church memories is of a time when our Sunday School teacher decided to have a Bible verse memorizing contest. We all had a poster that went on the wall, and for every verse you could recite, you’d get a sticker. If you won the contest, you would win a white Bible with your name printed on it in gold letters. I wanted that Bible so badly I would have violated most of what’s in it to get hold of it.
Competition, comparison, envy—they are all anti-community.
Not long into the contest it became clear that the competition was really between me and a girl named Louise—a freckle-faced, snotty little kid with big glasses. For weeks it was nip and tuck between the two of us. We matched each other sticker for sticker. But in the final month she began to pull away. In the final week, it was clear she was going to win.
I wanted the Bible so much that I began to wonder what I could do about Louise. So I killed her. At least in my mind I did. I did not like her. I did not rejoice when her name was the one called. I did not celebrate her victory.
I hate to say it, but that was not the last time that I’ve turned church into a contest.
Competition, comparison, envy—they are all anti-community. Paul said that we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice; [and] mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Competition and envy cause me to mourn when others rejoice and rejoice when others mourn. They lead me to diminish others instead of building them up. They cause me to be opposed to other people instead of being for them.
John Ortberg, Laurie Pederson, and Judson Poling, Groups: The Life-Giving Power of Community (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).