Is it proper for me to pray that a particular person will love me more than he or she is currently doing? Will God answer such a prayer? I mean: would it be covetousness to desire another person’s love. But just so that there is no misunderstanding, please note that I am not asking this question in the context of marriage or romance, but of relationship in the church.
This is an interesting question that (as far as I know) is sometimes considered in the context of courtship and or marriage when there is a perceived one-sidedness or inequity of affection. But yes, I can think of how this question can arise in the context of church relationship. We are commanded to love one another in the church unconditionally as Christ loves us unconditionally; but how much would our duty toward any particular person be sweetened when we know that he or she loves us.
But, the question is: Is it in accordance to God’s will for us to pray that a fellow member of the church loves us more than what we perceive him or her to be doing presently? I do not think there is a straightforward answer as it really depends on whether our perception of the other person is right. Let me put it this way: I do not think it is covetousness to desire our brethren’s love if: (1) you can be sure that you are not desiring his or her love for selfish reasons; and (2) you know as a fact (not mere feeling) that he or she has been unloving towards you. It is God’s will for brethren to love one another, and therefore it would be according to God’s will to pray for the brethren’s obedience. It would be for their good and would be pleasing to the Lord! However, if you desire a particular person in the church to show more love to you for selfish reasons, then I think it can indeed be covetousness. And not only so, it may be indicative of self-conceit or pride. And if it is covetousness or pride, then you cannot expect God to answer your prayer, for James says: "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (Jas 4:3).
I am not sure what else I can say without the any specific context. However, Richard Baxter addressed a similar question in his Christian Directory that I believe can be quite helpful for thinking more on the question especially as it relates to our own hearts. Baxter may have in mind also marriages and families, and his answer can also possibly be applied to courtships, but I think you can draw the principles from it. The question that Baxter is addressing is: "Is it lawful to have an earnest desire to be loved by others? Especially by some one person above all other?" Now, his question is relevant to ours as it would be according to God’s will to pray according to a lawful desire, but not an unlawful desire.
We quote Baxter’s answer in full with only changes to his very confusing enumerations:
There is a desire of others’ love which is lawful, and there is a desire which is unlawful.
I. It is lawful, (1) When we desire it as it is their duty, which God himself obligeth them to perform, and so is part of their integrity, and is their own good, and pleaseth God. So parents must desire their children to love them, and one another, because it is their duty, and else they are unnatural and bad. And husband and wife may desire that each other discharge that duty of love, which God requireth, and so may all others. (2) It is lawful also to desire for our own sakes to be loved by others; so be it it be, (a) with a calm and sober desire, which is not eager, peremptory, or importunate, nor overvalueth the love of man. (b) According to the proportion of our own worth; not desiring to be thought greater, wiser, or better than indeed we are, nor loved erroneously by an overvaluing love. (c) When we desire it for the benefits to which it tendeth, more than to be valued and loved for ourselves: as, (i) That we may receive that edification and good from a friend which love disposeth them to communicate. (ii) That we may do that good to our friends, which love disposeth them, to receive. (iii) That we may honour and please God, who delighteth in the true love and concord of his children.
II. But the unlawful desire of others’ love to us is much more common, and is a sin of a deeper malignity than is commonly observed. This desire of love is sinful, when it is contrary to that before described; as, (1) When we desire it over-eagerly. (2) When we desire it selfishly and proudly, to be set up in the good opinion of others; and not to make a benefit of it to ourselves or them; but our own honour is more desired in it, than the honour of God. (3) When we desire to be thought greater, wiser or better than we are, and to be loved with such an overvaluing love; and have no desire that the bounds of truth and usefulness should restrain and limit that love to us which we affect. (4) When it is an erroneous, fanciful, carnal, or lustful esteem of some one person, which maketh us desire his love more than others. As because he is higher, richer, fairer, &c.
This eager desire to be over-loved by others, hath in it all these aggravations: (1) It is the very sin of pride, which God hath declared so great a detestation of. For pride is an over-valuing ourselves, for greatness, wisdom, or goodness, and a desire to be so overvalued of others. And he that would be over-loved, would be over-valued. (2) It is self-idolising: when we would be loved as better than we are, we rob God of that love which men should render to him, who can never be overloved, and we would fain seem a kind of petty deities to the world, and draw men’s eyes and heart unto ourselves. When we should be jealous of God’s interest and honour, lest we or any creature should have his due, this proud disposition maketh people set up themselves in the estimation of others, and they scarce care how good or wise they are esteemed, nor how much they are lifted up in the hearts of others. (3) It is an injurious insnaring the minds of others and tempting them to erroneous opinions of us, and affections to us; which will be their sin, and may bring them into many inconveniences. It is an ordinary thing to do greater hurt to a friend whom we value, by insnaring him in an inordinate love, than ever we did or can do to an enemy by hating him (A Christian Directory [SDG, 1996], 878-9).
I trust you can see how Baxter’s answer is applicable to your question. We ought only to pray for things desired lawfully. But I believe you can see that Baxter’s answer is applicable not just in a matter of prayer, but in the whole matter of maintaining good relationships within the church. The Lord teaches us:
"If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Mt 5:23-24).
If you perceive that someone in the church hate you, it would be to you that he has an "aught against" you. In such a situation, the Scriptural teaching is that you should seek to reconcile with the person. But before doing so, it may be good to first examine your heart to see if your desiring his love is lawful. The fault, after all, could lie with you. And it would by implication lie with you if your desire for his love were unlawful.
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