I was reading a discussion on the difference between hope and coveting and thought there are interesting points to make and I will interject the subject of contentment since this is involved in the question I believe. First of all, to avoid confusion it is always good to define our terms. Biblical hope is an unrealized promise from God, Heb 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. It is promised to us, it is legitimately ours; we just don’t have it yet.
Coveting in the Bible usually has a negative connotation because of the 10th Commandment, but it means to desire something greatly. It doesn’t have to be used in a negative sense such as, “I covet your prayers”. The sin comes in when we desire either something that God has told us is not ours to have such as our neighbor’s wife or to desire something inordinately. Sinful coveting is to desire something so much that we aren’t content with the lot God has given us. This can create some problems then because if God hasn’t given us something then should we desire anything we do not have?
Let’s go back to the subject of our Blessed Hope. It is clear that we are to desire for the Lord to come back and to be with God in Heaven. Is this to covet something that we do not have and so to be discontent with God’s providence? I think the answer is clear. Otherwise Paul is sinning in 2Co 5:2, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling”. The issue is whether it is godly desires that honor him or selfish desires that do not have the Lord in mind. Paul had a measure of discontent because he wanted to experience the fullness of the glory of God and it isn’t possible while we remain in this sinful flesh.
There are many things as Christians that we should covet; godliness, growth in the Lord, Christ honored in our lives. And I would say that many times we do not covet these things as much as we should. Being content in Christ doesn’t mean that we just sit back and lose all interest in things and are just glad we are saved and could care less about everything else. It is possible and necessary to be quite content in all that Jesus is to us and yet understand that there are many things that we are lacking and need in our lives. I suppose it is a paradox to some degree but not too difficult to understand if we stop and think about it.
But let’s think about one way this might work out in our thinking. Is it wrong for me to desire or covet a car that I don’t have? I think we can see that in some way if we don’t on some level want something we don’t have (read paycheck for example) we won’t accomplish anything at all. At the root of whether this is a sin or not is that basic question, “Why do you want what you want”? If you want it for prestige sake or because your selfishness won’t allow you to be content and happy in the Lord without it, then it is easy to see that sinful desires are involved.
On the other hand, if your car isn’t doing the job and buying it won’t stop you from serving the Lord then that is different. (Obviously there are a lot of other considerations but hopefully the point is made). Perhaps a better example would be food. We are to be content with enough food to live on but three times a day I begin to covet, lust maybe, for it. Overall I am content with the food I have. It is not my portion to eat as the rich do and that is ok with me but I am not content if I do not have that portion allotted to me.
The point is that desire doesn’t mean that we aren’t content in the Lord but our desires need to constantly be examined in light of scripture and as a measure of our love and contentment of Christ. 1 John 3:3 says, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” Sin causes a certain amount of discontentment in this life that can only be alleviated in our glorified state. To be perfectly contented in this life would mean that we are contented with our sinfulness to some degree.
When Paul said that he had learned to be content in every situation that didn’t mean that he didn’t have unrealized goals and desires but every desire had the glory of Christ as its basis. Certainly hope, coveting and contentment have a place in our lives but like everything else, meditation on the Word of God gives us direction.