by JOHN HUGH TATE
The holiday season is upon us. It’s a time for giving, receiving, and catching up with those dearest to us. It is also the time when we covet the most.
Coveting. What is it? The dictionary defines it as “to desire wrongfully” or “to wish for, especially eagerly.” Simply put, we covet what other people have. We covet what our neighbors have, whether they live across the street, work in our offices, attend our churches, or go to our parties.
Coveting enters our thoughts as we say, “I wish I had their house. I wish I could take that trip to St. Croix. I wish I could give my children that gift. I wish our home could be decorated that way. I wish I had their job. I wish I could be invited to that party. I wish I had more money. I wish I lived in that zip code. I wish I had their status. I wish I had those friends. I wish—I had their life.”
In the Ten Commandments, God establishes “you shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbors” (Exodus 20: 17). A servant, ox, or donkey, we may not have. A country club membership, a flat screen TV, a Lexus, or J Crew suit, we may have. Or, we might not. And we can easily covet such things. It is in this season—when what we have, what we give, and what we receive are on full display—that we covet.
Thus, it is so important to grasp the reality of the incarnation, God becoming flesh as Jesus Christ. Paul writes of this to the church at Philippi, and to us today, as he states, “Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born into the likeness of men” (Philippians 2: 5-7).
God, in all His majesty, came to us, for us, to be with us, to save us. When we have Him, we have everything. There is nothing else we need.
This passage from Paul takes on new meaning as we realize he penned these words while in prison. At that moment, in the eyes of the world, he had nothing. Yet he had everything. So he is able to claim, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
As followers of Jesus, we are called to be content. When He lives within us, we can be content in all things—whether we abound or have been brought low, whether we have abundance or need. In Christ, we can do all things by Him who strengthens us.
When we covet, we believe the great lie that such things will bring us true fulfillment and happiness. Many have discovered, they will not. Only one thing, One Person, brings us purpose and fulfillment, even to a place where coveting simply does not exist. Who is He? He is the Child born in a donkey’s trough, to poor parents, who felt the cold From Coveting to Contentment winter’s night in a stable, and yet to whom angels proclaimed and rejoiced at His birth.
The question is not, “Do we covet?” It is, “What are we coveting?” And how do we move from coveting to true contentment? On December 26 or on January 2, many of us still will not be content. We wake up wishing our Christmas had some resemblance to It’s A Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. We enter our Christmas season with great expectations. We depart it with great regret.
Instead, may we take time this season to reflect on what the incarnation, God with us, truly means for our life. That is, Christ came to bring us true contentment. Nothing else gives us what He offers. As we begin to walk with Him, we will enter a life more profound and adventurous than we dared dream or imagine.
What a tremendous Christmas gift—to move from coveting to contentment! The Good News is all of us can have this gift. It is given when we, too, bow before the born and Risen Savior. At this place of humbly giving our lives away, we find the content life we were meant to live. So it was for Paul. So it can be for us.
John Hugh Tate is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and Harvard Divinity School. He is Lead Pastor at Bellwether Church in Jackson. He is also the chaplain at Jackson Academy. He and his wife, Linda, are the parents of two sons, and he is presently working toward his Doctorate in Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary.