In virtually all of Scripture, coveting is viewed in a bad light. It is the final interdiction in the commandments in Exodus 20. It is what took all hope away from Saul, the proud Pharisee (Rom 7:7-11). It is condemned in Luke 12:15, Romans 1:29, 13:9, and in Ephesians 5:3. It is universally viewed in a negative manner.
Is “coveting” ever good? While the word in the original is different from that used in the above cited Scriptures, there is an occasion where the Apostle Paul encourages coveting: “But covet earnestly the best gifts” (1Cor 12:31).
The background to Paul’s words reveals an assembly that needed no encouragement to covet. Rivalry, contention, envying of one another, and the place and prestige which the charismatic gifts afforded, marked the assembly at Corinth. Everyone wanted prominence, and the quickest way to the top was by the gift of tongues or some other spectacular charismatic gift. If any assembly in the New Testament did not need an exhortation to covet, it was Corinth!
Amidst this contentious hotbed of envy and rivalry, Paul encouraged the assembly to covet the best gifts. What Paul is saying is vital to grasp. He is not encouraging individual believers to earnestly desire to have the best gift in the assembly. He is calling on the assembly to unitedly cry to God to provide the gifts which they required.
Paul is suggesting that God will provide what an assembly needs to function if that assembly will look to Him for its needs. The thought of the Lord Jesus being “in the midst” is that His resources as Head of the Body are available to meet the needs locally of each assembly.
Our prayer meetings should be marked by the confessions and repentance which Revelation 2 and 3 exhort. They should be marked by praying for governments as 1 Timothy 2 teaches. We need to call upon God for the souls of men and women, families in our midst, and our contacts. But we should also be calling upon God to provide the gifts needed for the assembly, the work of God, and the continuation of testimony for God. Paul intimated the same in Philippians 4:19 when he reminded the assembly there that God would supply all their needs in total consistency with His wealth.
What do we, as assemblies, need today? The catalogue of our needs is overwhelming. There are sections of North America, vast tracts with huge populations and not a single full-time gospel worker. There are assemblies which face a future without men willing to take leadership, or men in leadership so busy with work that shepherding is difficult. We lack the abundance of men of a previous generation who could teach the Word of God contextually and with power. We lack personal workers; there are open doors on the mission field with no one to walk through them and bring the gospel. The list is humbling. The time is crucial. May we begin to collectively call upon God to meet the need of testimony in our day; to raise up leaders, personal workers, evangelists, teachers, missionaries, and godly men and women to further the work of God.