There is much confusion today in understanding the meaning of love. Love and lust have been greatly misunderstood. Lust has been largely substituted for love, especially in relationships between the sexes. Any dictionary would define lust as “an intense longing, desire, or need,” “a personal inclination.” While this definition is true, it is not by any means complete. The fact is: Lust is predicated on a selfish desire to have and, with regard to the sexes, exhibits an intense physical desire. Lust is an integral part of human nature. “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
Jesus described what frequently influences human beings to express lust. He told the Pharisees: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). Lust is one of the distinguishing marks of the world. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). All men are affected by it in one manner or another.
What induced Eve to disobey God? Satan first asked her if she were permitted to eat the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden. When she replied, Satan said that God did not really mean what He had said (Gen. 3:1-5). “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (vv. 4-5).With this lie, Eve eyed the fruit on the tree. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (v. 6). While she had been deceived, what motivated her to take of the fruit? Lust! This was the cause of her disobedience? Why was it lust? Because lust is that which is illegal in the sight of God. To partake of the fruit was a violation of God’s command. Eve lusted and coveted that which did not belong to her. She, along with Adam, was guilty of theft, and both dishonored their Father-God.
Lust is so important that it is included in the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Ex. 20:17). The Apostle Paul stated, ” . . . for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7). The word “neighbor” means one’s fellow man. Why do so many burglaries occur? Because burglars and thieves covet that which others have worked for and possess. While it is true that many burglaries take place because of a need for money to support a drug habit, many do not. Many people are jealous and class conscious due to the economic status and wealth of others. Some have a longing or inordinate desire to possess what others own. This form of class hatred is embedded in the communist philosophy. This was masked under the ruse that society should be egalitarian, that possessions should belong to all, and there should be no private property. Whatever the specific motivation for burglary, the fundamental cause is lust or coveting. The Law of God defines lust. Lust is the selfish, inward desire to fulfill the cravings of the flesh. It is almost always outside of God’s Law and has little concern for the feelings and needs of others.
The nation of Israel-the Old Testament Church-was given a law that proscribes this kind of conduct. It is a law that applies in the New Testament as well. “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Rom. 13:9). It did not take long for the Israelites to come under the influence of the Gentile nations around them-nations that had no knowledge of God’s Commandments. What happened to ancient Israel was intended as lessons for us today. “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11).
What did the Apostle Paul write?
But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. (1 Cor. 10:5-10)
Christians also, because of the propensity of human nature, sometimes give in to the pulls and lusts of the flesh. Easy access to credit has placed many people in virtual bankruptcy. They cannot control their lusts, purchasing items for which they cannot pay. Easy credit has become a curse for many, who often have half-a-dozen credit cards or more and continually make minimum payments with high rates of interest. Some will never get out of debt. Paul warned Timothy: “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). It seems that young people are particularly vulnerable to various lusts. Regardless of age, however, everyone including Christians are subject to lust. This is why Paul cautioned: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). In “the parable of the sower,” Jesus warned His followers: “And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19).
We may have heard the phrase, “The devil made me do it.” Of course this was a well-known joke. Nevertheless, some people would like to make others responsible for their conduct. Some even blame God. The Apostle James wrote: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (Ja. 1:13-14). Men are free moral agents. God allows us to make our own decisions. Yet, some would have us believe that either the devil or God are responsible for our weaknesses and sins. Certainly the devil can be an influence, but not God. God tempts no man.
Lust is behind most wars. The origin of war begins with theft. Theft is generated by lust-the unlawful desire to have what others have gained, or what God’s Law forbids. The Apostle James asked: “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (Jas. 4:1-3). Usually some emotional or patriotic reason is concocted, but generally this is not the real reason.
In 1933, Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, gave a revealing speech. Following are excerpts from that speech.
War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. . . . I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket. . . . I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 . . . . I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested. . . . During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.
The Apostle James certainly knew what he was talking about. General Butler’s statements attest to that.
During the New Testament period, the Greeks had three separate words for “love,” though only two of them are found in the original New Testament autographs. These are phileo and agape. The third word is found in non-biblical literature and is eros. It refers to sexual love; eros is purely physical in meaning. Today people are so confused about the meaning of love that they have no understanding of what it is. Phileo refers to brotherly love, or to have affection for, while agape has a much deeper meaning and refers to loving someone more than one’s own life, or God’s love to men. Agape transcends physical love and includes spiritual love. How, then, should love be defined? Simply put, it means to have an unselfish outgoing concern for others. It is primarily the attitude of giving, not receiving, and is not based on self-gratification and self-seeking. Infatuation, often confused with love, is a form of imagination. It means to cause to be foolish, to deprive of sound judgment, or to inspire with a foolish or extravagant love or admiration. In brief, it is an unrealistic obsession and is the standard diet of infantile love. One cannot help but wonder how many movie stars are affected by it.
There is much in the Bible about the danger of lust. Two of the most frequently mentioned forms of lust are fornication and adultery-the wrongful desire of a man for an unmarried woman or for another man’s wife, though this can work both ways. Even the ancients understood this. “If mine heart have been deceived by a woman, or if I have laid wait at my neighbour’s door; Then let my wife grind unto another, and let others bow down upon her. For this is an heinous crime; yea, it is an iniquity to be punished by the judges” (Job 31:9-11). We are warned: “But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul” (Prov. 6:32). Jesus instructed: ” . . .Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). The Apostle Paul warned: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind” (1 Cor. 6:9).
The Law of God was given to protect us. “For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life” (Prov. 6:23).
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. (Ps. 19:7-11)
So confusing is the understanding of love that most couples are unable to identity it in their relationships with their prospective marriage partners. Guided by emotion and physical desires, they do not know what to look for in a mate. An article on the Internet by Edith Ankersmit Kemp, L.C. S. W., and Jerrold E. Kemp, Ed. D. recently outlined a number of things to look for in a partner. Among them were empathy, the ability to recognize and respond to the feelings of others; affection, which includes doing thoughtful things for others; sexuality, the ability to be tender and passionate; reliability and honesty, that is, knowing that your partner can really be relied upon; intellectual and social competency, having similar levels of intelligence and sociality; and financial security, that is, able to offer the necessary support for you and the family. All these exemplify love, as it should be understood, yet how many couples contemplating marriage think seriously about these things? Hollywood has completely muddled the minds of millions who have no clue as to what true love is all about.
Let us notice some Bible examples of the right kind of love. Jacob’s love for Rachel is an outstanding example. He worked for this father-in-law, Laban, for seven years in order to marry her, and then was deceived into marrying her sister. So, he worked another seven years for Rachel (Gen. 29). This example is one of sacrifice and undying love.
Another example is that of Ruth and Naomi. Because of a famine in the land of Judah, Naomi had gone to the land of Moab with her husband and two sons. Naomi’s husband died, and she was left with the two sons. Both of them had married Moabite women. Ruth was the wife of one of the sons, but both sons died, so both Ruth and Naomi were widows. Naomi determined to return to the land of Judah and urged her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab and to eventually remarry. But Ruth refused. Her words are some of the most moving in the entire Bible. She told Naomi: ” . . . Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16). This example of love and devotion was completely outgoing. Ruth was willing to sacrifice her own desires for the sake of her widowed mother-in-law. Was she blessed for this? Yes, indeed. She eventually married Boaz, who was the father of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David!
Some examples of lust are found in the book of Samuel. We read: “And it came to pass after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her. And Amnon was so vexed, that he fell sick for his sister Tamar; for she was a virgin; and Amnon thought it hard for him to do any thing to her” (2 Sam. 13:1-2). Amnon had given himself over to lust. Not only was this desire inordinate, but the Bible also forbids marriages between blood relatives (Lev. 18:6-20).
Through subtlety he managed to get Tamar alone. And what did he do?
. . . He took hold of her, and said unto her, Come lie with me, my sister. And she answered him, Nay, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to be done in Israel: do not thou this folly. And I, whither shall I cause my shame to go? and as for thee, thou shalt be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray thee, speak unto the king; for he will not withhold me from thee. Howbeit he would not hearken unto her voice: but, being stronger than she, forced her, and lay with her. (2 Sam. 13:11-14)
Notice the immediate outcome of his “love.” “Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. And Amnon said unto her, Arise, be gone” (2 Sam.13:15). David failed to do anything about the matter. What happened then?
Now Absalom [Tamar’s full brother] had commanded his servants, saying, Mark ye now when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say unto you, Smite Amnon; then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you? be courageous, and be valiant. And the servants of Absalom did unto Amnon as Absalom had commanded. . . . (2 Sam.13:28-29)
David did not set the best example himself. The sins that he was deeply censored for was his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. For a time he allowed lust to rule his life. The account is found in 2 Samuel 12. What was the consequence of this lust?
Though God did not require his life, the Prophet Nathan told him:
Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun . . . . Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die. (2 Sam. 12:9-12, 14)
David’s house and family were certainly cursed for this sin.
One servant of God who had strong character and did not yield to lust was Joseph. Joseph was sold as a slave by his brothers and taken into Egypt. Because of his natural abilities he eventually ended up as the overseer to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. After a time Potiphar’s wife began to lust after Joseph.
And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? (Gen. 39:7-9)
This did not happen once. It happened repeatedly. “And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her” (Gen. 39:10). But one day, he made a mistake. He failed to have others accompany him into the house. “And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out” (Gen. 39:12). She became so angry, she made false accusations against Joseph, and Potiphar, believing her, had Joseph cast into prison. But God blessed Joseph and helped him. Though incarcerated, he was placed in charge of the prison. He was eventually freed and became the Prime Minister of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. Are there blessings for morality and honor? Yes indeed! If not in this life, there will be in the life to come (Ps. 15).
An example of God’s love is seen in Ezekiel 16. It portrays God’s relationship with Jerusalem, which represented the nation of Israel.
And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the lothing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born . . . . Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine . . . . I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head. Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom. (Ezek. 16:4-5, 8, 11-13)
This love was not based on lust, but on a total outgoing concern. The nation of Israel did not appreciate what God had done and did not remain faithful. Nevertheless, the symbolism depicts the kind of love God has for man. Though that covenant was broken, the time is coming when it will be restored in a spiritual relationship.
Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God. Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land . . . . (Hos. 1:10-11).
The marriage relationship between a man and his wife should illustrate the relationship God has with His people. Here is what the Apostle Paul wrote:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. (Eph. 5:25-33)
Is this relationship based on lust-the inordinate desire to possess and control? Of course not! There is a struggle that goes on within the human soul. The selfish tendency to lust is ever there. The Christian way of life requires us to overcome this inclination. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12). “. . . Put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph. 4:22-23). “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). Understanding the difference between love and lust can be an important stepping-stone in helping us to rid lust from our hearts and minds and to grow in the love of God.