First of all, we need to understand the definition of the verb “lust.”
1. To desire eagerly; to long; with after.
Thou mayest kill and eat flesh in all thy gates, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after. Deu 12.
2. To have carnal desire; to desire eagerly the gratification of carnal appetite.
Lust not after her beauty in thy heart. Prov 6.
Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. Mat 5.
3. To have irregular or inordinate desires.
Lust not after evil things as they also lusted. 1 Cor 10.
Scriptural Warning Against Lust
Having defined the word lust, let’s see what the Scripture says about lusting after one another. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” (1Th 4:3-7)
He said God’s will is our sanctification and specifically to abstain from sexual immorality. In order to do so, we must each know how to control our own vessel in holiness and honor. J. Smith argues in “1 Thess 4:4 - Breaking the Impasse,” BBR 10 (Fall 2000), that “vessel” in this context is very likely a delicate reference to the sexual organs. Since it is forbidden by God to use the sexual organs outside of marriage, this passage has definite application for married couples in their conduct with one another, as well as for single people to warn them against immorality outside of marriage.
The Greek word translated “vessel” is “skeuos,” meaning “vessel or implement.” "Vessel" was a common Greek metaphor for "body" since Greeks thought of souls living temporarily in bodies. If you translate the Greek word “skeuos” to mean “body” rather than “vessel”, in the context of controlling your body with regard to abstaining from sexual immorality, it still refers to the use of the body in sexual activity. In other words, it does not change the meaning of the passage.
The Greek word for “lustful” in this verse is “epithumia”, meaning “desire, craving, longing, desire for what is forbidden, lust.” It comes from epithumeo, which means “a longing (especially for what is forbidden):-concupiscence, desire, lust (after).” Concupiscence is a “strong sexual desire; lust.”
The Greek word for “passion” in this verse is “pathos,” meaning "1) whatever befalls one, whether it be sad or joyous 1a) spec. a calamity, mishap, evil, affliction 2) a feeling which the mind suffers 2a) an affliction of the mind, emotion, passion 2b) passionate deed 2c) used by the Greeks in either a good or bad sense 2d) in the NT in a bad sense, depraved passion, vile passions.”
Therefore, we could define “lustful passion” as “a feeling that the mind suffers due to a craving, longing, or desire for what is forbidden;” or “a depraved passion one feels while experiencing a craving, longing, or desire for what is forbidden;” or “a depraved feeling arising from irregular or inordinate desires to do that which is forbidden;” or “suffering emotionally intense feelings due to a carnal desire;” or “a feeling that the mind suffers while desiring eagerly the gratification of carnal appetite.” If we define lustful as behavior that is characterized by concupiscence, then we could define “lustful passion” as “intense, wicked, corrupted, or impure emotions arising from a strong sexual desire.”
Since a healthy sexual desire is central to any stable marriage relationship, we know that this in itself is not a sin. It is given to us by God and the apostle Paul commanded Christian couples to "stop depriving one another" of normal marital relations. He said:
“The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1Co 7:3-5)
God wants married couples to enjoy their relations together. So it is ideal for couples to enjoy marital bliss in their relations with one another as Adam and Eve did before the fall. They should do so as often as they wish. It only becomes sinful if it involves a misplaced or illegitimate desire of some kind. One example would be to insist upon having your own way to satisfy your longing in such a manner that is selfish and inconsiderate of your spouse and his or her needs. Another example would be to desire to do some sexual act with your spouse that is unloving and solely for the gratification of your carnal appetite. I think some other obvious ways a couple could lust sinfully in marriage would be to video tape themselves and play it back or photograph each other and look at those in order to become aroused; to watch pornography together as a way of becoming aroused for sex; to crave oral sex or ungodly sex positions; to desire to perform sadomasochism (e.g., tying each other up and inflicting pain and pleasure), which is satanic bondage. There are many countless ways to sin in the marriage bed, and it would not be possible to state every single way. However, God is willing to open our eyes and hearts into these sins as we desire to be holy and live for him.
Even in the marriage bed we must do everything with love, for the glory of God, as unto the Lord, and in the name of Jesus. We must treat our spouse the way we want to be treated. We must prefer one another in love. There are certain acts that are forbidden by God between couples, and it is not possible to perform such acts with love, or for the glory of God, or in the name of Jesus. Therefore, a longing or craving to do such things with your spouse is considered lusting and is indeed sinful.
Righteous Desire in Scripture
Now that I have explained the possibility of sinful lust in marriage, as well as the non-sinful, healthy aspects of sexual relations in marriage, let’s look at one more thing. There are other uses of the Greek word for "lust" in the Bible that have a good connotation, which indicates that there is a way that we can crave or desire strongly something that is not sinful.
When Jesus taught about "lust" in Matt 5:28, the Greek word there is "epithumeo", meaning "to set the heart upon, that is, long for (rightfully or otherwise): - covet, desire, would fain, lust (after)." That same Greek word "epithumeo" is used in a positive sense in many passages, including Lk 17:22; 22:15; Heb 6:11; and 1 Pe 1:12. So that teaches us that it is definitely possible to lust in a non-sinful way. The following are some examples:
"And He said to the disciples, 'The days will come when you will long (epithumeo) to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.'" (Luk 17:22)
"And He said to them, 'I have earnestly desired (epithumeo) to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;'" (Luk 22:15)
"It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires (epithumeo) to do." (1Ti 3:1)
"And we desire (epithumeo) that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end." (Heb 6:11)
"It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things into which angels long (epithumeo) to look." (1Pe 1:12)
In the Law, we also see this same word epithumeo used in a positive light in the Greek Septuagint. Moses said, "Notwithstanding thou mayest kill and eat flesh in all thy gates, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, according to the blessing of the LORD thy God which he hath given thee: the unclean and the clean may eat thereof, as of the roebuck, and as of the hart." (Deu 12:15)
The Hebrew word for "lusteth" is "'avvah" meaning "desire, lust, will (not necessarily evil)." It comes from a root word "avah" meaning "to wish for:-covet, (greatly) desire, be desirous, long, lust (after)."
Granted none of these uses of epithumeo in Scripture refer to lusting after a woman. But they do show us that it is possible to set one's heart upon, that is, long for or desire something rightfully. It is similar to the expression, "We covet your prayers," which uses the term "covet" in a righteous way.
Putting it All Together
Therefore, while it is certainly possible for one to lust sinfully for his own wife, there is also a righteous way to earnestly desire and long for your wife that is not sinful. In order for it to be holy, it must be motivated by love and not be forbidden in Scripture. In fact, the Bible actually calls it love, not lust, since lust is not one of the fruit of the Spirit, but love is (Gal 5:22-23). The Scripture commands husbands to love their wives (Eph 5:25). What we need in marriage, which pleases the Lord, is love from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith (1 Tim 1:5), but not carnal lust that simply feeds the flesh.
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB, except where otherwise noted.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like A Warning for Married Christian Couples, Adultery According to Jesus, The Forgotten Sin of Worldliness, Ezekiel Moses Testimony of Heaven and Hell, Is Obedience Optional?, Holy Living in a Perverted World, Is Contraception a Sin? -- a Divine Revelation, Avoid Becoming a Corrupted Christian, Sins That Will Keep You From Heaven, Restored Truth, Testing the Spirits of False Prophets, A Warning to the Nay Sayers, The Ways of Life, and the other posts on the home page. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org