Desire vs. Lust
Sin grows from extremes. Righteous indignation becomes wrath. Confidence becomes pride. Eating to live becomes living to eat, and sinful lust grows from healthy desire. It’s a good thing for husbands and wives to desire each other (Genesis 2:24; 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, Ecclesiastes 9:9; Proverbs 5:18-21), but lust is a different matter.
Do you remember the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife? (Genesis chapter 39.) She is Joseph’s bored mistress. Potiphar has been neglecting her, and Joseph, her slave, is a desirable young man. The first time she tempts Joseph, the young man explains why he won’t sleep with her. This only makes the game more interesting, so Joseph takes steps to stay away from her and temptation.
One day his plans fail, and Joseph finds himself alone with her and desire. Rather than give in, Joseph jumped out the window!
A “One-woman man”
Let’s turn now to the New Testament. Most of the English versions translate one of Paul’s qualities of an elder in Titus 1:6 something like “the husband of one wife” (ASV, KJV, NKJV, ESV, NIV, NASB, RSV), but this isn’t quite right.
The Greek text of Luke 2:36 describes Anna as a “one-man woman.” Later, in Timothy and Titus, a man who wishes to become an elder must be a “one-woman man. (See the footnote of the ISV and Eugene Peterson’s translation which asks, “Is he committed to his wife?”)
This supports Jesus’ observation, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mathew 5:27, 28).
But with the pervasiveness of sex all around us, coupled with our own God-given, natural desires, how is this possible? Intense sexual attraction is notorious for obliterating common sense and intuition in the most sensible people.
How can we resist temptation? Follow Joseph out the window! Martin Luther observed, “You can’t keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair!”
Let me ask, “Who is the more skillful lover?” Don Juan, who goes from one conquest to another, or the man who satisfies the same lover for fifty years?
I’ve always admired Paul Newman’s answer. “Why have peanut butter out when you can have steak at home?” Remember, just because someone is advertising doesn’t give you the right to shop. Perhaps the most helpful advice I have heard came from science: “Nature abhors a vacuum” (See Matthew 12:43 ff.) The first monks tried to escape temptation by moving into caves in the desert. They believed they would be safe far away from temptation, but instead of finding deliverance, that’s all some of them thought about! If I tell you not to think about something, that’s all you’ll think about! If I say, “Don’t think about brown recluse spiders hiding under your house,” I suspect you will call the exterminator because that’s all you’ve been thinking about. On the other hand, if I say, “Think about how great a chocolate sundae will taste – hot fudge, vanilla bean ice cream, whipped cream, and a cherry,” then I doubt you will think about the spiders!
Finally, remember the power of the Holy Spirit. As a Christian, the Spirit lives in your heart! Focus on Him and not temptation.
Here are some questions to think about:
“What advice would you give someone who wants to be a Christian and still visit a California beach on a warm summer day?”
Re-Read Genesis 39 and answer the following questions.
- Describe Joseph (inside and out).
- The text says the Lord was with Joseph. How was Joseph with the Lord?
- Why was Potiphar’s wife attracted to Joseph?
- Why didn’t Joseph accept her offer?
- Why didn’t Joseph talk to her in the last temptation?
- What can we learn about dealing with sexual temptation from Joseph?
- What’s the difference between “the husband of one wife” and a “one-woman man”?
List some practical suggestions about how to deal with lust.
Be a Blessing!
 The words translated “lust” in the New Testament, epi-thu-mo (ἐπιθυμέω) and epi-thu-mia (ἐπιθυμία) mean “intense desire, longing, or craving.” That can be a good thing (See Philippians 1:23; Luke 22:15; 1 Timothy 3:1). When thinking about the sin of lust, we usually connect it with sexual desire.