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Reflections On Lust

In light of the recent debate you had with the church of Christ preacher (published in Issue 55/56), I am offering the following which will, with the help of a decent concordance, present my interpretation of lust. To begin, lust is defined in my dictionary as "pleasure, delight, appetite." The first definition is, "A desire to gratify the senses; bodily appetite." "Sexual desire" is a secondary definition. At base, then, lust is rooted in a desire for pleasure.

Turning to Scripture, one notes that among the earliest uses of the word is a positive connotation (Scripture quotations are from the King James Version). In Deuteronomy 14.26, the context is a party to which God was calling the Israelites. It was literally a stewardship celebration, as they turned the tithes of their fields and flocks into money and bought whatever they desired: "And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household." The same theme is found in Deuteronomy 12.15 and Deuteronomy 12.20-21.

For the most part, however, lust in the Old Testament is a negative thing. We find the word used in reference to the Israelite's desire for meat at the beginning of the Exodus. "And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?...And he called the name of that place Kibrothhattaavah: because there they buried the people that lusted" (Numbers 11.4 and Numbers 11.34). Psalm 78.18 and Psalm 78.30 refer to this incident. Psalm 106.13-15, again referring to that lust for meat, would make a good sermon text: "They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel: But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul."

In Psalm 81.11-12, the lust referred to is the lust for the idols of foreign nations: "But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would have none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust: and they walked in their own counsels." Curiously, in the Song of Moses in Exodus 15, lust is attributed to the defeated and drowned Egyptians regarding their hunger for victory in battle: "The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them" (Exodus 15.9).

As far as I can tell, not until the book of Proverbs, written for the most part by King Solomon less than 1000 years before Christ, do we find the concept of lust narrowed to sexual desire, and even then the context is prostitution: "For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life: To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids. For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life" (Proverbs 6.23-26).

In the New Testament, however, lust is equated almost exclusively with illicit sexual desire, stated or implied. Jesus of course laid the foundation in the Sermon on the Mount, in what is probably the golden text for anyone against nudity in any form, whether at a nudist resort or in Playboy magazine: "But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5.28).

While anyone with a concordance can check out the countless references to lust in the New Testament ("It's against it!"), I would suggest the many verses break down into four general categories or definitions:

1. Lust is of the world, rather than of God. "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. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (1 John 2.16-17). Also, "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1.4).

2. Lust is of the flesh, as opposed to the Spirit. Paul is very strong on this. In Galatians 5.16-17, a few verses before he lists the nine fruits of the Spirit, he writes: "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." Then, in Galatians 5.24 he writes: "And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." He states the same theme in different words in Romans 13.14.

3. Lust is of the devil himself! Jesus said this in one of his many confrontations with the religious establishment of his day: "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do" (John 8.44).

4. Lust is ultimately doomed. "And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all" (Revelation 18.14).

Granted, then, that lust is worldly, of the flesh, of the devil, and is doomed, what problems are inherent in lust? What is so bad about it? Specifically with regard to lusting after a person, male or female:

1. Lust violates the 10th Commandment. "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" (Exodus 20.17). Paul again touches on this in his Letter to the Romans: "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet" (Romans 7.7). There are at least two problems with covetousness: we may covet lust after that which is not good for us (some modern idol, whatever form that may take), or, we may covet lust after someone who "belongs" to another, as in a married woman or man.

2. Lust is selfish. As someone else has said, "Behind the words 'I love you' may be the thought 'I want you because I love me!'" Jesus, quoting the Levitical law (Leviticus 19.18) stated that the second greatest commandment was, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Paul applies this theme to the marriage covenant in Ephesians 5.28-29: "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." We are to treat others as we would be treated, as we normally treat ourselves. Lust issues in a form of self-gratification, selfishly ignoring the needs and wants and desires of the other person.

3. Lust objectifies. It treats the other person as an object to be possessed, rather than a person to be loved and cared for as Christ would have us do. When lust objectifies, it diminishes the respect we are called to have for all other individuals. Read the Gospels. No matter how flagrant the sinner (the woman at the well, the woman taken in adultery, Zacchaeus, even the rich young ruler, just to name a few), Jesus treated each of them with respect. He cared for and about them.

Now then, what has all this to do with social nudism? Absolutely nothing and that's the point. On the other hand, it has everything to do with how a Christian ought to behave, clothed or unclothed. What the preacher (and surely many like him) fail to realize is that the temptation to lust is at least as much of a problem (if not indeed more of a problem!) in the marketplace or the church office as it is implied to be in a nudist resort.

I speak from the experience of more than forty years as a parish pastor, and almost fourteen years as a social nudist. I can frankly say that I have had far more difficulty with impure thoughts, fantasies and temptations to lust when meeting, working and socializing with well-proportioned young mothers in their tight sweaters and blouses than I have ever had in visiting more than two dozen nudist parks and beaches. Clothing incites the imaginations: "What would she look like without that sweater?" Lack of clothing leaves nothing to the imagination, hence provoking neither lust nor fantasies. Not long ago my wife and I met and visited with a nicely-proportioned, beautifully-tanned woman of about forty. My thoughts toward her were of admiration, not lust. It was great that she could look that good with two young adult sons at home!

Recently I read a book entitled From the Eye of the Storm by the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, Senior Pastor of the Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. where President and Mrs. Clinton frequently worship. He speaks of his perspective and activity during and after the Monica Lewinsky affair. With reference to the nation's preoccupation with the salacious contents of the Starr report, he said this: "Why is it that even so many of those who are bitterly opposed to pornography seem to want to talk about it so much, to expose it in such detail? Are they themselves, at some unconscious level, under the power of sex as a form of idolatry?" (p. 53).

In reading these words I reflected upon the preacher and his preoccupation with the alleged problem of lust in a nudist resort. Perhaps at some unconscious level he is struggling with this problem in his own congregation and is simply projecting his unresolved feelings upon a situation he cannot comprehend. In any event, he needs our prayers, even as each of us prays to be delivered from the temptation to lust whether we are clothed or not.

Editor's Note: Though the issue of lust had previously been discussed in Fig Leaf Forum, the need to revisit this important topic was heightened as a result of the emphasis it was given by the church of Christ preacher in the debate published on this Web site and in Issue 55/56 of the newsletter. This article is from Issue 59 and was written by a Fig Leaf Forum subscriber.

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