Lust: When Looking is Sin

This is a continuation of how we can apply the Sermon on the Mount to our marriages.

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.” [Mt 5:27&28 ESV]

04-21-2013

We don’t have to stretch to find a marriage application for this passage. However, the verses may not mean exactly what you think they do.

The Greek word we translate as lust in this passage is epithumeo. Unlike our English word, epithumeo is not specifically about sex, and it does not indicate sin; the word means nothing more than a strong desire. (For more see Lust: I WANT you.)

So, what Jesus was saying is strong desire to be with a women sexually is sin, even if there is no intention to act on those desires. This means “I would never actually do it” doesn’t excuse us. If we’d like to, we’re in sin. On the other hand, a momentary reaction to a woman showing far too much of her body isn’t necessarily sin, if it’s not accompanied by a desire to do something.

To me this is both less and more than what most of us have been taught about “lust”. Just seeing and being aware of what we saw doesn’t make us guilty of sin. Even a bit of arousal doesn’t mean we’ve sinned. The real issue is our thoughts – our desire. It’s God’s intention for us to sexually desire our wife and only our wife. Desiring any other woman is wrong, even if we’d never do anything about it.

Does this change how you look at lust? Are you relieved noticing a woman isn’t sin? Are you convicted about desire you’ve justified because you’d never act on it? 

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Black and Married with Kids

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The Generous Wife

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Intimacy in Marriage

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Joe Beam’s Blog

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Marriage Missions International

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No Electricity Night ◄ This would be a great date – and very inexpensive!


Stupendous Marriage

Our Sex Life Has Changed ◄ A cautionary tale for some men.


…to Love Honor and Vacuum

Romance in the Movies: What Does it Teach Us? ◄ It’s not ALL bad.

13 Comments on “Lust: When Looking is Sin

  1. Was Christ purpose in this passage to make it more clear what sin was, or was it to communicate that no matter what we can never obtain perfection, we are sinners and we cannot change that, and that only by God’s grace can we be made pure. The purpose for the passage is important for interpretation.

    Aside from this point, your indicate that desire without intent is still wrong based on the definition of the word for lust here, but you ignore the word following “lustful” in this verse: with lustful intent… lustfull is the word modifying “intent”. What the verse is talking about is “intent”…what kind of intent? Lustfull intent. This doesn’t seems to fit with the logic you give here. Or am I missing something?

    • hunter3316 I agree the purpose of the passage is important. Making it clear we are sinners and can not stop is certainly part of what Jesus was doing, but my opinion is that His main intent was to show us that sin is a matter of the heart and mind, not the body. Not acting out a sin is good, but just thinking it is still wrong before God. Those who felt justified and holy based on their acts were being told that was not enough.
      As to the word intent, that seems to be a matter of trying to translate the Greek word epithumeo. Most versions do not use that word, and I do not see it in the Greek. I need to dig more, but I don’t think Jesus was talking about only lust that was accompanied by an intent to do something about it.

      • TheGenerousHusbandhunter3316 
        I agree as well that the point Christ was making is that you can sin
        in your heart/mind, and that this is an inherent to being human and not
        something we can ever fully overcome and thus the need for God’s grace. 
        In regards to the usage of the word “intent” I’m interested in
        what you dig up. I typical like to read ESV due to it’s literal
        interpretation or wording, and I notice it also uses the phrase “lustful
        intent”. The proper interpretation here is a big deal, and an important
        distinction to know how God wants us to be, think, and behave. I’d also
        be all ears to hear what other passages say about this distinction.
        I’ve never found a clear-cut scriptural based answer for this issue
        before and would love to find one.

        • hunter3316 I do not read Greek, so I am limited to certain on-line tools. That said, in both the Greek versions of the NT, there is only one word given there, so the English “Intent” is a translation choice by the editors of the ESV. Based on what I see for the Greek word, that does not seem to be an obvious part of the translation.
          However, I do find some who are arguing for intent being a necessary part of the translation. One author said “The difference between fantasy and lust is the difference between imagining yourself driving a BMW and coveting your neighbor’s BMW. They’re not quite the same thing.” My problem with that is that when you have a fantasy of sex with a woman, it is not a generic woman, but a specific woman – as such this distinction does not seem to work.
          Some argue that covet is a better translation than lust here, and the Greek is sometimes translated that way. I don’t see how that really changes anything.
          My reading, for what it is worth, is that a desire to have sex with the woman is wrong, and any thoughts of having sex are way over the line.
          The KJV New Testament Greek LexiconStrong’s Number: 1937
          Original Word ejpiqumevw
          Word Origin from (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/epi.html) and (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/thumos.html)
          Transliterated Word Epithumeo
          Phonetic Spelling ep-ee-thoo-meh’-o
          Parts of Speech Verb
          Definitionto turn upon a thingto have a desire for, long for, to desireto lust after, covetof those who seek things forbidden

        • hunter3316 I do not read Greek, so I am limited to certain on-line tools. That said, in both the Greek versions of the NT, there is only one word given there, so the English “Intent” is a translation choice by the editors of the ESV. Based on what I see for the Greek word, that does not seem to be an obvious part of the translation.
          However, I do find some who are arguing for intent being a necessary part of the translation. One author said “The difference between fantasy and lust is the difference between imagining yourself driving a BMW and coveting your neighbor’s BMW. They’re not quite the same thing.” My problem with that is that when you have a fantasy of sex with a woman, it is not a generic woman, but a specific woman – as such this distinction does not seem to work.
          Some argue that covet is a better translation than lust here, and the Greek is sometimes translated that way. I don’t see how that really changes anything.
          My reading, for what it is worth, is that a desire to have sex with the woman is wrong, and any thoughts of having sex are way over the line.
          The KJV New Testament Greek LexiconStrong’s Number: 1937
          Original Word ejpiqumevw
          Word Origin from (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/epi.html) and (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/thumos.html)
          Transliterated Word Epithumeo
          Phonetic Spelling ep-ee-thoo-meh’-o
          Parts of Speech Verb
          Definitionto turn upon a thingto have a desire for, long for, to desireto lust after, covetof those who seek things forbidden

        • TheGenerousHusbandhunter3316Thanks for the reply I appreciate you expounding. After looking at your references and thinking about this more, it’s certainly not clearer to me. I think the word covet is appropriate here in analogy to lust or desire. And it seems to me that the idea of coveting or desiring requires more than fantasy, but maybe not as much as “intent” to obtain. The BMW analogy helps distinguish the difference. Fantasizing about how fun it would be to drive a BMW is not the same as coveting your neighbors BMW. Coveting mean, if you could have it you would have it. It implies that your making a decision right now that if I could have it I would take it. An important point of following Christ is “conviction” deciding how you will act  before every being presented with the opportunity to do so. Coveting seems similar to conviction in this manner in an opposite way.  It’s like saying I would sin, if it wasn’t wrong! Fantasy on the other hand is simply day dreaming or imagining, and does not require a desire, or lust or coveting of something.  
          Taken in context of this passage it would seem to me that Christ was talking about coveting another woman when you look at her, meaning you see her and say to your self if I could have her I would. In this case you would have decided in your heart that you would violate your marriage covenant with your wife if it were possible. Therefore it would seems to me that Christ is saying, by even entertaining the idea of braking your marriage covenant with your wife, you have done so (i.e. committed adultery). However, I have to agree that this differs from fantasy. And that’s not to say that fantasy in a sexual context isn’t sinful, but I don’t think that is what Christ is talking about here, and I find it difficult to find scripture that clearly supports that fantasy is wrong. But others may have insight that I do not, and I’m all ears to hear their/your thoughts.
          P.S. Regarding your comment “My problem with that is that when you have a fantasy of sex with a
          woman, it is not a generic woman, but a specific woman – as such this
          distinction does not seem to work”. I have to disagree that having a fantasy of sex with a generic woman is difficult or imposable. But would it make it not a sin if that were the case? Would porn be OK if all the faces were blurred out? or more to the point is cartoon porn OK? By the way I’m mostly playing devils advocate here, and I just truly want to understand these root of this issue in Christs mind, and be able to explain it to others when counseling them.

        • hunter3316I would define covet as a desire to have something, and would not say being willing to take it would be part of the definition. The Hebrew word means “to desire, covet, take pleasure in, delight in” and is used for a positive desire on occasion.
          I would mostly agree that it is okay to want a nice car, but not okay to be jealous of a friend’s nice car. So is the problem wanting something that belongs to another? If that is the case, does not the sexuality of a woman who is not your wife belong to someone else?
          I think looking back to what Jesus said about murder and anger earlier in the passage is instructive. Simply calling someone a fool was likened to murder – this is an extreme escalation of being held accountable for what we think. If we carry that standard over to the issue of sexual thoughts, I find it likely that Jesus meant that ANY sexual thoughts about a woman other than my wife are sin.

        • hunter3316I would define covet as a desire to have something, and would not say being willing to take it would be part of the definition. The Hebrew word means “to desire, covet, take pleasure in, delight in” and is used for a positive desire on occasion.
          I would mostly agree that it is okay to want a nice car, but not okay to be jealous of a friend’s nice car. So is the problem wanting something that belongs to another? If that is the case, does not the sexuality of a woman who is not your wife belong to someone else?
          I think looking back to what Jesus said about murder and anger earlier in the passage is instructive. Simply calling someone a fool was likened to murder – this is an extreme escalation of being held accountable for what we think. If we carry that standard over to the issue of sexual thoughts, I find it likely that Jesus meant that ANY sexual thoughts about a woman other than my wife are sin.

        • TheGenerousHusbandhunter3316Fair enough, I would agree that to covet is to “desire to have something”, but I would define the desire to have another man’s wife, and having sexual thought’s about another man’s wife to be very different things.  There is a clear difference between coveting and day dreaming.
          My point here though is not to argue semantics (though I think these are important points), but rather to when reading your post it was easy to conclude that porn is OK as long as you don’t desire those women. I guess this is most evident in your sentence “On the other hand, a momentary reaction to a woman showing far too much
          of her body is not necessarily sin, if it is not accompanied by a desire
          to do something.” To me this says as long as I don’t desire her, it’s ok to look at her, in fact it’s even possible to look and experience some visual gratification in what you see, and this is easily done without desiring to have her, without coveting. 
          In my opinion the argument also doesn’t hold water if the woman being thought about isn’t real (.e.g imaginary, cartoon, made-up).

          In the end I felt it a far better argue that seeking to obtain sexual gratification outside of marriage violates God’s purpose for Marriage, (which is one of the most important covinents in scripture, so important that it is even based on the church’s relationship with Christ). This argument doesn’t allow one to make technical arguments in their head to skirt the real issue. What do you think?

        • TheGenerousHusbandhunter3316Fair enough, I would agree that to covet is to “desire to have something”, but I would define the desire to have another man’s wife, and having sexual thought’s about another man’s wife to be very different things.  There is a clear difference between coveting and day dreaming.
          My point here though is not to argue semantics (though I think these are important points), but rather to when reading your post it was easy to conclude that porn is OK as long as you don’t desire those women. I guess this is most evident in your sentence “On the other hand, a momentary reaction to a woman showing far too much
          of her body is not necessarily sin, if it is not accompanied by a desire
          to do something.” To me this says as long as I don’t desire her, it’s ok to look at her, in fact it’s even possible to look and experience some visual gratification in what you see, and this is easily done without desiring to have her, without coveting. 
          In my opinion the argument also doesn’t hold water if the woman being thought about isn’t real (.e.g imaginary, cartoon, made-up).

          In the end I felt it a far better argue that seeking to obtain sexual gratification outside of marriage violates God’s purpose for Marriage, (which is one of the most important covinents in scripture, so important that it is even based on the church’s relationship with Christ). This argument doesn’t allow one to make technical arguments in their head to skirt the real issue. What do you think?

        • hunter3316 I’ve seen plenty of “technical arguments” – many of which are totally lacking in logic. Those who want to justify things will find a way to do that regardless of what they are told, and I am hesitant to place too much consideration on that.
          The porn argument might hold up if someone just stumbled on porn, and then looked/walked away. However, when someone makes an effort to look at porn they are showing a desire before they even see images of naked woman.
          Perhaps another way to say this would be that it is wrong to seek sexual arousal from anyone other than your wife or thoughts of your wife. The seeking shows intent and desire, IMHO.

        • TheGenerousHusband hunter3316 Seeking porn does show desire to obtain sexual gratification, but there’s nothing wrong with seeking sexual gratification in and of itself, the desire for that is natural and good. The problem is were we seek it, is it within our mirage or outside of it that makes it wrong or right in my opinion.
          In regards to justification I think it is possible to have an air tight argument in ones own mind when the root of the issue is addressed properly, of course if people choose to be irrational there’s nothing that can be done with that. I’ve seen a lot of really bad arguments from well intending Christians out there for why porn is wrong, and I’m convinced they do more harm than good for someone who is struggling. That’s because if some one reads 4 reasons why porn is wrong and none of them are sound argument than its easy to conclude that scripture doesn’t have anything to say about porn. Just my thoughts.

  2. Was Christ purpose in this passage to make it more clear what sin was, or was it to communicate that no matter what we can never obtain perfection, we are sinners and we cannot change that, and that only by God’s grace can we be made pure. The purpose for the passage is important for interpretation.

    Aside from this point, your indicate that desire without intent is still wrong based on the definition of the word for lust here, but you ignore the word following “lustful” in this verse: with lustful intent… lustfull is the word modifying “intent”. What the verse is talking about is “intent”…what kind of intent? Lustfull intent. This doesn’t seems to fit with the logic you give here. Or am I missing something?

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