Most people know the difference between lust and love, so what are they? What does the Bible define as love and as lust?
A definition of lust
Lust is an emotion or a feeling of intense desire in the body and it can take almost any form such as a thirst for knowledge, a thirst for sex, or a thirst for power. It is a self-centered desire or overwhelming longing for an object, person, or experience that might be good, but in most cases it is not. For example, a man or a woman can covet their spouse and since they are legally married there is no sin in this, however coveting someone else’s spouse or someone who is not. not married is a sin so clearly, lust and love are the same in all and in many ways they are in fact opposite to each other, for example we can covet wealth, drugs, alcohol and a number of things that affect our well-being.
A definition of love
The way the world defines love and the way God defines love are not even close to the same thing. As far as the world sees love, it is a strong, warm affection that someone has for another or for others or for something. It can be like a parent for a child or a spouse for their mate or it can be a love of reading, food, drugs, alcohol, or even shopping. Some of them are good and fine, but others can lead to ruin. Love can certainly be a strong feeling of affection and concern for another person, such as that resulting from a kinship or close friendship I have for my own spouse and children and grandchildren and same for my friends but from a biblical point of view, love and lust are not equal since one can be good while the other can cause harm.
A biblical definition of lust
I love what CS Lewis wrote many years ago. He wrote: “If you look at the ham and eggs and lust, you’ve already had breakfast in your heart. This is a very good biblical definition of lust in the heart. If you lust for something or someone, it is lust in the heart. Exodus 20:17 lists the tenth commandment as “You will not covet your neighbor’s house. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant or maidservant, his ox or his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor”So lust isn’t just looking at someone of the opposite sex or for some, looking at some lustfully of the same sex, it’s lusting what you don’t have. It is a passionate desire to have what someone else has.
What can lust lead to
David let himself be carried away by his lust as “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful”(2nd Sam 11: 2) and so he coveted her in his heart. This led to adultery and later, the murder of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. This is why James wrote that “after desire (or lust) has conceived, he gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is an adult, gives birth to death(1:15). The proverbs say “Do not covet her beauty in your heart or let her captivate you with her eyes(6:25). Jesus said it was “from the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander”(Mt 15:19). Solomon understood this connection, writing that as a man “think in himself, then he is(23: 7a). You can commit adultery without ever committing the physical act. Jesus said that “that anyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”(Mt 5:28) and of course the same applies to women.
A biblical definition of love
There are so many places that define love in the Bible that it will be difficult to select just a few. Paul writes that “Love is patient and kind; love neither envies nor boasts; it is not arrogant or rude. He does not insist on his own way; he is not irritable or resentful; he does not rejoice in evil, but rejoices in the truth. Love endures it all, believes it all, hopes it all, endures it all”(1 Cor 13: 4-7). The love of God is not a question of feelings or words but “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us(Rom 5: 8). To love is a verb; it’s what you do more than what you say or think. We know that Jesus did not want to take all the sins of mankind, but his great love for us on the cross proved what the love of God is. He died for us while we were still wicked sinners and his enemies (Rom 5: 8, 10).
The differences between love and lust is that we don’t covet what we don’t have. We are not to covet (desire) our next spouse or his or her possessions (Ex 20:17). Love, on the other hand, “does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law“(Rom 13:10) and it means”You will love your neighbor as yourself“(Mt 19,19) but above all”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”(Mt 22:37). The difference for believers is that we are told “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”(Mt 5:44). The greatest display of love was not how Jesus felt or what God felt, but it was revealed at Calvary. Jesus said “A greater love has no one than this, that someone gives his life for his friends(John 15:13) and that’s exactly what he did. Lust hurts, love sacrifices.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is the pastor of Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the senior editor of What Christians Want To Know, whose mission is to equip, encourage and energize Christians and answer questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.