As we continue our series of messages on the Seven Deadly Sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth), this week we come to lust. Go ahead and admit it. You’ve been wondering what I would have to say about this one, haven’t you?
Does this one make you squirm a bit? Does it make you uncomfortable? Talk about uncomfortable; back in the 80s when I was serving as an associate I helped to teach the TEL Sunday School Class (TEL is for Timothy, Eunice, and Lois, and comes from II Timothy 1:5, where Paul writes I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also). The TEL class, which met in the sanctuary of the church, was comprised of the oldest group of women in the church. They were a wonderful group, and were like adopted grandmothers to me. One Saturday evening, I opened my Sunday School book to study the next morning’s lesson. I was stunned when I saw the title – Sexual Purity. I was supposed to teach this lesson to a group of ladies who were like my grandmothers? You’ve got to be kidding me! The next morning I stood, obviously uncomfortable at the podium. I couldn’t lift my head to look at them and I mumbled my way through the opening of the lesson, wishing the ground would open up and swallow me. After a few, painful minutes, one of the ladies finally called out to me and said, it’s okay Dave. You don’t have to talk to us about this. I think we’re okay.
Even my computer seemed uncomfortable with this topic. As I worked on my notes the other day, the program kept crashing, which never happens. At one point, I noticed I was on page 3 of 940 pages! I had to delete the file and start over.
Part of the reason why we are often uncomfortable with this topic is a result of the unhealthy manner in which our culture deals with this topic. Lust, in our contemporary culture, has been primarily associated with that of sex. This is not surprising, considering the way in which our culture is so saturated with sex. As one writer has remarked, sex has become one of the most discussed subjects of modern times. The Victorians pretended it did not exist; the moderns pretend that nothing else exists. Lust, however, really encompasses much more. But don’t worry, because this message is family friendly, and as the subtitle on the slide suggests, there is more to this topic than you might think.
If you remember, throughout this series I have referenced a story about one of my seminary professors, who had us list good qualities and then explained how every good quality has a shadow side, where it can be twisted into something far less positive. Lust is the shadow expression of love. So this morning, I want to talk about the way in which lust twists love, and how it does so as summed up in three words – objectification, control, and possession.
Our Scripture text this morning comes from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, and in this passage he expresses what we have all experienced – the battle within us to do what we want to do, while so often doing what we do not want to do.
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.
17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;
23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
My definition of objectification would be the inability to see something in light of the purpose for which it was created. In light of that definition we can say that lust can be applied to a person, but it can be applied to an object – a possession – or a concept, such as power. In fact, it might be accurate to say that the lust for power has been the most dangerous and, perhaps, most common expression, of lust over the ages. Power is not always negative. On the positive side, power I can organize people on a large scale in order to provide services and other helpful necessities. When it becomes objectified, it becomes something very different. Think about the stories from Scripture that tell us about the way in which power was objectified and hurt people. A few weeks ago I used the story from I Samuel where the nation of Israel wants a king. Samuel warns them what will happen if they have a king, that he will force their sons to become soldiers, their daughters will be forced to be bakers, and that he will take the best of their lands and their crops. Though the people did not heed Samuel’s warning, it did not take long for them to find the reality of his warning, as Saul did exactly what Samuel had warned. Think about history and all the examples of the abuse of power. Think about our contemporary world – ISIS, Boko Haram, and the terrible war in Syria that has taken the lives of over 200,000 people and displaced millions.
We can also objectify people, and when we do, we see them only to be used for our benefit and our pleasure. They are not a person, but an object. The book of Genesis, in the first chapter affirms the goodness of creation, as God pronounces each stage of creation to be good, but at the creation of man and woman God pronounces it to be very good, which includes a good purpose, and that purpose does not include being the object of another person to be treated in whatever manner that person deems to be suitable.
I think we can all sympathize with Paul’s struggle, as we have those times when it seems so easy to do what we don’t want to do but so difficult to do what we want to do. Sometimes, I can be at home minding my own business when something takes control of my feet. They pull me out of my chair and take me to my desk, where something takes control of my hands and takes out my wallet and car key. I’m compelled to get in my car and a powerful force has me drive west on I64. That force drives me to the exit and to the parking lot of the outlet mall, where my feet carry me to the Ghirardelli store, where I order a chocolate malt. I didn’t intend to leave my house and get one, but something took over and before I knew it, there I was, sitting in the store and, very much against my will, find myself with a chocolate malt in hand!
Control is a major issue for most everyone. We struggle, as Paul describes, to control ourselves, and often without much success, so we turn our attention to controlling others.
Psychologists tell us that control manifests itself in various behaviors, such as intimidation and passive aggressiveness. Control is a form of abuse, and can take various forms – spiritual, emotional, physical, and sexual, and all those forms of control can cause great damage in the lives of those who suffer through it.
Control is not the way in which God operates in our lives. Look around the world; obviously, God allows the existence of free will. Sometimes we hear the voices of skeptics who will ask why doesn’t God do more about the evils that take place in our world? In Mark’s gospel, we find the story of the rich young man (Mark 10:17-31). This young man eagerly came to Jesus, asking what he must do in order to be saved. Jesus replies that he should keep the commandments. Answering that he had kept them all, Jesus then told him you lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me (verse 22). The young man turned away from Jesus and left, as he had much wealth. And Jesus let him go. It wasn’t for lack of love, as verse 21 says and Jesus, looking at him, loved him. Jesus did not seek to control anyone, not wanting a robotic response, but appealed to the freewill choice of people.
We’ve all had the experience of walking into a store and our gaze turns to something we want, and we really want it. We formulate a plan and we work and perhaps even scheme for how we will get that object and make it our possession. When I think of the idea of possession, I think about a scene in the movie Finding Nemo (you can watch the scene here – https://youtu.be/H4BNbHBcnDI). There is something about that video that strikes me as very descriptive of one of the basic dynamics of lust – it’s mine!
Lust elicits within us a reaction to say I want that. It can be a possession or a person, and there is often great damage done in seeking to secure what we believe to be our rightful possession.
Lust does not, and cannot, seek the good of the other. Love is always seeking to create the best self in the other person. Lust says that someone else exist to serve us. Lust is profoundly self-centered, while love is profoundly other-centered.
Philippians chapter two is one of the central passages of the Scriptures, I believe. In 2:3-4 Paul reminds us that we should 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Those words are an antidote to lust.
Always remember that you are not an object. You were not created only to be controlled by someone else. You are not the possession of another. You are a person created by the love of God and called to demonstrate that love. Allow love to triumph. Allow love, not lust, to be the guiding force in your life!