Chapter Eight: Fantasy vs. Lust
The Biblical Meaning of Lust
Matthew 5:27-28, "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
The Greek word translated into "lustfully" is epithumeo, and it means "to have a desire for something forbidden, to covet someone that belongs to someone else". Note that it does not mean "to imagine, to pretend, to fantasize".
But what does "covet" mean? It means wanting something or someone that belongs to someone else. Not wanting something like what someone else has, but wanting the exact thing that belongs to someone else.
Coveting is defined in Exodus 20:17, the tenth of the 10 commandments: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
Think about that in non-sexual terms. Does this commandment mean that if your neighbor owns a car, then it's wrong for you to want a car? No, it means it's wrong for you to want your neighbor's car. You should not want his specific car, but it's fine to want to have a car in general. Otherwise, once one person in your neighborhood owned a car, no one else in the neighborhood would be allowed to want one!
Applying that principle to sexual desires, as it says, it's wrong to covet your neighbor's wife. That also applies to husbands from a lady's point of view. That means it's wrong to want your neighbor's husband in real-life. We hope it's obvious that if you're single, it does not mean that it's wrong to want some other man, a single man, to be your husband.
We can see this meaning of covet is a necessary part of the meaning of the word lust in Matthew 5:28. If "looks at a woman lustfully" meant merely thinking about sex with any woman, that would prohibit a husband from looking at his wife and thinking about sex, because he would be committing adultery in his heart. But a man can't commit adultery by having sex with his own wife, so Matthew 5:28 cannot apply to husbands looking at wives. The only way for Matthew 5:28 to be true, then, is for the term "lustfully" to include the meaning of coveting. Thus, it is committing adultery in a man's heart if he has a covetous desire when he looks at a woman who is married to another man.
Therefore, the Biblical meaning of "lust" is not equal to "thinking about sex", and it is not equal to "a desire for sex". In Matthew 5:28, lust is a real-life desire to have sex with a person who is married to someone else.
If you have a real-life desire to have sex with a married man, that means you really want it to happen. That's lust. If you see a good looking married man at Church and overhear that his wife is going out of town, and start planning how you can find an excuse to go over to his house, hoping he'll become so attracted to you that he won't be able to resist you, that isn't pretending, that's pursuing, and it's lust. If you really want a man's wife to die so that you can have the man, that's lust.
The word epithumeo also has a broader meaning than just its use in Matthew 5:28 which specifies an adulterous context. Remember the meaning includes the concept "to have a desire for something forbidden"? Epithumeo also appears in other passages such as Colossians 3:5, 1st Thessalonians 4:3-5, and 1st Peter 2:11.
These expand the definition to: lust is a real-life desire to have prohibited sex. So, if you have a real-life desire to have casual sex with a single man, or with an animal, those are also lust, since those are forbidden forms of sex.
What kinds of sex are forbidden? Every kind of sex with a person other than your spouse, and every kind of sex with animals.
Got it? Lust is not merely thinking about sex, and lust is not merely desiring sex.
There is another word in the New Testament, aselgeia, that is sometimes translated as "lust", but it's usually translated as licentiousness because that's a more accurate translation. That word refers to someone who is dominated by their sexual appetite, and give in to it with little or no restraint. Aselgeia is not a part of a normal sex drive, and is therefore not a topic for this book to cover in detail, because it doesn't affect the previous discussion comparing fantasy with lust.
Now let's look at 3 ways of thinking about sex...