Counting Down the Seven Deadly Sins! #6: Lust "Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God!"

Proverbs 5:1-14

My child, be attentive to my wisdom;
   incline your ear to my understanding, 
so that you may hold on to prudence,
   and your lips may guard knowledge. 
For the lips of a loose woman drip honey,
   and her speech is smoother than oil; 
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
   sharp as a two-edged sword. 
Her feet go down to death;
   her steps follow the path to Sheol. 
She does not keep straight to the path of life;
   her ways wander, and she does not know it. 
And now, my child, listen to me,
   and do not depart from the words of my mouth. 
Keep your way far from her,
   and do not go near the door of her house; 
or you will give your honour to others,
   and your years to the merciless, 
and strangers will take their fill of your wealth,
   and your labours will go to the house of an alien; 
and at the end of your life you will groan,
   when your flesh and body are consumed, 
and you say, ‘Oh, how I hated discipline,
   and my heart despised reproof! 
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
   or incline my ear to my instructors. 
Now I am at the point of utter ruin
   in the public assembly.’ 

Last week we prepared for a day of excess, Super Bowl Sunday, when Americans spent $11 billion. This week we’ll celebrate another day with excess. I intentionally scheduled lust for this weekend, because we’re just a couple of days away from celebrating that most romantic of observances, Arbitrary Relationships Day. It was no coincidence that the theme of yesterday’s mini women’s retreat was love. So as you consider how much of the estimated $17.6 B Americans spend on Arbitrary Relationships Day—an increase of 8.5% over last year and the most in 10 years—let’s pause to define a few terms to make sure we do not use them interchangeably today. The love we celebrate on Arbitrary Relationships Day was not created by us. It is a gift of God. 1 John, in the New Testament, offers the best, and most succinct, definition of love in the Bible. “God is love.” And this: “We love because God first loved us.” Sex is also a gift of God, a holy, physical enjoyment between committed adults. Contrary to what you see in movies or TV, there is nothing evil, sinful, or unclean about sex. It is a celebration of the gift of love. Rape, on the other hand, is not sex. It is violence. Human sexuality—including the physical attraction all of us feel for others—is a normal, healthy thing. Lust is not love. Lust is not sexual attraction. Lust is very similar to the sin of envy, which is the want or desire of something or someone that belongs to someone else. Lust dehumanizes the other person—they cease to be a child of God made in God’s own image and become an object for our own lustful needs. Pornography is rooted in lust. Sexual encounters between non-committed adults are not holy and beautiful. They are the outcome of sexual desire that is not rooted in love, but lust.

Colossians 3:5
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).

Adultery is forbidden by the seventh commandment. Adultery is lustful sexual relations between people where at least one is married to someone else. Pretty simple enough. But Jesus, unfortunately for all of us, broadened the sin: “You have heard it said, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, if a man looks at a woman with lust in his heart, he commits adultery with her.” Yes, he intentionally uses male words there, but does that mean lust is only felt by men? No! In his patriarchal society only men could file for divorce, and adultery was defined as a married woman having sex with anyone who was not her husband. The man was left off the hook legally, if not morally. But by adding lust to the equation, he leaves no one exempt—neither you nor me, not just men but women too. His expectations for his followers are intentionally difficult, regardless of the religious or state law.

1 john 2:16-17
For all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live for ever.

Lust and the general term “sexual immorality” are major concerns in the Bible—both testaments. As concerned as we are about issues in our society, and we want to know what Jesus or the Bible has to say about those—we tend to ignore what it says about human relationships, which are meant to be built upon mutual respect and love, so that they honor God and each other. Even David, one of the Bible’s most important characters, struggled with lust. And it nearly led to his downfall.

David suffered from unchecked desire.  One day David notices a beautiful woman bathing in the house next to his.  David was married to several women, and had many other concubines.  He had many sons, so there is no reason to lust after Bathsheba except that she was beautiful and he desired her.  He ordered his troops to go to her house and take her to him.  Knowing she was married to one of his best soldiers, he slept with her anyway.  And then she became pregnant.  Now David begins to scheme.  He recalls Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, from the battle for a weekend furlough.  He says to Uriah, “You’ve done well; you deserve a weekend at home with your wife.”  But Uriah won’t go home.  He says it’s not fair for him to be with his wife when the other soldiers are still at war.  So David throws a party.  Uriah becomes drunk.  And he still refuses to go home.  Then David gets desperate.  He writes an order to his commander, saying Uriah is to be placed on the front lines, then the other Israelites are to retreat, ensuring Uriah’s death.  Uriah literally carries his own death warrant to his commanding officer.  Once Uriah is dead, David allows Bathsheba to mourn for a week and then marries her.  

1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 - “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen who do not know God.”

Over the years, commentators have tried to take David off the hook, implying that Bathsheba purposefully bathed in plain sight in order to lure David.  She was the schemer.  But the text in no way says that.  David is the responsible party here, using his power and position to acquire whatever he desires.  Lust often leads to damaged relationships and severe consequences because of the abuse of power. We see it in schools, we see it in our elected leaders, and we see it in our churches. We abuse the power we’ve received because of our position for our own lustful purposes. This is what David does. The danger of lust lies with how one understands other people.  In healthy relationships, each member is treated with an equal amount of respect and honor.  One does not sacrifice more than the other; there is balance.  Someone put it this way: a river is beautiful to look at when it exists within its banks, but when it floods it ceases to be beautiful, destroying everything in its path.  Sexual desire between committed adults is beautiful, but when the boundaries are broken it becomes just as destructive as the flood.  Let’s be clear: his interest in her is only lust. Not love. If she had not become pregnant he would never have spoken to her again. This was not a digression of character—it was a brutal, awful attack on her personhood. In fact, one could argue this was not a sexual encounter at all, but rape—the Hebrew word often translated “sent for”—as in “he sent for her”—is rightly translated “he took her.” His power, as king, drives the story. Rev. Darryl Stephens, one time intern at Oak Lawn and now staff executive for sexual ethics at the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women, was asked recently about the power dynamics associated with clergy sexual  misconduct. Darryl said, “People still have difficulty understanding why clergy sexual conduct with an adult is misconduct. There’s not the immediate realization that this is a relationship that is not balanced in terms of power, that there may not be a possibility to genuine consent to sexual activity.” David’s manipulation and scheming ultimately pay their toll on his family. The baby conceived in his act of lust with Bathsheba dies.  One of David’s sons, Amnon, rapes his half-sister, Tamar, then sends her away in disgrace instead of marrying her.  Her full brother, another of David’s sons, Absolom, then murders Amnon.  Later Absolom overthrows David and makes himself king.  Sin, when allowed to overcome us, causes a multiplying effect, where nothing in our lives is safe.  

1 Peter 1:14-16
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."

After the horrible incident with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, the prophet Nathan comes to David and tells him a parable, although David believes it is an actual case: a wealthy and powerful landowner seized the one and only sheep from a poor shepherd.  The sheep was cherished by the shepherd.  The rich man then killed the sheep.  David, himself a former shepherd, is enraged.  “That man is guilty!  He should repay four times what he has taken from the shepherd!”  “YOU ARE THE MAN!” Nathan says to the king.  David sees his sin and immediately confesses.  And God hears his prayer and forgives. It is remarkable that this episode between David and Bathsheba was included when the historians put this part of the Bible together.  David was the national hero—God’s chosen king—but we learn also that he cheat, stole, murdered, and committed adultery?  Even David was no better than the rest of us?  One thing that makes the Bible so profound is that time and time again God raises up ordinary, sorry people like you and me to do extraordinary things.  Moses committed murder and fled the scene of the crime, but God sent him before Pharaoh; Saul was a Pharisee whose ministry involved persecuting Christians, yet God called him to be Paul, the great apostle; and David, the one everyone looked up to and admired, the shepherd boy and victor over Goliath, did these terrible things, abusing his power and authority for his own lustful satisfaction.  When confronted by Nathan, David repented, and God forgave him.  There were still consequences—the damage done to his family would take generations to heal.  Still, David experienced the grace of God, which said, “Yes, you sinned.  But I still love you, and you still have a future with me.”  Or as Jesus put it, “Go and sin no more.”  Following the episode with Bathsheba and its fallout, David wrote the powerful words of Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.”

Frederick Buechner described lust as “the craving of salt by a man dying of thirst.”  The opposite of lust is the virtue of chastity — that virtue by which we are in control of our sexual appetite rather than it being in control of us. God has given us the wonderful gifts of love, sexual attraction, and sex between committed adults. As we do with other freedoms God gives, we push the boundaries. Sometimes we take advantage of others. Sometimes we inappropriately use power for our own lustful purposes. Sometimes we dishonor God and our brothers and sisters by reducing them from children of God to objects of lust. Remember these words: “For while were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).  And may we never forget that each of us is a child of God, made in God’s image, with the breath of life in us.  Each of us is worthy of love and respect.  Know this for sure: we might forget others are uniquely gifted and beautiful, made in God’s own image, but God never forgets.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.