Imagine that you had a neighbor that had barbeque parties all summer long in his backyard. You like to barbeque too. But there is a world of difference between what he gets to cook on his barbeque and what you get to cook on yours. He cooks steaks every weekend, but you can only afford hamburgers.
By now you have probably honed your hamburger making skills to a science. You make the best barbequed hamburgers for your wife and children. But hamburgers will never be steaks.
Your neighbor makes a lot more money than you. He gets the best cuts of steak every weekend to make for his wife and their friends. Every weekend as you cook in your backyard you can see those sizzling steaks. The aroma is intoxicating. You can imagine just sinking your teeth into one of those steaks and how awesome it would be.
But you never allow your thoughts to turn to covetousness toward your neighbor’s steak. Instead you thank God each week for the ability to buy and cook those hamburgers that you have down to a science.
But what if you allowed your thoughts about those steaks to go to a different place? What if you started to imagine scenarios where you could sneak over there in your neighbor’s yard and grab one of those steaks off the grill? He and his wife go in their house all the time to get things for their party, you could wait till their gone for a second and take one. Maybe you act on this thought, maybe you don’t. It does not matter – what you have just experienced is a covetous thought.
Do you see where imagination moves to covetousness? God created us as human beings with an imagination. God also gave us a natural desire for and pleasure from the sights, smell and taste of food. But our sin nature will take something that God intended for our pleasure (our imagination and the pleasure we get from the sights, smell and taste of food) and corrupt it into wicked and covetous thoughts.
Covetousness takes our God given desires and corrupts them into the desire to possess those things which he has not given us to possess. Covetousness then moves from the desire to possess into imagining in our mind ways we could take possession of that thing which does not belong to us. Covetousness does not require that we actually act on any imaginations of possession, even just the imaginations in this case become sinful.
The Bible tells us to enjoy the blessings God has given us in the book of Ecclesiastes:
“Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.
Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.” – Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 (KJV)
God tells us in his Word that it is “good and comely” to enjoy the gifts he has given us. Some of those gifts include food and drink, our jobs and houses. The old English word comely is a translation of the Hebrew word “Yapheh” which literally means “beautiful or handsome”. God literally finds it “good and beautiful” when we as his creations enjoy the many gifts he has bestowed upon us – and one of those gifts is our ability to imagine things and also our ability to enjoy the sights, smells and taste of our favorite foods.
So what do Steaks have to do with women and the Church?
Well let’s change up our story a bit. Sure you like steak. But you notice something even more attractive than the steak your neighbor is cooking and that is wife.
“That’s wrong! That is lust! That is totally different than enjoying the sight of your neighbor’s steak. She is person man! Get your mind out of the gutter! She is a person for whom Christ died, not some object for your sexual viewing pleasure!” – This would be the reaction from many Christians and even some non-Christians.
Let’s say you had one of your friends over with wife for a barbeque. Your wife and his wife are chatting away in the house while you and your friend stand around the barbeque chatting. Your friend mentions “Boy those steaks you neighbor has cooking look great!” and you reply “And so does his wife.” If your friend has been in a typical Christian Church for any length of time he might mention Matthew 5:28 to you.
“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28 (KJV)
Your fellow Christian Brother might then point out to you “This verse means that if you look with lust on any woman you are not married to you are committing adultery in your heart. You see In Christianity, it’s the intentions, just as much as the actions that are important.”
Now many people think of lust in our modern English terms as having to do completely with sexual thoughts but in the Bible however lust is not always talking about sex. So if you were not a really inquisitive person you might leave it at that – take our modern definition of lust, apply it to that verse and from that point on whenever your neighbors’ wife comes in his back yard you would have to look the other way even though it is just as hard as trying to ignore the smell of those steaks sizzling on your neighbor’s grill.
But what if you were like the Bereans?
But what if you were like the Bereans and have searched the Scriptures on this subject of lust – you may have some questions and observations for your Christian brother.
“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” – Acts 17:10-11 (KJV)
You see the Berean’s would look up everything the Apostle Paul was teaching them from the Old Testament about the coming of the Messiah and his plans for a time when the Gentiles and Jews would form a new body – the Church. They didn’t just take his Word for it – they checked the Scriptures to be sure.
Here are some observations that you could point out to your Christian brother.
Let’s look at Matthew 5:28 in with verse 27 to give it more context:
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28 (KJV)
The context of Christ’s discussion on lust was adultery. He first refers to the 7th commandment which forbids adultery.
The Biblical definition of adultery up to this point was when a man had sex with another’s man wife. The marital status of the man was irrelevant. In the Old Testament adultery was never a sin against a wife, it was always a sin against the husband of the other man’s wife(and of course it was sin against God as all sin is ultimately against God).
In the Gospels (Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:3-12, Mark 10:2-12 and Luke 16:18) Christ expanded on the definition of adultery to include when a man wrongfully divorces his wife. His putting her away wrongfully is a newly defined form adultery, as well as the fact that he causes her to commit physical adultery by marrying another man and that man commits adultery because he is taking a woman that is still another man’s wife in God’s eyes.
Going back to Matthew 5:28 Christ gives us another form of adultery – “mental adultery”. But really this was not a new sin, but simply a new label for a specific form of a sin that God had already spoke against in the 10th commandment:
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” – Exodus 20:17 (KJV)
So this new type of “adultery in the heart” or “mental adultery” refers to a specific form of covetousness – mainly to covet another man’s wife.
Even the Biblical definition of lust confirms this:
“for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” – Romans 7:7 (KJV)
God’s Gift of Sexuality
In addition to the gift of being able to enjoy the sights, smells and taste of food along with many other gifts God has given us – he has also given us one of two other gifts.
For a chosen few he has given them the gift of celibacy.
“For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.” – I Corinthians 7:7
Celibacy is a gift that is to be used in God’s service and not for one to purposefully and selfishly avoid God’s institution of marriage. The gift of celibacy is God’s ONLY exception to his command in Genesis 1:28 for man and woman to “be fruitful and multiply”, otherwise the rest of us are supposed to be getting married and having kids if it is possible for us to do so.
But the majority of us do not have the gift of celibacy, but rather God has given us the gift of our sexuality. This helps us to fulfill his command to be fruitful and multiply, but that is certainly not the only reason God gave us sex and he could have used a much different means of reproduction.
God has blessed both men and women with his gift of sexuality, but he distributes it differently to men then he does to women. For most women their sexual desire is more emotionally based and for men it is far more physically and visually based. So the way in which men and women experience the gift of God’s sexuality is very different.
“Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:” – Genesis 49:25 (KJV)
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.” – Song of Solomon 1:2 (KJV)
“This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes. I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples;” – Song of Solomon 7:7-8 (KJV)
Breasts in the Scripture have a dual symbolism. In the context of a mother and her child they symbolize nourishment and comfort. In the context of sexuality they represent a woman’s body and the fact that it is a gift of God toward men.
The Scriptures are clear that sexual relations of any kind between a man and a woman are strictly reserved for marriage:
“Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” – Hebrews 13:4 (KJV)
But while sexual relations between a man and woman are reserved for marriage alone, this does not mean our sexuality itself is reserved for marriage alone. In other words the focus of all one’s sexual thoughts and sexual energy does not have to be solely directed at one’s spouse.
The Bible does NOT forbid sexual fantasy and sexual imagination. Rather the Bible forbids sexual covetousness which is also referred to as adultery of the heart (mental adultery) or lust.
The Bible condemns sexual imagination that is evil, but not all sexual imagination. We are forbidden from imagining ourselves in sexual acts that are a violation of God’s design of sex. God designed heterosexual sex(sex between a man and a woman), but things like homosexual sex, orgies and bestiality are corruptions of God’s design for sex. Even thoughts of heterosexual sex can be become sinful if they become covetous imaginations(adulterous thoughts).
But aren’t all heterosexual thoughts outside of marriage sinful?
As we just stated God designed sexual relations between a man and woman to be ONLY within marriage. Some people reason from this that even imaginations of heterosexual sex are reserved only for marriage and only about the person you are married to. They would say that just as it is wrong to have homosexual imaginations or imaginations about bestiality it is equally wrong to have heterosexual thoughts about someone you are not married to.
But thoughts of heterosexual sex are not wrong in and of themselves. God created us to desire and think about heterosexual sex – it is his gift to us. It is always the context of heterosexual thoughts that makes them right or wrong.
If you simply have an imaginative thought about what it would be like to have sex with a woman, regardless of if your are married to her or not – there is no sin that.
It is only when you add more context to that thought where you are thinking of covetous ways that you would actually seduce such a woman(or pay her) to actually have sex with you that now your heterosexual imagination becomes a covetous and sinful thought.
So how does all this relate to our neighbor, his steaks and his wife?
What this means is that in the same way that God designed your brain to get enjoyment from the sights, smells and taste of food he also designed your brain to get pleasure from the sight of women(and not just your wife), the imaginations of heterosexual sex and the act of sexual relations itself. Again while the act of sexual relations is strictly to be within the bounds of marriage as we discussed earlier, the rest of your sexuality is not restricted to only your wife.
What this means for your neighbor, his steaks and his wife is that in the same way you could enjoy the sight of that steak on his grill you can freely enjoy the sight of his wife. Obviously you don’t want to gawk and be rude, but you receiving pleasure from tasteful glances of her beauty is as pure as the driven snow. You are enjoying the gift of sexuality that God has given you within the bounds of his law.
Even if you were to at some point later to have a sexual imagination while you are awake or a sleep it matters not as long as you are not thinking covetous sexual thoughts about her. That would be like fantasizing about befriending your neighbor’s wife (which usually starts with just neighborly talking, then leads to talking about more intimate things, then the flirting and eventually getting her into bed). That is a covetous sexual imagination, that is adultery of heart (mental adultery) and that is lust.
Applications of Biblical truths surrounding Lust
I have shown conclusive evidence from Scripture that lust as it is mentioned in Matthew 5:28 is referring to a specific form of covetousness, mainly to covet another man’s wife. Now certainly within the context of Scripture as a whole we understand all covetousness to be sinful which means it would also be wrong for a woman to covet another woman’s husband. Christ labeled this specific form covetousness as “adultery in the heart” or in other words “mental adultery”.
So what does this mean for Christian men when it comes to them enjoying the view of a woman whether she is right there before their eyes or the woman is simply an imagination whether that imagination is just in one’s head, or that imagination comes in the form of a moving picture set (a movie), a still picture or a painting?
It means that not all imagination is sin. In fact our ability to imagine, even outside the context of sexual imagination is a gift from God. As long as we don’t sit with our heads in the clouds all the time to the neglect of our other responsibilities to our wife and children, our churches and jobs there is no sin in this.
“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” – I Corinthians 6:12 (KJV)
That means if you are watching the Avengers movie and you are imagining how cool it would be to be in that Ironman suit saving the day there is no sin in that.
This means if you are watching a movie like Fury (a World War II movie) and you imagine yourself on that tank mowing down Nazis with that machine gun there is no sin in that.
It also means if you are watching a movie that has a beautiful woman in it having sex with a man and you imagine yourself having sex with her the way he is – again there is no sin this.
The reason this is not sin has to do with a statement we referenced earlier.
“In Christianity, it’s the intentions, just as much as the actions that are important.” So what are your intentions when you are imagining yourself in the position of that man on that moving image set (movie) having sex with that woman? Is your intention to go find out who the inspiration was for that image (the actress) and find her address and pay her to have sex with you?(fornication) Or is your intention only to enjoy the imagination of her and you have no covetous intentions towards her?
If you have no covetous imagination or intentions towards the actress that inspired that movie there is no sin in your imagination. It is a gift from God. These are pure thoughts as God has designed your mind to receive pleasure from thoughts of normal heterosexual between a man and woman.
Now if you spend all your time thinking about sex with that woman or other women or even your wife to the neglect of your other responsibilities than then you have violated the principle of I Corinthians 6:12 and have come “under the power” of your sexual imagination(this would be by definition sexual addiction).
Addressing the jealousy of wives toward their husbands
While jealousy certainly affects both men and women it does not mean men and women are equally jealous of the same things. For instance most men would not mind if their wife thought the actor Chris Hemsworth was attractive. In fact most men, unless they are taught to be jealous(like through church teaching or others), would not mind a bit if their wife got sexually excited by watching a Chris Hemsworth movie and she wanted to have sex with them.
However if you put a typical woman (not all women) in this same position she would have a very different reaction. If her husband were to watch a Megan Fox movie which made him want to have sex with her many women would be offended by the idea their husbands were thinking sexually of another woman.
In fact I have a Pastor friend of mine whose wife forbid him from watching anymore Transformer movies when she figured out that Megan Fox was putting him in the mood. Unlike some of my other Pastor friends, he has not able to break free of the Church’s incorrect teaching on what lust is and he felt his wife was right and that he was lusting after Megan Fox and he was in the wrong.
So the million dollar question here is which person is wrong? Is the husband wrong for having sexual imaginations about any other woman than his wife? Or is the wife wrong for being upset about her husband having sexual imaginations about women other than herself.
Biblically speaking jealousy is not always wrong. If something belongs to us then it would not necessarily be wrong for us to be jealous of that thing. God shows himself jealous toward his people because his people belong to him and they owe him their worship.
But does a man’s sexual imagination belong to his wife? Are all his thoughts regarding sex to be of her and her alone? The answer scripturally speaking is no. Therefore his thoughts and sexual imaginations are between him and God and as long as he does not allow his sinful nature to corrupt his natural sexual imagination there is no sin and his thoughts remain pure.
Because of this a woman has no right to be jealous of her husband’s sexual imaginations. This is in fact a sinful and selfish jealousy of her wanting to be the only woman he would ever think of sexually.
Some may try and point to this verse as saying a wife does have a right to compel all of her husband’s sexual imagination toward her:
“The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.” – I Corinthians 7:4 (KJV)
The “power” spoken of here is the power to have sexual access to your spouse’s body. A wife is to have sexual access to her husband’s body and as he is to be able to have sexual access to hers. This does not remove his headship (Ephesians 5) over her nor does it give her control of his thoughts or desires.
Another argument I hear often about jealous wives comes from people who oppose the Scriptures I have shown demonstrating that God allowed and condoned polygamy (more specifically polygyny) in the Bible. Their argument usually goes like this “polygamy never works because it always causes jealousy by women when their husbands take other wives”. What these same people never consider is –were those wives justified before God in being jealous of their husbands having other wives?
The answer Biblically speaking is no they were not right in being jealous of their husband’s other wives. We even see that God blessed a wife in Scripture for overcoming her jealousy of her husband and giving him another wife!
Leah was always jealous of Jacob’s affection toward his other wife Rachel. In truth God saw sin on both sides in Jacob not giving Leah the love she was due and God gave Leah children while leaving Rachel barren to prove his point to Jacob. But Leah at the same time was also wrong in her jealousy over Jacob. God stopped Leah from having any more children. Then she overcame her jealousy and gave her servant Zilpah to Jacob as another wife. God rewarded her for overcoming her jealousy and opened her womb again to give her another child.
“Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar.” Genesis 30:18(NIV)
How many women today could have done such a thing and give their husbands another wife? Yet today in our post Roman culture (which eliminated polygamy from most of the western world) women will not even tolerate their husband’s thinking of another woman, yet alone would they give him another wife.
It is certainly something to ponder.
See these other related articles
How should Christian women respond their men looking at other women
What is Lust of the Eyes in I John 2:16
Was polygamy a sin God overlooked in the Old Testament?