Is It Love or Lust?

by Robert H. Farish
Gospel Guardian – October 19, 1967

The English word "love" is one of the most used and worst abused words in the language. With many people love is identified with lust. People who have not the remotest idea of what love is according to God are heard speaking enthusiastically of their dedication to love. When the hippie section of society waxes enthusiastic over "love", let no one think that they are talking about the same thing as the Bible is, when it requires us to love one another. The Bible requires the Christian to "let all you do be done in love" (I Corinthians 16:14); "owe no man anything save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8). These and many other Bible references give high rating to love and its essential place in the lives of men, but the thing required by these passages is not what those characters have in mind, who are wallowing in sex and blabbing "love, love, love." They are using the word love to describe a thing which the Bible condemns. The apostle Peter beseeches Christians to abstain from that which some moderns call "love" - "Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul" (I Peter 2:11). Lust wars against the soul; destruction is its goal. Ambiguity, the semantic device of ignorant and unscrupulous promoters of error and evil, is one of the means which has been used effectively in bringing society to its present state of soul rot. Lust has been promoted under the name of love. Precise definition of terms and an insistence upon correct labeling is the counter strategy to be employed. Call it lust and strip it of the aura of glamour which it has gained by masquerading under the "love label."

"Greek is one of the richest of all languages and has an unrivalled power to express shades of meaning. It therefore often happens that Greek has a whole series of words to express different shades of meaning in one conception, while English has only one. In English we have only one word to express all kinds of love; Greek has no fewer than four ...

"The noun "eros" and verb "eran" are mainly used for love between the sexes ... The predominant connection of these two words (eros and eran) is with sexual love. In the English language the word "lover" can bear a lower sense; and in Greek the meaning of these two words had degenerated so that they stood for lower things. Christianity could hardly have annexed these words for its own use: and they do not appear in the New Testament at all." [Barclay]

The "eros" idea is perhaps the most popular connotation of the English word love. This "hot and unendurable desire" idea cannot be properly considered as attached to the New Testament word love.

The New Testament's definition of love will remove the connotation of lust from the word love. God's love for man is demonstrated in His gift of His Son to save man for sin. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Man's love for God is demonstrated in his obedience to God. "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (I John 5:3). The absence of obedience is evidence of love failure. No man can truthfully claim to love God who fails to obey God.

The New Testament reveals God's love for man; it also teaches that man must love God in order to have God's favor. Still another area of the general theme love is the love which the New Testament requires people to exercise toward other people. This is the specific subject in which we are interested in this article. The love which the New Testament requires men to entertain and exercise toward one another cannot rightfully be equated to lust. To identify love with lust in one's thinking and action is to reveal a false concept of love required by God.

Love Defined

The apostle Paul personifies love in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. The attitudes and actions of the person motivated and regulated by love are set forth by the apostle in this chapter. Love is presented in action; we are told what it does and what it does not. The thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians is the divine pattern to be followed to "add love."

The first three verses are devoted to establishing the essential place of love in giving substance to any act. From these verses we learn that regardless of how fine and noble an action may be, it is rendered personally unprofitable to the actor who performs it without love. The absence of love makes vain any act regardless of its character per se. The following verses answer the question, what is love?

Love suffereth long

If there were no trials, no need for long suffering would exist, but the fact of trials is self-evident, hence, the need of suffering long is established. Giving up under pressure of evil is a demonstration of faulty love. Staying under the load, bearing one's burdens is an exercise of love.

Is kind

This quality is sometimes absent in the one who is long suffering. It is a pity that some neutralize their long suffering by unkind attitudes and expressions. It is not difficult for most people to be kind to those who are kind to them, but reciprocity does not establish the presence of love. The exercise of kindness in our long suffering is the area where kindness must be cultivated - it doesn't just "come natural." Christ said, "For if ye love them that love you what reward have you? Do not the publicans the same?" (Matthew 5:46) Who would be so bold as to express the sentiment that kindness is not essential, in the Christian's character? Yet there are probably more unkind people in the world than there are unbaptized people. Many baptized people manifest, in practice, as little regard for the Lord's requirement to "be ye kind one to another" as do unbaptized people for the Lord's requirement to "repent ye and be baptized every one of you."

Love envieth not

This begins a series of eight negatives. The description of love is begun with two positive qualities; following is a series of eight negatives; the description is then completed with four positives. Some have concluded that the New Testament de-emphasizes the "thou shalt not", because it does not employ the' precise terminology of prohibition that the Old Testament employs. But the precise idea of "thou shalt not" is in the language of these eight negatives. "Thou shalt not envy" is clearly the thought here. This word, envy, is from the Greek word which means "to seeth." Chagrin, discontent, mortification on account of the good fortune of another, is a feeling forbidden the Christian. Any time a Christian "seethes," because of the superiority or advantages of another, one of the "shalt not's" of the New Testament is violated.

Love vaunteth not itself

Love personified is not on dress parade. Jesus said, "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: else ye have no reward with your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 6:1) The mature Christian takes heed to avoid crude display of piety; he does not boast of his righteousness or brag of his accomplishments. Gospel preachers, as well as all other Christians, need to realize that bragging on one's self, regardless of how subtle it maybe, or how well it may be camouflaged, is a deficiency in love and is seen by God. Too many fail to recognize the sin in "giving out that himself was some great one."

Love is not puffed up

Conceit or an over-development of self-esteem is here described as "puffed up." Swelling is to the physical body what conceit or pride is to the soul. Neither is healthy growth, but in each area is symptomatic of disease. Conceit is a barrier between the puffed up person and his associates and between himself and further growth.

These three characteristics of lovelessness are closely related. Lenski comments this way, "From envy to boasting, from boasting to puffing oneself up is a natural sequence in the psychology of lovelessness." Envy in a person is evidence that he considers another as occupying a superior place or having some superior possession. If not, why the envy? Instead of pursuing the healthy course of filling up on their part that which is lacking; many allow the fact of their personal lack to develop into an inferiority complex. The defensive mechanism supplied by Satan is, bragging to build oneself up with society, and conceit to build oneself up with self. It is difficult, if even possible, to distinguish between an inferiority complex and a superiority complex. Maybe that which we call "superiority complex" is only that point of development where the person has fed his ego till he believes his own biased reports; his rationalizing to himself and bragging to others has come to be believed by himself.

Love doth not behave itself unseemly

Discourteous behavior is the antithesis of love. Unseemly behavior is the only kind that can properly be expected from an envious braggart who is swelled with conceit. Behavior is the index to character of the soul. It is the fruit by which the character of the man is determined.

Love seeketh not its own

The unselfishness of love is set forth by the Holy Spirit in the clause, "seeketh not its own." The old "looking out for number one" philosophy is contrary to love. "Love seeketh not its own" is equal to "not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others" (Philippians 2:4). But interest and efforts for the welfare of others can only exist in the ones who have "this mind in (them) which was also in Christ Jesus; who existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:5-8). Our love is disposed to waver when great personal sacrifice is involved; it will help us to remember what our Saviour gave up. The mind of Christ is not "grasping", neither can we tenaciously hold on to our position or possessions and at the same time personify love. Humility is an integral of the mind of Christ which we are to have in us - "he humbled himself." His humble obedience took him all the way from Deity to death. The road from equality with God to a human death was a humiliating journey every step of the way. "Love seeketh not its own." How fortunate that Christ loved us.

The selfish person can never know the satisfaction of enjoying another's happiness; he is unlikely to have a lively awareness of either the happiness or the sorrow of others due to his attention being concentrated on self. He cannot truly "rejoice with them that rejoice and weep with them that weep." Unselfishness is neither accidental nor hereditary; it is a disposition that must be cultivated.

Love is not provoked

Occasions of provocation are plentiful. But the feelings of exasperation stirred up by these provocations are curbed by the Christian. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "love is not provoked", and yet his spirit was "provoked within him" (Acts 17:16) at what he saw in Athens. The apparent inconsistency evaporates when we know the meaning of the term. Vines defines "provoke", "to sharpen, is used metaphorically, signifying to rouse to anger." The noun form "denotes a stimulation." The thought is that Paul's spirit was stirred. When the apostle urges Christians to love and further points out that love is not provoked, his is not recommending complacency, but is demanding poise.

Every member of the Lord's church has the duty of provoking every other Christian "unto love and works" (Hebrews 10:24). If the Holy Spirit had said for Christians to provoke one another, and had left it there, many more would have been able to qualify on this point than do qualify. No, we do not fill the bill by merely stirring a person's spirit up, we must stir them up to love and good works.

Love is poised; it is not constantly fuming and out of sorts. When worldly minded people learn that a person is easily provoked, they oft times make him a target for their darts of provocation. There is a type mind that enjoys seeing a person lose his composure. Against such the Christian must exercise constant vigilance. If the bull in the ring could restrain himself from becoming provoked, the matador would not have the opportunity to thrust the sword into his heart and the spectators would be deprived of their pleasure. Stirring up a person's temper, stimulating him to anger for no worthy end is not love; neither is it love to allow oneself to be provoked.

Love taketh no account of evil

This is a positive prohibition against holding a grudge. Expressed negatively, it would read, "Thou shalt not hold a grudge." does not make entries in memory's table of the slights and wrongs done it for the purpose of rendering a statement of account to every captive audience he can impose upon. We are not to render evil for evil, hence, do not need an account book to keep record. This, of course, is not to be interpreted as an encouragement to gullibility. The Christian certainly needs to remember in order to avoid providing opportunity for the evil person repeating his wrong.

Love takes no pleasure in seeing sin committed nor in the downfall of those who are overcome by sin. Love knows that the sinner will suffer endless punishment but it is not happy in contemplating the lot of the wicked. This does not in any way cause the Christian to resent truth but enables him to rejoice in the victories of truth. No Christian should ever be found rejoicing in unrighteousness, nor resentful of truth.

Love bears provocations, ingratitude, adversities without murmuring. It takes the charitable view of other's mistakes. It believeth all things consistent with evidence. Love is always hopeful for improvement. It will not become so discouraged by the lack of "visible results" that it gives up. Love endureth all things - it endures the heaviest assaults of ill-treatment. The heavy assaults of persecution never cause love to doubt the love of God. It does not take personal misfortune as evidence of God's displeasure. This word endureth "has reference to heavier afflictions than those sustained by the 'beareth' of verse 7."

Faith and hope are human exercises but love is not only a human exercise, it is divine. "God is love." Love is the greatest by reason of its being a divine attribute as well as a possible and necessary human attribute.