We are easily confused. The two emotions feel similar. The words for them are even spelled with the same number of letters and begin with the same letter. But, to mistake one for the other is deadly. Love leads to life. Lust leads to death.
Countless high school couples “fall in love.” Too often they are only doing what Bob Seger described in his song “Night Moves” - “I used her; she used me, but neither one cared.” That’s not love; that’s lust.
College coeds host a series of “grown up” versions of sleepovers. The guests are an endless stream of young men whose greatest ambition is to bed as many women as possible. That’s not love; that’s lust.
A 2012 New York Times article includes this startling statement, “Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century.” That incredible shift came in spite of a growing body of evidence that such arrangements damage children and often bring emotional pain for the adults, too. That’s not love; that’s lust.
The number of HIV cases among homosexual males went up by 17% from 1999 to 2002 due primarily to unprotected anal sex. That’s not love; that’s lust.
None of this is new, but it is tragic. For the duration of human history, all people have longed for love. Too many have settled for lust instead.
Like America, ancient Corinth was a freewheeling cosmopolitan place. Sex, both homosexual and heterosexual, was casual and common. When Christianity came to that city, new Christians saw nothing wrong with a church member sleeping with his father’s wife. In fact, they were proud of their tolerance.
God’s apostle, however, demanded that such destructive behavior not be tolerated. It was lust, not love. In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he describes for them (and us) what love is really like. Among other attributes, he says that love “is not rude, it is not self-seeking (13:5).
At first, that sounds like encouragement to mind manners. Further investigation shows, though, that the word translated as “rude” has a sexual connotation. Paul used it earlier (7:36) when discussing inappropriate behavior towards one’s fiancé. He used the same word later (12:23) to refer to one’s private parts. Paul is saying that true love behaves itself sexually. It never seeks its own pleasure.
Selfish sex is lust, not love. Our world desperately needs more love. Lust? Of that we already have too much.