Recognizing the Power of Wrong Desire
“But each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin; in turn, sin, when it has been accomplished, brings forth death.”—Jas. 1:14, 15, NW.
1, 2. Who was Achan, and in what manner was he disobedient?
A SHINY gold bar, some glistening silver and a good-looking garment cost a man his life. It happened when the nation of Israel conquered the city of Jericho in the fifteenth century B.C. The man’s name was Achan. He was a soldier in the Israelite army. The army was under orders to destroy everything in the city. Nothing was to be looted except the gold, silver and other metals found there, but these were not to become the private possession of the soldiers. They were to be put into the Israelite treasury, which was dedicated to Jehovah God.
2 Look back to that time and notice what is happening during the house-to-house search of Jericho. Achan is by himself in one of the houses. He has found a bar of gold, some silver and a handsome Chaldean garment. As he handles the garment he thinks what a shame it is that such a fine-looking garment should be destroyed. The more he looks at it and feels its fine texture, the more he wants it for himself. The same proves true with the gold and silver as he picks them up and feels their weight in his hands. He permits the desire for these forbidden things to grow on him. Since he is unnoticed in the dimly lit interior of the house he is encouraged to fulfill his desire. He can think of no way that anyone could possibly discover that he had taken these things. They would never be missed from the city. Encouraged by this thought, he conceals the articles and carries them out of the doomed city to his tent. In its privacy he pulls back a corner of the floor covering, digs a hole in the ground and buries his loot. After replacing the floor covering Achan turns away with a feeling of satisfaction. He had fulfilled his desire with no one the wiser.
3. Why did Achan’s wrong actions not go unnoticed?
3 Achan had entertained and fulfilled a wrong desire. But in spite of his self-confidence his actions did not go unnoticed. It is true that no human eyes perceived his disobedient act, but the eyes of God had. Since the God of Israel would not allow the presence of such a person to corrupt his chosen people, he let it be known to Joshua that Israel was defiled in his eyes by an act of willful disobedience and thievery. “In turn Jehovah said to Joshua: ‘Get up, you! Why is it that you are falling upon your face? Israel has sinned and they have also overstepped my covenant that I laid as a command upon them and they have also taken some of the thing devoted to destruction and have also stolen and also kept it secret and have also put it among their own articles. And the sons of Israel will not be able to rise up against their enemies. The back is what they will turn before their enemies, because they have become a thing devoted to destruction. I shall not prove to be with you again unless you annihilate the thing devoted to destruction out of your midst.’”—Josh. 7:10-12, NW.
4. How was he found and punished?
4 Joshua then had each tribe pass before him, and God indicated to him that the guilty man was in the tribe of Judah. Then from that tribe the family of the Zerahites was picked. Each man of that family passed by, and then Achan’s turn came. When he came before Joshua, God indicated that this was the guilty man. “Then Joshua said to Achan: ‘My son, render, please, glory to Jehovah the God of Israel and make confession to him, and tell me, please, What have you done? Do not conceal it from me.’” (Josh. 7:19, NW) When Achan confessed his wicked act, men went to his tent and uncovered the loot and brought it to Joshua. Achan was then taken outside the camp and stoned to death. Thus the desire that led to his sin brought about his death.
5. What can we learn from Achan’s experience?
5 Achan’s experience clearly illustrates the power of wrong desire and what it leads to. It shows that even though the fulfilling of a wrong desire may be in secret it does not go unnoticed. Jehovah God, the Universal Sovereign, sees it. But wicked men like Achan fail to recognize this fact. “He says to himself, ‘God has forgotten; he has hidden his face; he will never see it.’” (Ps. 10:11, AT) But Jehovah does see it, and he will not forget. Thus a person must be very careful about the desires he cultivates, making sure they are not bad ones.
6. What should be kept in mind?
6 He should keep in mind what the Bible writer James said about wrong desires and what they lead to. “But each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin; in turn, sin, when it has been accomplished, brings forth death.” (Jas. 1:14, 15, NW) And so it was with Achan. His desire for a gold bar, some silver and a garment led to sin and the sin to death. Thus when you feel desire’s magnetic attraction pulling you toward something that is Scripturally wrong, call to mind what the Bible says about desire. Remember what happened to Achan. Then exert your will power to resist the attraction. If you fail to put up a strong resistance the desire will grow steadily stronger until it becomes fertile by causing you to sin. That in turn warrants from God a judgment of destruction.
MANY HAVE SUCCUMBED TO WRONG DESIRES
7. What mistake have some persons made?
7 Over the years past there have been dedicated Christians who thought they could toy with a wrong desire without injury to themselves. They were not wary of its power. So when they were enticed by it, they did not put it out of mind. They instead entertained the desire. They thought about it. As they did, their resistance grew weaker until the desire overpowered them, and they allowed it to become fertile. By such wrong action they became unclean in God’s eyes and were unfit to remain in his theocratic organization, just as Achan became unfit to remain in it. Hence God disfellowshiped them. He no longer accepted them as his servants. Over a period of time only a small number of these showed sincere repentance and by God’s undeserved kindness were forgiven their sin. They were then permitted to reenter the theocratic organization. But this return to God’s favor was a very, very difficult road. It would have been much better for them to have resisted the wrong desire in the first place.
8. What did Peter have to say about those who fulfilled wrong desires without showing repentance?
8 Those who failed to show sincere repentance are faced with eternal destruction. They are the ones the apostle Peter speaks about when he says: “Furthermore, many will turn out of the way and follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively. Also with covetousness they will exploit you with counterfeit words. But as for them, the judgment of ancient times is not moving slowly, and the destruction of them is not slumbering.” (2 Pet. 2:2, 3, NW) Thus wrong desires are not to be mentally toyed with but rather put completely out of mind. Do not let them get rooted.
9. What mistake did Eve make?
9 The Bible records many examples of individuals, like Achan, who did not appreciate this fact. In each case the results were always the same—wrong desire led to sin and sin to death. This is what happened to the first woman, Eve. When she was told that by eating the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden she would become wise and, like God, be able to judge for herself what was good and what was bad, she began to desire the fruit. The more she thought about it, the more desirable it became in her eyes and the more she wanted it. “Consequently the woman saw that the tree’s fruit was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, yes, the tree was desirable to look upon. So she began taking of its fruit and eating it.” (Gen. 3:6, NW) Thus her wrong desire became fertile in sin. She made the mistake of entertaining it instead of putting it out of her mind at the outset. In due time this sin brought about her eternal death.
10. What was the wrong desire that Adam entertained?
10 In the case of Adam it was his desire to please Eve rather than obey Jehovah that drew him into sin. When he returned from being in another part of the garden and saw what Eve had done, he did not correct her and refuse to have any part in her sin. He instead accepted the fruit from her hands and joined her in the act of willful disobedience against God. His desire to please her led him into rebellion against God. “And to Adam he [Jehovah] said: ‘Because you listened to your wife’s voice and took to eating from the tree concerning which I gave you this command: “You must not eat from it,” cursed is the ground on your account.’” Since Adam had been warned in advance that if he ate this fruit he would die, his disobedience meant that he would return to the lifeless dust from which he had been made. “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen. 3:17-19, NW) Thus Adam’s wrong desire led to sin and his sin to death.
11. Why can we be certain that a person cannot entertain a wrong desire without injury to himself?
11 Since wrong desire had the power to draw a perfect man and woman into sin and to their death, who could be so rash as to say that an imperfect human could entertain a wrong desire in his mind without eventually being led to bring it to realization? It was no doubt because of this fact that Jesus said: “But I say to you that everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28, NW) It could be said that such a person has committed adultery in his heart, because if he had the chance his wrong desire would cause him to commit adultery in actuality. Or with the single person it would cause him to commit fornication.
12. How was David led to sin, and what does his experience teach us?
12 This principle proved true with King David, who, while walking about the rooftop of his palace, caught sight of Bathsheba bathing herself. He watched her with a passionate desire. It overpowered him and he sought to fulfill it and did, even though Bath-sheba was another man’s wife. He arranged for her husband to be put in the front lines of battle, that death might be certain for him. Then after the man was killed, David continued in his wrong desire by taking Bath-sheba as his wife. Thus the desire that he permitted to build up within himself while looking at Bath-sheba led him to sin in the eyes of God. If it had not been for his sincerely repentant spirit when the prophet Nathan pointed out his wrong, this sin would have cost David his life. A wrong desire must therefore be discerned at the outset and every effort made to dismiss it from one’s mind.
13. (a) How do we know that angels are subject to the power of wrong desire? (b) What was the desire of the first angel that sinned?
13 How vitally necessary this is can be better appreciated when it is remembered that even angels have succumbed to the power of wrong desire. These mighty heavenly creatures are not free from it, even though they are much superior to man. Many of them have become its victims. The first one to fall became overpowered with pride and the desire to be like the Universal Sovereign, Jehovah. He saw his opportunity to bring his desire to fruit through the first man and woman. He knew they would eventually fill the earth with their kind. Hence he envisioned himself ruling over an earth filled with humans who would all be worshiping and serving him. Likely his ambition did not stop there. He next saw himself ruling over the entire universe, holding the very position that Jehovah God himself holds. This audacious ambition became his consuming desire. Since he retained it, it grew and led him into rebellion against God. Because this spirit rebel chose a course of slander and opposition to Jehovah he is called Satan the Devil.
14, 15. (a) Explain how angels in Noah’s day were led into sin. (b) What will their sin bring upon them?
14 Later, in the days of Noah, other angels sinned. These too made the mistake of mentally dwelling upon a wrong desire until it overpowered them. They saw the pleasure humans had in the sexual union and they wanted it for themselves, even though angels were created sexless. By nurturing the desire in their minds they cultivated a sexual appetite that grew as they continued to look with passionate desire on the daughters of men. They knew that it was wrong for them to entertain such thoughts, but they did it anyway. They also knew that their place was in the heavens and that they should be content with the position God had given them there instead of wanting to mix with humankind. They were one kind of life and humankind was another. Since it was against God’s law for there to be any intermixing of the two, they should have put out of their minds the thought of having mankind’s sexual pleasures for themselves. They should have got rid of it before it became rooted as a desire and began growing until it consumed them. This is what they should have done, but it is not what they did.
15 To gratify their lust these angels disobediently left their heavenly positions and materialized fleshly bodies and married the daughters of men. This sin brought upon them Jehovah’s adverse judgment, which he will execute in his due time. “And the angels that did not keep their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling-place he has reserved with eternal bonds under dense darkness for the judgment of the great day.” (Jude 6, NW) As with humans, so with them—wrong desire led to sin and sin will mean their destruction. Thus if wrong desire has the power to pull even angels into sin and destruction, how could imperfect humans entertain it without injury to themselves?
16. What was the wrong desire that destroyed Judas, and what truth does his experience illustrate?
16 Judas was one who showed that it cannot be done. He entertained the desire for money. He allowed it to grow until it made him a thief as well as a betrayer of God’s Son. What happened to him well illustrates the truth of what is written at 1 Timothy 6:9, 10 (NW): “However, those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.” That is precisely what happened to Judas. His love for money led him astray from the faith and plunged him into destruction. His fate should be a warning to all dedicated Christians who are making the mistake of cultivating a desire for riches.
17. Why should we be watchful to keep the desire for money under control?
17 But some persons who were once dedicated Christians failed to profit from his fate. They permitted the desire for money to engulf them, and, like Judas, were led astray from the faith. They permitted their love for riches to pry them loose from the theocratic organization, and they are now completely engrossed in trying to satisfy that love. They have no further interest in walking the way to life. Since this has happened to some, can it not happen to others? Can it not happen to you? It can if you are not alert to resist the deceptive desire for riches. You must not let it get a hold on you. So watch out for attractive business offers that would keep you away from regularly associating with the New World society and that would demand so much of your time that you would not be able to study the Scriptures regularly or engage in the Christian ministry. A dedicated Christian should be moving in the direction of giving more time to Bible study and to God’s service, not less.
LOVE FOR MATERIAL THINGS
18, 19. What danger confronts a Christian in the material attractions of the world, and why must he keep control of his desires?
18 A Christian may not consider himself ensnared by the love of money, yet may be ensnared by the love for material things. He sees the glittering array of consumer products pouring out from modern industry. He sees and hears the enticing advertisements that fan the flame of desire for these things. He thinks how much he would like to possess this item and that. He has a car all paid for, but he sees an attractive advertisement of one of the latest cars, for example, and pictures how nice it would look parked in his driveway. But since he cannot afford it he sees no harm in dreaming about it. So he dreams of driving along the highway behind the wheel of that sleek-looking car. He can feel the ease with which it is handled. He can hear the smooth purr of its engine and feel its power when he touches the throttle. As he continues to dream about it from day to day, his desire for it grows, and it is not long before he is stopping at a showroom to look at it. After talking to the salesman he goes home to figure out a way he can finance it, even going into debt for it. He even considers taking on extra work to earn the additional money to pay off the debt. He is willing to live beyond his means, to sacrifice precious time that could be devoted to study and service of God, in order to satisfy the consuming desire he has cultivated for this new car. Of course, with another person it might be something else for which a desire is cultivated. In any case, the individual is seeking material things at the sacrifice of spiritual things. If he continues in this course of allowing selfish desires to crowd out the time and attention he owes to God, it will not be long before the fever of materialism will kill him spiritually, and that, in turn, will lead to his being killed physically, along with the lovers of this materialistic world.
19 There is nothing wrong with having material conveniences and luxuries if you can afford them and if you can keep them in their place. They should serve you, not enslave you. Hence, watch your desires and keep control of them so that they do not get control of you. If you are now a Christian they can pull you away from spirituality if you permit them. They can drag you into the quicksand of materialism, and you will gradually sink from sight and will no longer be seen in the ranks of the New World society. They will thus have pulled you away from the narrow path that leads to eternal life. “Go in through the narrow gate; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it.” (Matt. 7:13, 14, NW) Some persons step onto that cramped or narrow road and perhaps stay on it for many years but then allow the magnetic pull of wrong desires to turn them off of it into the broad way along which this materialistic world is moving. Thus a Christian cannot allow himself to be ensnared by the love for material things. That would be cultivating wrong desires that could only bring him to grief. It would be as disastrous for him as the love of money was for Judas.
CONTROL SENSUAL DESIRES
20, 21. (a) How has this world failed to keep its sensual desires within Scriptural bounds, and what has been the result? (b) Why must a Christian get a strong hold on himself?
20 Fleshly desires can be even more difficult to control than the craving for material things. When nurtured they become a consuming flame that devours a person so that moral laws have no meaning to him. The wide-spread immorality of this old world is clear testimony to that. Instead of obeying the Scriptural commands against immorality the world ignores them and permits sexual desire to get out of bounds. There is nothing wrong with sexual desire in itself, because it was put in man by the Creator, but the wrong is when it is allowed to become uncontrolled and to draw a person beyond the legal bounds set by God. The Christian, therefore, cannot follow the bad course the world is following but must keep control of his desires. This requires an exercising of will power. He must make a determined effort not to permit his mind to entertain bad sexual desires, as they will but lead him into sin.
21 Since the world has permitted its desires to go beyond Scriptural limits, it abounds with depraved, lustful people. Regarding them the Bible says: “Therefore God in keeping with the desires of their hearts gave them up to uncleanness, that their bodies might be dishonored among them, even those who exchanged the truth of God for the lie and venerated and rendered sacred service to the creation rather than the One who created, who is blessed forever. Amen. That is why God gave them up to disgraceful sexual appetites, for both their females changed the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature, and likewise even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust toward one another, males with males, working what is obscene and receiving in themselves the full recompense which was due for their error.” (Rom. 1:24-27, NW) True to what these scriptures say, the world is corrupted by adulterers, fornicators, prostitutes and homosexuals. Therefore, since the Christian is surrounded by this wicked influence he must get a strong hold on himself so that he is not drawn by wrong desire into committing the same abominable deeds. He must recognize his fleshly weaknesses and not think he can follow sensual desires to the Scriptural boundary line and stop there. Even if he may succeed in doing that for awhile, he will eventually be drawn over that boundary line into sin. This is certain to happen, since lusts that are nourished grow in strength and get a tighter grip on a person. He then has greater difficulty getting his mind off them. His best defense is to resist them at the outset.
22. Why can we be certain that destruction awaits this world?
22 This modern world is like the world of Noah’s day. Those people gave no heed to the godly bounds set upon human desires. They did not control them but catered to them, and so cultivated their lusts. These bad desires led them to sin and that resulted in their destruction at God’s hand. “He did not hold back from punishing an ancient world, but kept Noah, a preacher of righteousness, safe with seven others when he brought a deluge upon a world of ungodly people; and by reducing the cities Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them, setting a pattern for ungodly persons of things to come.” (2 Pet. 2:5, 6, NW) The fate of the depraved people of Noah’s day as well as of those in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah was a pattern of what is due to come upon this present world for following the same course of catering to wrong desires.
23. Why is the Christian in a dangerous position, and what must he do?
23 Since this old world is facing the adverse judgment of God, the Christian is in a very dangerous position. The world’s lustful desires, its love for money and its grasping for material possessions confront him on every side. He is constantly subject to its attractions, its temptations and its wrong thinking. By his being continually surrounded by such bad influence his walking of the narrow way to life is made very difficult. He will not be able to stay on it if he permits his mind to dwell upon these things and thus build up a desire for them. If he fails to recognize the power of wrong desire and to make every effort to resist it he will inevitably be caught by its bait and be led into sin and death. Therefore, let every dedicated Christian remember what the power of wrong desire did to Achan, what it did to Judas, what it did to the first human pair and what it did to the angels that sinned. Let each recognize that power and make every effort to resist it, for its way is the way to sin and to eternal death.