The Lust of the Eye
What is it? How can we discern it?
I don’t claim to be an authority on this subject. I just felt to offer some thoughts on a subject so many people give so little attention to.
For those of you who remember the old Andy Griffith TV series, one of the main characters in the series was Barney Fife. He loved having authority. He loved and enjoyed getting attention and recognition. If he ever was in complete authority, he would wreck havoc in the little town of Mayberry. If he got too much attention or recognition, or if anyone bragged on him the least little bit, his head would swell (ego) so much, his facial expressions were a dead give away to his vanity. He would just make a mess of things!
I believe we all have a little Barney Fife in us to some extent. I would like to focus in on that spirit (Lust of the Eye). That is in everyone to some degree. It’s hidden in some and more pronounced in others. You can trace its roots in Adam through the scriptures (I John 2:15-16, Gen 3: 5-6. Jesus’ wilderness experience Matt 4: 5-7).
Many years ago, I read a book titled, “Inherit the Wind.” This story was taken from the 1920’s Scopes Monkey Trial. The Bible’s view of Creation vs. Evolution was the subject. Clarence Darrow was the agnostic lawyer defending a local teacher’s right to teach The Theory of Evolution. William Jennings Bryan was the counsel to the prosecution upholding the Bible’s view of Creation. It created a lot of sensation in the media. Back and forth and back and forth they went. Darrow didn’t win the case, but he did raise a lot of questions. One question was man’s right to think. He also succeeded in exposing that spirit (Lust of the Eye) in his opponent, Bryan. Before the trial was over, Darrow managed to reduce Bryan to a whimpering little child.
Bro. William Sowders put up a sign in his church that said, “Watch the Spirit.” Behind the pulpit, he had another sign for the preachers that said, “Watch your Spirit.” If Bryan could have understood the importance of this, Darrow wouldn’t have gotten the best of him. Darrow found flies in the ointment (Ecc. 10:1). Folly in him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor is like flies in the ointment of the apothecary.
In times past, I held the same view as of other brethren that would quote the scripture in II Tim 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved,” saying that it means to study God’s word, the Bible. I don’t believe you can overemphasize the need to study the Bible, especially if you are working in the ministry. However, I do believe you can under appreciate the need to study your spirit. I have seen brethren study the Bible from cover to cover and not even know what spirit they were of. The early church did not have the written word or the Bible as we know it today as it was not available 2000 years ago. Acts 4:13 says that Peter and John were considered ignorant and unlearned men. Now, I think II Tim 2:15 is saying something else. It doesn’t say study your Bible. I heard a preacher explain it to me like this, “Study your spirit, take the word of God as you hear it and study your spirit. Correct what needs to be so you won’t have to be ashamed and your life will be approved of God.” Jam 1:22-23 is essentially saying the same thing.
I’m not certain when the Lord begin to deal with me about this spirit; to look at it, study it, and search for it in myself. It is a subtle spirit and one that most people don’t see in themselves, but certainly see it in others. It’s like pride, hard to detect it in yourself. You won’t find it in yourself unless you look for it, the Lord reveals it to you, or your neighbor finds you out. It’s there! DON’T FOOL YOURSELF! It’s that spirit that seeks attention, and craves recognition, honor, and esteem. It’s that spirit in a person that wants to declare, “Hey, look at me! Look at what I can do! Look at what I have achieved!” You can see this spirit in the King of Babylon, Isa 14:12. This spirit (Lust of the eye) dwells in each of us. We want to achieve some great thing or be recognized for some important contribution so we can talk about it and hear our neighbor’s praises. We certainly want everyone to know about it. Two good scripts to keep this spirit in check are:
- Let another praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger and not thine own lips. (Proverbs 27:2)
- Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord. (Jer. 9:23-24)
The lust of the eye will drive men to endure incredible hardships so that their star might shine brighter than their neighbors. Athletes, especially the successful ones, will push their bodies to the limits in order to overcome their opponent. I, myself, played a lot of different sports while growing up and never gave much thought to how losers felt. I just knew I didn’t want to be on the losing end. As the years have passed and I’ve had time to reflect on some of my experiences, I think it’s sad that there has to be a loser, especially on the professional level. Men and women give their lives to reach their goal of a championship. In doing so, someone has to be the loser. I have never been able to feel too good about squashing someone else’s dream in order to fulfill mine.
Emulation is a work of the flesh (Gal.5:20). The Bible teaches that charity seeketh not her own (1 Cor. 13:5). The lust of the eye will cause some to seek the favor of a King, someone in leadership, or someone in a prestigious position. The world has a name for these kinds of people – I won’t go there. Let’s go to the Bible – Jude 1:16 speaks of having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage. James 1:2-4, 9 says “Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, with respect of persons.” Vs.9, “If ye have respect of persons, ye commit sin.” Some folks like to seek the favor of the pastor. This is an area you have to look at very closely as to why you want his favor. Is it for position? Is it for a pat on the back? Is it for recognition? Is it to be honored? Jesus said, “How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” My Bible teaches me that if I’ll seek the Kingdom of God first, then my needs will be met both naturally and spiritually. In Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18, Jesus shows us clearly the kind of spirit that Israel’s ministry had. They labored to be seen of men. Unfortunately, there is no reward for those kinds of works. The Apostle Paul even shows us not to be menpleasers in Eph.6:6. Col. 3:22 says, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God. Vs. 23, And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men.”
The Hob Nobbers
These are folks (young and old) who like to hob nob with the elite crowd. I remember in high school there were young people who would only hang out with the popular crowd. They always emanated a haughty and very arrogant spirit – an elite’s spirit. The unspoken air was, “Don’t bother us, you’re below our status.” If you weren’t in the mix, you were treated differently, pushed aside or rejected. I don’t see where our Savior ever rejected anybody because of their social status, rather he sought out the weak and beggarly elements.
Charity will seek to include others in fellowship and never exclude anyone. The spirit and nature of a beast will always take in its own.
I heard Bro. Leniger describe the spirit and nature of the old domineker hen. She would spread her wings to include all the little chicks, even those not of her brood. That is the spirit of the Body of Christ. I believe if we are ever able to acquire the nature and character of Christ, we will have to search our hearts. Some people don’t take the time, are too busy or don’t think it to be important. Ps. 139: 23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
People will allow the lust of the eye to separate them from God’s love and the Body of Christ. We’ve had preachers come among us, stay a while, and you may think they’ve got their eyes open, only to see them return back from where they came from because they didn’t receive enough attention, recognition and honor in the Body of Christ. The old saying, “They would rather be a big fish in a small pond than to be a small fish in a big pond.” It’s unfortunate that they would allow this spirit to rob them of a most wonderful opportunity to labor with God’s elect. When it comes to recognition and honor, it is true some of our preachers don’t receive enough and others may get too much. I heard Bro. Clyde Patton say, that if he was praised too much or heard his name being called too often, he would just pretend they were talking about someone else. Too much adulation and praise can and will create pride and arrogance. A lot of the actors and actresses in Hollywood are prime examples of what excessive recognition and attention will do to your spirit. The adulation they receive and admiration from their fans to the point of worship, in my estimation, creates a false sense of self-worth. I don’t believe it promotes the right kind of self-esteem. I do believe obedience to God and his Word will create a healthy attitude about you. On the other hand, the other just creates a swollen head! The lust of the eye can create envy and jealousy in a person’s life if left unchecked. It’s kind of hard to feel good about yourself when you know you’ve climbed over your brother or sister to satisfy your need for attention, acceptance or recognition etc. etc. That’s not charity. When you step on or in front of your neighbor to propel yourself to the front or up the ladder of success, and you hurt someone in the process, what kind of spirit is that? There are people in our society if their lust for attention and recognition is not met, they will resort to more drastic measures to satisfy it. If a spirit like this isn’t brought under control, it can produce some really nasty mental and emotional disorders. If you look up the definition for Munchausen Syndrome you’ll find it links one disorder to another followed by another. It just keeps going. The Bible teaches that charity does not seek its own, doesn’t vaunt itself. 1 Cor.10:24 says, “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.”
Now, let’s look at some other interesting symptoms of the lust of the eye.
The Puffed-up Person
This person usually likes to exhibit or display their intelligence. They like to impress people with their vocabulary. Have you ever noticed in a group setting after a speaker has presented his subject and asks if anyone has any questions, there will almost assuredly be someone who will want to ask some profound question not so much for the purpose of getting an answer, but rather exhibit their knowledge or impress people with their intelligence? Do you ever think that God gets a little annoyed with those people? I know I do! Excuse me.
Bro. Sowders gives his testimony, “One time I saw a preacher come in the church and I said, Lord give me a message. The Lord said, ‘What for? To be heard of men?’ That is exactly what I wanted it for – to let that fellow hear me!” God is not going to allow flesh to glory in his presence (1 Cor. 1:29).
The Unappreciated Person
This is a person who has labored in a church, maybe even for many years. They try to dot all their i’s and cross all their t’s, have been true to God’s work, have been faithful in all areas, but yet never feel appreciated. They never hear their name called. They never feel included with others who are acknowledged for their efforts. They never get much recognition for anything they’ve done for the church. There are a lot of folks who fall into this category. If you fit this description, are you going to cave in to hurt feelings? Are you going to get offended? What are you going to do, quit? Are you going to get mad and say, “Bless the Lord I’ll just move to another church. Or, better yet, I’ll just quit church!” Are you going to get mad at God or angry at the pastor? Who’s to blame? Will not God reward us? The scripture says in Heb. 6:10 says, “For God is not unrighteous to forget your labor of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.”
Remember, God is the one who hands out the rewards and everyone is going to get paid! It’s easy to lose sight of why we labor as we do in God’s vineyard. This spirit (lust of the eye) is so subtle it can trip up the best of people and cause us to forget what we are striving for.
Benedict Arnold was one of the best examples of someone who lost sight of what they were striving for. His is a very sad and tragic legacy. He was one of General Washington’s favorite generals, and yet his name became synonymous with turncoat and traitor. He had distinguished himself on the battlefield by winning numerous battles. He was passed up for promotion on these occasions, while others took the credit. Promotions became more important to him than the cause he was fighting for (our nation’s freedoms and liberty).
We have to get back to the basics and be reminded that it’s not for an earthly reward or the accolades and tribute that usually follow a person’s long time service and faithfulness for the work they’ve done. It’s for the penny (eternal life). If you fall in this category of the unappreciated, you might consider that this is the medicine God has prescribed for you. What medicine is that? The medicine of obscurity. Remember, the Bible teaches that God raises up whom he will and puts down whom he will (1 Sam. 2:6-9). The Bible also says that promotion comes from the Lord, God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another (Psa. 75: 6-7). You might also consider Jesus is taking you through a process and preparing you for something very special. Remember, the Bible teaches a High Calling to strive for (Phil.3:14). Not everyone will strive for this! Jesus is the one to be lifted up in our lives not ourselves. He is coming back for a people who have made themselves ready. If anyone deserves praise, attention, recognition and honor it is Christ our Lord. For he was willing to set all these things aside that you and I might have life. I remember hearing one of our preachers quoting the scripture where Jesus says, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me.” However, the preacher said “If I (ego) be lifted up, all I will draw is flies!”
Lastly, this spirit(lust of the eye) has even found a place in our worship. I think a person would have to be naive to think all of our worship is pure and genuine. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of manifestations of the spirit. Some of it I felt was real (real power of God) and some of it not so real (artificial, phony). When I see people worshipping with eyes closed and demonstrating, shouting, etc., and they peek out the corner of their eyes to see who is looking, I think to myself, “Hmmmmm.” I remember many years ago, one night in service, I happened to be on usher duty. I was just observing. Several brethren were worshipping and began to get what we refer to as drunk in the spirit. One brother, in particular, began to stagger and stumble around, fell in the floor, and crawled around; stumbling trying to stand up, fell to the floor again, crawling, and falling. About that time, the phone rang from down the hall, which could be heard from the usher’s bench. The other usher on duty answered it. The call just happened to be for this brother who was now lying in the floor. The call wasn’t an emergency, but the other usher didn’t think to tell the caller that this brother was preoccupied. Instead, he went to this brother who is lying prostrate in the floor, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “You’re wanted on the phone.” Up jumps the brother off the floor, walks straight as an arrow down the hall and answers the phone. I thought to myself, “Hmmmmm!”
One thing I’ve appreciated about Bro. Sowders and his ministry is that he constantly searched his heart. Bro. Sowders gives his testimony:
“I was praying one time and there was this fire engine house across the street in Paducah, KY. And I was mighty annointed in prayer, I was inspired to pray. The spirit was praying through me and I began to help the spirit. It was loud enough, but I began to put some of my power into it and I went on up, beyond and over anything that the Holy Spirit would have done. Like a big hand something came down over my face. I could feel the wind of the hand and something said, “What are you doing?” I knew what I was doing. I saw it in a moment that I was hollering too loud. You see, even Bro. Sowders recognized that spirit to want attention, to be seen.
The Lord has taken me through some humbling experiences. I’m not there yet. I just believe we have to go down this road of humility if we are going to, as the Apostle Paul says, “That I may apprehend that for which I am also apprehended.” (Phil.3:12) I’m to nail the Old Man to the cross. So, the next time you want to promote yourself or be seen, don’t wait for the Lord to say, “What are you doing?” Just ask yourself, “What am I doing?”
A Brother in Christ,