Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity

A Lesson On Words

Irvin Himmel, Richmond, Virginia

Many words have different shades of Meaning. The Bible uses terms that may suggest either good or bad, depending on their usage. If a word might be used in two or more ways, its meaning must be determined by the context.

COVET — Generally speaking, this term means "to desire; to long for." Since all desire or longing is not wrong, one may covet in a good sense. Paul used the word in a good sense when he said, "But covet earnestly the best gifts." (1 Cor. 12:21.) To "covet" in a good sense is to "earnestly wish or long for."

To use the word "covet" in the more limited sense is to describe something sinful. In the narrow (and most commonly used) sense the word means "excessive desire; unlawful longing for what belongs to another." In this sense it is used in Ex. 20:17, "Thou shalt not covet . . . ' In this sense the "covetous man" is an idolater. (Eph. 5 :5. )

LUST — This term suggests "inclination or desire." Like "covet," it sometimes is used in a good sense. Gal. 5:17 states, "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh." What does the flesh do against the Spirit ? It "lusteth." What does the Spirit do against the flesh? -It "lusteth" (verb is understood). The Revised Standard renders the passage as follows: "For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh." Cruden's Concordance says of "lust:" "Formerly often used with a general meaning of pleasure, desire, with no idea of evil."

In its more limited meaning "lust" implies "sensuous desire; bodily appetite." Peter said, "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." (1 Pet. 2:11.) The "lusting" that is bad is "carnal passion; inordinate or excessive desire."

DEBATE — Webster says this word means "to contend for; esp., to strive to maintain or controvert (a proposition) by argument." We are commanded to "earnestly contend for the faith" (Jude 3.), so there is a sense in which "debating is good." "Debate thy cause with thy neighbor." (Prov. 25:9.) Honorable discussion of differences is upheld by the Bible, and Christians are obligated to "debate" in the sense of "contending earnestly" for the faith.

But "debate" may also be used to describe something bad. Paul listed "debate" "quarreling" or "strife" (RSV). If one "debates" in the sense of "quarreling or wrangling," he sins, but to "debate" in the sense of honorable "contending for" the truth, whether in a formal or informal discussion, he does right. Some have felt that all "debating" is wrong because of such passages as Rom. 1:29, but they have completely overlooked the good sense in which the word may be used.

JUDGE — This means to "hear and determine; conclude or describe." There are ways in which we must "judge." Jesus warned, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." (John 7:24.) Discipline in the church necessitates judgment. (1 Cor. 5 :12,13. )

Unjust judgment is forbidden in Matt. 7:1, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." The context shows that this refers to harsh, rash, and unfair judgment. Hence the word "judge" may refer to something good or something very wrong.

It is imperative that we recognize the different sense in which words are used in the Scriptures. When one affirms that all debating is wrong, or all lust is sin, or all judging is evil, he exposes his ignorance of Bible terms.