Michael writes in to ask, “Pastor John, is it possible for a husband to lust after his own wife?” Is that sin even possible within the marriage relationship?
Well, I wish I had Michael here to ask him what precisely what he has in mind by “lusting after his wife.” So let me go at it from a Bible text and then circle around maybe and guess at what Michael might have in his mind and do the best to answer his question.
In Holiness and Honor
Now here is a relevant text. It may be a little confusing because the translations differ here, and I am going to opt for a more unusual one. I am thinking of 1 Thessalonians 4:3–5. Here is my translation — well, I will give both the ESV and mine or the NIV. They are all the same pretty much.
“There is a sinful way to treat your wife in sexual relations.”
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you” — now here comes the controversial part — “that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor” (ESV).
Now the issue is that the word behind body is vessel. That is the literal translation: vessel. So it is either possess, obtain, or control “his own vessel.” So there are two possibilities:
He is talking about his wife — his own vessel. And that is the one I am opting for because in 1 Peter 3:7 it says, “Live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.” That is the word that is used here.
It could be your own self, your own sexual organ — the vessel.
So which is it? It is a wonderful truth both ways. If you go with vessel as wife, which is what I am doing here, then it reads something like this: “Each one of you should know how to possess [or have] a wife in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God,” which means there is a sinful way to treat your wife in sexual relations. That is why I chose this verse.
That would be true even if this translation were different. So let me work on that for just a minute. There is a dishonorable and unholy way to deal with your wife sexually. Every Christian husband should have his wife’s desires and his wife’s pleasures in mind when he thinks about sexual relations and when he does sexual relations.
“I think it is right for a husband to enjoy his wife any way in the mind that would be right to enjoy her in the bed.”
Of course, she should do the same. In other words, he doesn’t just barge in there and do whatever he feels like doing with no reference to what this woman delights in. What does she enjoy? What would please her?
There is this happy competition: Who can make the other most happy? Who can outdo the other in showing honor? First Corinthians 7:3: “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.” The wife’s body does not belong to her, but also to her husband. And in the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone, but to his wife.
They are both competing to be the servant of the other’s maximum pleasure. That is really remarkable. What an amazing competition in marriage. The man does not use his headship for whatever he wants. This is not a compromise of headship. This is telling the man, “You don’t use your headship here to be demanding. Use your headship to create. You are to be an initiative-taker to create situations of the greatest possible mutual joy.” This is what headship is here. So, back to the question.
In the Bed and the Mind
Can you lust after your own wife? If you are governed by this approach to love and honor and holiness in a sexual relationship, I don’t think it is wrong for a husband to want his wife sexually and to think about having her and to hold her in his mind the way he would hold her in bed.
“We should be amazed that our Savior chose to describe his relationship with his church with a parable of such exquisite pleasure.”
So if that is what he is thinking about — Can you entertain in your mind thoughts about sexual delights with your wife? — I think the answer is absolutely yes. There is no sin in your mind that wouldn’t be sin in your bed. What would be sin is if a husband imagined sin or desired sin or took on attitudes to his wife in his heart that would be wrong in the bedroom. I think it is right for a husband to enjoy his wife any way in the mind that would be right to enjoy her in the bed.
I’ll just close with this stunning thing. It is kind of out of the blue, but just so amazing I can’t leave it unsaid. The stunning thing in all of this is that this is a picture of Christ and the church. Are you kidding me? Paul would say that this cherishing, this nurturing, this delighting, this pleasuring is a portrait, a drama, of Christ’s relationship to his bride? We should be amazed that our Savior chose to describe his relationship with his church with a parable of such exquisite pleasure.