Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Every rational, moral being has the ability to desire and does desire. God Himself has strong desire: He desires not sacrifice but truth in the inmost parts (Ps. 6:16), and He desires to dwell in Mt. Zion (Ps. 68:16). Christ heartily desired to eat the last Passover with the disciples (Luke 22:15). The angels desire to look into the things proclaimed by the prophets (I Pet. 1:12). Satan desired to have Peter that he might sift him as the wheat (Luke 22:31). The wicked desire evil (Prov. 21:10) and boast of their heart’s desire while they bless the covetous whom the Lord abhoreth (Ps. 10:3). And the people of God desire none upon earth but God Himself (Ps. 73:25). It is even the case that the beasts desire, for God satisfies the desire of every living thing with meat (Ps. 145:16).
Although there are many words translated in both Testaments as desire, the most common word in the original languages means to set one’s passion upon something, to crave someone or something ardently. The word is translated variously as desire, lust, concupiscence, covetousness, or envy. The total man is involved with desiring. The heart, the condition of the heart, gives direction in this matter for good or for evil. The mind and the thoughts are activated, so that a person imagines something to be worthwhile and desirable, and plans begin to develop that will help secure the object of desire. The will is employed, so that thoughts about something are translated into actions that will obtain the object of desire for oneself. Perhaps it can be said that desire is the activity of the entire inner life of a man, the life of the soul, as it craves to possess that which it does not have. This is all summarized powerfully, in the negative sense, by James: “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye envy, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:1-3).
Because of the old man of sin that remains with us, the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy (James 4:5). Thus the believer is warned against many sinful desires. We are not to desire silver and gold (Deut. 7:25); we are not to desire dainty meats (Prov. 23:6); we are not to desire to be first or to have the chief place (Mark 9:35); we are not to be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another (Gal. 5:26); we are not to desire again to be in bondage to the weak and beggarly rudiments of the law (Gal. 4:9); we are not to fulfill the desire of the flesh (Eph. 2:3). All sinful inordinate desire is forbidden by the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet….” This interpretation of the last commandment is given by Paul in Romans 7:7: “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” Coveting is sinful desire. Notice that the second giving of the Law in Deuteronomy 5 states that literally: “Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbor’s wife….” The tenth commandment speaks to the inner life of the soul, of the heart, mind, and thoughts, the will and the desires. The Catechism gives to the commandment this meaning, “That even the smallest inclination or thought, contrary to any of God’s commandments, never arise in our hearts; but that at all times we hate all sin with our whole heart, and delight in all righteousness.” Positively, then, the commandment requires of us that we have godly desires.
The child of God desires that his (and God’s) enemies be brought down and consumed, for the words of their lips, for their pride, for cursing and lying (Ps. 59:10ff.). His heart’s desire and prayer to God is that Israel might be saved (Rom. 12:1). Rather than desire prominence in the church, the believer is to covet earnestly the best gifts (I Cor. 12:31), which are faith, hope, and especially charity. He is to have, with Paul, a desire to depart the earth and be with Christ, leaving the time for departure in the Lord’s hands (Phil. 1:23). Brothers in the church are to know that desire for the office of elder is a godly desire, understanding that this is not a desire for vain glory but a desire to work (I Tim. 3:1). Pastors and all believers desire that every believer show diligence in labors of love, labors of ministering to the saints (Heb. 6:10, 11). As we live as pilgrims and strangers in the earth, we show that we desire a better country, that is, an heavenly (Heb. 11:16). As newborn babes we are to desire the pure milk of the Word, in order to grow in spiritual life (I Pet. 2:2). We desire many things of God, we petition Him for them, and we have confidence that as we pray according to His will, our desires are given us (I John 5:14, 15).
All these godly desires are really summed up in Psalm 27, the fourth verse, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.” One thing is the worthy object of our desire. One thing will we seek after. One thing forms the center and focus of our sanctified desire. That is God, as He is revealed in all His beauty, grace, and desirableness in His house. Nothing in all the earth do we desire beside Him. Not when we know Him, and have His law engraved upon our hearts!