Sex by Design (Proverbs 5)

I hope you don't feel too uncomfortable talking about sex in church. It's actually one of those topics that's talked about everywhere these days but in church, which is probably where we need to be talking about it most.

There are a couple of reasons why I'd like us to talk about it. The first reason is because it's in the Bible. This may surprise a lot of people, but the Bible isn't squeamish at all in talking about sex. This makes sense when you remember that sex was God's idea. He's the one who made it up.

As we study Proverbs, it would be impossible for us to skip over this topic. Large parts of chapters 5, 6, and 7 talk about sex. You really can't talk about how to live wisely without talking about an area that's as much a part of life as this one is, and Proverbs doesn't shy away from addressing the issue.

This leads me to the second reason I'd like to talk about it: because it is such a part of life, and one we don't always handle very well. Every year some graduates of a preaching program get together with Haddon Robinson, who's a well-known teacher on preaching. Last year someone asked him what we need to be talking about in our churches that we aren't. He said, "Pornography, which is a symptom of something else." It's available all the time in your homes, in fact anywhere that you have an Internet connection or even a cell phone.

One recent study said that 7 out of 10 men between the ages of 18-34 visit a pornographic site in a typical month. Half of the men who attended a Promise Keepers rally in 1996 admitted that they had been involved with pornography within a week of attending the event. That was 12 years ago, but I doubt the number has gone down. Pornography affects even those we think won't be affected. A third of the female readers of Today's Christian Women admitted intentionally accessing Internet porn. Half of all evangelical pastors admit to viewing pornography in the past year. Divorce lawyers are saying that it's a significant factor in their divorce cases.

Statistics are fine, but let's make it more tangible. This is an issue for a number of us here. I was actually working on this sermon when I got an email about one of my pastor friends. He and his wife were friends with another couple in the church. Somehow he got involved in a relationship with this other woman. He's resigned from the church. His wife has left him and has gone home to her parents. I saw him last year and he had everything going for him. Today he's a completely broken man who has lost almost everything.

That's why we need to discuss it: because the Bible talks about it, and because sex is part of our life, and for many of us it's a struggle. And, as we're going to see, the consequences are huge for us depending on how we handle this area.

So Proverbs 5 says something we're used to hearing:

My son,a pay attention to my wisdom,
turn your ear to my wordsof insight,
that you may maintain discretion
and your lips may preserve knowledge.
(Proverbs 5:1-2)

Again, the father, the instructor, is calling out to us to hear what he has to say. This too is an area of either wisdom or foolishness. We can live skillfully in this area, or we can go our own way and do as we please. Proverbs invites us to listen, because it has something to say about how to live well in this area.

Then we're introduced to the subject of this chapter:

For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil;
but in the end she is bitter as gall,
sharp as a double-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
her steps lead straight to the grave.
She gives no thought to the way of life;
her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.
(Proverbs 5:3-6)

Now, don't forget that this is a father or a tutor addressing a young man. The warning here is against an adulterous woman, but if the writer had been talking to a young female, he could have written about the adulterous man. There's no assigning blame to a particular gender here. Both need to be very careful to hear what the writer has to say in the area of sexual temptation. In fact, what he's going to say applies not only to all sexual temptation, all sexual activity that's not with one's husband or wife.

And he says something that we need to acknowledge up front: that sexual temptation looks very good up front. He says "the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey." Honey then was the sweetest thing known. Sexual temptation is sweet and smooth. It looks very good, and it promises a lot up front. It's fun to flirt. It's enjoyable to check somebody out, to read certain kinds of novels, to watch stuff, to look at pictures. It's fun to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage.

But there's a cost. Verse 4 says, "In the end she is bitter as gall." There's sweetness at first, but it turns out to be bitter. It starts out like honey and ends up tasting like you want to spit it out of your mouth. It's as "sharp as a double-edged sword." It cuts. It hurts. And then you get the picture that's common in the book of Proverbs: that of two paths. The path of giving into sexual temptation is not one that leads to good life. It's one that leads to death. That which looks so promising up front ends up leaving you bitter and disillusioned.

There's a lie that culture tells us. The lie goes like this: illicit sex is fun and fulfilling. The thing that makes this lie so dangerous is that it's almost true. It is indeed fun and fulfilling at first. It promises a lot. It's inviting and exciting. But here's the truth behind the lie: illicit sex promises way more than it actually delivers.

In fact, verses 9 to 14 give us the consequences of illicit sex. You could lose everything: power, years, wealth, and the fruit of hard-earned labor. This picture is all too real to me because it describes my friend that I mentioned who's lost everything that these verses mention. Even if you escape with your life, verse 14 says that you may not escape with your reputation. There are people, many people, who have lost everything - their jobs, money, their family, their reputation - as a result of the elicit sex that looked so alluring up front. You could put it like this: When you take what is not yours, you can end up losing what is yours. Take what's not yours, end up losing what is. There's a lot at stake here.

That's why this is so important. But here's the bad news: It's not enough to know this. There are lots of people who know what's at stake but who still take the risk despite knowing all the warnings. It's like the cigarette packages. Have you seen the cigarette packages these days? They tell you everything that could go wrong, and they show you disgusting pictures on those packages, but people still go ahead and smoke. Why? Because they can't help it. They want to smoke even though they know what it's doing to them. The same applies to many of us today. We know this, but sexual temptation is still going to look pretty alluring to us. We won't be able to help ourselves, even knowing what going down this path could do to us.

So Proverbs gives us two strategies that will help us if we use them.

Strategy one is a defensive strategy.

It's what we have to do to protect ourselves. Verses 7 and 8 say:

Now then, my sons, listento me;
do not turn aside from what I say.
Keep to a path far from her,
do not go near the door of her house...

Now listen: do you know what is sexually tempting for you? If you struggle with sexual temptation, then you do. Our normal strategy is to get as close as we can to the temptation without giving in. We like to experience the thrill of the temptation and think that we can get away with it.

Do you see what verse 8 says? Don't even go near what tempts you. Change your path so that you don't even get near to the temptation. Don't go anywhere near the temptation. Stay far, far away. You need to take intentional, deliberate evasive action so that you avoid as much sexual temptation as is humanly possible. It's costly, but that's what you need to do if you want to avoid the consequences that come from failing in this area. If you want to avoid being led into ruin, we need to keep as far away as possible from whatever it is that tempts us sexually.

I know that you may be thinking, "Come on, don't get carried away. Let's not get fanatical here." But if you're thinking that, you really haven't grasped what happens when you continue to go down a path that takes you right beside temptation. We tend to want verse 8 to say, "Keep a path near to temptation as long as you don't give in. Go near the door of temptation's house - that's okay. Just don't go in the door." But if we keep talking that path and going past that door, it's only a matter of time before we're not just walking by the door. Eventually we'll end up inside.

Developers in Florida sometimes build planned communities right on top of marshlands that were previously occupied by alligators. Then families with small children move in. That's good business for people like Kevin Garvey, who is a trapper licensed to remove nuisance alligators. He gets thousands of complaints of nuisance alligators a year, and in half a year he trapped 130. If you build your house on marshes, don't be surprised when an alligator shows up in your backyard. If you settle for a lifestyle that involves trouble, don't act surprised when you fall into sin.

So let me ask you: what tempts you in this area? It could be a friendship with somebody, and you know the emotional bonds are getting way too close, and that relationship is in danger of becoming an emotional or even a physical affair. It could be novels that you're reading that you find arouse passions in you. It could be somebody that you see regularly that you have thoughts about. You think that you can handle these temptations, so you're regularly taking a path right past the door.

For a lot of people temptation comes from media. If you go to a magazine stand you can't help but see images that are going to tempt us. The same goes for movies. Then there's the Internet. Some Christian counselors think that Christians are even more at risk for pornographic addiction because of the feelings of shame. In private, with little accountability, we can easily slip into viewing porn. There's an endless supply.

You need to identify whatever it is that is tempting you. Every person here should be able to identify the area or areas of temptation. There is no shame in admitting the temptation, by the way. It is not sinful to be tempted.

And then we have to take the additional step of taking evasive action, and it could mean something as radical as changing your job, breaking a friendship, canceling your Internet connection if need be. It could be as small as changing your newspaper, getting your wife to get rid of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition when it arrives, moving the computer to a common area of the house, or installing an Internet filter on your computer. For those of you who are dating it could mean not being alone together except in a public place. You know what tempts you; you need to take defensive and specific action. "Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house."

The first strategy is a defensive or reactive one.

The second strategy is more proactive.

The best defense against falling sexually is a vital relationship with your proper sexual partner, your spouse. Verses 15 to 20 are highly erotic. These verses tell us to find satisfaction and joy within our marriages. Verse 18 even says, "May your fountain be blessed." Sex is not something that's dirty. Sexual delight is a God-given gift. It's something that God blesses. Eroticism is actually celebrated in Scripture and blessed by God when it's enjoyed within the marriage relationship.

Notice in this passage that sex within marriage isn't only for procreation. It's for joy.

I realize that not everyone here is married, but for those who are: your sexual life is meant to be fulfilling and enjoyable for both of you. It's an area of our lives in which we can learn to love selflessly, serving the other. One of the best defenses against falling sexually is to maintain a vital sexual relationship with our spouse.

The writer saves the most powerful argument for last. He's talked about the human dangers. He's described what happens when we fall. He's given us too strategies for handling sexual temptation. But he finishes with this, in verses 21-23:

For your ways are in full view of the LORD,
and he examines all your paths.
The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them;
the cords of their sins hold them fast.
For lack of discipline they will die,
led astray by their own great folly.

God is watching. That means that the consequences are not just human and a matter of chance. God, who sees all things, lets sin punish itself.

I'd be guilty of pastoral malpractice if I stopped here. One of Satan's tricks in this area is to fill us with so much shame that we feel completely isolated, defeated, and embarrassed. Here's what Satan knows: sin thrives in the dark. It thrives when we are experiencing shame and secrecy. The solution is to bring our struggles out of the darkness and into the light, where we can experience God's incredible grace in this area.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul lists a number of sins, including sexual ones. He says that these are serious sins, and that those who engage in them - there's a whole list, not just sexual - will not inherit the kingdom of God. But then he says, "And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11). Through what Christ has done for us, and through the power of the Spirit, those of us who have fallen sexually can be washed, can be sanctified, can be justified, and can begin again.

Ted Roberts wrote a book called Pure Desire: How One Man's Triumph Over His Greatest Struggle Can Help Others Break Free. It's an excellent book. One day he spoke at a church in the middle of the Bible belt. The pastor told him to speak on some generic topic. Roberts said, "I would love to do that, but I will end up talking about real life – about the bondage, addiction and trauma that so many people are struggling with today. And I will challenge them to open up these areas of their lives to God so He can heal them and set them free."

The expression on the pastor's face changed a bit and he commented, "Well, I don't think we have a lot of folks dealing with the depth of issues that you're talking about. This isn't just the Bible belt part of the country. We call it the buckle of the Bible Belt."

But the pastor gave Roberts the green light, so he didn't pull any punches. At the end of the service, he gave an altar call for people struggling with sexual issues. No one moved at first. Then the dam broke, and they lined up three to four deep at the altar.

I'm not going to ask you to come forward. I am going to ask you though to take decisive action today, and to receive grace and help from God. Let's pray.

Is there anyone who is struggling with sexual issues today? Anyone who's fallen?

Jesus said to a woman caught in adultery, "I don't condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin."

I invite you to come to the grace of God. He knows your struggle, and he is more than willing to pour out his grace upon you, to wash you, to sanctify you, to justify you. Come to God and receive his grace and forgiveness. And then go and leave your life of sin.

Father, may every person here today receive the grace that abounds in Jesus Christ. Forgive us our debts. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Help us to find forgiveness and restoration in you, and to take practical steps to avoid the path that leads to sin.

Strengthen every marriage. Give us the courage to not only receive your grace, but to break out of the shame and to take very deliberate steps to avoid falling again.

We pray all of this in the powerful name of our Savior, who bore our sins at the cross. In his name we pray, Amen.

Posted on May 25, 2008 and filed under Proverbs.

Family (Proverbs)

A father passed by his son's bedroom and was astonished to see the bed nicely made up and everything neat and tidy. Then he saw an envelope propped up on the pillow. It was addressed, "Dad." With the worst premonition, he opened the envelope and read the letter with trembling hands:

Dear Dad,

It is with great regret and sorrow that I'm writing you. I had to elope with my new girlfriend because I wanted to avoid a scene with you and Mom. I've been finding real passion with Joan, and she is so nice. I knew you would not approve of her because of all her piercings, tattoos, tight motorcycle clothes, and the fact that she is so much older than I am. It's not just her passion, Dad. She really gets me.

Joan says that we are going to be very happy. She owns a trailer in the woods and has a stack of firewood—just enough for the whole winter. We share a dream of having many children.

Please don't worry, Dad. I'm 15 and I know how to take care of myself. I'm sure we'll be back to visit someday so you can get to know your grandchildren.

Your son, Chad

P.S. Dad, none of the above is true. I'm over at Tommy's house. I just wanted to remind you that there are worse things in life than the report card that's in my desk drawer. I love you! Call when it is safe for me to come home.

If you want to know why fathers get gray hair, that's why. Parenting - in fact, family life in general - can take it out of you, and it requires large mounts of wisdom and perspective.

We've been looking at the book of Proverbs, and I think you'd agree that if we need wisdom in any area, we certainly need it when it comes to our family life. Families are like the graduate school of spirituality. We can fake it at church. We can largely fake it at our workplaces and even with our friends. But marriage and parenting leave us no room to hide. Our true characters are revealed with those who are closest to us. It's in our families that we encounter some of our greatest joys, but it's also in our families that we are stretched like we're stretched nowhere else.

I speak from personal experience. My family has been an incredible gift from God. It brings me great joy, and when I'm away from my family I miss them terribly. Yet my family has also been one of the most challenging areas of my life. In my family I have been confronted with my selfishness and my sin. It's where I've learned that I am not the center of the universe, and that I have faults that I didn't even know existed. It's also where I've been stretched in ways that I can't even begin to describe, and I'm still being stretched. It's rewarding yet it's incredibly challenging, and I'm just getting started.

I also speak from counseling experience. In over 17 years of pastoring I've encountered many families who have been equally stretched or more, sometimes to the breaking point.

So I'd like to look at what Proverbs says about families this morning. This affects all of us, even if we aren't currently living within a family. Even if you're not in a family, you can use this to help your children and grandchildren and friends as they deal with some of what we're going to talk about.

Proverbs tells us about the challenges of family life, and then it points us to the best ways to meet these challenges.

First, let's look at the challenges of family.

What I really love about Proverbs is that it is very realistic in how it portrays family life. For instance, listen to the realism as it describes what marriage can be like when it's not going so well:

Better to live on a corner of the roof
than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. (21:9)

A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping
of a leaky roof in a rainstorm;
restraining her is like restraining the wind
or grasping oil with the hand. (27:15-16)

And those are only two verses. Some of you husbands are feeling pretty smug as you read those, so let me say that they are equally applicable the other way. Proverbs was written with a male audience in mind, but it goes both ways with equal force. Women can legitimately read this and say, "Better to live in a corner of the roof and face the forces of nature without protection than to share a house with a quarrelsome husband. A quarrelsome husband wears you down like constant dripping, and is as unsteady as the wind and as slippery as oil." In other words, when marriage isn't going well, it's really hard. Most every married couple here could testify to this. Being a sinner, and being married to a sinner, can push us to our limits and beyond. In fact, look how damaging a bad marriage can be:

A wife of noble character is her husband's crown,
but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones. (12:4)

Notice the balance here. A good marriage enhances life; a bad marriage deeply affects one's life in the most profound way.

And then there's children. Proverbs is also very realistic about children. In fact, one proverb combines the challenges of marriage and children:

A foolish child is a father's ruin,
and a quarrelsome wife is like
the constant dripping of a leaky roof.(19:13)

It acknowledges that children can go wrong and become a source of sorrow, not joy, for parents:

Foolish children bring grief to their father
and bitterness to the mother who bore them. (17:25)

There are those who curse their fathers
and do not bless their mothers... (30:11)

It even says that there are children who rob from their parents. You need to hear the realism of Proverbs. Family life will not necessarily be easy. Both marriage and parenting can be very difficult, more than we could imagine. The reason is because of sin. The reality is you are in a family, you are a are sinner - the apostle Paul would say the worst of sinners - waking up with other sinners. That's going to be hard.

That means a couple of things. If you're single or you haven't yet had children, I don't want you to have an unrealistic view. It will be hard. You have to know that up front. And if you're going through struggles in your family life, then take comfort. When we recognize the core problem is sin, and not just sin in others, but sin in my life - then we're on the right track. Because Proverbs also gives us some resources to deal with the challenges of family life.

The first resource is wisdom.

To successfully manage the challenges of the family, we need wisdom. I'd like to break it down to a few different life situations.

Single - If you're single and want to get married, then the choice of a spouse is incredibly important. You play a role, but to be honest, picking a good spouse is beyond all of us. Nobody really knows who they're marrying. Lewis Smedes said that his wife had been married to five different men, and all of them had been him. If you're single, Proverbs teaches you that a good spouse can only come from God:

Houses and wealth are inherited from parents,
but a prudent wife is from the Lord.(19:14)

A wife of noble characterawho can find?
She is worth far more than rubies. (31:10)

Since Proverbs was primarily written to single men, its emphasizes the importance of choosing a spouse with the greatest of care, because the stakes are high. There are few decisions that you will make that are more important. Never just run into marriage. Use all the wisdom and discernment you can muster before you get married. But even then, a good spouse is a gift from the Lord. This drives us to prayer. A good spouse is a gift from the Lord. If you have one, by the way, you should praise God for the incredible gift he's given you.

Married - What about those of you who are married? Proverbs 5 tells us:

May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be intoxicated with her love. (5:18-19)

What you need to remember as you read this is that people did not generally marry for love when this was written. People married for security, status, and children. You didn't marry for love; that came much later. Women were looked down upon and had little recourse when their husbands looked elsewhere for sexual pleasure.

But Proverbs tells us something completely different. It tells us to guard our marriages; to find pleasure and even become intoxicated by your spouse; that your spouse is not just a legal partner, a housemate, the parent of your children. He or she is part of a relationship that can be easily lost, and that must be nourished and protected so that it is a source of joy and pleasure for both of you.

You may say, "Fine and good, but you don't know my spouse." You're right, I don't. This doesn't mean it will be easy. It certainly doesn't mean that there won't be confrontation. In fact, it's unloving not to confront someone, because loving someone means helping them and helping them sometimes means that we confront them. There are some situations that are so hard that you will need to get help, and there are other situations in which we must place boundaries.

But for most of us the command we have is to protect and nourish our marriages so that they become sources of mutual joy. This won't happen automatically. It will take very deliberate effort. If you're married you need to figure out how to romance your spouse, and the crazier life gets and the more children you have, the more important this is. We can ask, "If you knew I wouldn't get angry, what could you tell me about how to be a better husband? A better wife?" Those of you who are married: protect and cultivate your marriage. Wisdom for singles is to choose your spouse carefully, and wisdom for those of us who are married is to do everything you can to protect and cultivate your relationship.

Parents - Our culture tends to see the problem as outside of us and that the solution for what's wrong is inside of us. When we apply this to children, we tend to think that our kids are fine, and our job is to bring out what's inside of them and to improve their self-esteem so that they can fully express who they are. A lot of us think that our role is to let our children express what's inside of them.

That would be a great view if we weren't sinners. Proverbs is honest with us: people left to their own natural tendencies are bad and will only get worse. It's like your garden. If you let it grow wild, you'll end up with a weed patch. What we need to do actually requires more skill: to pull out the weeds but to let what's good to grow. Countless proverbs say things like:

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline will drive it far away. (22:15)

A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom,
but children left to themselves disgrace their mother. (29:15)

Discipline your children, and they will give you peace;
they will bring you the delights you desire. (29:17)

There would be two mistakes we could make as we read this. One is to become too harsh and dominant with our children, so that we fail to nurture them and we pull out not only weeds but what's good. This view is wrong because these verses do not provide license for abuse. The discipline here is not out of anger or hate or a desire to harm. It's out of concern for the well-being of the child.

The other mistake we could make is to be to be so lenient and permissive that we don't discipline at all, and pretty soon everything is weeds. Both would be tragic. Being overly permissive or overly harsh with our kids is equally wrong.

Some of us are much too hard on our children. We've never taken the time to stop yelling, to sit down and carefully listen and ask, "How are you doing? What's on your mind?" Some of us are far too lenient and we've never loved our children enough to say, "This has to stop. For your own good you cannot do this." Proverbs gives us the wisdom to realize that our children are sinners, and that they need wisdom and discipline from their parents if they are going to grow to be wise.

This is what it means to be a wise single person, a wise spouse, a wise parent. Family life is hard because of sin. It requires wisdom. Wisdom for a single person means choosing a marriage partner carefully. Wisdom for a married person means protecting and nurturing the marriage. Wisdom for a parent means lovingly correcting our children to help them improve.

The results are found in Proverbs 17:6:

Children's childrenare a crown to the aged,
and parents are the pride of their children. (17:6)

When this goes right, then entire families bring glory to each other. Grandchildren become joys to grandparents. Children take pride and joy in their parents. In other words, families can become sources of blessing to each other in a way that impacts multiple generations.

So let's review. Family life is challenging because of sin. Wisdom helps us meet the challenges of family life. It will lead single people to be discerning, married people to be protective and nourishing within marriage, and parents to lovingly correct their children.

All of this is good, but it's not really enough. There's one more resource that we need, and we see hints of it in the book of Proverbs when it talks about families.

To meet the challenges of family life, we not only need wisdom, we need the gospel.

Listen to these proverbs:

Those who fear the Lord have a secure fortress,
and for their children it will be a refuge.(14:26)

The righteous lead blameless lives;
blessed are their children after them.(20:7)

There comes a time when we must realize that the biggest problem isn't the other sinners in my family. The biggest problem in my family is me. You see, the problem with my family is, frankly, me. I need to change more than they do. The same is probably true for you. It's not to say that the other people in your family aren't sinners. They're definitely sinners too. But your main problem is that you're a sinner, and you need changing.

That's why I'm glad Proverbs takes us here. Remember that fear of the Lord means learning our place - who God is and who we aren't? Proverbs teaches us that for our families to be really blessed, we need to understand who God is, who we are, and then run to God as our security. We need a heart change so that we become truly righteous within our inner core. When we do this, our children will be blessed, and they will have refuge as well.

The best way for us to meet the challenges of family life is to recognize the extent of your sinful nature. Rather than defeating you, it will cause you to run to Jesus - not just once but repeatedly. Jesus took our place and bore our sins on the cross, and he provides us with forgiveness and help in our daily struggle with sin.

The more we see our sin and the vastness of God's mercy, the more we'll own up to the ways that we negatively impact our families. The more we'll run to the cross with gratitude for what he's done for us. And the more we run to the cross, the more humble and loving we'll become towards the other sinners that God has placed within our family. We'll love them with some of the same love that God extended to us.

Father, I pray for every single person here. Guard them. Help them to make the right decisions. If it would be your will, guide them into marriage with a spouse who will be a gift from you and a blessing in their lives.

Give your wisdom to the married couples here. Help them to protect and nourish their relationships. I pray that some of them would have honest conversations about how they can do this as a result of what we've read in Proverbs today.

Give us wisdom as we parent our children. Help us to love them and correct them. May we neither be too harsh nor too lenient. Help us to lovingly correct them as you do to us.

Most of all, help us to see the greatness of our own sin, along with the greatness of your grace. And may it cause grandparents, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, and children to run to the cross, and there find all that we need in Christ to live within our families. In Christ's name, Amen.

Posted on May 11, 2008 and filed under Proverbs.