Sex in the city - Proverbs 5
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
One of the most successful TV series in recent years, spawning two major films, is ‘Sex in the City’, a show about a group of chic single women, who, as the programme title suggests, engage in a fairly free and easy sexual lifestyle. More recently, the idea that cheating on your partner and not telling him about it has been taken up by another TV series, ‘Desperate Housewives’. Infidelity, sleeping around has become the order of the day in much mainstream entertainment. Have you wondered why? One person who has is Lee Siegel. He wrote an article on the subject. He drew attention to the fact that the creators of both ‘Sex in the City’ and ‘Desperate Housewives’ were all gay men. He proposed that what was going on was, ‘an ingenious affirmation of a certain type of gay-male sexuality’ which is notoriously promiscuous. This has been brought to the fore by a recent article in The New York Times, (28 January 2010) of a ground-breaking survey in San Francisco, where it revealed that about half of gay couples who were in a ‘permanent relationship’ held to sexual non-monogamy and ‘openness', which, far from harming gay unions, actually is said to enhance them. In other words, having multiple partners. Referring to ‘Sex in the City’, Siegel called it, ‘the biggest hoax perpetrated on straight single women in the history of entertainment’. So, single women who see themselves portrayed in these relationships with anonymous sex going on are actually watching a justification for the gay men who produce the show- by portraying women behaving in this way makes it easier to accept gay men behaving in a similar way-do you see?
But nearer to home we might want to ask about, ‘Sex in the Church’? Some have asked that question and the results of various surveys suggest that around 20% women and 50% of the men in church struggle with sex addiction or sexually compulsive behaviour including pornography. And now of course, pornography is but a one click away courtesy of the internet. (By the way, many think these figures are rather on the low side.) How do we handle this? Well, certainly not by ignoring it. And one reason we are not to do that is because the Bible doesn’t, it faces issues of sex in quite a candid way, both in terms of its wonder and glory and its abuse and destructive power. And the passage that we are looking at together tonight does precisely that. I have commented before that Proverbs 5 could not have been written by an Englishman, most of us are like Basil Fawlty in this regard. Thankfully, it was written by a Hebrew, a father talking to his son in a frank, no holds barred kind of way, but it could equally have been a mother talking to her daughter; so depending upon your gender, make the necessary translation in your mind.
Proverbs chapters 1-9 form one sustained argument for sexual purity because the Bible recognises that sex is so powerful and so important. This comes out in verse 1 of chapter 5 by the way the father is insistent that we have his undivided attention: ‘My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight.’
First, we have what we can call the pragmatic argument vv 1-14. Notice how realistic it is verse 3, ‘For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil.’ In the NIV we have the translation ‘adulteress’, but it is literally ‘the strange woman’- not ‘strange /peculiar’ as if she has an eye at the side of her head like a Picasso painting, but ‘strange’ in that she is a woman you are not married to. This includes those married to other men, but also the girlfriend, the fiancée, the casual acquaintance. So straight away this alerts us to the truth that sex is for marriage-that is God’s design for the best, as we shall see in a few moments. But the main point is that the father admits that the woman is going to be attractive and so you are going to be attracted. And it is not just the visual –she looks gorgeous- but she also sounds great- her words are alluring- ‘the lips drip honey’, her speech is ‘smoother than oil’. This means she is going to stroke your ego, telling you how strong you are, how understanding you are, how sensitive you are, how unlike with her husband she can talk to you and would you perhaps like to call around tonight while he is out so that she can unburden herself to you. Of course while the meeting might begin in the lounge it ends in the bedroom.
Secondly notice how caring he is verse in 7, ‘Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say.’ Here is a parent who really cares for his offspring. You know, it isn’t loving to let children ‘make up their own mind’ in this matter, finding things out through experience. They need help and direction. Dad really does want to get the point across, pleading with them to at least get this one right.
Thirdly, you can’t miss how down to earth he is, verse 8, ‘Keep to a path far from her; do not go near the door of her house.’ That is don’t go anywhere near her. Don’t loiter around where you might bump into her. If you are finding it hard to keep off the porn site, then get hooked up with covenant eyes. In other words, there is something you can do. Very few people drift unknowingly into immorality, there is a little voice that will speak to us-it’s called a conscience, but we can silence it, until it becomes muted and you find all sorts of reasons why we should visit that girl on Saturday night while her parents are out of the house or decide to sleep over in the same room as the girlfriend since it is now too late to go home. So the message is: be honest, be practical and be ruthless. We can’t pray ‘Lead us not into temptation’ if we are leading ourselves into it.
So what is the focus of the argument? Well, in verses 4-19 he tells us what he is dealing with and where it is all heading. What he is dealing with is sexual immorality- which, let me say again, means sex outside the bounds of marriage. Look at verses 4- 6, ‘In the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. 5Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. 6 She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths are crooked, but she knows it not.’ When it speaks of ‘in the end’ it is literally, ‘the afterwards’. There is always an afterwards, after effects and these are dire. There is bitterness like ‘gall’ or ‘wormwood’ a rather nasty plant which used to be put between clothes in a cabinet to ward off maggots and moths. There is a nasty taste left in your life if you go down this road. Certainly it may seem pleasant at the time and it is- but what about afterwards? Well, then it is nasty. More than that it can be fatal, ‘like a two edged sword.’ This is underscored by verse 5 ‘Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.’ The woman who gets caught up in this sort of thing is really unstable-v6 giving no thought to the paths of life- you don’t want her to navigate for you- her paths wander and she is not even aware of it. In other words, she has no moral compass- morally speaking she is all over the place- so don’t get tired up with someone like that! And to drive the point home he teases out further the consequences if you submit to this particular temptation. And this is where the whole matter of being wise or shrewd in how you use God’s great gift of sex comes in.
V8- 10, ‘Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, 9 lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel, 10 lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich another man's house.’ So you may think what you are doing is a bit of fun, a one night stand, just a looking at a few pictures, thinking to yourself, ‘This is private, its Ok so long as no one gets hurt’. But that is never the case, there is always collateral damage- v 9 ‘lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel.’ The question is: Who is the one who is cruel? Here it probably means the adulteress’s husband. Watch out for him. He may do you physical damage such a re-arranging your knee caps with a baseball bat. He may do you financial damage- through blackmail or by taking you to court. So think through the consequences and the complications. In our terms that means think about the public scandal, think about the alimony payments, think about the children, think about the broken home, think about the sexually transmitted diseases.
But also, says the father, think about the regrets vv 11- 14. There is the physical regret-v11 ‘At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent.’ - Your body wasted through STD’s. In the case of pornography there is another physical aspect which is affected. It has been shown that emotional and sexual bonding with a spouse is severely compromised by it; the male becomes increasingly distant and disengaged which can lead to divorce. You see, as he objectifies ‘woman' and her body parts, he goes off real live flesh-and-blood women, whose bodies are just bad porn. There then develops a need for harder, darker, porn: the law of diminishing returns kicks in with a vengeance. There is also the psychological regret v12-13, ‘You will say, "How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! 13I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors.’ You look back and putting your head in your hands you berate yourself, ‘How stupid I have been?’ And then there is what we can call the social regret v14- “I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly." Here is all the dirty linen coming out in public. And our writer does labour the point of the ‘afterwards’ doesn’t he? Verse 4, ‘But in the afterwards she is bitter gall’ and then again in verse 11-same word, ‘At the end of your afterwards you will groan’.
I have mentioned to some of you before the tragic case which appeared several years ago of a well known Christian speaker and writer, a brilliant theologian and worker in the student world who was sent to prison for sexually assaulting a 14 year old boy he had met through an internet chat room. In court this man said that he started struggling with his sexuality five years earlier after seeing images of gay pornography on a borrowed computer. He was married with a six month old baby. He went on to described his home life as happy and content but was excited by homosexual pornography. When the police raided his house they found hundreds of gay porn magazines and videos hidden from his wife. Imagine the effect that has had on his family, his friends and his church-let alone the poor man himself who ended up serving three years. That is why Proverbs says what it says. This is our world. That is the pragmatic argument- think long and hard on the consequences.
But then there is the positive argument - vv15-20. This is the flip side of what the father has been saying; namely, find your fun in faithfulness. The correction to immorality is not simply to say ‘no’ to sex, but ‘yes’ to sex- in its proper setting. So we have verse 15, ‘Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.’ By speaking of drinking water he is talking about sexual satisfaction. But, he says, make sure it is from your own well- that is, your wife. Then we have a contrast between what belongs to you and is right-v15, with what is promiscuous or to be found in the public sphere, perhaps thinking of prostitution-v 16- 17, ‘Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?’ Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.’
And all of this is underscored in v18-19 – ‘May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19A loving doe, a graceful deer (literally) a graceful mountain goat -- may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.’ Now this may not be the imagery we would use and I wouldn’t necessarily advise using this as a chat up line or a way of flattering your wife, ‘You are as graceful as a mountain goat dear’, but it may be that this conjures up pictures of playfulness, having the carefree fun which you see in these animals as they skip and frolic around the hillside-that is the kind of playfulness you can enjoy in the bedroom. But then he really does go for it doesn’t he? ‘May her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.’ You didn’t expect to read that in the Bible! But that is the point! Sex is good, sex is meant to be fun and enjoyed for it has been wonderfully created by God and we should praise him for it. What is interesting is that there is a slight word play in verses 19 and 20, the word translated ‘captivated’ is literally ‘led astray’ or ‘intoxicated’, it is the same verb used to describe being drunk with wine. So you can be led astray in your love making by you wife, you can even be intoxicated by it- that is OK, but not ‘captivated’ or ‘intoxicated’ by a woman who is not your wife-v20 ‘Why be ‘led astray’, my son by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?’
Let me say that here at least is one verse which shows that sex is not to limited to the purpose of procreation- having babies, but also having fun, sealing and enriching the intimacy that God wants us to have in marriage and for it to get better as the years pass- although it does change and become different.
One of the most significant things that happen in sex is the change that takes place in terms of hormonal activity in the brain. When a woman has sex her brain produces oxytocin (among other hormones) which bonds her physiologically and psychologically to her partner (and also offspring). When a man has sex his brain produces vasopressin, which does much the same for him and his partner and offspring. According to the book, ‘Hooked: New Science on how casual sex is affecting our children’ (Joe S Mc Ilhaney, Jr., M.D. and Freda McKissic Bush), we read, ‘The individual who goes from sex partner to sex partner is causing his or her brain to mould and gel so that it eventually begins accepting that sexual pattern as normal ... Their inability to bond after multiple liaisons is almost like tape that loses its stickiness after being applied and removed multiple times' But science backs up the Bible in a positive direction too- if you count social surveys as science. A few years one survey showed that of ‘traditionalists’ (those who strongly believe sex is for marriage) 72% report high sexual satisfaction, that is 31% higher than unmarried non- traditionalists, who take a more casual view towards sex outside marriage. The same survey notes that women who rate high on religion have more fun in bed. To quote: “Not only did more of the highly religious women say that their sex lives are ‘very good’, but they apparently did not have a lower expectation of what sex should be. Women who have sex only with their husbands, for instance, experienced orgasm twice as often as women with multiple partners.” Well there you have it- that is Proverbs 5:19 isn’t it? That is what the God centred-life is meant to produce.
And so we move on to the primary argument- vv 21-23, ‘For a man's ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths. 22The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. 23He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.’ Do you see what he is saying? ‘Look, my son, I may not be with you for ever. I won’t be around when you are confronted with sexual temptation, but remember there is someone else who is and his name is The LORD- Yahweh-your heavenly Father. And he is watching all that you do and weighing it- examining it.’ Our heavenly parent is watching, so make sure we don’t offend him.
But let me say that even all of this is not enough. It is necessary but not sufficient because it doesn’t get to the root of the problem which is why God’s covenant people- Christians- flirt with sex. The writer Bruce Demarest has put the matter this way: 'Evangelicalism vigorously addresses the matter of sin and the need for holiness. But too often we do not know how to get at the root of sins that lie so powerfully in the heart's quiet, dark places. We recognize the problem of spiritual dryness, but often do not know how to open ourselves to God's Spirit so that the inner man may "draw water from the wells of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3).' In other words, we look for quick fixes to satisfy our inner longings. We feel lacking in value and empty and so just for a moment the yielding to sexual temptation provides a release- we get the buzz- we feel great. There is nothing wrong, and everything right, in seeking intimacy, pleasure and value, it is part and parcel of what it means to be human. Where we take a wrong turn is to look in all the wrong places. More recently Tim Chester in his book ‘Captured by a better Vision,’ says something similar, he writes, ‘battling porn in our lives is not an exercise in denying pleasure. It’s about fighting pleasure with greater pleasure’ (p. 76). ‘So with every false promise of porn there is a true promise of God. Whatever porn offers, God offers more’ (p. 51). Some have argued that in a strange way the desire for sex is really an unconscious desire for God, because we are made by him to have a relationship with him at such a deep level that in him we discover the joy and the sense of well being that other things give to us only fleetingly.
So let me finish by saying three things.
First, there is no amount of dirt in our lives which make us feel really wretched that Christ can’t clean up. There are things which you would not want your parents or your partner to know about, quite rightly, that Christ doesn’t already know about and says, ‘Come to me, let me make you clean again.’
Secondly, there is no behaviour so compulsive that Christ doesn’t offer the power to overcome. This doesn’t mean it happens without effort, or without pain or without the help of other Christians,, but change is possible.
Thirdly, there is no joy which is on offer which Christ cannot surpass. Just listen to these words of his, not mine, the voice of Wisdom incarnate: ‘“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
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