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The case for purity - Proverbs 5

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the evening service on 27th April 2008.

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For many years now sociologists have spoken about the eroticization of Western Society. That is, at almost every level we have simply become saturated with sex. 40 odd years ago the publication of D.H. Lawrence’s novel, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ was sufficient to scandalize the nation into bringing a court action. Now it appears on prime time TV and no one bats and eyelid. We have girlie magazines on display just a few shelves up from Jackie and the Beano  when even thirty years ago they would have to be surreptitiously asked for from below the counter and placed in a brown paper bag. Even our advertisers seem incapable of promoting something as innocuous as a chocolate flake without it being turned into an object of phallic fantasy. And now of course there is the internet. You know in the United States, and I would be very surprised if the figures are dissimilar here, pornography brings in more income than illicit drugs, alcohol and the entertainment industries combined. Think about that. We are talking billions of dollars. 80% of all internet users are men and over 50% of it is used to seek out pornography. The internet hosts 420 million pages of pornographic material and 260 new porn sites are launched every day. Now you say to me, ‘But Melvin, we know that this is the society we live in. We are bombarded all the time with images, so why are you bringing sex into the church? We had hoped this would be the one place we could be free from this, we don’t want the eroticisation of the church as well - give us a break. Let’s talk about something nice!’ Well, let me give you two reasons why we cannot duck this subject. First, it is a problem we have to address for Christians. Why do I say that? Well in a survey of evangelical pastors and lay leaders, Patrick Means revealed that sixty-four percent of Christian leaders struggle with sex addiction or sexually compulsive behaviour including pornography. If that is the leadership think then how many  will be in the congregation? I will tell you. It has been estimated to be 20% women and 50%  of the men.  And because it is so shameful we are afraid to admit it and so deal with it and we lurch from bad to worse. But secondly, the Bible is not as prissy as we are in addressing the issue of sex, both in terms of its wonder and glory as well as its abuse and destructive power. And the passage that we are looking at together tonight does all of these. You know, Proverbs 5 could not have been written by an Englishman. Thankfully, it was written by a Hebrew, a father talking to his son in a very frank, no holds barred kind of way. It could have been couched as a mother warning her daughter or father his daughter, but it comes to us as father to son and so we shall read it that way and in your own minds you can make the necessary adjustments according to your gender.

Now Proverbs chapters 1-9 is amongst other things a sex manual. It makes a case for what parents need to get across to covenant kids or as we would say, what Christian parents need to teach Christian children and at heart it is a case for purity. And what we are going to do tonight is to work through the arguments God gives through this writer for purity, noting in verse 1 that 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 prudent argument vv 1-14. So let’s take a look at the manner of this argument. Will you 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’, it is literally ‘the strange woman’- not ‘strange /peculiar’ as if she has an eye in the middle of her forehead, 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 tells us that sex is for marriage-that is God’s design for the best, as we shall see a little later on. 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 –that she looks gorgeous- but that she sounds fantastic- her words are alluring- the lips drip honey, her speech is smoother than oil. So she is going to stroke your ego isn’t she? and say how strong you are, how understanding you and sensitive you are, how unlike with her husband I can talk to you and could you just meet up in a secret rendezvous just for a chat, maybe the hotel down the road for lunch- and oh, why not hire out a room for the afternoon, no one will ever know? Do you see how it works?

Secondly notice how affectionate he is verse 7 ‘Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say.’ Here is a parent who really cares, who has a deep love for their offspring. This is not the voice of a kill joy who is always down on his kids- you know who when they are young hears silence from the next room and says to one of the other children, ‘Go next door and whatever it is your brother is doing tell him to stop it!’ But he really does want to get the point across, pleading with them to get this one right.

Thirdly you can’t miss how practical 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 for goodness sake get hooked up with covenant eyes, and even if you can keep off, do that anyway! 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 you-it’s called a conscience, but we can silence it, sear it, says the Bible 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. Be honest, be practical and be ruthless with yourself.

Well if that is the manner of the argument what is the focus of the argument? In verses 4-19 he tells us what he is dealing and where it is all leading. What he is dealing with is sexual immorality- which, let me say it 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. Oh it may seem pleasant at the time and it is- but afterwards? Well, then it is nasty. And 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- are crooked- 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 prudence comes in, being wise or shrewd in how you use God’s great gift of sex.

V8- 10, ‘Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, 9lest 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- re-arrange your knee caps. He may do you financial damage- blackmail you or take you to court. So think through the consequences and 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, think about AIDS- yes it is still with us.

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- like the movie star Errol Flynn- who died a 50 year old having the body of a 70 year old. There is 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 cry out ‘How stupid I have been. What could possibly have made me do such a thing? Why didn’t I listen- she is now pregnant’ 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."  All the dirty linen comes out in public and people point and say, ‘Do you see that man there? He is the one who left his wife and three kids and they are heart broken.’ 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.’ But you know, the consequences are not always that easy to foresee but that does not make them any less devastating. The late President of the United States John F Kennedy was a notorious womaniser. Throughout his adult life he was constantly being treated with heavy doses of penicillin to deal with his venereal disease because he kept re-infecting himself. But one night in California in 1963 he hit on a woman at a party and lured her to the bedroom. And in order to disentangle herself from him, the woman pulled herself away and the result was that Kennedy fell to the floor which resulted in reinjuring his back quite seriously. As a consequence he had to wear a stiff body brace from the shoulders down the crutch. And it was that brace he was wearing on November 22nd 1963 in Dallas and which kept him upright when the bullets of Lee Harvey Oswald penetrated his skull. I know that is sensational but the point is that there can be all kinds of consequences, ‘afterwards’- if we go down this attractive but treacherous road. That is the prudent argument- think long and hard of the consequences.

But then there is the positive argument and this is so important- 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, the pleasure and fulfilment you get out of sex being akin to the pleasure and satisfaction you get out of drinking water when you are desperately thirsty. But make sure it is from your own cistern, your own well- that is your wife-no offence intended ladies. 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 and the like-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-- 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 a loving doe, and  (literally) a graceful mountain goat.’ But it may be that this conjures up pictures of playfulness, having the carefree fun of one of these animals which you see as they skip and frolic around the hillside. 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 did you? 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. That is -when done properly- within marriage. What is interesting is that there is a bit of a word play in verse 19 and 20, the word translated ‘captivated’ is literally ‘led astray’ or ‘intoxicated’ the same verb used to describe being drunk with wine. So you can be led astray in your love making by you wife, 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?’ Now here is one verse- v19-which shows that sex is not to be limited to procreation- having babies, but also having fun, sealing and enriching the intimacy that God want us to have in marriage and for it to get better and better as the years pass- although it does change and become different. Let me quote Richard Foster from his Book, Money, Sex and Power- he is an American but listen to what he says, ‘ There is no better safeguard against infidelity than a vital, interesting marriage. And certainly one place in marriage where we want to keep the mystery, the excitement, the fascination-the zip, zam, zowie (I told you he was an American)- is in sexual intimacy.’ And he is right. And that is why it is proper to save yourself for marriage to ensure that that happens. Professor Jesus. Budziszewski uses a helpful illustration at this point contrasting sex within marriage and promiscuity. He says that our sexual capacity is like duct tape. The first time you use it, it sticks to whomever it touches. But just like duct tape, if you rip it off and then touch someone else with it, it isn’t as sticky as it was before. So what happens when you pull it loose from one partner after another? He says, then it doesn’t stick anymore, your sexual partners feel like strangers until eventual you don’t feel anything. The same happens with pornography. Each time the dose has to be increased to get the same effect because it literally works like a drug, causing the release of pleasurable chemical in the brain and in order to get the same rush as before, you go on to the next stage, and the next and then –you are addicted. It is as physically brain altering as drinking a toxic drug or hitting your head with a hammer- that is the science.

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 ultimate 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.’ I would assume that we would be very slow to dip our toe into sexual immorality if a parent was around watching- perish the thought. But your heavenly parent is watching, so make sure that you don’t offend him.

But you know, 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- play with porn and flirt with sex. And to say, it is because of sin is not enough either- that is just another way of describing the problem, but using biblical categories rather than moral ones. The writer Bruce Demarest has put it 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 easy and quick substitutes too our inner longings. We feel lacking in value and empty and so just for a moment the yielding to sexual temptation provides a release- a feeling that we are something, we get the buzz- we feel great. But what our longings should be for is God himself, to get that deep satisfaction from knowing and enjoying him.  Listen to this from Proverbs 8, this is Wisdom speaking- ‘I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.…I was appointed from eternity from the beginning, before the world began….I was his craftsman by his side I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing in his presence..’ Does that not remind you of someone? The one whom Paul describes as the firstborn of all creation, by whom all things were created’? In fact elsewhere he calls him ‘wisdom from God.’ It is the Lord Jesus Christ. Is it not at least in part because our desires for him, our satisfaction in him are so poultry that we find ourselves rummaging around in the murky world of illicit sex? So the real answer therefore, is to satisfy our longing with him, to have our feelings stirred up for him, to fill our minds with him- and that applies to us who are married and who are not married. And as you contemplate the glory and the majesty and the beauty of Him- why would you want to degrade yourself with this other stuff? And as Christ becomes our all consuming passion, then the gifts he gives, including marriage and sex if we are to have that, can be enjoyed and celebrated giving thanks back to Him the great giver.

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