Proverbs: Wisdom and Sex - 18th August 2013 - Dave Walker

Seeing as this is on the internet, and internet porn is such a big problem for lots of people, here are a couple of links which may help you:

Free accountability software: X3watch

You can buy "Captured by a better vision" which is recommended in this talk here, and there is a free excerpt available here

If you have questions about homosexuality, our recent seminar "Is the gospel good news for gay people" is available to listen to here. 

Click here to listen to the sermon

Talking to Christians about sex is a fairly odd experience. I’ve found that, with a few exceptions, basically it doesn’t get talked about at all. We might occasionally voice our disapproval about some sexual problem out there in the world, but other than that, we say nothing. Or next to nothing. Which is odd, because sex is a really big deal. It’s massively important within human life – within any life, in fact – an hour spent watching any wildlife documentary (and trying to explain it to your kids if you have them) will confirm that fact. And it’s a big issue in our society. Out there, people talk about sex a lot. Yes, often the things which are said and the attitudes which people have are not that helpful, but it’s not wrong to talk about sex. The Bible talks very openly about sex.

Of course it’s funnier when you talk about it accidentally. When Sarah and I were first married we lived in Bolivia for a year, working as short term missionaries. And in Bolivia they speak Spanish, not English. Which gives you an idea where this is going. And one evening I was in a Bible study, and I was trying to explain the Biblical concept of propitiation – that is the fact that when Jesus died on the cross he took away God’s anger at our sin, so that we could be reconciled to God. And I used what I thought was a helpful illustration – I said “imagine Sarah and I in our marriage, and imagine that I’ve done something which has upset Sarah, and made her angry. Well, if we’re going to have a normal relationship again then something has to be done about that upset, and anger. It would have to be taken away somehow.” Which, as I say, did a pretty good job; I thought. Except that, owing to my limited grasp of Spanish, instead of saying “have a normal relationship” I said “have normal relations”, which to a Bolivian only means having sex. Our English missionary friend was killing herself laughing. But our Bolivian friends were just looking at me sympathetically. They had long been astonished by the fact that Sarah was not yet pregnant, despite us having been married for more than 6 months, now they had an explanation. Clearly nothing was happening because she was always angry with me.

The book of Proverbs talks about sex. But it does it deliberately. Do you remember how when we started our series looking at this book we saw that it talks about there being two voices which are calling to us all the time, and we need to be careful which one we listen to? They are the voice of wisdom, and the opposite – the voice of folly. Wisdom is living well in God’s world. Folly is the opposite of that – it’s foolishness; it’s harmful in God’s world. We need to make sure that we are listening to the right voice. Well now as we read this chapter from Proverbs, chapter 7, bear that in mind. In this chapter we hear wisdom and folly calling.

My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you.  2 Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.  3 Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.  4 Say to wisdom, "You are my sister," and call understanding your kinsman;  5 they will keep you from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words. 

6 At the window of my house I looked out through the lattice.  7 I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men, a youth who lacked judgment.  8 He was going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house  9 at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in.  10 Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.  11 (She is loud and defiant, her feet never stay at home;  12 now in the street, now in the squares, at every corner she lurks.) 

13 She took hold of him and kissed him and with a brazen face she said:  14 "I have fellowship offerings at home; today I fulfilled my vows.  15 So I came out to meet you; I looked for you and have found you!  16 I have covered my bed with coloured linens from Egypt.  17 I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.  18 Come, let's drink deep of love till morning; let's enjoy ourselves with love!  19 My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey.  20 He took his purse filled with money and will not be home till full moon."  21 With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk.

 22 All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose  23 till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.  24 Now then, my sons, listen to me; pay attention to what I say.  25 Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths.  26 Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng.  27 Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.

Do you see the idea there? There are these two characters, wisdom and folly; the lady wisdom on one side and the adulteress on the other. Don’t forget that Proverbs is presented as instruction from a father to his son. That’s why when it comes to sex talk these characters of wisdom and folly are portrayed as women. Which woman will you respond to? Son, go to lady wisdom, go God’s way, not to the adulteress folly, the harlot, the immoral woman. That phrase ‘the immoral woman’ is one that keeps coming up in these first few chapters of Proverbs. The word translated ‘immoral’ here carries the meaning of ‘outside’, outside of God’s law. In the ESV version of the Bible it’s quite helpfully translated ‘the forbidden woman.’ She is a personification of sex which is outside of God’s law. Sex in the wrong place, in the wrong way, harmful sex. Sex which is bad in God’s eyes.

Because sex is to do with God. The message of proverbs is that all of life is to be lived for God, and this includes our sex life. Wisdom, doing life well involves having right attitude and practice with regard to sex. All sex is religious, because it’s all to do with how we live in God’s world. It’s all to do with God. People get the impression that Christianity is against sex, sometimes we Christians can give that impression. But no: the Bible doesn’t teach that sex is repugnant, it teaches that sex is very important. Much more important than the culture around us thinks. The culture around us thinks that sex is just a bit of fun. It’s so much more important than that. Sex is to do with God.

It’s because sex is so important and so powerful that bad sex can be so harmful. That’s the problem with the adulteress, the forbidden woman of this reading. It’s not sex itself which is the problem. It’s that she is offering sex outside of God’s law, outside of the relationship which we call marriage, the relationship where sex in all of its power is meant to flourish, and bring benefit, and be to the glory of God.

So, wisdom calls and folly calls. What do they say? Folly first:

Folly says “it’s good.”

The appeal of illicit sex is very strong. If we don’t understand that, we don’t understand very much. As the adulteress makes her invitation in her chapter, she uses persuasive language – look at verse 21 – “with persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk.” Whether it’s persuasive words like this or just dressing to impress or the trailer for the late night film or the thumbnail picture, illicit sex presents itself to us in its best possible light.

“Try this, it’s good” says folly. There’s pleasure to be had in it. And there is, of a sort. There’s no denying that bad sex can be enjoyable for a while; if it wasn’t people wouldn’t do it. Look at the language of verse 16: “I have covered my bed with coloured linens fromEgypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come, let’s drink deep of love till morning; let’s enjoy ourselves with love!” It’s sensual language. It appeals to the senses. It sounds good. “Everything’s perfect,” she says, “this is going to be great!” A strong appeal. Very strong.

And it’s not just the raw attraction. It’s also justified; it’s given a veneer of religiosity. Look at verse 14: “I have fellowship offerings at home; today I fulfilled my vows.” She’s saying “I’ve been at the temple today. I’ve don’t the religious stuff. This is all good. God will be fine with it.” It shouldn’t surprise us that we find people justifying their sins along religious lines. The sinful heart is always seeking to justify its own actions, to deny its own sinfulness, and it will happily use bits of Christianity to do that. You’ll find plenty of people defending various sexual sins with arguments that sound very Christian. And if our own hearts are gravitating towards those sins, we’ll cling on to any self-justification we can get hold of. “I’m doing all sorts of other Christian things, this sin won’t matter.” “God forgives everything, he won’t mind about this sin.” “God loves us so he wants us to be happy, doesn’t he? So surely he’ll be happy about this, because this makes me happy.” Recognise any of those? Matthew Henry, the 16th century Bible commentator says this about this verse: “The external performances of religion, if they do not harden men against sin, harden them in it.” It’s easy to dress sin up in religious wrapping paper. Folly says “it’s good.”

And folly says “it’ll be ok. It won’t do any harm. Nothing bad will happen. It will be ok.” Look at verse 19: “My husband is not at home; he has gone away on a long journey. He took his purse filled with money and will not be home till full moon.” “We won’t get caught! No one will ever know. It won’t do any harm. It’ll be ok.” We can cover our tracks. You can delete the internet history. It’ll be ok, you won’t get caught. So says folly.

Wisdom says “look where it leads.”

See where it’s going. Lift your head up and see the bigger picture. The guy who is blundering into sin in this passage has his head down, doesn’t he? Look at verse 6: “At the window of my house I looked out through the lattice. I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men, a youth who lacked judgment. He was going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in.” This youth who lacks judgment, he’s just walking along, not really thinking too much about where he’s going, just putting himself in the way of temptation by a series of little steps. That’s how temptation works, isn’t it? By a series of little steps. It doesn’t say “evil this way, dive right in!” It works by a series of little steps, and if we keep our head down and just keep blundering along, we’ll pretty quickly find ourselves in a tangled mess that’s much worse than we thought we were getting into.

The man looking through the window has a different perspective, doesn’t he? He can see where this is going. Verse 22: “All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.” Those little steps he is taking are walking into a trap. Verse 27: “Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.” Wisdom is not a killjoy. Sometimes we can paint it like that, like all this talk of wisdom is just all about squashing the fun out of life. Wisdom has the bigger picture. Wisdom says “that step you want to take might seem fun to you now, but look where it leads – it’s a step along the highway to the grave.” Or look back across the page at chapter 6 verse 27: “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on coals without his feet being scorched?” Or over the page at chapter 5 verse 11: “At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. You will say, "How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors. I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly." Wisdom says “look where it leads.”

Rob Parsons is the founder of Care for the Family, a Christian organisation who, among other things, try to help people with problems in their marriage. I heard him talk once about people who have affairs. He quite often meets people who are starting out on having an affair, and he said that his advice to them goes something like this: “When you think about the future of this affair, don’t think about six months down the line. Six months down the line you might be having a great time. Think two years down the line. Two years from now the shine, the thrill of the new relationship will have worn off. And then you will think about what you will have lost. The marriage which is broken beyond repair. The children who have grown to distrust you and who will carry the scars for the rest of their lives. Think about how it will feel then before you do something stupid now.”

Illicit sex comes with the promise that it will enrich our lives. The voice of folly in the world all around us says “go for it; it will make your life better.” But the truth is that sin always leaves us poorer, not richer. The voice of folly says “it won’t do any harm;” the voice of wisdom says “that’s a lie.” Tim Chester wrote this brilliant book called ‘Captured by a Better Vision’ which is about being freed from pornography. In it he has this quite perceptive comment about one way in which pornography, and other sexual sin, can leave us poorer. He talks about “the tragic number of young people who at one point in their lives dreamed of radical obedience to Jesus, but then faded away into useless western prosperity. A gnawing sense of guilt and unworthiness due to sexual failure gradually gave way to spiritual powerlessness and the dead-end dream of middle-class security and comfort… The tragedy is not masturbation and pornography. The tragedy is that Satan uses guilt from these failures to strip you of every radical dream you ever had or might have.” Does that sound familiar to you at all? Are you one of those people who once wanted to follow Jesus more than anything else but now you’ve just gone dull with mediocrity and superficiality because you feel that your guilt has weighed you down? Sexual sin can do that to us. It might initially look like pleasure; in the long term it’s poverty. Chapter 6 verse 26: “the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress prays upon your very life.” Sin makes you less, not more. Wisdom says “look where it leads.” Lift your head up, see the big picture; look where it leads.

Wisdom also says “enjoy what you have.”

I’ve said that the book of Proverbs and Christianity are very positive about good sex, and that’s true. You can see a really good example of that in chapter 5 verse 15. Have a look at it:

“Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.  16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?  17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.  18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.  19 A loving doe, a graceful deer--may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.  20 Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife?”

It’s pretty clear, that, isn’t it? When I was studying at Oak Hill college, training for ordination, there was an excellent group for the spouses of the people who were training. And that group would always have a special evening once a year when a few people who had recently left would come back and visit and talk about what it was like being a real vicar’s wife in the real world. And Sarah would come back and tell me about it, and we’d always laugh about it because there was a regular pattern. Every year somebody would say “we’ve moved up north and the people there are very strange.” And someone else would say “make sure you have lots of sex with your husband because there’s temptation out there.” And we’d have a good laugh.

But there’s good biblical wisdom in it, isn’t there? Not the stuff about northerners, northerners are normal. The other bit. That’s what proverbs says, isn’t it? Be satisfied with your wife or husband. You won’t be satisfied with them if you’re chasing after others, either real people or just pictures. If you let the world of pornography or men’s or women’s magazines or films or racy novels calibrate your ideas then you’ll never be satisfied. You’ll have a very warped view of beauty for one thing. And a very warped view of love. A very warped view of sex. Rejoice in your wife. Rejoice in your husband. Be captivated by their love. Enjoy what you have. God has blessed you.

As a bit of homework, go and read through 1 Corinthians 7, the chapter after the reading we heard before. See what it says about husbands and wives not depriving each other sexually, about your body belonging to your wife or your husband, not to yourself. It’s good wisdom. If you’re married, why not read it together? If you’re single, see what it says about singleness not being a second rate option. It’s good stuff. 1 Corinthians 7 – read it. Wisdom says ‘enjoy what you have.’

I’m very conscious that all this stuff about being satisfied with your husband or wife doesn’t help much if you’re single, and many people here are. If you’re single, and if you’re married for that matter, then you need to know that Christians have been blessed with something much better even than a great marriage. We were made to be satisfied with God alone. We were made to be captivated by the glory and beauty of Christ, something that captivates without causing shame, remorse or embarrassment. That’s not a third rate alternative to sexual fulfilment. It’s an everlasting satisfaction that ultimately the best sex in the happiest of marriages is just a pointer towards. Augustine, the 5th century Christian who wrote the first autobiography spent a fair bit of his life pursuing promiscuous sex before he became a follower of Jesus, and he famously said “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.” That doesn’t mean that just because you’re a Christian that you must be totally satisfied already. But it does tell you where real satisfaction can be found. Find it in God. Wisdom says ‘enjoy what you have.’ Enjoy what you have been given in Jesus.

So what if you are blundering down that highway to the grave? What if, as you’ve been listening to this, you’ve been squirming uncomfortably because you know that you’ve not been listening to the voice of wisdom? You’ve been going the other way. What if that’s you?

Well you need to know, don’t you, that God sees it all. Chapter 5 verse 21: “For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths.” There are no dark corners, no hidden areas of your life as far as God is concerned. So there’s nothing to be gained in trying to ignore it and pretend it’s ok. The voice of folly says ‘it’s ok.’

The good news has to be that Jesus Christ has come into the world to save sinners. To save fools. God doesn’t tell us to buck up our ideas and save ourselves – he knows we can’t do that – he has come to save us as we are. God’s offer of salvation, complete forgiveness, a clean heart, a new start in Jesus Christ – that offer still stands. Your guilt does not disqualify you from rescue.

But the way of salvation will involve bringing yourself, your deeds, into his light. Not hiding them away, bringing them to God. Out of the secret corners into the blazing light of God. That’s not going to be comfortable. That’s not something you can do on your own. You will need God’s help. You need to pray about it and ask him. You need to talk to some other Christian about it. I know that we’re fairly unlikely to be talking about all of this over coffee at the end, I’m too realistic for that, but with all seriousness, who do you talk to about your sex life? God has given us each other so that we can encourage and help each other to live for him. We need Christian friendships, where we can be open and truthful, without being judgmental. The church should be uniquely good at that sort of thing.

This is a big topic, and addressing the issues that come up takes time. I’ve got some books that will help. Take any of them and read them. There’s no shame in borrowing a book. I’d recommend that you read them if this is your problem and even if it’s not your problem, so that you can help others. Let’s pray.