Wisdom and Sex: Proverbs 5:1-23 (Thomas Schreiner)
Some time ago the CNN website featured a woman who lived a promiscuous lifestyle for many years. She had many illicit relationships over the years and reflected on them at 40 years of age. It is clear in the article that the woman who wrote the article isn’t a Christian. She doesn’t fully understand what God teaches about sexual purity. But we see in her words that one can’t violate God’s ways without consequences. The image of God is etched in us, and we can’t escape God’s world. If we transgress his norms, those norms catch up with us. This woman experienced the consequences of sexual relationships without commitment. She felt the vanity and futility of casual sex. She lived a dissolute life for many years, but she came to see that causal sex doesn’t really exist. It led to “a cold, mechanical exchange” that left her “lonely and depressed.” She came to see that casual sex is “hollow” and “heartless.” We see that her experiment with casual sex failed. It didn’t bring her joy. She didn’t find meaning. Her sexual encounters had become as meaningful as wolfing down McDonald’s hamburgers when one is in a hurry.
Secular people often talk as if their perspective on sex is freeing and liberating. They often say that the Christian view is repressive, rigid, and joy-denying. But it is exactly opposite. If you want to experience heartache, tears, loneliness, and frustration, follow the ways of the world. I am not just using words in saying this. I am talking about real stories I know, specific stories where people are moved to tears because they have given themselves to others and now regret it. It testifies to the truth that sexual relations bring joy within a committed relationship.
We see this very clearly in Proverbs 5. I don’t intend to exposit all of Proverbs 5, but I want to lift out four truths for our consideration. First, recognize that sexual sin is tantalizing. Second, realize that that sexual sin will destroy you. Third, repel the onset of sexual sin in your life. Fourth, rejoice in the wife of your youth. In Proverbs 5 a father is writing to his son, so the wording is directed to men, but clearly the admonitions apply to women as well.
Sexual sin is tantalizing
First, recognize that sexual sin is tantalizing. We see that it is tantalizing in v. 3. “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil.” We almost certainly have a case of double entendre here. Honey and oil signify physical delights. The joys anticipated can draw us into sin. As one commentator says, “Honey is sweet, but the bee stings; and this lady has a sting in her tail.” Proverbs 6:25 tells us that a man can be attracted by a woman’s beauty or her stylish makeup (“her eyelashes”). Clearly, this woman is dressed to kill. Correspondingly, a woman may be attracted by a man who is handsome, kind, caring, humorous, and successful.
Sin promises rapturous pleasures. The woman in Prov. 7:18 says, “Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love.” Illicit experiences are often preceded by lies. We are not surprised, therefore, to read in Prov. 7:5 that a man may be persuaded by a woman’s flattery. Of course, the woman may be flattered by the man as well. The spouse at home is all too familiar with our faults, but the person at the office or the club or at school only sees the good side of us, and tells us how wonderful we are. The scriptures tell the truth. They are refreshingly honest. As Hebrews 11:25 says, there is pleasure and delight in sin. We wouldn’t be tempted by sexual sin if it didn’t promise joy. It lures us by promising happiness.
If you feel a little down and little depressed, then the temptation to look at pornography increases. Satan promises that such temporary pleasure will relieve some of our misery. Sin lurks at the door of hearts, tantalizing and beckoning us, promising joy if we give in. God gives us weapons to fight sexual sin. He arms us so we are ready for war. He warns us because he loves us. And that brings us to our second truth.
Realize that that sexual sin will destroy you. Solomon spends most of his time on this point in chapter 5. The pleasures advertised are delicious, “but” v. 4 says, “in the end she [the adulteress] is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol.” We think we are on the pathway to life, but we are actually on the road to death.
Paul warns about the danger of sexual sin in 1 Thess. 4:6. He says, “the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.” Those are scary words, and they are meant to scare us. The Lord judges us when we violate his commands.
One of my dearest friends in Minnesota committed adultery. When I first asked him about it, he lied to me. But then he brought it out to the light. I will never forget him telling me about the darkness and pain and grief he felt after the weight of what he had done hit him. He confessed his sin and was forgiven by the Lord. But there were consequences. He is no longer a pastor, and I don’t think he will serve as a pastor again. It was harder for him to sense a closeness and fellowship with the Lord after his unfaithfulness. He told me that he battled a great sense of distance from God. He experienced the words of Proverbs 5:12-14. “How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors. I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation.” My friend didn’t listen to the loving warnings given by God. He would love to be able to roll the clock back and to replay those decisions, but he can’t do that.
We are reminded that every choice we make is before the Lord. We live in his presence always. As Proverbs 5:21 says, “For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths.” We can fool people and we can even fool our spouses, but we can never fool the Lord. He knows our thoughts from afar. He scrutinizes all our paths.
Let me add here that our sex lives are a theological matter. Our sex lives are a Trinitarian matter: our bodies belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, to the Holy Spirit, and God our Father. We read in 1 Cor. 6:13 that our bodies are for the Lord. That means our bodies belong to Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 6:20 says you were bought with a price if you are a believer. That means Christ liberated you with his shed blood. You were a slave to sin, and he rescued you from sin and death by giving his life for you when he died on the cross and rose from the dead.
Let me say a parenthetical word to non-Christians. Don’t think that you can earn your way to heaven by living a pure life, for we have all sinned and fall short of what God demands of us. And don’t think if you have sinned a lot in this area, that there is no hope for you. No, if you have sinned greatly in this area, there is hope for you. Christ came to save sinners. Christ didn’t come to save good people. Christ came to free us from slavery to sexual sin. But we don’t clean ourselves up before we come to him. We aren’t forgiven because we are pure and righteous. No, Christ cleans us up by shedding his blood for us. We don’t stand before him, even as Christians, because we are such good people. We stand before him because we have been washed with the blood of the Lamb. But he gave his life for us, so that he can be the Lord of our lives. We are no longer our own masters. Our bodies no longer belong to ourselves. Our bodies belong to Jesus Christ.
We also see a reference to the Holy Spirit, for 1 Cor. 6:19 says that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. God dwells in us now through the Holy Spirit. We have the power to live a new life as we walk by the Spirit, are led by the Spirit, march in step with the Spirit, sow to the Spirit, and are filled by the Spirit. We have seen a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the Holy Spirit, and the Trinitarian character of the text is affirmed with a reference to the Father in 1 Cor. 6:20. Paul says we are to glorify God with our bodies. God doesn’t merely say: don’t do this. He reminds us that he has freed us from our sins through the death of his Son. He has loved us and rescued us from ourselves. And he has given us his Spirit to empower us. So, he tells us to give ourselves entirely to him, to honor him with our bodies. He gives us a positive motivation. Respond in love to the one who redeemed us and empowers us. Entrust all of yourself to him. “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do to the glory of God.” For those who don’t give themselves to God will face final judgment and separation from God forever
Repel sexual sin
Third, repel the onset of sexual sin in your life. Hear the words of Prov. 5:7-8, “And now, O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.” The advice is clear. Stay far away from temptation. Don’t put your head as far as you can into the mouth of the lion. Don’t light a match next to gasoline. Know yourself. People are different, but don’t put yourself into situations that you know will lead you into temptation and sin.
My friend who committed adultery went to movies with another woman after he was married. He would go to lunch alone with another woman. That is putting your head into the mouth of the lion. That is foolish. Don’t think you are strong in this area. If you think you are strong, then you are in danger of disaster.
I had a woman come to my office once, and she told me she wanted to be my friend. I told her, “No. Not apart from my wife.” She actually got mad at me and raised her voice, telling me why I was too conservative. But I told her, “No. We aren’t going to be friends apart from being with my wife.” We can be friends as long as we pursue that friendship in our home and in our church, but I don’t do things with other women apart from Diane. That’s asking for disaster, for God intended that a close friendship between a man and a woman would lead to a physical relationship. That’s why Paul says the same thing as Proverbs. He says, “Flee sexual immorality.” We aren’t to dabble with sexual sin or fool around with it. We are to run from it. We are to distance ourselves from it.
Jesus says about sexual sin in Matt 5:29-30, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” It is better not to have an I-Phone if an I-Phone leads you into regular sin and plunges you into hell. It is better not to have access to the internet, if you can’t handle it in your life. Guard your heart and guard your life.
Another friend of mine who was a pastor started looking at pornography on the internet. But it didn’t stop there. He wanted more titillation. So, he went out to meet a woman. Things didn’t work out, but he was discovered. It was the end of his ministry. Sadly, this story has been told too many times in the lives of pastors. But it doesn’t just happen to pastors. I read the story of a woman who was married to her husband for 13 years. He regularly looked at pornography during his high school and college years. He got so hooked on pornography he lost any interest in a relationship with his wife and slept in the basement. Finally, he left her and moved in with a woman who looked like a porn star, even though she was an alcoholic. He abandoned his wife and five children because of his lust.
Brothers, gouge out the eye and cut off the hand. Of course, I am speaking metaphorically, not literally. In a study published in Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, Schneider found that among the 68 percent of couples in which one person was addicted to Internet porn, one or both had lost interest in sex.
If you are a woman, be careful of indulging in romance novels that may provoke the same kind of titillation. Women can become involved in pornography as well, but it is also quite common for women to indulge in a fantasy and sexualized world through romance novels. One can enter a fantasy world instead of living in the real world. A wife can indulge fantasies by reading romance novels, like 50 Shades of Gray, that disconnect her from her husband, so that she plunges herself into a world that doesn’t really exist. A similar question should be raised about the novels of Nicholas Sparks. If you read novels like these, do they warp the minds of susceptible Christians and leave you dissatisfied with your husband?
Let me also say a word to those who are single. God has called you to refrain from a sexual relationship unless and until you get married. For some that is very difficult and for others it is not so difficult. Sometimes God calls us to what is hard. We are disciples of Jesus Christ. We are to remember what I said earlier. You have been bought with a price by the blood of Christ. You are indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. You are called upon to glorify God with your bodies. God does not call upon us to obey him without giving us the power to do so. I am not talking about perfection of course.
When we stumble and fall and repent, there is forgiveness. And if you are stumbling in this area, you need an accountability partner who is stronger and more mature than you to hold you accountable. Don’t pick someone who is weaker than you or having the same struggles as you to be your accountability partner, for then you may become apathetic about sin in your life. It is important to conquer sinful desires before they conquer and destroy us.
Rejoice in the grace God gives us. God calls us to live a new life as those who have died to sin and have risen with Jesus Christ.
Fourth, we close with a word to those who are married. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. We read in Prov. 5:15-19.
“Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?”
Amazing words. No one can read these words and think the Bible condemns sexual pleasure. Sometimes Christians are more squeamish and prudish than the Bible is. As Derek Kidner says, “It is highly important to see sexual delight in marriage as God-given; and history confirms that when marriage is chiefly viewed as a business arrangement, not only is God’s bounty misunderstood, but human passion seeks other outlets.”
The Bible is clear. We are to rejoice in the wife of your youth. He doesn’t say: rejoice in your young wife! Such joy is to be ours, even if our wife is no longer young. He says rejoice in the wife the Lord gave you when you were young. He says to “be intoxicated always in her love.”
The Bible embraces and promotes sexual love and pleasure within the confines of marriage. The Bible doesn’t promote asceticism. 1 Timothy 4 says that those who forbid marriage hold to the teaching of demons. God is not a kill-joy. The physical pleasures in marriage are his gift to us. They are his idea. Anyone who reads the Song of Solomon realizes that sexual love within marriage is beautiful and fulfilling.
Paul also gives some very practical advice on marriage in 1 Cor. 7:2-4. He helps us see another dimension of the sexual relationship in marriage.
“But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”
Paul tells us here that regular sexual relations between a husband and wife will restrain sexual sin. This is not the only reason a husband and wife should come together. This is not the only reason for marriage, for we have just read in Proverbs about the pleasures of marriage. But it is one of the reasons. Notice that he says in v. 3 that both the husband and the wife should regularly give themselves physically to one another. Neither can say that they have authority over their own body, so that they deprive the other. These verses could be understood in a strange way, so that spouses would dictate to one another what is required in strange, awkward, and artificial ways. But what Paul says here is very practical. Regular sexual relations can prevent sexual sin. A happy and fulfilled marriage relationship is an antidote against sin.
To conclude, we see what the Bible teaches about our sexuality fits with what the Scriptures teach about the rest of life. We are to glorify God with our bodies. We are to live the whole of our lives to honor him. We want God to be praised in everything we do. There isn’t a sacred/secular split. Every good thing God gives us is for his glory. And God gave us sexual relations within marriage for our joy and for his praise. For the commitment we have for one another symbolizes Christ’s love for the church, and the church’s submission to Christ. Our marriages mirror Christ and the church, and so we pray that our marriages will reflect the love of God in Jesus Christ and the obedience of the church.
Thomas Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Among his many books are Romans, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology, and Galatians.