Keeping Desires in Check

As a pastor there are a number of topics I would rather not talk about. I don’t like talking about money because I want to avoid any appearance that I am trying to fleece the sheep. I am not real enthused about talking about child-rearing because I don’t want people to think I am claiming to be an expert on the subject (I am not). I don’t like talking about the signs of the end times because people have been dogmatic and wrong so many times in the past. And, I don’t like talking about anything having to do with sex because it is such a private and intimate thing. But Proverbs talks extensively about keeping our desires in check so that is what we will address this morning. I find great comfort in the fact that you don’t really want me talking about it either.

Immorality is a bigger problem than ever because of the availability (and sometimes “unavoidability) of pornography on the Internet, chat rooms, sexting, the increasing sexual content in the media and the growing acceptability of immoral behaviors. The temptation is greater than ever.

Now I know what some of you are thinking: “If I had known he was going to talk about sex I would have stayed home (others might be thinking, “If I had known he was going to talk about sex I would have invited my friends!”)  Please hang with me. It is my belief that this issue is about more than sex and marriage. It is about life and living it in the fellowship and joy of the Lord.

Solomon speaks as a Father to his son (which is why, I believe, the focus is on the immoral woman; if he was writing to his daughter he may have warned her about the hormone driven man) in all of Proverbs 5, half of chapter 6 and all of chapter 7. These are extended discourses which emphasize how important Solomon feels the topic is.

Ray Ortlund writes,

Conservative people love form and restraint and control, especially in sex. Progressive people love freedom and openness and choices, especially in sex. Both see part of the truth, but the gospel tells us the whole truth. And the truth is, God gave us our sexuality both to focus our romantic joy and to unleash our romantic joy. When this very human joy is both focused and unleashed—having both form and freedom—it becomes wonderfully intensified. We thrive within both form and freedom. Sex is like fire. In the fireplace it keeps us warm. Outside the fireplace it burns the house down. Proverbs 5 is saying, “Keep the fire in the marital fireplace, and stoke that fire as hot as you can.” (p. 89)

The Reality of Temptation

Listen to Solomon’s warning,

My son, pay attention to my wisdom;

listen carefully to my wise counsel.

Then you will show discernment,

and your lips will express what you’ve learned.

For the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey,

and her mouth is smoother than oil.

But in the end she is as bitter as poison,

as dangerous as a double-edged sword.

Her feet go down to death;

her steps lead straight to the grave.

For she cares nothing about the path to life.

She staggers down a crooked trail and doesn’t realize it.

Note several things. First, Solomon warns that we will be tempted. We will all be tempted. Sweet and smooth words, playful flirting, and physical attraction are powerful temptations. One look, one smile, one touch and our minds can be off to the races.

But again, it is not just in the area of sex. We are tempted to test boundaries; to see if God really knows what He is talking about. We are tempted to see what we can get away with.

Even the strongest person, with the healthiest marriage or the deepest values, is vulnerable. We have seen the situation too many time. Strong marriages and even dating relationships struck down by adultery. Families destroyed, trust . . . even in the church violated. No one is immune.

Second, Solomon says if we give in we will face bitter consequences. Just as a stone thrown into the water creates waves, when we leave God’s path at any time (and especially in the sexual area) there is a ripple effect . . . sometimes it is like a tidal wave. Listen to Solomon’s description in chapter 6

Proverbs 6:27-29

27 Can a man scoop a flame into his lap

and not have his clothes catch on fire?

28 Can he walk on hot coals

and not blister his feet?

29 So it is with the man who sleeps with another man’s wife.

He who embraces her will not go unpunished.

The adage is simple: if you play with fire, you will get burned. There are deep repercussions for those who stray from God’s design for sexual intimacy. People who say, “it is only sex” are deluding themselves. Infidelity is a violation of trust. It is a betrayal of marriage vows. It is an act of rebellion against a holy God. It calls our entire relationship with God and with others into question.

So now, my sons, listen to me.

Never stray from what I am about to say:

Stay away from her!

Don’t go near the door of her house!

If you do, you will lose your honor

and will lose to merciless people all you have achieved.

10 Strangers will consume your wealth,

and someone else will enjoy the fruit of your labor.

11 In the end you will groan in anguish

when disease consumes your body.

12 You will say, “How I hated discipline!

If only I had not ignored all the warnings!

13 Oh, why didn’t I listen to my teachers?

Why didn’t I pay attention to my instructors?

14 I have come to the brink of utter ruin,

and now I must face public disgrace.”

You cannot engage in sexual sin without damaging repercussions. Chuck Swindoll lists several of the common consequences of what he calls the backwash of sexual infidelity.

  • Loss of Character…a lifetime of character can be wiped out in one act of sinful passion.
  • Injury to career
  • Loss of respect…you will be seen as the “cheater’
  • Embarrassment to the church and God’s kingdom
  • Loss of family or at least severe damage to family
  • Draining of finances
  • Painful memories
  • Possibility of disease
  • The erosive burden of a life of secrecy

This is why Solomon suggests that his son stay “far away” from the sinful woman. We must guard ourselves from getting anywhere near sexual sin. Rather than seeing how close we can get to the line of sin, we should stay as far away from that line as possible. We must guard ourselves from the smooth tongue that entices. But, what is the best way to do that?

Combatting Immorality

I love Solomon’s practical way for guarding our hearts from sexual sin: put your energy into your marriage! Give yourself to the right course! Listen to his great advice.

15 Drink water from your own well—

share your love only with your wife.*

16 Why spill the water of your springs in the streets,

having sex with just anyone?

17 You should reserve it for yourselves.

Never share it with strangers.

18 Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you.

Rejoice in the wife of your youth.

19 She is a loving deer, a graceful doe.

Let her breasts satisfy you always.

May you always be captivated by her love.

20 Why be captivated, my son, by an immoral woman,

or fondle the breasts of a promiscuous woman?

Solomon’s advice is this: direct your passions to the place God designed for those passions to be used. As we said before, a fire in the fireplace is wonderful, a fire outside the fireplace is destructive. Water within its banks is beautiful and delightful, water that overflows the banks is destructive. So with sexual intimacy: within the boundaries of marriage, sex is a powerful bond and a means of great intimacy, excitement, and fun; sex outside those boundaries is destructive.

Sexual intimacy is not evil. God created Adam and Eve naked and unashamed. He told them to populate the earth. God designed men and women to be partners; to complement and enjoy each other. Sexual intimacy is not bad – it is beautiful and good within the intended boundaries. Ignoring those boundaries undermines relationships and erects a barrier between us and the Lord.

Solomon (who didn’t exactly put this into practice in his own life) suggests that you save your passion, your flirting, and your imagination for enjoying your spouse!  Practically this means,

  • You should realize what a precious and powerful thing sexual intimacy is. Keeping our sex drive within God’s parameters guards us from bad thinking and destructive behaviors. For single people this means looking for ways to have fun that does not stir up those easily uncontrollable passions. Date with others.
  • In a married relationship focus on the physical characteristics and personality traits that are treasures rather than on physical flaws, weaknesses, or areas of insecurity in the person God gives to you. Everyone looks in the mirror and sees things they don’t like about themselves. Instead of focusing on those things (in yourself and in your mate), focus on the wonderful things and the beautiful things. Do you remember when you were first dating? You didn’t even see the faults because you were so taken with the other things. We can choose to continue to view our spouse in this way. But we must choose. It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old . . . we would do well to always look for strengths and treasures to affirm rather than weaknesses to criticize.
  • Celebrate what you have with your mate instead of imagining what you could have with someone else. After time we tend to zero in on faults. When we look at others over the fence we don’t see any of the faults. Do you see how that is a recipe for a disaster? Who can possibly live up to an illusion? No one.
  • Continue to date and have fun with your spouse. It is easy to drift into boring routines as a married couple. To many people drift in their marriage because their spouse never had time for them. They are longing for a little romance (yes, even guys). We all want to feel like we are still special to that someone special in our lives. We want them to continue to “light up” when they see us. The challenge is to break out of that rut and instead begin to look for ways to “spice things up” and to make the relationship fun. If we put as much energy into loving our spouse as we did flirting with others, or pursuing our hobbies, our relationship with our spouse would be rich and wonderful.

Solomon holds out an important principle: The relationship you are already in can be great if you work at it! God designed us to build a deeply intimate relationship with one person over the course of our lives. Putting our energy into this relationship is what will bring us joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Even more, it will save us from the horrible heartache of a relationship that is tossed aside by one or both people in a marriage.

An Important Reminder

Solomon wraps up this section with some sobering words,

21 For the Lord sees clearly what a man does,

examining every path he takes.

22 An evil man is held captive by his own sins;

they are ropes that catch and hold him.

23 He will die for lack of self-control;

he will be lost because of his great foolishness.

All sexual sin is the same: it is idolatry; a rebellion against God. It is not a mistake that God called Israel Adulterers because they ignored the Lord. When we ignore God’s design for sex we are turning away from Him! Such idolatry results in judgment. God is not saying immorality is simply a bad idea; He is saying it is sin; it is rebellion or mutiny against God! There is a slavery involved in any act of disobedience. We become slaves of sin. We take a step away from God and erect a wall between us and the Lord.

The principles advanced this morning actually apply to all kinds of situations. Any time we run after something forbidden by God because we think it will bring us happiness we are guilty of idolatry.

  • When we choose deception over truth
  • When we choose indulgence rather than generosity
  • When we give God a secondary (or lower) place on our calendar.
  • When we “live by our emotions” (doing what feels right) rather than training our heart by the word of God
  • When we draw our self-image and value from our job rather than from what the Lord says about us.
  • When we rely more on our bank account than we rely on Him
  • When we choose to fix problems through manipulation rather than through love

Solomon focused on sexual faithfulness because it was a prominent and very public problem that illustrates a much greater problem. Just like it is today. It is not so much about sex as it is about our relationship with God!

If you are a person who is going through the heartache that is part of the ripple effect of sexual sin all I can suggest is that you run to Lord. Ask Him to help you to forgive but also ask Him to help you to rebuild trust. That is a tall order. So tall that only God can provide what we need. It will take time. It will also require that you learn to love in a deeper way than you ever did before.

If you are a person who has been cast aside by another. I know you feel like damaged goods. You are sure there must be something wrong with you. Friend, God loves you. He aches with you. He treasures you. If you will draw close to Him, He will help you to see your beauty as it is reflected in His love for you.

Perhaps you are the one that made some bad choices. You wonder if you will ever be respected by people again. You may even wonder if God can possibly love you after the mistakes you have made. I believe God would say several things to you.

  • First, confess your wrong and change your behavior. Confession without a change is not confession it is simply an attempt to appease.
  • Second, ask forgiveness of any of the people you have hurt. You will have to humble yourself greatly to do this. You can make excuses . . . you have to admit wrong behavior, choices and attitudes. And what is toughest is that you need to do this knowing the other person may not, or may not be ready to forgive you. However, either way you must confess to the one you wronged.
  • Recall God’s promises. The Bible tells us that if we truly confess He will forgive. Jesus died for all sin. That includes sexual sin, idolatry, anger, and any other sin you can name. Your friends and your family may not ever be able to forgive you, but thanks be to God, Jesus does. But before He can/will do it we must come to Him in sincerity and truth.
  • Take God’s promise seriously and begin to rebuild. It takes a long time to build a reputation and only a moment to destroy it. The process will be slow but it can happen. We have seen it again and again: broken people; people who made great mistakes (like betraying the Lord or killing Christians) are remade by the Father. He can do the same for you.

You see, Solomon’s discussion was really less about sex and more about character and discipleship. Maybe you are uncomfortable because of all the talk about marriage and immorality. And maybe you are uncomfortable because you realize that it is about way more than how faithful you are to your spouse. It is actually about how faithful you are to Him. And like it or not, that relates to all of us.

* 5:15 Hebrew Drink water from your own cistern, / flowing water from your own well.

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