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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Temptation Preparation

Where is the battle against sin won or lost?  Is it in the very moment of temptation or in the moments and days prior to temptation?  Often, in our desire to overcome sin in our lives we do nothing more that simply resolve to be resolved in the moment of temptation.  Next time, I’ll just be stronger.  Proverbs 7 shows us that this kind of strategy is plain foolishness and offers two ways to overcome sin prior to the moment of temptation.

Most of the book of Proverbs was written by Solomon in an effort to pass on wisdom to his sons.  In chapter 7, he warns against sexual temptation, specifically the temptation to engage in relations with the “loud and wayward” adulteress (v11).  However, the principles given are applicable to all kinds of temptation, not only sexual. 

The chapter begins with the first tool for overcoming temptation – “keep my words”:
  1 My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you;
 2 keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching 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 insight your intimate friend,
 5 to keep you from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words.

What are the words that are to be kept?  I believe he is referring to the book of Proverbs specifically.  The reference to “wisdom” in v4 supports this, but I also believe that we could expand the range of teaching to all of the Bible.  Psalm 119:11 reads, I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.  So it is not only the wisdom writings of Proverbs that are useful for assisting us in our battle with sin, but the whole counsel of God, the whole Bible. 

It’s important to note that Solomon exhorts his son not merely to know his words, commandments, wisdom, and insight, but to keep them, treasure them, keep them as the apple of his eye, bind them on his fingers, write them on the table of his heart, and to consider them his bride and intimate friend.  (Bride?  Yes, in the context of ancient Near Eastern and biblical love poetry, the “sister” is actually the bride.  Song of Solomon 4:9, “my sister, my bride.”  Solomon is encouraging his son to make wisdom his wife.)  What Solomon has in mind is not just an arsenal of bible knowledge, but a deep abiding passion, love, and devotion to God’s truth and commandments.  In other words, “make this the passion of your life.”

Why?  V5, to keep you from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words.  That is exceedingly clear.  Knowing and loving God’s Word as the passion of your life will keep you from temptation.  A more crucial question is “how does it keep us from temptation?”  We know that before sin becomes a matter of the body it is a matter of the heart – “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person" (Mark 7:21-23).  What the heart loves, the heart will pursue.  If we love sin, we will gravitate toward sin.  If we love God’s Word, we will pursue it and righteousness.  Essentially, Solomon understands this and is exhorting his son to love God’s Word rather than sin.

As most of us can attest, that is easier said than done. 

I was having lunch with a friend a few years ago.  We were discussing pastoral counseling as it relates to psychology, an issue on which we held differing views.  In making a case for the importance of psychology, my friend said, “It is mistake to think that if I just read the bible more and pray more, I’ll be able to say no to sin.”  I replied, “It’s a greater mistake to discount those two things.” 

God’s Word and prayer must be a part of our daily spiritual regimen if we are going to delight in His words, commandments, teaching, wisdom, and insight.  We must saturate our minds and hearts with the Word and we must spend time praying not only that we would have the strength to resist temptation, but also that God would grant us a greater passion for His Word.  Sometimes we make the mistake of reading only Bible passages that pertain to our specific sin issue and praying only about the ability to defeat that sin.  It is far better to feast on all kinds of passages – about God’s character, Christ’s work, and the passion for truth – and to pray for greater hunger for the Lord and His Bible.

This must take place before the moment of temptation.  A soldier doesn’t train during a battle – he trains before.  You and I must do the same, and that is what Solomon desires to convey to his son.

Second, “do not stray into her paths” (v25).  Verses 6-9 paint a picture of true foolishness: 

  6 For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice,
 7 and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense,
 8 passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house
 9 in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness.

This young man put himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He willingly and intentionally took the route that led to her house.  He led himself into temptation.  And this is directly related the fact that he did not treasure God’s commandments.  The “for” at the beginning of v6 shows that what the young man did is the result of not doing what Solomon commands his son to do in vv1-5.  The one who loves the commandments of God will not stray into the path of temptation. 

But the young man did stray, and vv10-21 detail the adulteress’ seduction, with vv22-23 providing the following commentary:

 22 All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast
 23 till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.

Had he loved and treasured the commandments of God, he would have known that giving in to the temptation would cost him his life.  Then Solomon offers a summary plea:

  24 And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
 25 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths,
 26 for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng.
 27 Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.

Love the Word and do not stray into the paths of temptation.  Clearly, the battle over sin is fought prior to the moment of temptation.  If you seem to be losing the battle, it may be that you are not even fighting until it’s too late.  By God’s grace, obedience to Proverbs 7 can turn the tide in your life.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

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