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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Proverbs 5-7: Combating Sexual Temptation

One of the things from Sunday's sermon that ended up on the cutting room floor was an important passage in Proverbs dealing with combating sexual temptation.  Proverbs 5-7 is a great section of Scripture for those struggling against lust.  And though these chapters deal specifically with sexual sin, the principles found there can be applied to any other form of temptation.
In Proverbs 5-7, Solomon gives his sons three tactics for combating sexual temptation, and we find traces of all three in each chapter.  The first is tactic is to cling to the Word:
5:1 - My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding.
5:7 - And now, O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
6:20-24 - My son, keep your father's commandment, and forsake not your mother's teaching.  21 Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. 22 When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. 23 For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, 24 to preserve you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
7:1-5 - 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.
7:24 - And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
The wisdom, understanding, commandments, teaching, and “words” to which Solomon calls his sons’ attention should not be thought of only as the content of the book of Proverbs.  Solomon most likely has in mind the broader law of God.  Psalm 119:11 tells us, I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.  It is the whole counsel of God to which we should look to help us in the fight against temptation.
There are two things to note about Solomon’s instruction here.  First, he calls his sons not merely to know the Word, but to bind it on their hearts, to incline their ears to it, to treasure it, to keep it as the apple of their eye, to write it on the tablet of their hearts, to consider it an intimate friend.  He is prescribing more than an intellectual familiarity with its content.  He wants them to cherish it as a treasure.  The reason they should do this is the second thing we want to note: it has the power to preserve them from temptation.  Solomon says it will lead them, watch over them, talk with them, help them to see, and keep them from the evil woman.
We could combine these two ideas into one truth in our fight against sin: we should cherish and hold fast to the Word of God for the life-giving, life-preserving, life-saving force that it is.  It is our first line of defense when temptation comes.  We must learn it, love it, memorize it, meditate on it, and talk about it day and night.
The second tactic is to consider the consequences of the sin:
5:3-6 - For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, 4 but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. 5 Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; 6 she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it.
5:9-14 - You [will] give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, 10 lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner, 11 and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed, 12 and you say, "How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! 13 I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors. 14 I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation."
5:21-23 - For a man's ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths. 22 The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. 23 He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray.
6:26-35 - For the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, but a married woman hunts down a precious life. 27 Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? 28 Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? 29 So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; none who touches her will go unpunished. 30 People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry, 31 but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold; he will give all the goods of his house. 32 He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself. 33 He will get wounds and dishonor, and his disgrace will not be wiped away. 34 For jealousy makes a man furious, and he will not spare when he takes revenge. 35 He will accept no compensation; he will refuse though you multiply gifts. 
7:22-23 - 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.
7:26-27 - 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.
You can see by the volume of material here how important this tactic is.  I believe it is one we often neglect.  We should consider it a vital discipline to ponder the consequences of sin, to consider the certain long-term misery that will result from momentary pleasure.  Solomon describes the moment of sin as sweet, but the aftertaste as bitter as wormwood.  It will bring you to the “brink of ruin.”  It will ensnare you, hold you fast in its cords.  You will die for lack of discipline.  The repeated theme is that sin will lead to the loss of everything, including your very life.  Undoubtedly, the enemy wants us to give no thought to these things, but clearly the Holy Spirit intends for us to meditate on them.
The third tactic is to avoid temptation at all costs:
5:8 - Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.
6:25 - Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes.
7:6-21 - 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. 10 And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. 11 She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; 12 now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. 13 She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him, 14 "I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; 15 so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you. 16 I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian linen; 17 I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. 18 Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. 19 For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; 20 he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home." 21 With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him.
7:25 - Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths.
The extended section of 7:6-21 gives a chilling third-person perspective.  This young man, lacking sense, lost the battle before the adulteress even gave the invitation.  He went to the place of temptation at the time of temptation into the company of temptation.  By the time the prostitute opened her mouth it was all over.  He had already made his choice with his feet when he took the road to her house.
This is why Solomon writes, “keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house…Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths.”  He is essentially prescribing the radical amputation we discussed on Sunday.  “Cut yourself off from the source of temptation.  Don’t even go near it.”
For someone who is battling this kind of temptation, it would be a wise discipline to meditate on these three chapters of Proverbs everyday, or perhaps alternate them, looking at one a day.  Again, the tactics we find there can be applied to any sin we are fighting.  We must cling to the Word, consider the consequences, and avoid temptation at all costs.  These tactics, coupled with the daily discipline of preaching the gospel to ourselves, are a strong defense against the temptation to sin.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

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