I hope you don't feel too uncomfortable talking about sex in church. It's actually one of those topics that's talked about everywhere these days but in church, which is probably where we need to be talking about it most.
There are a couple of reasons why I'd like us to talk about it. The first reason is because it's in the Bible. This may surprise a lot of people, but the Bible isn't squeamish at all in talking about sex. This makes sense when you remember that sex was God's idea. He's the one who made it up.
As we study Proverbs, it would be impossible for us to skip over this topic. Large parts of chapters 5, 6, and 7 talk about sex. You really can't talk about how to live wisely without talking about an area that's as much a part of life as this one is, and Proverbs doesn't shy away from addressing the issue.
This leads me to the second reason I'd like to talk about it: because it is such a part of life, and one we don't always handle very well. Every year some graduates of a preaching program get together with Haddon Robinson, who's a well-known teacher on preaching. Last year someone asked him what we need to be talking about in our churches that we aren't. He said, "Pornography, which is a symptom of something else." It's available all the time in your homes, in fact anywhere that you have an Internet connection or even a cell phone.
One recent study said that 7 out of 10 men between the ages of 18-34 visit a pornographic site in a typical month. Half of the men who attended a Promise Keepers rally in 1996 admitted that they had been involved with pornography within a week of attending the event. That was 12 years ago, but I doubt the number has gone down. Pornography affects even those we think won't be affected. A third of the female readers of Today's Christian Women admitted intentionally accessing Internet porn. Half of all evangelical pastors admit to viewing pornography in the past year. Divorce lawyers are saying that it's a significant factor in their divorce cases.
Statistics are fine, but let's make it more tangible. This is an issue for a number of us here. I was actually working on this sermon when I got an email about one of my pastor friends. He and his wife were friends with another couple in the church. Somehow he got involved in a relationship with this other woman. He's resigned from the church. His wife has left him and has gone home to her parents. I saw him last year and he had everything going for him. Today he's a completely broken man who has lost almost everything.
That's why we need to discuss it: because the Bible talks about it, and because sex is part of our life, and for many of us it's a struggle. And, as we're going to see, the consequences are huge for us depending on how we handle this area.
So Proverbs 5 says something we're used to hearing:
My son,a pay attention to my wisdom,
turn your ear to my wordsof insight,
that you may maintain discretion
and your lips may preserve knowledge.
Again, the father, the instructor, is calling out to us to hear what he has to say. This too is an area of either wisdom or foolishness. We can live skillfully in this area, or we can go our own way and do as we please. Proverbs invites us to listen, because it has something to say about how to live well in this area.
Then we're introduced to the subject of this chapter:
For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil;
but in the end she is bitter as gall,
sharp as a double-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
her steps lead straight to the grave.
She gives no thought to the way of life;
her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.
Now, don't forget that this is a father or a tutor addressing a young man. The warning here is against an adulterous woman, but if the writer had been talking to a young female, he could have written about the adulterous man. There's no assigning blame to a particular gender here. Both need to be very careful to hear what the writer has to say in the area of sexual temptation. In fact, what he's going to say applies not only to all sexual temptation, all sexual activity that's not with one's husband or wife.
And he says something that we need to acknowledge up front: that sexual temptation looks very good up front. He says "the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey." Honey then was the sweetest thing known. Sexual temptation is sweet and smooth. It looks very good, and it promises a lot up front. It's fun to flirt. It's enjoyable to check somebody out, to read certain kinds of novels, to watch stuff, to look at pictures. It's fun to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage.
But there's a cost. Verse 4 says, "In the end she is bitter as gall." There's sweetness at first, but it turns out to be bitter. It starts out like honey and ends up tasting like you want to spit it out of your mouth. It's as "sharp as a double-edged sword." It cuts. It hurts. And then you get the picture that's common in the book of Proverbs: that of two paths. The path of giving into sexual temptation is not one that leads to good life. It's one that leads to death. That which looks so promising up front ends up leaving you bitter and disillusioned.
There's a lie that culture tells us. The lie goes like this: illicit sex is fun and fulfilling. The thing that makes this lie so dangerous is that it's almost true. It is indeed fun and fulfilling at first. It promises a lot. It's inviting and exciting. But here's the truth behind the lie: illicit sex promises way more than it actually delivers.
In fact, verses 9 to 14 give us the consequences of illicit sex. You could lose everything: power, years, wealth, and the fruit of hard-earned labor. This picture is all too real to me because it describes my friend that I mentioned who's lost everything that these verses mention. Even if you escape with your life, verse 14 says that you may not escape with your reputation. There are people, many people, who have lost everything – their jobs, money, their family, their reputation – as a result of the elicit sex that looked so alluring up front. You could put it like this: When you take what is not yours, you can end up losing what is yours. Take what's not yours, end up losing what is. There's a lot at stake here.
That's why this is so important. But here's the bad news: It's not enough to know this. There are lots of people who know what's at stake but who still take the risk despite knowing all the warnings. It's like the cigarette packages. Have you seen the cigarette packages these days? They tell you everything that could go wrong, and they show you disgusting pictures on those packages, but people still go ahead and smoke. Why? Because they can't help it. They want to smoke even though they know what it's doing to them. The same applies to many of us today. We know this, but sexual temptation is still going to look pretty alluring to us. We won't be able to help ourselves, even knowing what going down this path could do to us.
So Proverbs gives us two strategies that will help us if we use them.
Strategy one is a defensive strategy.
It's what we have to do to protect ourselves. Verses 7 and 8 say:
Now then, my sons, listento me;
do not turn aside from what I say.
Keep to a path far from her,
do not go near the door of her house…
Now listen: do you know what is sexually tempting for you? If you struggle with sexual temptation, then you do. Our normal strategy is to get as close as we can to the temptation without giving in. We like to experience the thrill of the temptation and think that we can get away with it.
Do you see what verse 8 says? Don't even go near what tempts you. Change your path so that you don't even get near to the temptation. Don't go anywhere near the temptation. Stay far, far away. You need to take intentional, deliberate evasive action so that you avoid as much sexual temptation as is humanly possible. It's costly, but that's what you need to do if you want to avoid the consequences that come from failing in this area. If you want to avoid being led into ruin, we need to keep as far away as possible from whatever it is that tempts us sexually.
I know that you may be thinking, "Come on, don't get carried away. Let's not get fanatical here." But if you're thinking that, you really haven't grasped what happens when you continue to go down a path that takes you right beside temptation. We tend to want verse 8 to say, "Keep a path near to temptation as long as you don't give in. Go near the door of temptation's house – that's okay. Just don't go in the door." But if we keep talking that path and going past that door, it's only a matter of time before we're not just walking by the door. Eventually we'll end up inside.
Developers in Florida sometimes build planned communities right on top of marshlands that were previously occupied by alligators. Then families with small children move in. That's good business for people like Kevin Garvey, who is a trapper licensed to remove nuisance alligators. He gets thousands of complaints of nuisance alligators a year, and in half a year he trapped 130. If you build your house on marshes, don't be surprised when an alligator shows up in your backyard. If you settle for a lifestyle that involves trouble, don't act surprised when you fall into sin.
So let me ask you: what tempts you in this area? It could be a friendship with somebody, and you know the emotional bonds are getting way too close, and that relationship is in danger of becoming an emotional or even a physical affair. It could be novels that you're reading that you find arouse passions in you. It could be somebody that you see regularly that you have thoughts about. You think that you can handle these temptations, so you're regularly taking a path right past the door.
For a lot of people temptation comes from media. If you go to a magazine stand you can't help but see images that are going to tempt us. The same goes for movies. Then there's the Internet. Some Christian counselors think that Christians are even more at risk for pornographic addiction because of the feelings of shame. In private, with little accountability, we can easily slip into viewing porn. There's an endless supply.
You need to identify whatever it is that is tempting you. Every person here should be able to identify the area or areas of temptation. There is no shame in admitting the temptation, by the way. It is not sinful to be tempted.
And then we have to take the additional step of taking evasive action, and it could mean something as radical as changing your job, breaking a friendship, canceling your Internet connection if need be. It could be as small as changing your newspaper, getting your wife to get rid of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition when it arrives, moving the computer to a common area of the house, or installing an Internet filter on your computer. For those of you who are dating it could mean not being alone together except in a public place. You know what tempts you; you need to take defensive and specific action. "Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house."
The first strategy is a defensive or reactive one.
The second strategy is more proactive.
The best defense against falling sexually is a vital relationship with your proper sexual partner, your spouse. Verses 15 to 20 are highly erotic. These verses tell us to find satisfaction and joy within our marriages. Verse 18 even says, "May your fountain be blessed." Sex is not something that's dirty. Sexual delight is a God-given gift. It's something that God blesses. Eroticism is actually celebrated in Scripture and blessed by God when it's enjoyed within the marriage relationship.
Notice in this passage that sex within marriage isn't only for procreation. It's for joy.
I realize that not everyone here is married, but for those who are: your sexual life is meant to be fulfilling and enjoyable for both of you. It's an area of our lives in which we can learn to love selflessly, serving the other. One of the best defenses against falling sexually is to maintain a vital sexual relationship with our spouse.
The writer saves the most powerful argument for last. He's talked about the human dangers. He's described what happens when we fall. He's given us too strategies for handling sexual temptation. But he finishes with this, in verses 21-23:
For your ways are in full view of the LORD,
and he examines all your paths.
The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them;
the cords of their sins hold them fast.
For lack of discipline they will die,
led astray by their own great folly.
God is watching. That means that the consequences are not just human and a matter of chance. God, who sees all things, lets sin punish itself.
I'd be guilty of pastoral malpractice if I stopped here. One of Satan's tricks in this area is to fill us with so much shame that we feel completely isolated, defeated, and embarrassed. Here's what Satan knows: sin thrives in the dark. It thrives when we are experiencing shame and secrecy. The solution is to bring our struggles out of the darkness and into the light, where we can experience God's incredible grace in this area.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul lists a number of sins, including sexual ones. He says that these are serious sins, and that those who engage in them – there's a whole list, not just sexual – will not inherit the kingdom of God. But then he says, "And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11). Through what Christ has done for us, and through the power of the Spirit, those of us who have fallen sexually can be washed, can be sanctified, can be justified, and can begin again.
Ted Roberts wrote a book called Pure Desire: How One Man's Triumph Over His Greatest Struggle Can Help Others Break Free. It's an excellent book. One day he spoke at a church in the middle of the Bible belt. The pastor told him to speak on some generic topic. Roberts said, "I would love to do that, but I will end up talking about real life – about the bondage, addiction and trauma that so many people are struggling with today. And I will challenge them to open up these areas of their lives to God so He can heal them and set them free."
The expression on the pastor's face changed a bit and he commented, "Well, I don't think we have a lot of folks dealing with the depth of issues that you're talking about. This isn't just the Bible belt part of the country. We call it the buckle of the Bible Belt."
But the pastor gave Roberts the green light, so he didn't pull any punches. At the end of the service, he gave an altar call for people struggling with sexual issues. No one moved at first. Then the dam broke, and they lined up three to four deep at the altar.
I'm not going to ask you to come forward. I am going to ask you though to take decisive action today, and to receive grace and help from God. Let's pray.
Is there anyone who is struggling with sexual issues today? Anyone who's fallen?
Jesus said to a woman caught in adultery, "I don't condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin."
I invite you to come to the grace of God. He knows your struggle, and he is more than willing to pour out his grace upon you, to wash you, to sanctify you, to justify you. Come to God and receive his grace and forgiveness. And then go and leave your life of sin.
Father, may every person here today receive the grace that abounds in Jesus Christ. Forgive us our debts. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Help us to find forgiveness and restoration in you, and to take practical steps to avoid the path that leads to sin.
Strengthen every marriage. Give us the courage to not only receive your grace, but to break out of the shame and to take very deliberate steps to avoid falling again.
We pray all of this in the powerful name of our Savior, who bore our sins at the cross. In his name we pray, Amen.