RPM, Volume 16, Number 26, June 22 to June 28, 2014

Sex and Discretion

Proverbs 5:1-23

By D. Marion Clark


1 Timothy 6:10 states that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils." Our passage teaches us that the love of sexual pleasure is a root of all kinds of folly. Foolish men love money and commit evil to get it. Sex makes wise men foolish so that evil may be committed against them.


My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
incline your ear to my understanding,
2 that you may keep discretion,
and your lips may guard knowledge.

These opening verses reiterate the premise of the whole book of Proverbs — the high value of wisdom. It is something to be attentive to, to incline our ears towards. It is something to keep and to guard. Proverbs is written to teach wisdom. In the chapters leading up to this one, Solomon portrays wisdom as a woman calling out to the public to listen to her. And she is of great delight. Indeed, as 3:18 says, "She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed."

And so, we are to actively pursue wisdom. To incline one's ear to is to stretch out or reach out. We are not to be passive receivers, but actively going out to obtain understanding. And then once we have it, we are to keep it. Wisdom gives discretion — the skill of making right decisions. And then we are to think and speak with wisdom, articulating it well and passing it on.

Why is wisdom so critical? Because there is a lot of bad out there which is trying to suck us in to being bad. Solomon's first example of this is in chapter one where he warns the young man of getting caught with the wrong friends who are motivated by the love of money. Their love of money leads them to violence, which in the end will catch up to them. He will later in chapter two give the next illustration and warn of the forbidden woman who is brought up again in our passage. Let's look at his description of her.

3 For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil,

Interestingly enough the first characteristic of the forbidden woman is the way she communicates. This happens in each section where she is brought up: 2:16 — she is the "adulteress with her smooth words" 6:24 — "the smooth tongue of the adulteress" 7:5 — "the adulteress with her smooth words."

You can see then the contrast being set up. It is between vying ways of life — that offered by wisdom and the other offered by sensuality, or rather, folly. For the author goes on:

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.

An important point to make (which will be expanded on later in the chapter) is that what seems to be a choice between stoicism and sensual pleasure is really between deeper, lasting pleasure and bitter delusion. The forbidden woman's speech seems sweet and smooth, and for a while she may seem to deliver on her promises; but in the end her taste is bitter and even deadly. Why? Because she herself is a fool, and as Proverbs 10:10 notes, "a babbling fool will come to ruin." Unlike the wise and the righteous, she does not ponder the path of life. She does not contemplate what is truth and what does bring real life. Indeed, she is oblivious to where her life choices are taking her. And as Proverbs 13:20 warns, "the companion of fools will suffer harm." Join up with the forbidden woman, and you will join in with her destruction.

Solomon then gives guidance on how to respond to the forbidden woman.

7 And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
8 Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,

Keep away from her! If she is in your travel route, take a detour — a wide detour. Instead of matching your wisdom against her folly, just stay away. She will not listen to you. As Proverbs 18:2 explains, "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding." And 15:14 adds that "the mouths of fools feed on folly."

The more likely scenario is that she will lead you astray and to your ruin.

9 lest you 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,

What happens when you yield to the forbidden woman? You lose your honor, your good name. Perhaps you are young and earning a good name. You are accomplishing much good. Perhaps you are effectively ministering for God's kingdom, but you yield to the entices of the forbidden woman and become publicly shamed and thus disqualified for your work.

You lose your years of a fruitful life. The years of a meaningful, productive life are taken away as you waste them indulging in folly or suffering the consequences of your folly. Many good, talented men and women have had their talent wasted because of going near the door of her house.

You lose your possessions. Strangers — those who have no interest in you — reap your possessions. The lovers of money take from you your money. Understand that our society is saturated with sexual temptations, not because of mere sensual impulse, but because sex is a lucrative business. Like casinos, the sex industry is all about becoming wealthy off of your giving in to temptation. And of all the temptations, illicit sex is the easiest to exploit because sexual impulses makes fools of us all.

And you lose more than money. You may lose your spouse who leaves you for someone else. You may lose your family and your friends. You may lose your job. What was dear to you ends up with someone else.

And you lose your health. It is impossible not to connect rampant venereal disease with rampant sexual promiscuity. But there are other tolls on your health — anxiety, depression, the dangers connected with linking up with fools, to name a few.

And then comes the full taste of bitterness as you look back on your life with regret.

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."

These verses remind me of the old Roy Clark song, "Yesterday, When I Was Young."

"So many wayward pleasures lay in store for me,
And so much pain my dazzled eyes refused to see.
I ran so fast that time and youth, at last, ran out,
I never stopped to think what life was all about;
And ev'ry conversation I can now recall
Concerned itself with me, and nothing else at all.

I used my magic age as if it were a wand,
And never saw the waste and emptiness beyond.
The game of love I played with arrogance and pride,
And ev'ry flame I lit too quickly, quickly died;
The friends I made all seemed somehow to drift away
And only I am left on stage to end the play.
There are so many songs in me that won't be sung,
I feel the bitter taste of tears upon my tongue;
The time has come for me to pay for yesterday
When I was young."

Then what is the answer? Must we abandon passion for a lonely life or a boring one? That is the talk of fools, who contrast wisdom and righteousness with pleasure and passion. That is not the answer of Proverbs.

15 Drink water from your own cistern,
flowing water from your own well.
16 Should your springs be scattered abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
17 Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you.

The answer to illicit pleasure is legitimate pleasure, that which rightfully and delightfully belongs to you. Consider the counsel given to husbands.

18 Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19 a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.

I find this embarrassing to read publicly because it is so uninhibited in expressing the passion of legitimate, marital, sexual pleasure. Passion, even sexual passion, is not only not bad; it is greatly to be desired within the appropriate boundaries.

Solomon then summarizes his discourse.

20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden
woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
21 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.

Think what you are doing. If fear of what you may lose does not deter you; if the pleasure of your wife does not entice you, at least understand that you live before the eyes of the Lord. You get away with nothing. The Lord ponders all your paths. He sees everything, even into your heart. You will get caught, and when you do you will have no one to blame but yourself for your lack of discipline and your folly.


Let's consider now the lessons that Proverbs 5 is teaching us.

1. Give attention to wisdom and use discretion to keep it especially when it comes to sex. Remember, sex makes fools of us. The wisest men and women have yielded to complete folly because of it. They risk all that they prize and love for a momentary sensation. They believe outrageous lies and make the most foolish rationalizations for their behavior. Having made a virtue of caution all their lives, they throw caution to the wind because of hormones being stimulated. Men risk their marriages and careers over looking at some pictures; women risk their marriages and families because someone showed them some attention. As one young wife said to me in tears, "Doesn't God want me to be happy?" What was her supposed happiness that surely God wanted her to have? To leave a husband whom she characterized as kind and good, so that she could marry her "soul mate" with whom she was having an affair. We easily see the foolishness of such thinking, but it is the same kind that we all do when we do not use discretion and yield to the folly of illicit sexual pleasure.

Remember, there is a whole industry dependent upon luring you into illicit sexual pleasure. Besides the obvious putting images before you, it is devoted to using "smooth words" to convince you that out-of-bounds sex is good. And, by the way, it has succeeded, enough so that to be single and chaste is now grounds to impress upon you that you have emotional and relational problems that need curing. The industry is striving to move such thinking for married persons, and at least as won enough ground to portray adultery as legitimate for anyone in an unhappy marriage and even for a happy one.

But Scripture makes clear that yielding to illicit sexual pleasure — whether it be adultery or pornography or other means — is not only acting sinfully; it is acting stupidly. All the more, then, to obey the next lesson.

2. Keep away from temptation. Don't just say no; don't be in a place where you have to say no. If you are tempted by passing an illicit place such as an adult book or video store, change your route. If the TV or the computer tempts you to sin, get rid of them or make arrangements that keep you from access. Keep away from temptation.

If a neighbor or colleague is tempting, keep your distance; set boundaries; do not touch; be aware of intimate speech. You may need to take measures of not being alone with the other person. Let me note here. Most infidelities that I am aware of took place, not originally because of sexual desire, but for what seemed innocent reasons — merely enjoying one another's company, feeling comfortable around each other, sharing some common interest. Or because one person was lonely or not relating well with a spouse, and then comes along someone who is nice and personable and caring.

Keep away. Don't try to prove your strength to resist temptation. Don't try to reason with your tempters. Sex has made the wisest persons fools weeping with regret. It has led those strongest in faith astray. Keep away.

Keep away from temptation by using discretion with your tongue. Other than your spouse (and in good taste), do not engage in sexual humor with anyone at anytime — not with your friends and certainly not in the company of someone of the opposite sex. Do not flirt. Do not make "innocent" comments like "if I weren't married," or "if we were married or dating or in love." Each of these so-called light-hearted comments opens a door for fantasizing. They remove a layer — however small it may seem — of modesty. Keep away.

3. Devote yourself to your spouse, family; whatever is good. Husbands and wives, I have a question for you. When we came to the admonition to "rejoice in the wife of your youth," did some of you think, "if only you knew my wife (or husband)"? You would like to rejoice in your spouse if only he or she were desirable or would cooperate. First note the reality that the proverb recognizes here. Even the husbands and wives of desirable and cooperative spouses will yield to sexual temptations. Many a newly married person has been startled to learn that the same temptations that plagued him or her as a single remain in the marriage. It is true that the temptations grow stronger if the marriage is not pleasurable, but the answer is not in wishing that your spouse would get with the program. Rather it is in you being attentive to loving your wife or husband. Turn your attention away from alternatives to marital intimacy and focus on blessing your marriage.

If you are single, take the same principle and focus on taking delight in good, legitimate pleasures. Contrary to the foolish propaganda of the world, sex is not the only pleasure and passion of life; it does not even rank first. What does? I can think of a few things. Better than having sex is making a real difference in someone else's life for the good. Do you want to feel good about yourself and have happy memories that build up your self worth? Then do good deeds. The world will say that such good deeds are substitutes for missing out on sexual passion. We say the world turns to sex as a poor substitute for missing out on a meaningful life. C.S. Lewis would say that turning to sex is a cheap alternative to having the passion for God, which is placed in us as his creatures.

The point is that we are created to desire after something. We do need to have passion for something, and the foolish world says it is sex. And that is what it means. Say what anyone will about love, the world means sexual love at best or the mere animal act. But we know that we were created to have a passion for God.

But even here I want to be careful. God has made us physical beings and created us to live in a physical world. Our goal should not be to become spiritual beings who take no interest in physical pleasures; rather we delight in God through delighting in the legitimate physical pleasures he has given. Thus, the godly spouse will delight in physical intimacy with his or her spouse. The godly married person and the single will delight in the beauties of the created world, in doing good, in the joy of meaningful relationships. The answer to sexual sin is not mere restraint but pouring one's desires and passions into whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable (cf. Philippians 4:8).

4. Live consciously under the watch of God. You are living under his watch whether you wish to acknowledge it or not. Anytime you are tempted, understand that your Lord is watching you at that moment.

I want to close giving you the counsel I give to anyone who has come to me for counsel in this area. When you are tempted, and when you give in to temptation, yes, you should be convicted and repentant for your sin. But I want you to give thanks and praise to God. For is it not wondrous that when we come before God we find him sitting on the throne of grace? For our Lord Jesus Christ is our sympathetic High Priest interceding for us and covering us with his righteousness. His righteousness! Brothers and sisters, I tell you. Nothing will give you greater strength to battle against the temptations of illicit sex than to revel in the grace and mercy of our God that comes to us through Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing will give you greater resolve to live for the glory of God than to enjoy the pleasures of his grace. There is no passion greater than the passion that springs from redemption. And what we need is not so much daily determination to be good, as it is to daily reawake to the goodness of God shown to us through Jesus Christ. He is the Door not only to go near, but to pass through to the abundant and truly passionate life.

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