Monday, December 3, 2018

Directions for the Pursuit of Sexual Fidelity

"Deliver us from evil." So we pray, that we might escape temptation and avoid the destructive paths of evil. God graciously gives His people the desire and will to turn from evil, and He also instructs them how they might walk in the way that is good. As we have looked at how the book of Proverbs deals with sexual matters, we have considered two contrasting views of sexual intimacy (Sexual Autonomy vs. Sexual Fidelity) and their consequences (Motives to Sexual Fidelity). Now we turn to specific directions that Proverbs gives us so that we might be faithful to God’s intent for our bodies and reserve sexual intimacy to a context of covenant fidelity in marriage.

1. Embrace discipline, reproof, and wisdom. (Prov. 2:1-5, 16-19; 5:1-3, 12-13; 6:20-24; 7:1-5)

Sexual autonomy is folly. It is the result of neglecting wisdom. Autonomy says, "I can do it myself. I must shape my own destiny." But this pride leads to a fall. In chapters 2, 5, 6, and 7 of Proverbs, the young man is exhorted to pursue wisdom so that he will not fall into the crafty ways of the seductive woman (of course, this is also applicable for young women seeking to escape seductive men). If you want to arm yourself against sexual temptation, if you want to prepare for the conflict, then seek out wisdom. Seek maturity in general, as well as wisdom concerning this matter of sexual fidelity. Cherish discipline and correction so that you may stand in the day of battle. A solider goes through harsh discipline to prepare for the fight. Basic training is not pleasant. It is hard work. The solider gets challenged and corrected - but he learns what to do so that he will do it even under pressure. Likewise, study God’s word and be open to the correction and training of your parents and other wise mentors in your life. If instruction is not given to you, ask for it. It is for your own good. Do not end up like the young man who says “How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors. I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation.”

2. Fear the LORD (Prov. 3:7, 5:21, 8:13, 9:10).

Proverbs 5:21 - "For a man's ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths." 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Treating God seriously, with reverence and awe, is fundamental to having a proper view of life. The Christian does not fear God in a way that causes him to hide from God or to wish Him gone. Rather, the Christian fears God in a way that causes him to gladly honor and serve God as one who intrinsically deserves this reverence. This fear of God makes us aware that He is the most significant factor in life. It reminds us that we are finite, vulnerable, and weak, while He is infinite in wisdom, righteousness, and strength. 

Proverbs 3:7 - "Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil."
Proverbs 8:13 - "The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil."

3. Control your desire; fight the battle where it begins, in the heart. (Prov. 6:25, 7:10)

Proverbs 6:25 - “Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes”

Do not lust after someone who is not yours. Do not linger wistfully on his or her beauty in your heart. Beware especially of immodest and seductive appearances and looks. Avoid being enslaved by what you see and hear. Do not be easily led, like a horse by a bridle, by the appearance or flirtations of a stranger. Guard your thoughts and mind. Cut off the sin before it blossoms. Be disciples of Christ who attack sin in the heart, rather than Pharisees who merely focus on external actions and regulations. Our desires are not natural - they cannot be trusted to lead us in the right way. Repent of sinful desires and turn from them as soon as you can. Why dwell on something that is forbidden? Why desire that which is folly? Why frustrate yourself with desires that cannot be fulfilled?

For those who are married, this is relatively straightforward - there is only one whose beauty you ought to desire. All others are off limits. For those who are not married and desire to be married, this can be more complicated - what is lust and what is legitimate attraction to a potential spouse? But still you must not desire what is immoral, and you must remember that you only get to choose one person - restrain your desire until you know who that person is, not by mere feelings, but by mutual commitment in engagement and marriage. While the Song of Songs portrays increasing sexual desire between two people as they approach marriage, it also warns against stirring up or awakening love before it is proper. Hold your sexual desire to what is fitting for the current stage of your relationship, remembering that the desire cannot be fulfilled until the covenant is ratified.

4. Keep your way far from temptation. (Prov. 5:8, 7:7-9)

Even though we fight the battle in the heart, this does not mean we don't also take some wise precautions to avoid temptation. Proverbs 7:7-9 notes that it is folly for the young man to go by the house of the loose woman as it is getting dark. As Proverbs 5:8 says, “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house…”

This is especially true with people or things that intend to seduce you. You are not told to avoid all contact with the opposite sex or to go off and live in seclusion away from the world. But you are told to be wary of those who try to seduce you, to identify the temptation and avoid it. Avoid seductive people, seductive words, and seductive images.

With regard to the internet, this can require restrictions or accountability. With regard to relationships, some relationships may be safe, while others may require greater distance. Each person and family might have different boundaries and precautions. A wise person looks at his or her situation honestly and takes steps to avoid danger. Sometimes it may be difficult to evaluate your own situation, so receiving counsel may be wise.

5. Avoid being the temptation; encourage others in their pursuit of fidelity. (Prov. 7)

“The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 71)

Men and women, in your words, clothing, and gestures, let propriety, dignity, and humility be your guides. Avoid the ways of the Proverbs 7 woman: she is dressed to capture, she flatters, she is impudent and shocking, she is discontent with her family and home (Prov. 7:10-20). (And saying she is "dressed like a prostitute" does not mean, as some people argue, that she simply wore a veil - it is dark in Proverbs 7 and a veil is not required to hide her identity, and she does not seem too concerned about being seen either.) On the contrary, communicate your sexual fidelity by your words, clothing, and actions - keep private things private; do not shamefully expose your nakedness as our culture delights in doing. Today people think they have no responsibility to others. They believe that both propriety and shame are oppressive social constructs, that there ought to be no boundaries - you must dress however you want. Restraint in sexuality or even modest clothing is not just unnecessary, it is thought to be oppressive! But Christians ought to be different. Remembering the point about responsibility in my first post in this series, we should love our neighbor and dress and act with propriety and modesty.

6. If possible, get married and nourish a close union with your spouse. (5:15-20, 18:22)

Proverbs 18:22 - "He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD."

There is both human responsibility and divine sovereignty in this process. You must do the finding, but your spouse is still given by the LORD. Seek this blessing and pray for it. For various cultural reasons, it is harder now that it has been in times past.

Then make love to your spouse. Get carried away in her/his love (5:15-20).

“Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?”

This is a duty, something you owe your spouse. It ought to be as the closing line in the 1938 Robin Hood, when Robin Hood was commanded to marry Maid Marian and says: “may I always obey your orders with equal pleasure!” Yet, this duty can be a struggle for the average married couple amid the busyness of life. It needs to be cultivated and made a priority. As Paul says, “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor. 7:5). A dedication to regular sexual intimacy, even when it is inconvenient or undesired, strengthens the relationship, guards against temptations, and encourages you to resolve issues with your spouse quickly.

Remember that unmarried people do not have this recourse - use what you have been given and do not take it for granted. And then remember to pray for, appreciate, and encourage those who are single and seeking to walk a righteous path. We are in this together as one body seeking to love our Father.

7. Speak back a counter-narrative to temptation. (Prov. 5-7)

In Proverbs 5-7 there are two competing narratives. To fight temptation you must refute its insidious narrative.

The immoral tempter says: there are no bad consequences to sin. I have taken care of that. Fun and pleasure will follow this choice. It is adventurous. I have your best interest in mind, for I have eagerly sought you.

But the wise person responds: there are bad consequences to sin. The “fun” will pale in comparison with the lasting destruction it will cause. It is foolishness, not adventure. You have left God out of this equation. And you do not have my best interest in mind.

Because God loves you and has blessed you, listen to His warnings by avoiding sexual immorality and embracing sexual fidelity. God has forgiven you who have believed in Christ and repented of your sins. He has brought you close to Him as His children, and He speaks as a loving Father. Do not hurt yourself by spurning His counsel and rejecting His boundaries. Trust Him, and submit your mind, your thoughts, and your body to Him, your Creator and Redeemer.

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