Adultery -what’s the big deal? (Proverbs 5; 6:20-35 & 7)

Aren’t Christians just a bit prudish? Why are they so hung up on sex? Why does God and the Bible want t stop me from having fun? Have you ever been asked those questions? Maybe you’ve asked them yourself?

If you have (either asked or been asked) then when we get to Proverbs 5, you might be thinking “Oh no, here we go again?” Does Proverbs have a “sex problem” or at least an “adultery problem.” You may be at least thinking “Well fair enough, mention it once, but why keep coming back to it?” You may even be thinking “What’s the big deal in the first place. Who are we to label something as adultery and judge it as sin? Surely all that matters is that you love someone and follow your heart. Love changes, grows, fades and dies. Sometimes new love meets us in unexpected places. Nothing lasts forever etc.”So why does adultery keep coming up in Proverbs (in fact we’ve already met the immoral woman in chapter 2 v 16-19) and why does it matter so much?

Here are some thoughts

Marriage Matters

In Proverbs we find practical wisdom for life. We are told that when we follow the advice found here then it will help us to live a good, fulfilling and fruitful life. Wisdom is a moral quality not an intellectual quality. It’s about knowing to do right.  This wisdom is for all of life because we have a God who cares about the whole of life. So the Bible talks about bringing up children, going to work, helping the poor, submitting to the government and those in authority, love, attraction, sex and relationships.  It’s no surprise then that God’s Word talks to us about marriage.

Marriage matters pastorally

In Genesis 2, we discover that marriage was part of God’s plan for us as human beings. It does not mean that everyone will get married (Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7 that he was single, that some people are given singleness as one of God’s good gifts and that there are times and contexts where singleness may be better than marriage for some). However, it does mean that generally speaking, marriage is a good thing for society and for individuals.

Adam and Eve are made to complement each other, to support each other. Marriage provides a stable context for children to be born and grow up. Marriage provides companionship and intimacy. So it is a sad thing when a marriage breaks up, a terrible thing to wilfully choose to break or cause the breakup of a marriage. Marital breakdown causes pain to the couple involved, lasting scars for their children and sadness and distress to friends and family.  It’s no surprise then that adultery is portrayed in such stark terms.

“In the end she is as bitter as poison.”[1]

“Sleeping with another man’s wife will cost you your life.”[2]

Now part of this refers to the literal reality of punishment. The Old Testament Law took adultery seriously. It was not just a private, civil matter.[3] But there is also the reality that destroying your own marriage will lead to ruin and shame.

“Stay away from her! Don’t go near the door of her house! If you do, you will lose your honour and will lose to merciless people all you have achieved.”[4]

 

Marriage matters legally

Here’s just a little side point. Because marriage is important, the legal institution is important too. Marriage is a good thing for all people, not just believers (its part of what we call common grace). So when a state upholds and honours marriage then that’s something to celebrate.

A publically, legally recognised marriage is not just a piece of paper. It matters. A legal marriage ensures that you are recognised properly as man and wife. It means that the wider community witnesses your covenant and holds you to account. It means that you have legal rights. This isn’t just about financial benefits through tax breaks but about ensuring that widows are looked after properly when their husbands die (and vice versa). The legal side of things matter because the Bible tells us that the two become “one flesh.” In other words, as a married couple you should in effect be able to operate as one legal person, to speak for each other and represent each other.  The legal element is also a safe guard against adultery. It clarifies that a couple belong to each other, it means that when a relationship is on the rocks then in law, it is wrong for other predators to be sniffing around looking to jump in for their own benefit because until a divorce happens, the couple are still legally married.

So be alert to the danger of sexual temptation

If marriage matters, then husbands and wives have a responsibility to be faithful to one another. This means that they need to guard their minds and hearts. Negatively, it means being aware of and fleeing from temptation. Positively, it means that we should work and enriching and growing our love for one another in marriage.

Those who are not married should also honour marriage too. They should not do anything to harm a marriage and they should not be jealous of a married couple’s relationship –in fact, that relationship is for everyone’s benefit. In other words, one of the best things that your married friend can do for you is to make sure that their marriage is strong and healthy. This applies to children too. One of the best things your parents can do for you is prioritise their own relationship. Don’t begrudge your parents their time together. Don’t play them off against each other.  You will benefit in the long run.

Faithfulness matters

Or in other words, marriage matters theologically too. In the Bible, we see that marriage is a picture of God’s relationship with his people (see especially Ephesians 5:22-32 in the New Testament). In the Old Testament, we see God presented as the faithful husband who loves his wife, Israel. Sadly, God’s people were unfaithful and idolatrous.

So when we see the image of the immoral woman seducing someone into adultery in Proverbs, it isn’t just about marriage and adultery. Rather, Solomon presents us with a picture of how we can be ensnared away from faithfulness to God. In fact, we see here another contrast between wisdom personified as a prudent and faithful woman and folly as the flirtatious, unfaithful, immoral and ultimately destructive one.

Back last year when we looked at Jesus’s teaching on divorce and re-marriage we discovered how faithfulness has a broader application. Faithfulness is about keeping covenant commitments; it’s about loyalty to friends and employers. There’s also something there about commitment to your local church. As I commented back then, too often people end up “dating the church” they pick and choose like consumers, they move around at whim looking for something to meet their needs. Sadly this means that they never benefit from being rooted in a local fellowship, accountable to others, growing in relationships and gifting.  It’s reckoned that long term pastorates generally speaking have a positive impact on the life and health of a local church. I kind of think that this probably applies to long term church membership too! By the way, there are good reasons for moving churches. These include

Work, family, study means that I have to move somewhere else

God specifically calls me to serve him in another context.

In those situations, we can expect there to be corporate discernment. In other words, the leaders and members of your home church will recognise that God is moving you on. When this happens,, churches should not be tight fisted and try to hold onto people. It’s good to pray for them, set them apart and commission them as they move on.

Sadly there are other occasions when it’s necessary to move on usually this is when a church is clearly dead or actively dying. What do I mean by this? Well, we all go through bad times and good times. Sometimes we feel our church is on fire, sometimes we feel it’s gone a bit cold. Sometimes we don’t feel that the teaching r worship is quite what is could be and sometimes there are arguments and divisions in the church. My general advice here is that you should normally stick with the church (I say general because there may be pastoral circumstances where someone simply cannot cope with conflict and may benefit from being somewhere else even if for a short time before going back). However, what I’m really talking about here is a church that no longer loves God’s Word, God’s people or the lost and so is not even attempting to teach, care, evangelise. I’m talking about churches where false teaching has been allowed to infiltrate or where church discipline is simply ignored.  Then it’s time to get out. But if you are in a Gospel hearted church then stick in and love it and pray for it.

But these types of faithfulness as important as they may be are still side points. The big point here is that we, individually and corporately are called to remain faithful to God and to His Word. This means that we should not look for our source of salvation or satisfaction anywhere but in Christ. We should not look to our status, job, community, even our church but to Christ alone.

Again we are reminded that just as the adulterous woman may appear appealing and seductive,[5] so too the alternatives to the Gospel. These seductions may come in various ways including:

  1. Preferring to agree with secular philosophy which is more likely to guarantee me intellectual credibility
  2. Desiring hedonism and instant gratification
  3. Neat religious systems that promise me if I follow the right formula then I will be okay.

However, just as with literal adultery, so these seductions will lead to death not life. The gospel alone guarantees life, forgiveness and true freedom.

Conclusion

Are you stating faithful, in your marriage, workplace, friendships, church? Are you staying faithful to Christ, listening to his word, loving Him with all your heart? In him we will find rest, joy, safety.

 

 

 

 

[1] Proverbs 5:4.

[2] Proverbs 6:26.

[3] See Proverbs 6:29.

[4] Proverbs 5:8-9.

[5] Proverbs 5:3).

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