A Well-Channeled Passion: God’s View of Sex
A sermon on Proverbs 5, 6:20-7:27 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 10/16/05
Why are we sexual creatures? Why did God create us male and female, and give us the potential of great joy in sexual union? Is satisfying sexual desires a key means – or the key means – to attain happiness? Certainly our culture – from advertisements to magazines to self-help books – communicates that message.
What is God’s view of sex?
Let me begin answering these questions by telling you a story that seems to have nothing to do with sexuality: Margaret Clarkson was born in 1915. Her life has been full of pain. Born with serious migraines, her first complete sentence as a little girl was, “My head hurts.” At three she came down with rheumatoid arthritis. She desired marriage, but no one was ever interested. She grew to become a dedicated teacher, loving children, but by age 58 the pain in her back became so severe that she could no longer teach. At 90, she lives today in the oblivion of what I presume is Alzheimer’s, unable to recognize or respond to those who visit her.
Margaret authored the lyrics of the song we just sang. She started writing hymns after discovering early in life that “during long hours of solitude and weakness, repeating hymns and Scriptures…could help [her]…withstand the ravages of pain.” Listen afresh to these words we sang, now knowing the life experiences of the woman who wrote them:
O Father, You are sovereign
In all affairs of man;
No powers of death or darkness
Can thwart Your perfect plan.
All chance and change transcending,
Supreme in time and space,
You hold your trusting children
Secure in Your embrace.
O Father, You are
The Lord of human pain,
Transmuting earthly sorrows +>
To gold of heavenly gain,
All evil overruling,
As none but Conqueror could,
Your love pursues its purpose—
Our souls’ eternal good.
A biographer writes:
Margaret Clarkson seemingly experienced every form of suffering one could experience; a broken home, financial strains, loneliness and isolation, and constant physical pain; however through it all she continued to place her faith and trust in her savior. During a life of trials she sensed God’s grace and mercy and communicated that to others by providing the church with dozens of hymns testifying to his sovereignty, love, and power.
Why am I beginning a sermon on sexuality by talking about Margaret Clarkson’s suffering? Why use as an illustration a woman who never had a sexual relationship?
Because Margaret Clarkson learned the reality behind sexuality. Like all of God’s gifts, God gives the gift of sexual intimacy in order to point to Himself. Margaret Clarkson never received the gift of sexual intimacy. But she knows the reality: She knows the One to whom sexual intimacy points.
It’s logical for you to raise the question here: Does sexual intimacy point to Christ? Or is sexual intimacy an end in and of itself?
The Bible answers this question again and again, in both the Old and the New Testament. In the Old Testament, God’s relationship to His people is compared to a marriage – sometimes to a joyous marriage, sometimes to one in which the wife, Israel, is an unfaithful adulteress. Ezekiel 16 is one profound, lengthy example. And in the New Testament, remember Ephesians 5:31-32. Here Paul quotes Genesis 2:
31 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Marriage – including sexual union – is a picture of Jesus and the church. That is, human marriage and the joy of sex within human marriage provide us with a key picture of the joy and intimacy that characterizes the relationship of the church to Jesus Himself. As John Piper says:
God created us in his image, male and female, with personhood and sexual passions so that [at His incarnation] there would be these powerful words and images to describe the promises and the pleasures of our covenant relationship with him through Christ. . . .
God made us powerfully sexual so that he would be more deeply knowable.
So then, let us approach our text today with the biblical understanding that our sexual nature points to Christ – and let us thus learn today about Him even as we learn more about how to channel our sexual desires biblically.
Today we are considering Proverbs 5, the last half of Proverbs 6 and all of chapter 7. We will use chapter 5 as an outline under four headings, bringing in verses from the other chapters where applicable:
God gave us powerful sexual passions. Without care, they become unchanneled, overflowing the banks God created, and flooding the rest of our lives with effects more devastating than Hurricane Katrina. Let’s look at how we become tempted to allow these passions to control us. Chapter 5 provides us with a brief statement of the appeal of the adulteress:
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil. Proverbs 5:3
Chapter 7 elaborates on this, giving us an example of her smooth words:
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. Proverbs 7:6-20
How does she persuade this young man? She uses four arguments. Verse 10 tells us that she is “wily of heart,” so all of these may well be lies. But this is how she entices her victim:
1) “It’s fine with God.”
The first sentence she speaks concerns the sacrifices she made that day. It’s not completely clear what she’s referring to. Possibly these sacrifices were part of a Canaanite fertility cult that would require sexual intercourse to complete the ritual. That may be her excuse for inviting this young man into her house. Or possibly these were sacrifices in the temple. In any event, the temptress is implying that this activity is fine with the divine powers. She has already taken care of that. It’s as if she says, “Don’t worry about God – he’s on my side. I sacrificed to him!”
2) “You are really special.”
In verse 15, she emphasizes how special he is to her again and again. “I have come out to meet you, to seek you, . . . I have found you.” She acts as if she has thought only of him – that he is her one and only love.
Is this true? In this case, we know it is not. There is nothing special about him. For verse 12 tells us she “lies in wait” as she looks for her next victim. He happened to be the first likely candidate to come along.
Why does she lie, saying that he is so special? Because sexuality should be focused on one special individual. Sexuality should be all about you and you alone. Sexual expression should be aimed at one person, a husband, a wife, for a lifetime. Thus, illicit sexual partners often try to mimic that true intimacy; they often speak words of care and concern aimed at the other. But this is only a façade. The act itself is impersonal. Your body is a tool. You are nothing.
3) “This is the deepest pleasure you could ever experience.”
She highlights the physical joys of a night with here in verses 16-18, describing both the bed sheets and smells she has arranged. Then she zeroes in on the lovemaking itself. The clear subtext is, “This is true ecstasy! Nothing else can compare! Join me!”
4) “No one will ever know!”
In verses 19 and 20 she claims her husband is away. Thus, she assures the young man that there will be no consequences of this action. God is appeased, the husband is out of the picture. He just needs to follow her.
These lies have been repeated again and again and again throughout history. And all four continue to be effective today. Haven’t you heard them?
Most of these lies are stated in every adulterous relationship. But these same lies crop up in a wide range of sexual sins, including any sexual encounter outside of marriage. These lies even arise with only slight modifications in the temptation to private sexual sins, like lust and the use of pornography – for example, fantasizing about the special love some object of desire has for you. The main difference is that, with private sexual sins, you are both the deceiver and the one deceived. You are doubly a fool.
The author of Proverbs deals explicitly with all four of these arguments. We’ll pair them together. Consider initially the first and fourth arguments:
“It’s ok with God,” and “No one will ever know.”
Proverbs 5:21 addresses both these arguments:
For a man's ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths.
She may have lied about her husband being away. And even if he is away, he may well find out. Many, many “secret” encounters become common knowledge. Sometimes, those who promise love and intimacy and secrecy tell all, as soon as they come to believe that telling is in their personal interest. After all, the most adulterer lie in order to make the liaison possible; thus, why believe the adulterer’s promise of secrecy? Why should he be true to you, when he’s not being true to his wife?
But regardless of whether or not the adultery becomes known among men, Proverbs 5:21 tells us that God sees all. God knows all that you do. As Jesus says,
Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. Luke 12:2-3
Someone will always know, for God always knows. And He disapproves. No matter how persuasive the argument, sexual encounters outside of marriage are never sacred.
As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:
You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Let’s now turn to the other two arguments: “You are really special – I love you!” “This is the deepest pleasure!”
Proverbs 7:22-27 shows that the end result of adultery is not great pleasure, nor is it feeling special, achieving true intimacy. Instead, the end result of adultery is the destruction of pleasure:
7:22 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. 24 And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. 25 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, 26 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.
Once again, we encounter the image of two paths, two ways: The way of life and the way of death. The adulterer is on the way to death. The father reminds the son that historically, many, many great and prominent men have been destroyed even in earthly terms by lust – “her slain are a mighty throng.” But most importantly, her path ends in death, eternal death.
So make no mistake: The path of seeming pleasure is the path to death. As verses 22 and 23 show, adultery leads to a trap – a trap as effective as a bird’s snare. When you are in an adulterous relationship, you’re not special. You’re not loved. Instead, you are trapped. Used. Violated. And in the end, the path to death is not pleasant. Instead, it is torturous.
Chapter 5:4-14 elaborates on this:
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. 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, 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, 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."
Once again, as we saw several weeks ago, the path to death looks promising, enjoyable, and enticing at first – but around the corner are the grizzly bears. Or much worse. The author here assures us that that path leads to the sword, to loss of honor, to loss of time, to loss of strength – to pain, regret, and eventual ruin at the end of life.
Chapter 6:27-35 provides us with yet more images of the destruction that follows the adulterer:
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 Wounds and dishonor will he get, 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.
Punishment for the adulterer is inevitable. Fire and coals burn. You cannot handle them or walk on them without damaging yourself. In the end, you destroy yourself, as verse 32 says.
The logical relationship between the sin and its punishment is brought out through a Hebrew pun. Verse 29 says, “None who touches her will go unpunished.” The word translated “touches” appears again in its noun form in verse 33, this time translated “wounds”: “Wounds and dishonor he will get.” Thus, no one who touches her caressingly will fail to get touched harshly in punishment.
Furthermore, note verses 33 and 35: “His disgrace will not be wiped away,” and the wronged husband “will accept no compensation.” The thief in verses 30 and 31 can pay his victim back. He may need to pay back what he stole seven times over, but it’s possible for him to give sufficient compensation to put matters right. Not so the adulterer. He can never make restitution. Nothing he can do will make up for what he has done. The sin cannot be reversed. He must live with that sin the rest of his life.
Thus the four arguments made by the adulteress are only enticements, only lies. Don’t give in. Don’t yield.
For the path of sexual encounters outside of marriage is the path leading to the absence of joy.
Don’t walk on it.
Over the centuries, some Christians, seeing these truths, have reacted by saying, “Sex is so dangerous that we must bridle all sexual desire! We should only engage in sexual relations to become pregnant; otherwise we should abstain. Sexual desire is too dangerous! Those rushing waters are too powerful.”
That is not the biblical position. God created sex for our good and His glory. God designs sexual expression in marriage to be the source of deep joy. Proverbs 5:15-20 makes this explicit. As in Song of Songs 5:1, the author compares married sexual relations to drinking deeply from pure water:
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 have no strangers with you. 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. 20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? Proverbs 5:15-20 (ESV, except 17b, which is Waltke)
The father compares the son’s wife to three sources of water:
· A cistern – that is, an underground storehouse of water, saved up for use in the dry season (verse 15);
· A flowing well – presumably artesian, always bubbling up, always available, always pure (verse 15);
· A fountain, continually providing clear water (verse 17).
With this source of pure water available, why should you go and drink water running down the middle of the street? Why drink water that is full of refuse and dirt and impurities? That’s foolish, for you’ve got the perfect drink at home! Verse 17 underlines this point: Your water at home is yours – you need no strangers.
Verses 18b and 19 continue the image of drinking, but here the father becomes more explicit in speaking of the joys of married sexuality. Note the three commands he gives his son:
Here the father describes the path of life. Once again, the path to life may look difficult and challenging at first. The father here may be speaking to his unmarried son. In this case, he in counseling a period of abstinence until marriage. Surely the other path, the path of easy sex, the invitation to sexual fulfillment today, looks sweeter, more pleasant. But the father says, “That’s not the path to joy. There is great joy in the path of life. Pursue it! Pursue true joy!”
Note also that the father is not saying, “Have sex occasionally to produce children.” Instead, he is saying, “Delighting in your wife is right! This is what God intends! He gives you passions – channel them towards your wife! You must develop strong passions for your wife. This is God’s commandment.”
Some of you might be thinking, “Why does the father even speak these commands? Surely having passion for one’s wife comes naturally. There’s no need for a command!”
But there is a need for such commands, as anyone who has been married for decades can tell you. Just as we must work to avoid passion for others, we must work to channel our passions for our wife or husband. The command God gives us here is to cultivate strong passions, and then channel them all in one direction.
So husbands and wives: Help your spouse to channel his or her passions to you alone. Study each other. Learn about each other. Help each other. Communicate. Do your best to be attractive. Do your best not to be unattractive. Share little moments of intimacy when you find yourselves alone. Make time to be alone. Prepare for sexual touch by touching each other non-sexually often, even in the presence of others.
Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 7:4:
For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
Paul and the author of Proverbs describe complete abandonment of each to the other. God holds out the possibility of great joy in marriage in this life, for those who keep their passions in check prior to marriage, and who dig deep channels to let those passions flow vigorously within marriage.
How does such a relationship come about? How can you keep your passions in check prior to marriage, and keep those passions well-channeled within marriage?
The first way: Listen! As 5:1-2, 6:20-24, and 7:1-5 tell us, we need to listen to the voice of wisdom, as provided to us through His Word, and often transmitted to us through our parents. Even today you are hearing biblical wisdom. So listen!
Second, we saw two weeks ago (sermon) the importance of never even beginning to walk down the path to death. At that time, we considered 6:1-19 – which, of course, lies right in the middle of the sections on sexuality. This passage warns against being lazy, or acting as security for a loan to a stranger. These seem minor – but we saw that these are first steps on the path to becoming what God hates. So we drew the lesson: There are no little sins! So don’t take the first steps! Any deviation from the path to life is a step on the path to death!
This lesson applies doubly to sexual sins. Anyone who has been captured by sexual sin at any point in his life has heard these lies: “Just take a little step in this direction. It’s ok; it’s no big thing.” Whether it’s a bit of indulgence in lusting after pictures of clothed women that is the first step to pornography, or flipping channels in the hotel room “just to see what is on” that is the first step to watching the sexually explicit movie, or stepping into a bar “just because” you’re bored and want to get out that is the first step to an illicit liaison - in all these cases, little, seemingly insignificant steps lead to the path to death.
That’s way Proverbs 5:8 tells us: “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.” God is saying, “These desires are strong. I made them that way for your good. So don’t foolishly test your defenses. Don’t even go near the temptation.”
Chapter 7 gives us the example of a young man who violates this injunction. As verse 8 tells us, he passes “along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house.” That’s his first error. Had he not done that, he would never have fallen into her clutches. Thus verse 25 tells us,
Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths.
My friends - my brothers in particular but also my sisters (researchers now estimate that one-third of all users of internet pornography are female): The joyous abandonment of self to each other found in biblical marriage is impossible if either partner is lusting for others. The deep, intimate desire for each other found in biblical marriage is much harder to develop if either partner has been engaged in sexual sin prior to marriage.
Listening to these commandments leads to life, to true joy. These commandments guard and protect us from the path of death. We need to keep this wisdom before us when faced with the ever-present temptations to sexual sin in our culture.
God offers us great joy in sexual expression within marriage. Why then even go near to the path that leads to death? Stay far from it!
So we’ve seen the temptations to sexual sin, how each argument refuted by God’s Word. We’ve seen that sex outside of marriage leads to death, not joy. We’ve seen that sex within marriage can be a source of great joy, of deep intimacy.
So is the lesson: “Seek fulfillment by guarding your sexuality before marriage, and aim to have a deeply fulfilling sexual life within marriage”? Is that the lesson?
We can hope for marriage, and a wonderful sexual relationship within marriage. We should guard ourselves prior to marriage, knowing that this is the path to joy. We can pray for a deeply satisfying marriage.
But God does not guarantee us life, or health, or happy marriages. We could lose sexual function, or lose all feeling, or even lose life on the day of our marriage. Or we could never be married.
God is not bound by any rule that says, “Stay sexually pure and you will have great sexual satisfaction.” Instead, what does God promise?
Consider Mark 10:29-30:
Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
My friends, there is no loss of joy in following Christ.
But Jesus promises: “If you follow Me, you will have a hundredfold more joy now, in this time, in this life, than you would ever have had apart from me. And then I will give you eternal life – with Me: the greatest possible joy!”
Do you see how this works? How you will have more joy in this life even if you lose your possessions? Even if you never have that deeply satisfying sexual relationship you thought you needed?
There is more joy with Christ, because you see all you now have as a gift from the one who loves you more than you can imagine. And so you rejoice 100 times more in the little you have than you would have rejoiced in the abundance that you gave up to follow Him.
My friends, abandoning yourself sexually to your loving spouse is wonderful. But that is not the goal. That is not the ultimate joy. That is a pointer to the joy of Christ’s love for you! Indeed – that intimacy is impossible apart from abandonment to Christ. As Paul Tripp writes:
People whose eyes are just on the physical bread will end up devouring each other because the physical bread alone cannot ever satisfy. You will be a parasite on your mate, sucking his or her blood: but he or she will never, ever, give you enough. . . .
But if you're living for spiritual bread, for a deeper communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, then your marriage relationship becomes a wonderful place to live that out.
When two people are committed to Christ and long to know him better, more fully, and more deeply, they will experience unity and intimacy that unbelievers cannot know. Their lives will be transformed into expressions of praise and worship and glory to him.
Margaret Clarkson has had a pain-filled life in many ways. But she knows her Savior. The joy of knowing Him, the joy of seeing all around her as precious gifts from Him, far outweighs whatever loss she has experienced in never being in good health, in never being married.
The joy of deeply satisfying sexual intimacy within marriage is possible for many here this morning. So:
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness – and the deepest joy will be added to you.
On the other hand, the joy of such intimacy within marriage is not possible for some, and may not happen for others. You may never have that intimacy – but you can have the reality to which sexual joy points: The reality of knowing Jesus Christ, of being His bride, for all eternity.
So rejoice in Him! Seek Him! And know the greatest joy there is.
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 10/16/05. The Margaret Clarkson hymn, “O Father, You are Sovereign,” is copyright Hope Publishing Company, 1980. The details of her life are taken from http://www.wheaton.edu/learnres/ARCSC/exhibits/Clarkson/ . The John Piper quote is from his sermon of September 24, 2004, “Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, Part 1,” available online at http://www.desiringgod.org/library/topics/sex/sex_supremacy_christ_pt1.html . The Paul Tripp quote is from Marriage: Whose Dream (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1999), an excellent Resources for Changing Lives pamphlet available from www.ccef.org. Bruce Waltke’s The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Eerdmans, 2004) was exceptionally helpful throughout. Apart from this commentary, I would have taken a completely different approach to preaching this series. For his translation of 5:17, see p. 304. Waltke also points out the pun in 6:29 and 33.
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