The title for this sermon is Faithfulness and Adultery. We are at the start of a new series in the book of Proverbs and I would like to take a look at Proverbs chapters 5 to 7. In these chapters Solomon presents the wisdom of faithfulness and the foolishness of adultery. And I am going to take those two ideas as my main headings – first, the Foolishness of Adultery and second, the Wisdom of Faithfulness.
Each of us approaches this topic from one of several different positions. You might be the sort of person who thinks that adultery is not something that is ever going to be a problem for you. You might even go a stage further than that and feel passionately that adultery is wicked, destructive, and those who participate in sexual activity with another person’s wife or husband deserve whatever punishment is coming their way.
Others know their own weakness. They know that they could fall. They think of the people they know, or have heard of, who have fallen into the trap of adultery and they think to themselves “there but for the grace of God go I”. They are conscious of Jesus words as recorded in Matthew chapter 5:28 … anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Others know they have fallen – married men and women who know that they have not been as loyal to their spouse as they should have been. Some who have sought a deep friendship with a person other than their wife or husband, others who have allowed the impersonal images of pornography to engulf them, or even those who have had sexual intercourse with a person other than their spouse.
I am also aware that there are some who are feeling hurt and betrayed. They have been on the receiving end of the destructive consequences of adultery.
It is also true that lots of people in the church are not married. Yet single people in the church also have a responsibility to uphold and support marriage.
Whatever our situation, there is a message in God’s word the Bible for each of us. This message is relevant. It is useful to be reminded of the foolishness of adultery and the wisdom of faithfulness, even if we think we already know, and especially when we are in a position to hear it. We must come to this book of Proverbs with humility, but in addition we must come with a sense of understanding God’s grace and forgiveness.
Let me also say by way of introduction, that the wisdom of the book of Proverbs was given in a culture where men were clearly seen to be the head of their household and responsible for providing spiritual and moral direction to their family. The first section of the book of Proverbs is addressed to a son and is a message of wisdom from a father, namely Solomon.
The chapters we are looking are presented in male language, from a male perspective, applied to a male situation. However that does not mean that the message only applies to men. Rather the wisdom that these chapters contain has its origin in God and transcends gender. If you are a woman you might have to work a bit harder at applying what you hear, but the wisdom still applies.
So let’s look at what Solomon has to say. First, the foolishness of Adultery.
THE FOOLISHNESS OF ADULTERY
Adultery is seductive
There are a number of points I would like to draw out under this first heading. The first is that adultery is seductive. Adultery is seductive. There is something attractive, desirable, that causes men and women to commit adultery. There is a reason why people are unfaithful to their spouse. Please take a look at what Solomon writes, from verse 1 of chapter 5:
1 My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight,
2 that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge.
3 For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil;
4 but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.
6 She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths are crooked, but she knows it not.
Solomon says that “the lips of an adulteress drip honey”. There is something that appears sweet and attractive. For a guy it might be that this woman looks particularly striking, there is an air of mystery about her, she is dressed provocatively, there is an opportunity for taking a risk and trying something new. For a woman it might be that the guy is good looking, pleasant, interesting, caring, good at listening. Either way it seems like a better option than the current husband or wife and having a relationship with this person is attractive.
The world we live in bears out the truth of the fact that adultery is seductive. The newspapers contain articles about people who have committed adultery, prominent Christian leaders are discovered to have had an affair, politicians’ careers are put in jeopardy as scandal is uncovered. Our decadent western society at times condemns and at times encourages it. The emphasis on sex in advertising, and the promotion of personal self gratification, don’t help. Sexual sin has its attractions. Adultery is seductive.
Adultery is destructive
But adultery is also destructive. That is my second point in respect to the foolishness of adultery. Adultery is destructive. All too often lives are ruined, families are split apart and the precipitating factor has been an affair. Adultery has unleashed its destructive consequences. Take a look at what Solomon says about adultery in verse 7 and following of chapter 5.
7 Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say.
8 Keep to a path far from her [the adulteress], do not go near the door of her house,
9 lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel,
10 lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich another man’s house.
11 At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent.
12 You will say, “How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction!
13 I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors.
14 I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly.”
Solomon is issuing a warning to his son. He says that the end result of committing adultery is personal and social destruction.
In Bible times it seems that a jealous husband could extract much wealth from a man who committed adultery with his wife. He could reduce the guilty person to poverty and perhaps even to slavery. If caught, the adulterer would suffer great personal loss – giving their best strength to others, loosing their wealth.
But there was also the social stigma. If not stoned to death, the adulterer at the very least would have been despised and rejected in the community. They would have lost their position or standing among the Jewish people.
The person Solomon is describing in these verses looks back on his life and realises that that one adulterous affair, that one act of indiscretion totally ruined his life. It was seductive for a moment, it brought temporary pleasure, but the end result was destruction.
It is of course still true today that adultery is destructive. Realising that in itself might be enough to keep you from giving in to the temptation of an extra marital affair. I read recently of a woman who after leaving her husband for another man expressed her regret and said that she wished her friends had warned her of just how much it would cost. She saw the attraction of a new lover, she focussed on the needs that would be met, but she ignored the terrible cost involved.
Adultery today more often than not leads to broken homes, endless hurt, jealousy, loneliness, disputes over children, child support payments. You might think to yourself, just one fling, this new person has so much more to offer. But you are playing with fire. Look at what Solomon says in chapter 6 verse 25 to 29:
25 Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes,
26 for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life.
27 Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?
28 Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?
29 So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no-one who touches her will go unpunished.
God’s word reminds us that adultery is destructive.
Adultery is significant
In fact it seems that in some ways adultery is more significant than other sins. Its consequences are harder to overcome. And that is the third point I want to make about the foolishness of adultery. I want us to realise that adultery is significant.
Every sin that we commit cuts us off from God, and apart from the saving work of Christ on the cross we would be without hope. But sexual sin is one of those areas in which the stakes seem to be extra high. The consequences of adultery are nearly always higher than for gossip, or telling a lie for instance.
Christ’s blood is sufficient to cleanse us from all sin. There is no sin that you have committed that is unforgivable. If you have fallen sexually, then turn to Jesus and he will forgive you. He promises that. However the consequences do not necessarily go away. Adultery even when forgiven still has knock-on effects. That is why I make the point that adultery is significant. Look at what Solomon writes from verse 30 of chapter 6.
30 Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving.
31 Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.
32 But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself.
33 Blows and disgrace are his lot, and his shame will never be wiped away;
34 for jealousy arouses a husband’s fury, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge.
35 He will not accept any compensation; he will refuse the bribe, however great it is.
It is hard to undo the consequences of adultery. The stakes are very high. A person might be forgiven for stealing a piece of bread to feed his hungry family, but the taking of another man’s wife or husband is not so easily passed over.
You perhaps know that first hand. Whether you have been the perpetrator or one of the victims you know something of the significant consequences. In fact I suspect that if your life has been affected by the sin of adultery you will probably need some help to work through it.
You might like to come and talk to one of us on the staff or attend a group like Celebrate Recovery that helps men and women work through some of the pain or deal with wrong patterns of behaviour. You will probably need help to accept God’s forgiveness or to extend that forgiveness to others.
If you have not experienced the pain associated with sexual sin, then you are very fortunate but please listen well to this message from Proverbs. As we relate to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ lets all be careful to do so in a way that honours and upholds marriage. Whether you are single or married please be careful in what you say, how you act.
It can be things like body language, how close you stand to people, the way you touch someone of the opposite sex. Married men and women probably do need to be a bit less physical than single people in relating to others. Even humour and joking with other people at your spouse’s expense can weaken the marriage bond just that little bit. If you are married your relationship with your spouse should be stronger than with anyone else. If you are single please help married couples to strengthen their relationship.
In a church it might appear that everyone is sorted, that marriages are all wonderful, that no one is about to fall into adultery, but that is not really the case. That is why we need a sermon on faithfulness and adultery. We need to hear the wisdom of Proverbs while we can listen.
It is foolish to commit adultery. Adultery is seductive, but it is also destructive and significant. Perhaps the words of chapter 7 are worth hearing if you are wondering about giving in to an area of sexual temptation. Listen to the picture that Solomon paints. Chapter 7 from verse 6:
6 At the window of my house I looked out through the lattice.
7 I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men, a youth who lacked judgment.
8 He was going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house
9 at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in.
10 Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.
11 (She is loud and defiant, her feet never stay at home;
12 now in the street, now in the squares, at every corner she lurks.)
13 She took hold of him and kissed him and with a brazen face she said:
14 “I have fellowship offerings at home; today I fulfilled my vows.
15 So I came out to meet you; I looked for you and have found you!
16 I have covered my bed with coloured linens from Egypt.
17 I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.
18 Come, let’s drink deep of love till morning; let’s enjoy ourselves with love!
19 My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey.
20 He took his purse filled with money and will not be home till full moon.”
21 With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk.
22 All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose
23 till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.
Adultery is foolish. It is seductive but also destructive and it is impossible to escape its significant consequences.
THE WISDOM OF FAITHFULNESS
The Book of Proverbs throughout emphasises the contrast between wisdom and foolishness. The fool is the person who denies that God knows best and instead chooses to live life his own way. The wise person however submits to God’s wisdom and takes onboard the lessons of the book.
In these chapters of Proverbs the contrast is between the foolishness of adultery and the wisdom of faithfulness. So having pointed out the foolishness of adultery lets consider the wisdom of faithfulness. And I want to make two points under this second heading. The first point I want to highlight is that faithfulness is satisfying. That is what Solomon argues. That is his godly wisdom in the face of temptation. He says faithfulness is satisfying.
Faithfulness is satisfying
In other words in contrast to the temporary pleasures of giving in to the seductions of adultery, the only truly satisfying experience is to stay faithful within marriage. As I said at the start, that seems obvious, but you and I need to hear it when we are in a position to listen – not when we already falling into the trap. Solomon points out that faithfulness is satisfying in verse 15. Look at what he writes. Chapter 5 verse 15:
15 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.
16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?
17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.
18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
19 A loving doe, a graceful deer — may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.
The place to be satisfied is found in a loving lasting faithful relationship between a husband and wife. Pleasure should not be sought anywhere else.
The imagery Solomon uses is of springs of water, thirst quenching wells, fountains of satisfaction. Solomon is emphasising sexual pleasure here not just sex for procreation. God gives sex as a good gift and it is to be enjoyed within the protection of a marriage relationship. The act of sexual intercourse is private, a special bond between husband and wife. It is not to be treated carelessly. It is not for the public square. It is not to be shared with others.
Solomon is encouraging the husband and wife to find satisfaction in each other. They are to be satisfied with each other’s bodies, they are to be captivated by each other’s love. There is an implied implication there for the husband to be working at loving his wife and the wife her husband. There is an expectation that they will be seeking to bring pleasure to the other.
One of the most helpful preventative factors to adultery is a good strong marriage. If you are captivated by each others love it is less attractive to look for love elsewhere. Taking time to work at your relationship, to go out for dates, to attend the marriage course, all strengthens the marriage bond.
But there is also a spur here in these chapters to work at contentment. Part of the wisdom of God is learning contentment with what we have. I think that is especially hard in the UK today. We are constantly bombarded with images, advertising and values that are intended to make us want something new, something more.
Trade in your old car for a new one. Buy a new TV and put the old one in the skip. Use only the latest beauty products. It becomes easy to think I deserve a new looking wife, a better behaving husband.
We have a responsibility to our spouse, or future spouse, to love them and try to please them, avoiding doing things that annoy them, but we also have a responsibility to be content. It is both active doing and passive being. Trying to please our spouse and being content with what we have.
Faithfulness pleases God
However the ultimate reason for not committing adultery is neither the consequences nor the satisfaction or contentment of a wonderful marriage. Rather the ultimate reason for the wisdom of faithfulness is that faithfulness pleases God. Faithfulness pleases God. That is really the key to biblical wisdom. That is where the Bible’s wisdom goes beyond even the best of human wisdom. Faithfulness pleases God.
As God’s children, as Christians, we are people who acknowledge that God is our creator and that he knows what is best for us. We are people who have been saved by God. Our sin has been dealt with. Therefore we want to please God. We want increasingly to reflect his character. And God himself is faithful.
Even when we are unfaithful God is still faithful. He keeps his promises. And God demonstrates grace. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. The Bible on several occasions depicts God as a bridegroom and his people as a bride. The harsh reality is that often God’s people behave more like a prostitute, running after other gods, breaking the marriage bond. But again and again the Bible reminds us that God remains faithful and amazingly he draws the adulteress back to himself. God is faithful, and faithfulness pleases God.
Solomon of course knows that it is ultimately the Lord, to whom we are accountable for our behaviour in this world. The wisdom of Proverbs only fully makes sense when the eternal stage is in perspective. God will one day judge the inhabitants of this world and even now we live before him. Look at what Solomon says from verse 20 of chapter 5.
20 Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?
21 For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths.
22 The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast.
23 He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.
Even worse than the earthly consequences of adultery, is the fact that the adulterer will stand before God on the day of judgement, and without Christ will experience eternal spiritual death. God hates sin and he hates sin that breaks apart the marriage bond.
In contrast God loves faithfulness. He loves it when his children strive to be faithful to him and specifically in this example faithful to their spouse. You bring pleasure to God when you obey him rather than give into the seductive pleasures of this world. You bring pleasure to God when you choose to work on a difficult marriage rather than just walk out and find someone easier to enjoy. You and I should be striving to live faithful lives.
And there are some practical steps we can take. We can ask God for his help. You could talk to someone about a situation you are finding difficult – a close Christian friend of the same sex, perhaps a prayer partner. Don’t put yourself in compromising situations. If you are married don’t go seeking opportunities to be in the presence of someone else who you find attractive. However you do it, find someone to hold you accountable, because one day God himself will hold you and me accountable.
And if you are in the role of supporting a friend as he or she struggles with temptation, remember to get this balance right between God’s forgiveness on the one hand and God’s standards on the other. Help your friend to realise the wisdom of proverbs. Faithfulness is satisfying. Faithfulness pleases God. Faithfulness is the wise course of action.
I want to finish with a word about grace. Solomon’s words and warnings are strong and we need to hear them. But if you have fallen in this area, perhaps by a sexual act, or through pornography, or through emotional or intellectual unfaithfulness, and you have acknowledge your sin, then you also need to hear the words of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees had brought this particular woman into the temple courts. They were trying to trap Jesus and asked him whether they should stone her to death. But we read that:
6 … Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no-one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8)
If you are trusting in Christ Jesus and his completed work on the cross then God has forgiven you.
All of us though, whatever situation we are in, are to go now and leave our life of sin. We are to choose the wisdom of faithfulness rather than the foolishness of adultery.