Written By James Bunyan
James Bunyan is a bit of a fidget, to be honest. His inability to sit still tends to spill over into all sorts of areas of his life; he loves travelling, good writing, all sports (except frisbee), the sense of purpose that the gospel gives him, exotic teas and the satisfaction of peeling off a sticker all in one go. He lives in Teddington (London), where he is training to be a vicar in the Church of England. For James and his wife Lois, lockdown in London was improved by the arrival of their daughter, Galilee, who just learned to clap.
I read about a recent pastors’ conference in the United States where, during the Q&A session, the inevitable question came to the old preacher sitting on a stool in the middle of the stage: “What is the one thing you want younger pastors to know?” The preacher put his head in his hands for several minutes to think. He then lifted his head and simply said, “Never touch another man’s wife.”
Now that shouldn’t surprise us. Adultery wrecks lives. And it’s actually a familiar scene. In fact, Proverbs opens with an old father sitting with a son, sharing some hard-earned wisdom. And, similarly, out of everything he could share, he warns his son to avoid adultery. It’s honest, it’s caring, it’s brilliantly written, and it gives us a few helpful pointers for avoiding sexual immorality* ourselves.
1. Don’t go anywhere near!
“At the window of my house
I looked down through the lattice.
I saw among the simple,
I noticed among the young men,
a youth who had no sense.
He was going down the street near her corner,
walking along in the direction of her house
at twilight, as the day was fading,
as the dark of night set in.”
This poor sap’s first mistake is obvious. He knows the adulteress is there and he is walking along “the street near her corner . . . in the direction of her house.” In other words, he is bound to bump into her and a story that ends with his destruction wouldn’t have begun if he had just walked another way.
Unlike the “youth with no sense”, make sure you don’t go near situations that you know are going to tempt you to do something wrong. Don’t follow the first slightly-less-innocent link you see late at night. Don’t watch movies with your girlfriend on a laptop in bed. Don’t go for a drink with your married colleague. It’s far easier to simply avoid certain situations than it is to get out of them later.
I heard of one new university student who promised a friend back home that he would phone him if ever he was tempted to do something he would regret. Well, a few weeks into term, he realised that one of the girls in his halls was pretty keen on him and kept trying to get alone with him. One night, she decided to do something drastic: she walked into his room, late at night, in just a towel—and dropped the towel.
The student, at first, wasn’t precisely sure of what he should do. So he got up, trying hard not to look at the naked girl in his room, walked across the room and picked up his phone and rung his friend. His friend told him not to panic but if he just went for a 30-minute walk, he would find her gone when he returned.
So that’s what he did. And she was gone when he returned.
I love that simplicity. I’m sure that’s not how she expected the evening to go and, funnily enough, she never brought it up again.
2. Don’t be flattered!
“Then out came a woman to meet him,
dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.
(She is unruly and defiant,
her feet never stay at home;
now in the street, now in the squares,
at every corner she lurks.)
She took hold of him and kissed him
and with a brazen face she said:
‘Today I have fulfilled my vows,
and I have food from my fellowship offering at home.
So I came out to meet you;
I looked for you and have found you!
I have covered my bed
with coloured linens from Egypt.
I have perfumed my bed
with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.
Come, let’s drink deeply of our love until morning;
let’s enjoy ourselves with love!
My husband is not at home;
he has gone on a long journey.
He took his purse filled with money
and will not be home until full moon.’ ”
The adulteress makes such an effort to make him feel special! She kisses him in the street, she says she’s been looking for him, she has decorated her bed, she promises him a long night of love and, bizarrely, she claims she’s even done her religious duties and sacrifices.
But she’s a liar. She’s “crafty”. No matter how special she promises to make him feel, it won’t be as good as she promises and he is not the only one for her. Don’t forget, she probably made her husband, who has gone away on business, feel just as special one day, possibly even a few hours previously. As her feet “never stay at home”, who knows who else she has made to feel special?
And what’s true of this adulteress is true of other sexual temptations. The lie of pornography, for instance, is that you can enjoy a special few hours with a beautiful person you probably wouldn’t have been able to pull normally. But the reality is that the same video arousing you has aroused thousands of different people alongside you. And what the video doesn’t show you is the sexual abuse involved in the porn industry. It doesn’t show you the crowd of production staff watching every moment. It doesn’t show you the girls vomiting off camera. It doesn’t show you the medication necessary for all those takes. It’s a lie.
And when put like that, your special night does become a very grubby few minutes.
3. Don’t be short-sighted!
“With persuasive words she led him astray;
she seduced him with her smooth talk.
All at once he followed her
like an ox going to the slaughter,
like a deer stepping into a noose
till an arrow pierces his liver,
like a bird darting into a snare,
little knowing it will cost him his life.”
Well, the simple bloke is sold; he follows her inside, happily swapping lasting happiness for an evening of passion. But, like all sin, it’s short-sighted and short-lived. This will lead to his destruction.
The reality is that sexual immorality promises life but delivers death. It leads to broken relationships, broken trusts, broken lives. Sleeping with someone else’s wife might be electric for a time but it will leave both of you broken, not to mention what it does to your standing before God. And in practice, I don’t think I’ve met anyone who doesn’t regret cheating once they’ve done it.
So before you do what you’re tempted to do, just take a second to think ahead. Is this going to leave you feeling sick in the morning? Will this mean you won’t be able to look your future spouse in the eye one day? Do you want to be that kind of person? As my old vicar used to say, “the problem with living for the moment is that you very often screw up the next one”.
4. Don’t get complacent!
“Now then, my sons, listen to me;
pay attention to what I say.
Do not let your heart turn to her ways
or stray into her paths.
Many are the victims she has brought down;
her slain are a mighty throng.
Her house is a highway to the grave,
leading down to the chambers of death.”
And so the father turns back to his son, urging him to pay attention to the warning. After all, the old man in his wisdom knows that, although all this may seem pretty obvious, people still fall for it. Sexual immorality is far too common, even among Christians—“many are the victims she has brought down.” The son would do well not to be so complacent as to assume he’ll be stronger than everyone else.
And this doesn’t just go away in marriage. Some might assume that once you’re hitched, sexual immorality is a thing of the past. But, after being married for two years now, I am convinced that all your problems don’t simply melt away! Discipline still matters and, not only could it be far too easy to take your spouse for granted, but it becomes more important than ever to not take a second look at someone and to stay far away from certain websites and situations. It’s not just myself that I’d be hurting now.
The reality is that the stakes could not be higher. The God of the Bible promises life in all its fullness to those who love Him. He promises that His people will one day sit by His side, having inherited all that belongs to His Son. He promises that they will see Jesus face to face in a place where perfect relationships are totally normal. And He gives us marriage in this life as a temporary, imperfect picture of His great love for His people. Loving commitment in marriage is good because it echoes God’s loving commitment to people that will stretch into eternity.
You don’t want to endanger that.
*I know that adultery and all other kinds of sexual immorality aren’t exactly the same. But the Bible, or Jesus himself, would often lump adultery together with all other kinds of “sexual immorality” as simply wrong. Sex is for binding husband and wife together as one and the Bible doesn’t recognise any other kind of sexual activity as good. So, Proverbs isn’t just for avoiding adultery; it’s for fleeing any kind of sexual immorality.