I PLEDGE YOU MY FAITHFULNESS

 

Week of May 23, 2010

 

Bible Verses:Matthew 5:27-30; Proverbs 5:15-21; 6:25-32.

 

Lesson Focus: This lesson is about Godís requirement of marital faithfulness.

 

Avoid Mental Adultery: Matthew 5:27-30.

 

[27]"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' [28]But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [29]If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. [30]And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.[ESV]

 

Jesus now turns from the sixth commandment to the seventh, from the prohibition against murder to the prohibition against adultery. Once again the rabbis were attempting to limit the scope of the commandment you shall not commit adultery. Although the sin of desiring another manís wife is included in the tenth commandment against covetousness, they evidently found it more comfortable to ignore this. In their view they and their pupils kept the seventh commandment, provided that they avoided the act of adultery itself. They thus gave a conveniently narrow definition of sexual sin and a conveniently broad definition of sexual purity. But Jesus taught differently. He extended the implications of the divine prohibition. Rather, He affirmed that the true meaning of Godís command was much wider than a mere prohibition of acts of sexual immorality. As the prohibition of murder included the angry thought and the insulting word, so the prohibition of adultery included the lustful look and imagination. We can commit murder with our words; we can commit adultery in our hearts or minds. Jesusí emphasis here is that any and every sexual practice which is immoral in deed is immoral also in look and in thought. What is particularly important to grasp is His equation of looking lustfully at a woman and committing adultery with her in the heart. It is the relation between the eyes and the heart which leads Jesus in the next two verses to give some very practical instruction about how to maintain sexual purity. The argument is this: If to look lustfully is to commit adultery in the heart, in other words, if heart-adultery is the result of eye-adultery, then the only way to deal with the problem is at its beginning, which is our eyes. This teaching of Jesus is still true today. Deeds of shame are preceded by fantasies of shame, and the inflaming of the imagination by the indiscipline of the eyes. Our vivid imagination is a precious gift of God. None of the worldís art and little of manís noblest achievement would have been possible without it. Imagination enriches the quality of life. But all Godís gifts need to be used responsibly; they can readily be degraded and abused. This is certainly true of our imagination. Whenever men and women have learned sexual self-control in deed, it is because they have first learned it in the eyes of both flesh and fantasy. The command to get rid of troublesome eyes, hands and feet is an example of our Lordís use of dramatic figures of speech. What He was advocating was not a literal physical self-maiming, but a ruthless moral self-denial. Not mutilation but mortification is the path of holiness He taught, and mortification or taking up the cross to follow Christ means to reject sinful practices so resolutely that we die to them or put them to death. What does this involve in practice? If your eye causes you to sin because temptation comes to you through your eyes then pluck out your eyes by not looking. Behave as if you had actually plucked out your eyes and flung them away, and were now blind and so could not see the objects which previously caused you to sin. That is the meaning of mortification. What is necessary for all those with strong sexual temptations, and indeed for all of us in principle, is discipline in guarding the approaches of sin. To obey this command of Jesus will involve for many of us a certain maiming. We shall have to eliminate from our lives certain things which (though some may be innocent in themselves) either are, or could easily become, sources of temptation. That is, we shall deliberately decline to read certain literature, see certain films, visit certain websites. We may have to become culturally maimed in order to preserve our purity of mind. Jesus was quite clear about it. It is better to lose one member and enter life maimed than to retain our whole body and go to hell. That is to say, it is better to forgo some experiences this life offers in order to enter the life which is life indeed. This teaching is based on the principle that eternity is more important than time and purity than culture, and that any sacrifice is worthwhile in this life if it is necessary to ensure our entry into the next. We have to decide, quite simply, whether to live for this world or the next.

 

Find Fulfillment in Your Spouse: Proverbs 5:15-21.

 

[15]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 not for 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? [21]For a man's ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths.[ESV]

 

[15-18]Verses 15-23 continues the warning concerning sexual immorality, yet it does so from a positive standpoint, encouraging a rich sexual life within the bonds of the marriage covenant. Note the robust imagery employed here: cistern, well, springs, streams, fountain. The metaphors refer to oneís wife by covenant and the gratification found sexually in that relationship. The Hebrew imagery of the cistern and the well means that the wife is to be a source of pleasure and fulfillment, but not an object to be used. To drink is a euphemism for enjoying a healthy sexual relationship within the confines of marriage. That relationship is referred to as flowing water, as opposed to that which runs through the gutters in the public square. Keeping our sexual expression within moral boundaries does not limit our pleasure, but actually enhances it. The imagery of springs and streams of water continues the metaphorical reference to sexual love begun in verse 15. It seems best to take the statement in verse 16 as a warning against indiscriminate sexual activity outside of marriage, because it will waste upon what is common that which is to be sanctified to the holiness of the marriage bed. The word them refers back to springs and streams of water in verse 16. In that verse they refer to the sexual passion that is healthy and blessed within the confines of marriage. In verse 17, the thought concerns the exclusivity of married sexual love. This exclusivity is made emphatic by the wording: let them be for yourself alone. Strangers refer to those who reside outside the marriage covenant and are alien to the covenant. The imagery continues in verse 18 as a healthy sexual relationship within marriage is pictured as a fountain. Solomon calls for such sexual passion to be enjoyed within the confines of a monogamous marriage relationship. How remarkable, considering this is Solomon speaking. Despite having seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines [1 Kings 11:3], Solomon counseled his sons to stay in a one man/one woman relationship. When such boundaries are respected, the sexual relationship of husband and wife can expect to be blessed by God. What a message for todayís society: God wants to bless your sexual life and relationship! The best sex comes not through indiscriminate philandering, but through honored commitments within the divinely given covenant of marriage. Do not let your heart wander, but determine to rejoice in the one you are committed to by covenant. The word rejoice is used here with overtones of sexual delight. Find your passion focused upon, and fulfilled in, your marriage partner. The lifelong commitment of one man to one woman is Godís pattern for marriage and family and is the union He will bless. The immoral abandon their marriage commitments after the initial thrill is gone and, in the end, find themselves empty and used. The godly continually recommit to the one God has given them in marriage and find that life, love, and romance continue to improve with the growth of their commitment.

 

[19-21]We find in verse 19 an unusual three line proverb. The first line continues the sexual imagery, this time turning to the animal world for its metaphor. The deer and doe were considered graceful and beautiful animals with their delicate limbs. As such, they became apt metaphors for the grace and beauty of womanhood. The husband is exhorted to allow his wifeís breasts to fill him with delight or to satisfy him sexually. The third line calls the man to always be intoxicated with the sexual relationship with his wife. The captivated husband is smitten by his wifeís love. Verse 20 provides reasoning for the commands of verse 19. The plea is to look objectively upon, and think rationally about, the matter of sexual desire. Considering the high and holy passion God grants within marriage and the disastrous results of infidelity, why would anyone stray from their marriage partner? The rhetorical questions make it a matter of common sense. The verb intoxicated is repeated from the previous verse. There it was used of the God-given, and exhilarating, passion of marital love. Here, however, it describes the blinding nature of illicit passion. Comparing the two reminds us that God does not seek to deny the highest expressions of sexual passion, only to direct which avenue they are experienced in. These boundaries serve both to safeguard us and to heighten the lasting pleasure of sexual fulfillment. The fool believes that forbidden fruit is the sweetest. The greatest heights of passion are not found outside marriage, but within it. The second verb has already been used in Proverbs 4:8, where the young man is called to embrace wisdom. Here he is to embrace his wife. To hold exclusively to your wife is wisdom; to embrace wisdom is to hold exclusively to your wife. A married man cannot have the one without the other. An unfaithful husband is a fool because he turns away from divine wisdom and instruction! The designations forbidden woman and adulteress serve to remind us that the marriage covenant is sacred. Such women are outside the sacred bond created between man and wife. Sin is never secret. God knows all and sees all. How foolish, then, is the vain attempt to deceive God? The word paths refers literally to the ruts worn by repeated travel of wagons over a roadway. When we bend our will toward temptation, we promise ourselves, ĎJust this once!í Seldom do we calculate the addictive nature of sin, particularly sexual sin. God sees not only our individual acts of sin, but He sees also the destructive habits they will become.

 

Recognize What is At Stake: Proverbs 6:25-32.

 

[25]Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes; [26]for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, but a married woman hunts down a precious life. [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.[ESV]

 

[25-26]In her arsenal of seductions are not only her words [24], but also her physical appearance and her eye contact. One communicates in many ways. We are responsible before God for all of them. While the seventh commandment forbade the physical act of adultery and, by implication, the thought of doing so as well, the tenth commandment plainly prohibited the desire. Jesus made plain that this was the intended meaning in Matthew 5:27-28. The first line of our proverb is the Old Testament equivalent to these words of Jesus. Notice that the danger lies in the heart. The heart describes the individualís powers of intellect, emotion and will. The heart is the core and substance of oneís being. The heart represents who you are. The rest of the body, then, serves the heart and expresses its true nature. The second line of the proverb warns against letting the adulteress capture you with her eyelashes. The seductive glances and knowing looks cast intentionally by such a woman can have a powerful effect. The effect is said to be that she would capture you. The verb has a broad range of possible translations, but the basic meaning is that of taking, seizing or laying hold of something. Though normally weaker in physical strength, the woman is often able to control a man in other ways [5:20]. It is the manís responsibility not to let such eye contact ever be made or to linger, if it does. The translation of verse 26 is difficult. It appears that the main point of the proverb is to point to the high cost of immorality, whether that is with another manís wife or with a prostitute. Indeed, Proverbs teaches us that involvement with either a prostitute [29:3] or an adulteress [5:10] will beggar a man. Involvement with a harlot will reduce a manís life to little more than a loaf of bread. Likewise, an adulteress, for all of her self-justifying seductiveness, hunts down the very life of the man. The word hunts has the idea of stalking something and is often used of hunting or in contexts of persecution. It implies intention and malice in the pursuit. What she hunts is a precious life. It is hard to get at what exactly is intended by the phrase. The root of the word for precious speaks of that which is heavy with honor or dignity. Thus it describes that which is valuable, either because of its uniqueness or because of its inherent worth. The message of these verses is simple: Immorality is costly! It may cost you all you have materially, and it may cost you everything your life is and has become. It can steal not only your material wealth, but also your integrity, fellowship with God, reputation, family, relationships, friends, and respect.

 

[27-29]Verse 27 must be taken with the following two verses in order for its full intent to be seen and its full impact to be felt. Two absurd questions are asked in verses 27-28, which both expect a resounding ĎNo!í for an answer. Then, in verse 29, the metaphors are linked with that to which they are to apply. Sexual immorality is like playing with fire! There is a word play here between man and fire, the two sounding nearly identical in Hebrew. The verb translated carry describes taking a burning coal from the fire by use of a tongs or shovel. No man can nonchalantly place a glowing ember straight from the fire in his lap and not be burned! The negative consequences of adultery are unavoidable and certain. The question in verse 28 builds on the previous one in verse 27 and makes way for the searing application of verse 29. The heat of immoral passion is never self-contained, but always rages out of control and burns those who dare to play with its fire. It will leave lasting scars upon the lives of all involved. No one who disobeys this warning will be spared. The two questions in verses 27-28 now find their answer in verse 29. The man who goes in to his neighborís wife will be burned! Such immorality will not go unpunished. The punishment meted out is not specified, but it may include financial ruin, public disgrace, sexually transmitted disease, and physical harm from a jealous husband [see 5:10-11,14; 6:33-34].

 

[30-32]A single lesson is woven into the fabric of verses 30-35 as the chapter closes. Solomon compares the thief [30-31] and the adulterer [32-35]. If a man steals because he is destitute and starving, many will privately understand, though socially they will be forced to condemn such action as wrong. Such a one will pay dearly with all he has [31], but he will recover. Restitution is possible for the thief, as is restoration to the community. The adulterer, however, will be ruined socially [33] and, perhaps, be in danger physically [34-35]. Such a one destroys himself. The adulterer has stolen something he can never restore. His shame will follow him for the rest of his life [33]. It is significant to note that we have here two appetites held in contrast. Oneís appetite for food [30-31] is viewed as fundamental and necessary. Oneís sexual appetite [32-35] is seen as a powerful urge, but not as something all-controlling and necessary. We will die if we do not satisfy the one; not so the other. On the one hand, we must have food to live, but, on the other, sometimes indulging our sexual appetite will rob us of our life! The personal leniency given to a thief will never be granted the adulterer. The one who commits adultery lacks sense. The phrase is literally Ďlacks heartí and is equivalent to saying such a one is a fool. The foolishness of adultery is seen in that the one who so indulges destroys himself. There is a sense of willful destruction through perversity. Surely the one does not intend to destroy himself, but personal, social, and spiritual suicide is the inevitable result. Solomon may be thinking of the capital punishment demanded by the jealous husband [Deut. 22:22] or, more likely, simply the spiritual death such sin incurs [1 Tim. 5:6]. This is something Solomon would know well from personal experience [Eccles. 7:25-26].

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† Jesus emphasizes the relation between the eyes and the heart. Explain the importance of this relationship and why it leads Jesus to use the dramatic figures of speech He does in verses 29-30.

 

2.†††††††† How do you put into practice Jesusí instructions in verses 29-30?

 

3.†††††††† What positive lessons do we learn concerning marital faithfulness in Proverbs 5:15-21?

 

4.†††††††† Proverbs 6:25-32 describes the cost of adultery. Describe the various costs. What instructions do the commands in verse 25 give us in order to avoid incurring these costs?

 

References:

The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Christian Counter-Culture, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III, Baker.

Proverbs, John Kitchen, Mentor.