Thursday, November 29, 2018

Motives to Sexual Fidelity

This is the second post in a series of three on sexual matters as they are covered in the book of Proverbs. Last time we examined two competing sexual ethics: Sexual Autonomy vs. Sexual Fidelity. This time, let us look at how Proverbs motivates its reader to pursue what is good. There are many ways the Bible motivates people to do things. One way is to appeal to duty: this is right, so do it. Another way is to appeal to gratitude: God did this for us, therefore do this for Him. Another way, a way that the book of Proverbs emphasizes, is that sin is foolish and righteousness is wise. In other words, Proverbs often appeals to consequences: avoid the way that leads to destruction and seek the way that leads to life. Here are some of the consequences it addresses as it seek to motivate the reader to avoid sexual autonomy and to pursue sexual fidelity.

Punishment or praise 

Proverbs 6:27–29, 34-35 - "Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; none who touches her will go unpunished…For jealousy makes a man furious, and he will not spare when he takes revenge. He will accept no compensation; he will refuse though you multiply gifts."

There were legal consequences for sexual immorality in biblical law. The adulteress’s husband in particular would be able to press charges and demand justice. The death penalty was the maximum penalty, and while it appears the husband could ask for something less than death, Proverbs warns to not expect much generosity from a jealous husband. Even today, without laws against adultery, jealous spouses will seek some kind of justice and there often are legal repercussions. Think of political leaders like Presidents Clinton and Trump, and our former governor here in Missouri, Greitens; people still get ensnared by this legally because of the deceit and treachery involved in sexual autonomy.

When Proverbs 5:14 portrays the young man caught in adultery saying “I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation,” it refers to judicial punishment and how adultery put the young man on the brink of death. It also adds the fact of shame and public scandal. But the stakes get higher in verse 21 - "For a man's ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths."

God sees even deeds done in secret. He knows your thoughts and plans. He knows your imaginations and desires. He will judge the sexually immoral who do not repent. While He will forgive His children, they may feel His discipline and correction. When King David committed adultery, God forgave Him, yet God still disciplined David by taking away his unborn child and bringing rebellion, incest, and violence into David’s family for the rest of his life.

But with sexual fidelity, rather than punishment, you will receive its opposite, praise from man and God. "What is desired in a man is steadfast love, and a poor man is better than a liar" (Prov. 19:22). What people desire, and what God desires, is for men and women to be faithful to their own spouses. Faithfulness, principled restraint, and a respect for others are honorable characteristics. Even if some may ridicule you for a time, in time your position will be generally vindicated over time. Sexual fidelity does not get you in trouble, while sexual autonomy eventually will.

Loosing your wealth and work to strangers or keeping it for you and your family

Proverbs 5:9-11 - “…do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others, and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner, and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed…”

Proverbs 6:26 - “…for a prostitute leaves a man with nothing but a loaf of bread…”

Sexual autonomy is a good way to ruin your finances and waste your labors. It is expensive. This is true whether we are talking about the resources necessary to carry on an immoral relationship or the cost of it once it is discovered (legal repercussions, bribes, etc.). Your work will go to a stranger, not your own house. And perhaps you invest your money and work in a relationship based merely on consent, and it works for the moment, yet that arrangement is precarious and falls apart as soon as the feelings or people change. Relationships based merely on feelings and lust do not build support networks and safety nets.

But with sexual fidelity, rather than loosing your wealth and work to another, you accumulate wealth, honor, strength, and freedom by avoiding this snare. You keep it for yourself and your family. A healthy marriage increases wealth. It yokes two people to work as one for a common good. It builds confidence, it enables the couple to think long-term, and it builds safety nets and extended support networks.

A seared conscience accustomed to treachery or habits of loyalty and friendship

Proverbs 30:20 - "This is the way of an adulteress: she eats and wipes her mouth and says, 'I have done no wrong.'"

Proverbs 23:27–28 - "For a prostitute is a deep pit; an adulteress is a narrow well. She lies in wait like a robber and increases the traitors among mankind."

Sexual autonomy tends to justify itself and deaden the conscience. The more you lust towards strangers or their images, the more it becomes a habit. And as it becomes "normal," you become less aware of your guilt and the ways it is shaping you. The deeper you go into the sin, the harder it is to get out. Sexual intimacy outside of marriage teaches you to be a traitor, either by breaking vows (if married) or at least by engaging in a life-uniting act without life-uniting intent (if single). It teaches you disloyalty, dishonesty, and selfishness.

But with sexual fidelity, rather than learning treachery, you learn loyalty and friendship. It teaches you to not take advantage of others, to respect boundaries, to be honest, and to be faithful. People can trust you. You spouse can trust you. Other men and women can trust you. This builds marriage and community.

Death or life

Proverbs 5:5 - "Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol"

Proverbs 5:23 - "He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray."

Proverbs 7:25–27 -"Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death."

Sexual autonomy leads to death. It is destructive in this life. It can lead to physical death as events spiral downward. And most importantly, it is judged with eternal death by the justice of God. It is not an unforgivable sin - there is forgiveness in Christ for those who turn away from this sin and believe in Him for salvation. But unless this happens, the consequence of sexual autonomy is eternal condemnation from God. Even Christians are warned against the danger in this sin. In 1 Corinthians 10, it is noted that even though the Israelites were "baptized" and partook of "communion" in Old Testament terms, they were still judged for their idolatry and sexual immorality. "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12b). It can be a step in the direction of apostasy (Heb. 12:16). And even if it does not go that far, I have already mentioned the example of David. Even a believer can suffer in discipline in this life for such sins.

But rather than leading to death and destruction, sexual fidelity is a path of life. While you cannot be saved or get pardoned by sexual fidelity (or any good work), it is an aspect of following Christ. It is one important way we "walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous" (Prov. 2:20). Repentance, where we continue to progressively turn from evil and endeavor after good, is a necessary mark of the one who will receive eternal life (Heb. 12:14).

Practicing sexual fidelity also leads to life and flourishing in cultural ways. Rather than destroying marriage, sexual fidelity secures the well being of your own and other marriages. All the good marriage does for children, for society, for you, relies upon your sexual fidelity. Within marriage, sexual union is fittingly fruitful, uniting, pleasurable, and strengthening. It is a blessing in its intended place.

In summery, God desires His children to avoid the hard path of sin. He loves His children. So pay heed to His fatherly warnings and exhortations.

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Continue this series here:
Directions for the Pursuit of Sexual Fidelity (Part 3)

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