Proverbs is not a “churchy” book—at least not in the way many of us conceive of church. Its wisdom isn’t prim and proper and fit for afternoon tea. Rather, Proverbs calls us to the street, to everyday life, to matters that affect us all in some way. Derek Kidner has said that Proverbs puts “godliness into working clothes.”1 It is godly wisdom for everyday living.
In Proverbs, Solomon devotes much attention to a matter that can sound a little racy to church-trained ears: sexual relationships. The book deals openly and honestly with human sexuality, both from the positive side, concerning the nature of marriage and its fulfillment, and from the negative side, regarding issues of adultery. It’s an apt topic, since God Himself designed marriage and all the accompanying pleasures found therein.
One reason some shy away the topic of sexuality is that sex can be so easily corrupted, to the point of causing destruction rather than giving the delight and pleasure it was meant to give in the context of marriage. Proverbs warns us adamantly against such corruption in chapter 5 and speaks particularly to the tragedy of adultery. It’s a tough subject, admittedly—but it’s healthy to consider Solomon’s warnings against adultery in order to keep ourselves on the narrow path of healthy sexuality.
First, notice that the instruction in the first few verses of Proverbs 5 is framed as coming from a father to his son:
My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
incline your ear to my understanding,
that you may keep discretion,
and your lips may guard knowledge. (vv. 1–2)
This does not mean the proverb excludes women. Similar struggles confront both sexes. For both men and women, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Hearing wisdom and heeding its instruction saves us a world of hurt. As Solomon puts it just a few verses earlier, wise, godly words are “life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body” (Prov. 4:22 NIV).
For both men and women, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Hearing wisdom and heeding its instruction saves us a world of hurt.
In verses 3–6, we are then introduced to the archetypal seducer. Unlike those who rightly heed God’s wisdom, the tempter “does not ponder the path of life” (v. 6). The image is of someone who is not concerned about tomorrow. She’s concerned about tonight. Tonight’s the night; there’s no time now to give thought to godliness.
The seducer’s lips are sweet, smooth, and seductive (v. 3). In the Song of Solomon, we read that sweet, smooth, and supple lips are God’s gifts for a husband and a wife to enjoy with one another (Song 4:3, 11). These sensual pleasures between two lovers are very much God’s design. But at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and with the wrong person, what is good and beautiful in the plan of God becomes perverted by fleshly instincts and the inroads of the Evil One. The lips of an illicit lover, however delicious in their prospect, are disgusting in retrospect: “In the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” (Prov. 5:4).
In verse 5, the seducer beckons the seduced lover to a dead end. We may think that we are on a detour to delight and pleasure—and indeed, a tryst may deliver pleasure for a time. But its end is destruction and, ultimately, death. This path that seems so “right to a man” is actually “the way to death” (14:12).
A Path to Destruction
In verses 7−14, Solomon shows us just how dire the stakes are: “Keep your way far from her,” he says, “and do not go near the door of her house” (v. 8). This Old Testament wisdom is echoed by plain and straightforward warnings in the New Testament:
- “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18).
- “Flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14).
- “Flee youthful passions (2 Tim. 2:22).
Adultery is deadly serious and seriously deadly. As Solomon observes elsewhere, “He who commits adultery … destroys himself. … His disgrace will not be wiped away” (Prov. 6:32–33). Adultery is so deadly that we should not only flee its acts themselves but should maintain a safe distance from anything that could take us down their path.
Adultery is so deadly that we should not only flee its acts themselves but should maintain a safe distance from anything that could take us down their path.
You may be tempted to think that such warnings are only for Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So out there, but recall the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:12: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” We may well have varying degrees of susceptibility, but none of us are immune. And if we think ourselves immune, then we are in real danger.
Proverbs 5:15−23 goes on to remind us that there is great passion for a husband and wife to enjoy in their God-given covenantal relationship. We often speak of the “confines” of marriage, yet that language sounds so restrictive and sterile, as if there is something better “out there” for us to enjoy. The truth is that God designed us to experience the deepest and highest sexual pleasures in the intimacy and security of lifelong partnership with a spouse.
Sex offers great blessing and joy (v. 18), delight, and even intoxication (v. 19) for husbands and wives to savor together. And notice the permanency of this marital ecstasy: “Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight” (v. 19, emphasis added). Now, any of us who have been married for even a brief time will understand that a husband and wife are not always available to one another for any number of reasons. Indeed, there may be mismatches in sexual desire. Nevertheless, as spouses learn to love one another as they love themselves (Matt. 22:39; Mark 12:31) and count one another more significant than themselves (Phil. 2:4) in every aspect of their relationship, their passion and enjoyment will only increase.
Grace to Keep Going
Adultery is destructive, and it is deadly. It takes everything from us and gives nothing back. The few moments of pleasure it gives are sin’s great deception. Transgression feels great in the moment, but it’s only a matter of time before it leaves us reeling, disgusted, embittered, and disgraced. No temporary pleasure can make adultery worth its cost.
Transgression feels great in the moment, but it’s only a matter of time before it leaves us reeling, disgusted, embittered, and disgraced. No temporary pleasure can make adultery worth its cost.
But as wrong as it is, as deadly its destruction, adultery is not an unforgivable sin. If you have entertained thoughts of adultery, or if you have committed adulterous acts, you are not trapped fatalistically in the clutches of sin. Christ came to a people who had committed adultery against their God. They spurned His love as they got into bed with idols (Hos. 2:5). Nevertheless, God had compassion and purchased their forgiveness so that on the cross, condemnation is silenced and the repentant sinner is freed from all debts, able to say and know, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
This same grace that purchases freedom and forgiveness from the most heinous crimes against God also empowers us to love our spouses and walk in fidelity to them and to God. Husbands, in the power of the Spirit, you can “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Wives, you can love and “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). And as you seek to love and serve one another out of the freedom of the Gospel, you can enjoy a marriage together that satisfies your God-given longings for companionship and pleasure.
This article was adapted from the sermon “Warning against Adultery” by Alistair Begg.
1 Derek Kidner, Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (1964; repr., London: Tyndale, 1968), 35.