Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
One of the benefits of preaching through a section of the Bible is that the Bible itself raises topics we might otherwise avoid, like sex. The Bible is not shy about sex, and its message is clear: sexual folly destroys, sexual wisdom satisfies, and Christ is better than the best sex.
Proverbs chapter 5 divides into three parts. In the introduction (verses 1-6), God our Father lovingly says, “It’s time we had a talk.” In the body of the chapter (verses 7-19), God says, “Here’s what I want you to know.” He is very down-to-earth. In the conclusion (verses 20-23), God says, “Now you have a decision to make.” God speaks into our every area of our lives, including our sexuality. The introduction opens up that conversation with us. The body of the chapter contrasts the two ways we can deploy our sexuality – either in folly and destruction or in wisdom and satisfaction. The conclusion calls us to give ourselves entirely to God and to our spouses. If you are unmarried, you can give your heart today to the one you will marry someday.
Here is the key concept. The gospel wisely calls us into both form and freedom, both structure and liberation. Conservative people love form and restraint and control. Progressive people love freedom and openness and choices. Both see part of the truth, but the gospel tells us more. God gave us our sexuality both to focus our romantic joy and to unleash our romantic joy. When this very human joy is both focused and unleashed – both form and freedom – it becomes wonderfully intensified. We thrive within both form and freedom. Sex is like fire. In the fireplace, it keeps us warm. Outside the fireplace, it burns the house down. Proverbs 5 is saying, “Keep the fire in the marital fireplace, and stoke that fire as hot as you can.”
As I preach about this today, given the variety of life situations among us, I’ll stick carefully to what the Bible itself is saying. I will neither sensationalize it nor diminish it. Let’s all receive the word of God and be saved by its impact.
It’s time we had a talk
My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
incline your ear to my understanding,
that you may keep discretion,
and your lips may guard knowledge.
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
her steps follow the path to Sheol;
she does not ponder the path of life;
her ways wander, and she does not know it.
This wise father is saying to his teenage son, “You are going to be tempted. You’re walking into a world of sexual foolishness. It will be offered to you as honey, and you will be attracted. But this honey will poison you.” You see the word “honey” in verse 3, and you see the word “bitter” in verse 4. Honey is sweet. So whatever leaves a bitter aftertaste in your mouth can’t be honey. Don’t be fooled. Don’t judge by the appearances of the moment. The lasting impact tomorrow and thereafter reveals the truth about the present moment. Her words may ooze seductive charm – face-to-face, the internet, a text message – but her sweet-talk and her flattery, telling you what a hunk you are and how awesome you are and how she’s been looking for a man just like you, that “honey” will turn bitter. And it’s not just your sexuality at stake; verse 5 says her feet go down to death, spiritually and even literally. We in Nashville remember that one year ago today Steve McNair died. Sexual integrity is life versus death. Everything you care about is on the line!
If you’re a woman, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought, “These verses are unfair. Men can be just as bad as women.” True. And the book of Proverbs warns us against evil men too (e.g., 1:10-19). But no one passage can say everything. Plus, when the sexually foolish man comes to his senses in verse 13, whom does he blame? “I did not listen to the voice of my teachers.” He blames himself. So the father-figure speaking here is not being one-sided in his outlook.
Why is God our Father having this talk with us? Why is he warning us? Because we are vulnerable. If you think you’re above sexual stupidity, you’re asking for it. If you know you’re not above it, you might be helped and strengthened by reading Mark Driscoll’s book, Porn-Again Christian. It’s a free download from relit.org. It will squeeze a drop of bitter wormwood onto your tongue, so to speak, so that you ponder the path of your feet (verse 6) in our world of sexual chaos. You know where to go and where not to go.
God wants to give us the wonderful gift of sexual wisdom. His introduction, in verses 1-6, is a blunt warning. In the body of the chapter, he has a two-part message: “Keep your hands off every other woman” (verses 7-14), “Keep your hands on your wife” (verses 15-19).
Here’s what I want you to know
And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
and 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….
Verse 8 is the key: “Keep your way far from her.” Don’t tell yourself you can get involved just a little and then get clear, no big deal, and nobody will know. Martyn Lloyd-Jones told us how life really works:
Be careful how you treat God, my friends. You may say to yourself, “I can sin against God and then, of course, I can repent and go back and find God whenever I want him.” You try it. And you will sometimes find that not only can you not find God but that you do not even want to. You will be aware of a terrible hardness in your heart. And you can do nothing about it. And then you suddenly realize that it is God punishing you in order to reveal your sinfulness and your vileness to you. And there is only one thing to do. You turn back to him and you say, “O God, do not go on dealing with me judicially, though I deserve it. Soften my heart. Melt me. I cannot do it myself.” You cast yourself utterly upon his mercy and upon his compassion.
Do you think you can play with sin and keep it under control? Do you think you can compartmentalize God? Sexual folly complicates everything, as these verses say. When we disobey God, our hearts harden. The other people we violate become hardened and embittered toward us, because sooner or later they find out too. That’s the point of verses 9-11 – the wider impact of sexual folly. It depletes a man financially in cover-up and alimony and lawsuits, socially in his reputation, emotionally in his conscience, and of course in his marriage. Jealousy, hurt, loneliness, regret – the cost is high. Satan shows the bait, but he hides the hook. Verse 9 says we men can end up giving our years to the merciless. When Proverbs was written, the author probably had in mind the husband offended by an adulterous affair. That can happen today too. But in addition, the porn industry is merciless. It wants to enslave us. Verse 11: “And at the end of your life you groan.” It doesn’t take long. Lord Byron was the bad boy of the nineteenth century whom everyone secretly envied. He was down in Greece on his 36th birthday, all alone. Here’s what he wrote:
My days are in the yellow leaf,
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!
In other words, “I’m 36, and my life is already over. All I have left is VD and depression. Where are my drinking buddies now when I need them?”
There is only one true Friend for sexual fools. His name is Jesus Christ, the Crucified One. He wants you to know that your sexuality is a magnificent gift from God, for his glory and your blessing. What you are is not fundamentally a problem; what you are, as a created being, man or woman, is fundamentally a wonderful privilege. But if you were to take your iPhone, this highly sophisticated communications technology, and use it to hammer nails, you would show complete incomprehension of an iPhone. Even so, your sexuality is a powerful but delicate gift from God. You cannot violate the gift of God without wider repercussions. So the Lord wants us to know something else. There is a way back to healing. That way is humility. You see how the tune changes in verses 12-14:
. . . “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin.
in the assembled congregation.”
The sexually foolish man finally faces himself. He owns up, like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24). That young man looked at himself and how low he’d fallen and he said, “I am at the brink of utter ruin. But I have a father. I have a home. What am I doing here?” He got up and went home. And while he was still a long way off, his father ran to him and kissed him. The father didn’t shame him, he rejoiced over him. You may be a long way off too. Maybe you’re stalling. But what are you waiting for? You have a Father. You have a home. The world may pick up its skirts and pass you by. The world may say you belong in the gutter. But God your Father, because of the cross, is ready to embrace you – yes, in your rags, in your mess, as you are right now. Will you turn back to him today? He will receive you and rejoice over you.
God’s wonderful gift of sexual wisdom is the message now as the body of the chapter unfolds:
Drink water from your own cistern,
flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you.
The metaphor is water, to satisfy a raging thirst. The Bible is talking about a man’s sexual desires, his passions and his powers. And God is saying, “Satisfy your thirst through lovemaking with your wife.” Look what the Lord is not saying. He is not saying, “There’s temptation out there? Then what you need is an iron will. You need steely determination. There’s your future – endless frustration bottled up inside.” Obviously, we all need to learn self-control, if we’re going to have emotional structures above a five-year-old level. Verse 23 warns against a “lack of discipline.” But God’s remedy for your thirst for sex is sex, overflowing sexual joy with your wife. That’s what he means in verse 15 by “your own cistern” and “your own well.” Your wife is your own personal and private, fully approved wellspring of endless sexual satisfaction.
You can see, by faith, God your Father raising his hands in blessing over your marriage bed. I say that, because the passage now adds a prayer. The wise father-figure prays over the married sexual experience of his son and daughter-in-law:
May your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
What does this blessing of God look like? A spring of joyously bubbling sexual happiness between husband and wife. Even as the years go by, she will always be “the wife of your youth.” You will always cherish her and rejoice over her as that dear girl who gave herself completely to you alone. The “lovely deer, grace doe”-imagery is culturally remote from us. I hunt deer! But what the author has in mind is “their bright black eyes, their graceful limbs, and their irresistible silky hair,” as Bruce Waltke explains in his commentary. Husband, enjoy your wife visually. Honor and enjoy her beauty. Wife, present yourself to your husband as attractively as you can, lovely and graceful. How can you beautify yourself for your husband? Of all the women on the face of the earth today, you are the only morally legitimate satisfaction of his passion for sexual enjoyment. This afternoon, why not ask your husband, “Darling, how can I please you more?” Husband, when your wife sweetly asks you that question, she is vulnerable. The first thing you should say is, “First of all, let me tell you the nineteen ways you absolutely thrill me! But since you ask, yes, here is one change that would be quite wonderful . . . .”
Verse 19 is frankly erotic. The verse is emphasizing two things: the quality of married lovemaking (“fill with delight” and “be intoxicated”) and the quantity of married lovemaking (“at all times” and “always”). The Bible is saying, “When you get married, drop your inhibitions, and go for it in both quality and quantity.” That is a command of God. Back in the days of the Puritans – they were trying to be biblical – when a New England wife complained, first to her pastor and then to the whole congregation, that her husband was neglecting their sex life, the church removed him as a member! The Bible says, “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another” (1 Corinthians 7:4-5). And Proverbs 5 is saying, “Make it fun and frequent!” The word translated “be intoxicated” is used elsewhere for a man staggering down the street in drunkenness (Isaiah 28:7). The point is to be crazy-in-love together. That is the good and wise will of God. And this comes from ancient times when many marriages were arranged for economic and political purposes. But the Bible calls us to being head-over-heels in love. Verse 20 is asking, Why throw that away? God is giving you your own personal Garden of Eden with your wife. Enjoy her – to the max.
But the ultimate reason for obeying God with sexual wisdom is spiritual. That’s the final thing the wise father wants to say:
For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD,
and he ponders all his paths.
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
He dies for lack of discipline,
and because of his great folly he is led astray.
All of us are sexual sinners at some level, and we all know the slavery of it. Sin touches everything we are. None of us is perfect. None of us is strong. We all need mercy. I emailed a friend who has professional expertise in this area, and he tells me the estimates are that about 85% of men have premarital sex, after marrying about 25% of men and 15% of women commit adultery at some point, and about half of men and a third of women look at internet porn every month. A tsunami of sexual folly is slamming us. We need a massive cleansing only God can give. What must we do? We must run to Christ, the mighty Friend of sexual fools. Will you make that decision for Christ right now, as you are, reaching out by faith for who he is in his grace and mercy?
Let’s hear the gospel again. Martin Luther explained it in terms of marriage, because the Bible does:
Faith… unites the soul with Christ, as a bride is united with her bridegroom. From such a marriage, as St. Paul says, it follows that Christ and the soul… hold all things in common, whether for better or worse. This means that what Christ possesses belongs to the believing soul, and what the soul possesses belongs to Christ. Thus Christ possesses all good things and holiness; these now belong to the soul. The soul possesses lots of vices and sin; these now belong to Christ…. Now is not this a happy business? Christ, the rich, noble and holy bridegroom, takes in marriage this poor, contemptible and sinful little prostitute, takes away all her evil and bestows all his goodness upon her! It is no longer possible for sin to overwhelm her, for she is now found in Christ.
Come to Christ, and be freely forgiven. Come to Christ, and freely forgive. Come to Christ, and learn sexual wisdom as a gift of his grace.