Sweet Talk with a Bitter Aftertaste

The coronavirus pandemic has created a bizarre combination of reactions ranging from mocking irresponsibility to mass hysteria and panic. In the early days, ignorance spread far more quickly than knowledge, and people assumed a level of safety rooted in misinformation. This quickly transformed into modern society’s best impersonation of a zombie apocalypse as normal people began buying toilet paper in mass quantities in—one can only assume—preparation for a long retreat inside their 50s style home nuclear fallout shelter. However, some clear voices urged caution and prudence but not panic, offering practical advice to address a serious problem. And for that we are very thankful.

How people respond to advice to handle sobering issues reveals a great deal about them and about society. While the global nature of a pandemic eventually demands attention from everyone, we should learn to recognize the spiritual pandemic of sin when it presents itself as well. When Solomon offered wise counsel about falling prey to sexual temptation, the principles he provided should sound strangely familiar. In Proverbs 7 he presented a realistic portrayal of sexual temptation, from its original facade to its ultimate ugliness, and it is in the best interest of all today to learn from his wisdom. Therefore, whether fornication or adultery, sexting or pornography, or any other sexual temptation, consider the wise man’s guidance.

Listen and learn! We could avoid so many problems in life if we would simply listen to the warnings given by those with greater understanding and experience (Prov. 7:1-4). You may not always understand the reasons underlying many warnings, but respect for wisdom should urge caution and investigation rather than flippant rejection. Far too often, rather than listening and learning, people fool themselves into justifying themselves, failing to appreciate that lust and temptation have taken root and led to listening to temptation and lust instead of wisdom (Prov. 7:5). The gullible, inexperienced, and ignorant need to hear wisdom, guidance, and understanding (Prov. 7:6-7). Wisdom is available, but we must also be willing to listen and learn.

Protect yourself from temptation by avoiding dangerous circumstances. Being “in the wrong place at the wrong time” has become a cliche explanation of poor decision making. However, it does express a degree of truth. Proximity itself can be a temptation (Prov. 7:8). The worst decisions, especially regarding sexual temptation, occur as the culmination of a number of smaller bad decisions. Fornication and adultery can begin simply by choosing to download an app you do not need and that serves no positive purpose. A pornography addiction can begin simply by clicking on a clearly problematic link, accepting a request on Instagram, or even could be fueled by watching sexually suggestive mainstream movies. The seemingly private environment provided by a phone or computer in the privacy of your home, shielded from others by distance and darkness do not change right and wrong; it only affects your impression of who is watching (Prov. 7:9). When “the question of getting caught” becomes the strongest defense against participation, you know that the circumstances have spiraled out of control.

Evaluate the evidence of impurity. When it comes to relationships and sexual sins, people often let lust and loneliness lead instead of wisdom and godliness. They become entwined in a relationship with someone completely unsuitable because they failed to evaluate that person’s character and spirituality sufficiently first. Solomon insists that warning signs usually exist; people just ignore them. We do not like to ask the hard questions—of ourselves or others—when it comes to the character of someone we care about, and this creates a variety of long term problems. In evaluating our someone in a relationship, we should consider whether their attire comes closer to matching godliness or harlotry (Prov. 7:10a), using divine expectations rather than modern mores as the standard. More than that, notice that person’s behavior with others and in other contexts (Prov. 7:10b-11). A person with a bad history in relationships—whether at home or in other relationships—needs to provide sufficient evidence of correction or that type of pattern will become a permanent fixture in ruining someone else’s life. This itself is so significant. Friends, do not ignore a history of issues, whatever they might be (Prov. 7:12). A person’s history is part of who they are and is the best evidence of who they will be. That does not mean they cannot change—after all, repentance is at the heart of Christianity—but it means that there must be sufficient evidence of a complete alteration in character rather than simply token changes to satisfy a base requirement.

Beware the trap. The lust of the flesh can take hold in an instant, and that is why we must remain constantly vigilant against its hold. Do not let the heat of the moment become the  error of a lifetime (Prov. 7:13). We can fool ourselves into thinking we are in control…until we aren’t. And then we spend the rest of our lives managing the fallout of that failure. In some cases, we fall into the trap of making exceptions “just this once” or “just with this special person.” It is sad that people can sell a day or themselves as spiritual in such a way as to try to justify sin (Prov. 7:14). Some fall into the trap of smooth talk and being made to feel special and unique, while remaining oblivious to the fact that this is just part of the routine done many times before (Prov. 7:15). All of this illustrates a truism: a sinner makes it easy for others to sin (Prov. 7:16-18). Coaxing someone else to join them in sin helps them justify their own ungodliness. They offer every reason why sexual sin is safe in order to keep you from remembering that it is still sin (Prov. 7:19-21).

Don’t ignore the consequences. Temptation of every kind attempts to persuade you never to consider the future and never to consider eternity. As Solomon concludes his discourse on sexual temptation, he offers a series of warnings about just how serious this can be. Friends, ignoring biblical advice gives you no protection from predators (Prov. 7:22); it opens you up to their advances and deception. More than that, when you dismiss the warnings of what can happen because you assume it could not possibly be as bad as people say, you become extremely vulnerable to the worst outcomes imaginable (Prov. 7:23). So, please, listen to these inspired warnings (Prov. 7:24). Protect your heart from emotional attachments that do not follow righteous guidance (Prov. 7:25). Do not overestimate your spiritual strength; it will expose your spiritual weakness to everyone (Prov. 7:26). And never underestimate where one misstep can lead you in life (Prov. 7:27).

Unfortunately, many people today do not take these warnings seriously. They think the problem is just hype. They believe the risk is not great and that they are essentially immune to the problem. They listen to those who tell them everything is okay and no big deal. They downplay the temptation and overestimate their natural resistance. And that is a big part of the problem.

These principles, like the temptation, are nothing new. And you might think that they are just common sense. But the extent to which the problem of sexual temptation and sin exists in society, and even in the Lord’s church, indicates that, however much we might think the advice is obvious, we have a definite problem following that advice. It was a problem three thousand years ago, and it is a problem today. The challenge of sexual temptation remains; however, we should be thankful that God has already provided the necessary antidote if we will but follow His instructions.

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