Proverbs 6:20-35 Sermon The Path of Purity; The Cost of Adultery (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Our sermon text this morning is Proverbs 6:20-35. That is found on page 630 in the provided Bibles.
Solomon is returning to the sensitive but important topic of adultery. This is his second lesson on the issue. In Chapter 5, he introduced it by making the case for faithfulness in marriage, faithfulness in the pattern of marriage that God designed.
When we were in chapter 5, one important thing we discussed is the forgiveness that we have in Christ. Believers in Jesus are forgiven of all our sin. And that includes our sexual sin. In him, we have redemption, and in him we are being restored and renewed. Keep that in mind as we continue to navigate God’s Word in these matters.
As we now come to these verses in chapter 6, Solomon shifts his focus to two things. 1.) Where adultery begins, and 2) the cost of adultery. So, as I read, listen for the cause and the consequences of infidelity.
Let’s now come to God’s Word.
Reading of Proverbs 6:20-35
In the early 20th century One of the great British journalists was Malcolm Muggeridge. He served in World War 1, graduated from Cambridge, lived in India for a period of time, and edited several periodicals in England. For most of his life, Muggeridge was agnostic to God. That means he didn’t care about or consider God; but then later in life, Muggeridge converted to Christianity.
In his diary and letters, he often reflected back on the things that eventually led him to Christ. One of those was his struggle with lust.
In a letter to his father, Muggeridge recounted one suchincident in India when he was younger. At the time, Muggeridge had fantasized about infidelity… the allure of adultery. As Proverbs chapter 9 puts it, how “stolen water is sweet.” Muggeridge had never acted on his impulse, though. That is until one morning while swimming in a local River in India. Across the river he saw the silhouette of a woman bathing. It’s then that his heart stared racing with what he called “wild unreasonableness which is called passion.” This was his moment, he thought. And so, he began to swim towards her. Not only did he struggle against the water but also the current of his own conscience. Yet he continued.
When he reached the other shore, he emerged from the river and came to a shocking reality. The woman was a leper. Her nose had rotted off. Her body was covered in sores all over and the tips of her fingers were gone. His first reaction was to think, “what a wretched woman this is.” But he soon realized, it wasn’t the woman who was wretched, no, instead, it was his own wretched heart.
As Muggeridge recounted that event, he wrote “If only I could paint, I'd make a wonderful picture of a passionate boy running after that and call it: 'The lusts of the flesh.'"
Well, that story captures the warning of Proverbs 6:20-35.
Yes, a big portion of these verses focus on the consequences of actual adultery, but here Solomon identifies where it all begins… it all begins with the lust in our hearts.
This morning, we’re going to approach these verses a little differently. Usually, as you know, we work logically through the verses section by section. Occasionally, we’ve looked at themes we find throughout. But this morning, we’re going to start in the middle, work our way to the end, and then circle back to the beginning.
So, I’m saving verses 20-24 to the end. The reason is, these opening verses help us as we each confront our sinful desires. So, I thought it would be good to actually end with the beginning.
Three points this morning.
1. The Cause of Sexual Immorality – That is verse 25.
2. The Cost of Sexual Immorality – Verse 26 to the end of the chapter
3. The Cure to Sexual Immorality – Back up to verses 20-24. Cure may not be the best word. But it helps my alliteration.
The cause of, the cost of, and the cure to sexual immorality.
1. The Cause of Sexual Immorality
So number 1 - the cause.
Jump down to verse 25. This verse captures Solomon’s message to his son. After he had just told him to love God’s commands, he warns him about the forbidden woman, and then he says this: “Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes.”
He’s speaking about that internal lust of the heart. Sometimes we call that heart adultery. Jesus refers to this in his Sermon on the Mount. If someone looks at a woman with lustful thoughts (or for that matter, looks at a man with lustful thoughts), he or she is breaking the seventh commandment – committing adultery in his or her heart.
And verse 25 is very interesting. It’s not what we would expect. Because if you look at the rest of the chapter, Solomon is identifying the consequence of breaking verse 25’s command… but those consequences are connected to physical adultery, not heart adultery.
In other words, what we expect verse 25 to say is: “Do not commit adultery with her.” But Solomon didn’t say that. Instead, he goes back to the beginning. He goes back to where adultery starts. And he basically says, do not lust in your heart for her. His premise is that our desires, our unholy desires lead down the path to adultery. Solomon wants his sons to recognize where adultery begins. Unless they recognize its source, and deal with their desires, he’s saying, they will fall prey to adultery and its tragic consequences.
Really, all sin begins in the heart, but it’s especially true for adultery. Let me expand that to include all sexual sin - what I mean is any sexual activity outside of God’s ordained pattern of marriage between one man and one woman. We talked about that pattern in chapter 5. All sexual sin begins with lustful desires in our heart. It doesn’t start the moment that it’s acted upon.
Verse 25 alludes to an external attraction. For boys and men that’s where it often begins – not always but often. Solomon knows this. His father, King David, experienced that desire and then acted upon it. For girls and women often it’s an emotional connection – not always but often.
Whatever it is, someone is attractive to you in some way. The problem comes in when that other person is married or you are married and the other person is not your spouse. Perhaps you justify your thoughts. You think, my spouse is not satisfying my physical or emotional needs. Or I know she is married but there’s something about her I desire. Whatever it is, whether you are single or married, you begin to have lustful thoughts in your heart. In your mind, you violate God’s commandment against adultery.
And let me add another category to which I believe verse 25 speaks. This category doesn’t just include unholy and sinful desires, but also in a way acting upon them. I’m referring to pornography. Maybe your sinful desires led you down that path or maybe you were exposed to it which led to unholy desires. But what porn does is pervert what God created as good within a Biblical marriage, and instead it corrupts that design to suit our own lustful passions. Not only that, but it objectifies someone else made in God’s image for your own pleasure. The difficult truth today is the pervasiveness of porn. A recent study revealed that 64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month.
Let me ask this. What would the statistic be if the question focused on adulterous thoughts about someone else in the last month? Would it be 90% of Christian men and 60% percent of Christian women? Perhaps higher.
What verse 25 is saying is that our desires, when they are outside of God’s pattern, are unholy and sinful. Now, to be sure, I’m not saying that the temptation itself is sin. No, being tempted is not sin. Rather it’s when we act on the temptation in our mind, when it becomes sin. Verse 25 is using the word “desire” to mean coveting or lusting after something forbidden.
This is very contrary to our culture’s message today. Some have called the moment of history that we are in “the sexual revolution.” One of the tenants of this revolution is that our desires in this area are not sinful, but rather they define who we each are. We are not “binary” as the revolution says. Some of you will know what that means.
In response, there’s a critical element of the Christian worldview that we need to understand. It’s that when sin entered the world, everything was affected. The universe experienced corruption. Life itself experienced corruption. Our bodies deteriorate. Disease entered the world. And our hearts and minds were corrupted by sin. That includes our desires, which have also been corrupted.
What I’m saying is that having a desire does not legitimate that desire as good or ok. To be sure, not every desire is sinful, but desires that are contrary to God’s creation pattern or desires that are idolatrous or adulterous, like verse 25, go against what is holy and right and good.
I want to be sensitive not to dismiss the reality of those desires or the difficulty of the struggle. As some of you know, it’s complicated and painful. But let me encourage you - the Christian message is one of redemption and restoration. Each of us has different struggles in our lives – maybe it’s this, maybe it’s something else. But one thing that the Christian can hold on to is that God is at work in us, in this life. Over time through prayer and the community of faith and the Word, God through his Spirit helps. He’s conforming us more each day to the image of Christ.
That sanctifying work in us includes our sexual desires and lust. And we can hold onto the hope of eternity when we will be fully restored one day, body and mind.
I know I’ve said a lot and, of course, more could be said. So far, we’ve been dwelling on verse 25. But let’s continue now on to the cost.
2. The Cost of Sexual Immorality
This is point number 2. The Cost of Sexual Immorality.
Verses 26 through 35 focus in on the cost. Really, as I mentioned, these verse are referring to the consequences of full-blown adultery. It’s where our unrighteous sexual desire lead.
One of the things we do in this area of sin is we minimize the cost. We only think in the moment and we don’t think about the consequences of our actions. Solomon captures that in some of these verses.
For example, in verse 26, he compares the cost of prostitution – only a loaf of bread - to the cost of adultery – your precious life. In other words, adultery may not cost you a penny of your money, but it will cost you your life.
Let me comment on two brief things here.
· First, Solomon is not condoning prostitution. In fact, in the next chapter, the adulteress acts like a prostitute. And prostitution is condemned in several places in Scripture.
· Second, these verses are not identifying women as the problem. Ive mentioned that before, but wanted to reaffirm it. No, Solomon is writing to his son, so he emphasizes the adulteress. Add to that, the focus in on his son’s heart and his actions, not the forbidden woman.
What he is saying is that the cost is extremely high. The two questions in verses 27 and 28 correlate sexual immorality with fire – you will get burned. In verse 29, Solomon gets really explicit – He says, “no one who commits adultery will go unpunished.”
And then in verse 30, he contrasts adultery with stealing. He reveals that the consequences of adultery are far worse.
It’s like this: suppose someone in your community steals food to satisfy his hunger. As wrong as that is, after he is caught, he can be restored. He can pay seven times of what he stole… and if he does, the community will be whole again with him.
But not so with adultery. No. Verse 33 – his “his wounds and dishonor and his disgrace will not be wiped away,” it says. Adultery fractures communities and families. There’s a lasting and painful mark all around. It includes the anguish of deep betrayal and shame. If children are involved, the impact on them often lasts their lifetime.
As a reminder, Solomon is not saying that God and others can’t forgive. No, as we considered in chapter 5, his father, King David was forgiven. Rather Solomon is speaking about the tragedy and consequences on a family and the community.
Some of you are painfully aware of the cost. Perhaps because of your own infidelity, or a spouse or a parent or child or in-law. You know the heartache. Perhaps you know the comfort of Christ in that situation or forgiveness or restoration in him. At times there’s tremendous restoration in a marriage or in a community. But often times adultery leaves a trail of hurt and sadness and grief.
And note how Solomon ends. The last two verses. He warns his sons about revenge. You see, the sin of adultery often results in wrath from the husband of the adulteress or the wife of the adulterer. Nothing you can do or give him, Solomon warns, will satisfy his anger.
The costs is high - destruction, pain, shame, disgrace, and revenge.
And remember, he’s speaking about the costs sexual immorality that has been acted upon. But what the warning about the cost does is raise the stakes of our sinful desires. The lust of our hearts if unchecked will lead down the path to damage and destruction.
My opening illustration about Malcolm Muggeridge is in some way, very personal. In the mid-1990s, I moved to Atlanta to work for Ravi Zacharias ministries. I worked there for a few years until 1999. During my time there, I heard Ravi use that illustration a few times to highlight our sinful hearts, or as he put it, our lecherous hearts.
Sadly, many of you know his story. Ravi passed away from cancer in 2020. Shortly after, he was accused of sexual impropriety and abuse. I say accused because he’s not alive to defend himself and some of the facts are disputed. Nonetheless, enough is known and it’s a painful illustration of how lustful desires lead down the path to immortality. His sin broke relationships in his family… it destroyed a ministry… and it undermined the faith of so many who considered Ravi a spiritual father here on earth.
Brothers and sisters, the cost of sexual immorality is severe, and it all begins in the heart.
3. The Cure to Sexual Immorality
The cause, the cost, and now, point number 3 – The Cure to Sexual Immorality.
When I say “cure” I’m referring to how we overcome our internal sinful desires. Or how we protect ourselves. Solomon writes this because he wants to protect his son. Back up in verse 24, he uses the word “preserve.” He wants to preserve his son from falling prey to sexual temptation.
Of course, the question we ask is “how?”
Well, before we get to God’s answer in these verses, let me first tell you how not to protect yourself. The answer is not to put up fences and create rules to follow and get accountability partners.
I can see some of you squirming in your chairs right now. “but but but wait, I find those helpful.”
Well, maybe I overstated that. But I did not say those things were unhelpful. I’ve heard good things about the app Covenant Eyes, and certainly having someone who is asking you hard questions will be helpful.
But remember, your desires, your lust begins in your heart. Any of those external strategies are not going to help unless you begin by addressing your heart. Your unholy desires spring up from a heart that is sinful. What I’m saying is that whatever heart adultery that is in your mind is not going to be resolved by just putting up fences and creating rules.
That’s why Solomon begins with the heart. Look at what he says to his son in verse 21: Bind the commandments “on your heart always,” he says. You see, he’s not saying obey the commandments because these are God’s commandments. Yes, we should seek obey God’s commandments because they are God’s commandments. But ultimately, they are not going to change your heart. No, you need to start with a heart that love’s God and his commandments. Do you see the difference? We start from the inside out.
This is not a new aspect of our Proverbs study. Almost every chapter has included loving God’s commandments from our heart. We love God’s commandments because we love God and he loves us. If God and his commandments are just external, then our hearts will wander to all kinds of lusts and desires. On the outside, perhaps we appear righteous and holy, but on the inside, our hearts are wildly adulterous.
But when we have God and his commandments in our hearts, look at how Solmon describes the effect. Verse 22 – “When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you.” I love it, even when you sleep, your heart and mind will be filled with God and his commandments. And in verse 23, after describing the commandments as a “lamp” and “light,” it says, “the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.” Way of life. A life dedicated to God and his wisdom.
So, how do you fight the battle of the lusts of your flesh? You do it by loving God and making his way the way of your life.
I’ve had Ephesians 6 on my mind all week - the section we read earlier in the service. How do you fight the battle of sexual desires and stand firm? You put on the whole armor of God.
· You put on the breastplate of righteousness. Not your righteousness but the righteousness of Christ in you – the fulness of his purity.
· You wear the belt of truth and the sword of the Spirit which is God’s Word. That means through the Holy Spirit you trust the truth of God which he has revealed in his Word. Truth about the world, about creation, about what is good and right… truth about sin and the effects of sin.
· And Ephesians 6 continues, you wear the shoes of the Gospel, the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. You constantly remind yourself of what Christ has done for you in his Gospel. Salvation in him - the grace that you have which you receive by faith. That you are forgiven and cleansed of all our sin, which includes your lust and your sexual sins.
It's a beautiful place to begin because it’s a beautiful thing!
What I’m saying is that to fight the battle against your sinful lust, you need to replace your unholy heart desires with holy desires. And there’s nothing greater than to look to God and to look to what he has done for you in Christ.
When you embrace his Gospel, and rejoice in the Cross, and glory in his resurrection and all the redemption and hope that you have in him, he will fill you with a passion to reflect his righteousness and seek his commands. Instead of your heart being filled with lustful thoughts, more and more it will be filled with glorious thoughts – thoughts about the Gospel and God’s grace and forgiveness in your life.
Will you be cured from any and all lustful thoughts in this life? No, but through the Spirit, you will be enabled more and more to put to death those desires, to listen to his conviction… and when temptation comes, to turn away from it and back to the Gospel of grace.
In closing, there will come a day when those in Christ will be cured from all impure thoughts, all sinful desires, and the consequences of our sin. And it’s a day we can long for and anticipate with joy.
And in the battle of the flesh, today, we can fight with the full armor of God, knowing the cause of sexual immorality, it’s cost, and the ultimate cure. May the Lord help us each day in this battle.