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How to Deal with Temptation

Proverbs 5-7

     News reached me this past Thursday morning about a long time colleague having to resign his leadership role in a significant global Christian ministry because of “moral failure”. As always, this will prove to be extremely costly to his marriage, his family and to the cause of Christ – indeed, in countless ways we cannot now imagine. At the same time, all week long, we have being hearing about a celebrity who was the main spokesperson for a large fast food company pleading guilty to child pornography. This will hurt his marriage, his children and, of course, it will cost him his freedom. And we’ve been reading about 37 M people participating in the Ashley Madison website, a website that exists for one reason only – to facilitate extramarital affairs. Their slogan is this: “Life is short. Have an affair.” And, there is now some evidence that, of children in the USA between the ages of 8-16, over 90% have visited pornographic websites. Without any question, we are a society that has become obsessed with things sexual.

     This all is in the news as we come to Proverbs 5-7, a larger section that speaks directly to the matter of dealing with temptation, especially to sexual temptation. I have been planning to speak more generally about how Proverbs teaches us to handle temptation. However, when I met with some of our other LAC pastors for sermon prep time, they were unanimous in saying, “You can’t do that, Greg. This matter of sexual temptation is so pervasive in our world that we need some ‘straight-speaking’ from the Bible about how to be faithful to God’s Word in this area of our lives.” I know they are right about that.

Overview of Proverbs 5-7

     There is probably nowhere in the Bible that is more practical about dealing with sexual temptation than Proverbs 5-7. When you read those three chapters, you’ll discover Solomon sounds like a parent in our own day writing out of concern for his children’s decision-making. And, that’s exactly what these three chapters are all about – a father teaching his sons how to handle temptation. So, don’t be surprised or put off by the fact that all the teaching is from a male perspective. It’s all about a father speaking to his sons.

     But, it is noteworthy that, as King Solomon teaches his sons generally about dealing with temptation, he focuses on this matter of sexual temptation. I think that this may be because King Solomon himself was born because his father, King David, had committed adultery with Solomon’s mother Bathsheba. That moral failure had led to dire consequences for David and for the entire nation (see 2 Sam 11-12).

   I can well imagine that Solomon’s whole life had been affected by his father’s moral failure. Can’t you hear people say, “How can we follow a king born because his powerful father took another man’s wife?” I am quite sure Solomon was deeply aware of the enormous devastation that sexual immorality can bring to marriages, families, friendships and careers. He knew he had to teach clearly about this – and so do I.

     I urge you to read carefully through Proverbs 5-7 to see what God’s Word teaches. I cannot cover it all in one sermon. However, Solomon offers several strongly stated tactics about how to handle sexual temptation. I think they are as relevant today as they were back then.

Tactic #1: Sexual Faithfulness Starts with Your Mind -- “Pay attention to wisdom (5:1)… Store up my commands within you (7:1).

     When you read the entirety of Prov. 5-7, one of the things that will strike you is how many times Solomon tells his sons to listen to wisdom, to pay attention to what godly mentors teach, and to have biblical wisdom fill their minds and thereby direct their lives -- 5:1,7; 7:1-5, 24. See esp., 6:20-25a.

   Let me ask you this: What is Solomon talking about with all his calls to listen to and be shaped by wise teaching? What are we to write deep within our hearts? The answer is God's Word. Solomon is saying what Moses said in Deut. 6:1-9 about parents passing on God’s teaching from one generation to the next. Solomon is saying that we must take time to listen to and learn the broader teaching of God’s Word, i.e., the moral teaching of Scripture that we need to be committed to as Christian families and as a church. We must teach God’s Word carefully to our children and to new believers who come to faith and wonder how they now should live.  Psalm 119:11 tells us, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you”.  Even clearer is when the Psalmist posed the question, "How can a young man keep his way pure?" His conclusion: "By listening to, learning and living according to God’s word" (Psa. 119:9).

     So, it is the consistent teaching of the Bible that victory over temptation begins with what you do with your mind. So, what should you do with your mind?

  • First, be ruthless about what you put into your mind.

         We're all familiar with the saying "Garbage in, garbage out." The opposite is true too: “Purity in, purity out.” David wrote of Scripture, "The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in an earthen furnace, purified seven times" (Ps 12:6). If you hope to be sexually pure in the midst of a sex-orientated culture, you must replace the worldly thinking with God's thoughts, found in God’s Word. God’s ideas of right and wrong, his promises, and his teachings must saturate your inner being. Regular, consistent exposure to God's Word is the main combatant to the alluring lies of our culture.

     My questions to you: What do you fill your mind with? What kind of entertainment are you entertained by? How often are you having personal devotional times in which you read Scripture? For those who are parents, how much time are you spending teaching your children God’s truth as Solomon talks about in 6:20? Don’t be fooled into thinking that you won’t be shaped by what you put into your mind. You need godly teaching to fill your mind.

  • Second, treasure God’s truth and take time to meditate on it.

     Solomon called his sons not merely to know the Word, but to bind it on their hearts, to incline their ears to it, to treasure it, to write it on the tablet of their hearts.  He was saying, “God is good. God’s ways are good. Believe me, my sons. God’s ways are better than what the rest of the world has to offer.” Do you believe that?

     So, as an antidote to sexual temptation, Solomon is calling for more than an intellectual familiarity with the Bible’s content.  He wants his sons to know God is good and that God’s Word is to be cherished.  The reason they and we should do this is that a love for God and a deep trust that God’s ways are a thousand – a million – times better than what we see on television, in films, and on Ashley Madison websites! When you truly believe that, it will direct your whole life and make you long to stay away from immoral thinking and living. Solomon tells us in 6:20-24 and 7:1-5 that God’s Word has the power to lead us and to keep us from destructive and addicting sexual behavior.

  • Third, set your mind on things that honor God.

     Filling your mind with God’s Word is essential. You can’t live a life in keeping with God’s Word if you don’t know what’s in it! But – at the same time -- it’s possible to have a lot of knowledge and still not be changed by what you know. So, the Bible tells you to “set your mind not on the things you naturally crave but on the things of God’s Spirit (Rom. 8:5).” The Apostle Paul insists in that verse that what we set our minds on is what directs our lives. If your deepest longing is to live a life of sexual purity, set your mind on that. Long for it. Focus on healthy and God-honoring things rather than fantasizing about things you simply know are wrong.

     My question to you: What do you choose to dream about? What do you use your mind to hope for and to plan for? Here’s what you must do: Intentionally, re-direct what you set your mind on from things that are immoral to the kinds of things that would please God. You’ll find that you choices will slowly begin to follow what you set your mind on.

     You live in a world that wants you to believe the opposite of what God’s Word teaches about sexual conduct. Our culture bombards you with words, images, advertisements, movies, television, pictures that sex outside marriage vows is the way of life that is fun, freeing, and fulfilling. You will get sucked into that lie if you are filling your mind with its message and are not a person filling your mind with God’s truth. I ask you: How much to you want to be set free from giving in to sexual temptation? How much do you really want to live for God? There will be no change unless you believe passionately that the way of life God calls for is what you long for – what you set your mind on. Do you believe that what God’s Word teaches is truly good? It is only when you do that you will deny self and follow Jesus.

     Regardless of the behavior that people see in you when you are in public, the true test of your moral character is your thought life. Craig Groeschel says, “You can’t build a foundation of sin now for a life of purity later.” The only way to begin to change your behavior is to change your mind.

     Athlete Tim Tebow is one who is setting his mind on living a sexually faithful life. Listen to his words: “If I’ve already thought through a situation and have a response prepared ahead of time in the event temptation rears its ugly head, it is much easier to resist (from Tim Tebow, A Quarterback’s Journey).”

Tactic #2: Consider the Exorbitant CostYou will lose your honor and dignity… Evil deeds will ensnare you (5:9,22).

     27 verses in these chapters (5:3-6, 9-14, 21-23; 6:26-35; 7:22-23, 26-27) are specifically devoted to telling you to use you mind to count the cost of giving in to sexual sin! Do you see how important it is? But, I believe it is one often neglected when we teach on this subject.  You should consider it a vital discipline to ponder the consequences of the decisions you make, to consider the certain long-term misery that will result from momentary pleasure.  Solomon describes the moment of sin as sweet, but the aftertaste as bitter.  He says, “Sexual sin will rob your time, sap your energies, destroy your credibility and honor, wreck your family and marriage and ultimately bring you to the brink of ruin.”  Undoubtedly, the “Enemy” wants you to give no thought to these things, but clearly the Holy Spirit intends for you to meditate on them.

   This kind of sin always starts with one small step: You may start watching a show with values that trouble you. At first you may be bothered that it portrays sex outside marriage as normal and exciting – even as good. Then, you begin to have a relationship with someone who treats you nicely – who thinks you're funny and interesting. Step after step is taken. Soon you’re saying, “I never thought this would happen to me.”

     In ch. 7, Solomon pictures something similar to that: A man goes where he knows he shouldn’t go. He finds temptation there to which he is very susceptible. Adrenaline and hormones race through the man's system. He no longer thinks straight because he is driven by his desires. In one cataclysmic moment the man falls prey to temptation because he’s been thinking about such things for a long time. Then, he crosses the line. His life is forever changed, and not for the good.

     Solomon minces no words. He declares, “To cross the line into sexual impurity will cost you.” In 7:22-23, he uses words like “slaughter”. Have you ever been to a slaughterhouse? It can make even the strongest of people lose their lunch. “Trapped”. Have you ever heard the desperate yelp of an animal caught in a trap knowing that death is imminent? It will cause you agony. “Snare”. Have you seen a bird caught in a web or net unable to free itself? It is a pitiful and tragic sight.

     A close colleague of mine was a man who had been a leader first in a law firm and then in our denomination until he failed morally. When I met with him as a part o our denominational board that dealt with discipline, I asked him, "What could you have been done to have helped you prevent this?" He paused for a moment, then said with haunting pain and precision, "If only I had really known, really thought through, what it would cost me and my family and my Lord, I honestly believe I never would have done it."

     Be aware of the cost of sexual sin: Solomon issued a strong warning to his sons. I pass it on to you: When you cross the line into sexual immorality there are serious consequences. Take time to consider the exorbitant cost of sexual unfaithfulness and it will help guide you.


#3: Stay away places and situations of temptation -- at all costs! “Keep to a path far from her. Do not go near the door of her house (5:8)

     This brings me back to the story Solomon told his sons in 7:6-21.  It’s the story of a young man, lacking sense, who intentionally went to a place where he knew he would be tempted. Bottom line: The man had already made his decision before the woman came to tempt him. The red light districts in the Middle East were clearly known and marked off. The man knew where he was going. So, this man had already made his choice with his feet when he took the road to her house.

     This is why Solomon writes, “keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house… Do not stray into her paths.”  He is essentially prescribing radical amputation.  “Cut yourself off from the source of temptation.  Don’t even go near it.” The Apostle Paul puts it even more strongly in 1 Cor 6:18: “Flee from sexual immorality.” He didn’t say flirt but he yelled, “Flee!” “Don’t go there!

   Some people think they can walk right up to the line and have the will power to not cross over. Own up to it: There are certain things you cannot handle and places you cannot go without failing. Take time to identify those places and don’t do there!! There are certain films, videos, and pictures in magazines that you must stay away from. There are TV shows and late-night channels you have no business watching. There are websites you have to avoid. As my Mom would say, "If you are on a diet, don't go to the doughnut shop."

So, don't flirt with sexual temptation. Run from it. Run fast. Run hard.

     I do think this is more challenging in our day than it was in Solomon’s. All week, I’ve been receiving messages through social media about how temptation has walked from the streets that Solomon talked about and, through technology, come right through our doors, into our homes, and into our daily lives through our phones and Pads. It surely is harder than ever to flee from places of temptation. But this is the world that God has put us into. I am convinced that sexual faithfulness is possible through God's Spirit experienced in community even in our world. We must believe this good news.

     So, let me provide some help:

  • A Book – I recommend to you a simple book that calls us to a distinctive way of life as Christians: Craig Groeschel’s Weird. I love the subtitle: Because Normal Isn’t Working. There are three short chapters dealing with sexual temptation that I find to be good.
  • A People – When it comes to matters like anger and sexual temptation that we’ve dealt with over the past two weeks, we all know that we cannot do what God calls us to on our own. We need others to walk with us. So, we urge you to consider being a part of the Celebrate Recovery (CR) group that meets on Wednesday evenings from 6-9 PM. There is information about that in our Worship Folder.
  • Some Training -- We know we need to provide some training for parents to do what Proverbs tells parents to do, i.e., to teach their children God’s ways rather than culture’s. So, beginning 10’4/15, we’re going to begin that with a series entitled “How To Talk to Your Kids about Tough Things”.
  • A Church-wide Emphasis – Beginning 9/12-13/15, we will be launching a church wide series of teaching called Synced – Walking in sync with the Spirit of God… (I will describe this.)

     I’ll close with this. Last month, a close friend took my entire family to Ireland. While there, we participated in a time with birds of prey. The bird trainer had two owls, a kestrel, a peregrine falcon, a huge golden eagle named James, and a Harris hawk named Marta. They were all coexisting there as the trainer talked about them and brought them out one-by-one for people to hold. The birds all participated in peace. But, at the end, the trainer brought out Marta the hawk and asked, “Would you like to have her fly from the trees down to land on your arm?’ All said yes. But then he said, “We have to move out of sight of the other birds. You see, Marta is a sweet girl but she is a hawk. Marta is an opportunist. If she is allowed to be away from me and in the trees, and is able to see these other birds, she will take them all out. Her natural bent is to go after them. If I’m on watch, she’s OK. If she is out of sight of temptation, she’s OK. But, if not, she’ll give in to her natural ways. She’d kill them all!”

     And, I’ll tell you that though you and I were made in the image of God, since sin entered our world, our natural bent is not to live for God but to give in to our fallen and imperfect cravings. God promises to change us from the inside out through the power of his Spirit. But, until that work is done, we will be as tempted to do wrong as much as Marta was. So, until God’s work is complete, learn from Proverbs: 1) fill your mind with God’s truth and set your desire on God’s ways, 2) take time to consider the exorbitant cost of sexual failure when you feel tempted and 3) stay away from the places and situations of temptation. My prayer is that you will find freedom and a new life – to God’s glory.