I was looking out the window of my house one day and saw a simpleminded young man who lacked common sense. He was crossing the street near the house of an immoral woman. He was strolling down the path by her house at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in. The woman approached him, dressed seductively and sly of heart. She was the brash, rebellious type who never stays at home. She is often seen in the streets and markets, soliciting at every corner.
She threw her arms around him and kissed him, and with a brazen look she said, "I've offered my sacrifices and just finished my vows. It's you I was looking for. I came out to find you, and here you are!"
I can imagine this guy swelling up and thinking, I may be getting a little older, but I've still got it! Plus he might have been thinking, At home I don't get "It's you I was looking for"; I get "It's about time you got home."
So she continues in verse 16:
"My bed is spread with colored sheets of finest linen imported from Egypt. I've perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let's drink our fill of love until morning."
What an offer. It looks good. At home the sheets don't even match. And it smells good. There are aloes and cinnamon. And it's going to feel gooduntil morning. At home it's probably just another night of rolling over and going to sleep.
So by this point this guy has only one question on his mind, which is: How do we get your husband out of the way? But she's already thought about that: "Let's enjoy each other's caresses, for my husband is not home. He's away on a long trip. He has taken a wallet full of money with him, and he won't return until later in the month."
What you have here is an enticing temptation. Some of you may have faced something similar and know how enticing it can be. In fact, if you're a human being, you are going to encounter times in your life when you are sorely tempted to sexual immorality. Now it might not be a situation of adultery like in this story. It might be something different. Maybe it's pornography on the Internet or premarital sexual activity or 900 numbers, but there are going to be some times in your life when you are tempted to depart from God's ideal, which is simpleone man, one woman, united in marriage.
Are you prepared for those kinds of situations? Because they will come. You will encounter them. Do you know how to reduce your odds of giving in? There's a lot on the line for you. Do you know how to emerge out of these kinds of situations with your character in tact or even stronger because it's proven itself in the test?
Sexual immorality will kill everything that's important to you
Let's see what happened to these two. Verse 21:
She seduced him with her pretty speech. With her flattery she enticed him.
Notice it was flattery. She said, "It's you I was looking for," but we know she's actually said that to a lot of guys. She's been out there at every corner.
He followed her at once, like an ox going to the slaughter or like a trapped stag, awaiting the arrow that would pierce its heart. He was like a bird flying into a snare, little knowing it would cost him his life.
Listen to me, my sons, and pay attention to my words. Don't let your hearts stray away toward her. Don't wander down her wayward path. For she has been the ruin of many; numerous men have been her victims. Her house is the road to the grave. Her bedroom is the den of death.
The message of this text could not be more clear. Sexual immorality will look good. It will feel good. It will smell good. And you'll want to go there. Of course you will. We all will. But God in his wisdom is saying: Count the cost, because you will dearly regret it. It will kill everything that's most important to you.
In the ancient Hebrew culture this kind of wisdom was passed on from male teachers to male students, so the temptation is depicted in the form of a woman. But obviously this lesson applies to all of us, because we are all sexually tempted, male or female, and we all are going to need God's help to resist that temptation. So this passage is warning everybody: Hey, don't give in, because what starts out looking pretty ends up ugly.
The Bible gives three word picturesstrong imagesto show us what will happen. All three are animals that are soon going to be dead. They've been hunted or trapped, and they're about to be killed.
First, the ox. The ox has a rope around its neck. It's being led away to the butcher; it's going to bleed rivers of steaming blood, and it's going to bellow and moan until it dies.
Or the stag, which was running strong and free through the forest. It's now trapped and is about to get an arrow right into the heart by somebody who's hunted him down.
Or this wild bird. It didn't know what it was doing and flew right into the cage. Now it's beating against the bars as hard as it can, but it can't get out. It's trapped.
The Bible is teaching us that when it comes to sexual immorality, what looks like it will delight you will actually destroy you. What starts out tasting like honey is going to turn into poison. So it says of sexual immorality: "Her bedroom is the den of death."
Illustration: When we hear a phrase like that"her bedroom is the den of death"it's hard for us in America to take that seriously. In our soap operas, 94 percent of the sex scenes are between people who are not married to each other, and they seem to be doing okay. The National Opinion Research Center tells us about 15 percent of Americans have cheated on a spouse. That's about one in seven, which is a fairly substantial number.
Illustration: We even have a book to guide us. Maybe you've read about The 50Mile Rule: Your Guide to Infidelity and Extramarital Etiquette. The author, Judith Brandt, was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune. The interviewer said, "You say in your book, 'Don't feel guilty.' That doesn't sound realistic." Brandt answered, "Guilt is something built into society basically to keep us in line. So if you're going about your business in a discreet way and you're continuing to take care of your wife and, most importantly, your children, there's no reason to feel guilt."
Illustration: If people feel little guilt about affairs, they feel even less about pornography. On Politically Incorrect a couple of years ago, Bill Maher had a panel on. He said to the panel, "Look, don't gripe about porn. Unless you women are willing to give us sex whenever we want, you lose the right to complain if we use porn." And the women on the panel agreed with him.
So when we hear this phrase, "Her bedroom is the den of death," in our culture we think, That sounds like a pretty good movie. I might want to rent that. Our first instinct is not, God, keep me pure, because impurity will destroy me. We just want to keep watching Bridges of Madison County, because it shows that an affair is an adventure; it's the magic in life; it's everything that has meaning and value. We want the easy lie, and we are losing our capacity to stomach the hard truth, which is what the Bible gives us. The Bible says: immorality is the den of death.
Immorality kills our closest relationships
What exactly dies with immorality? Let me suggest a couple of things. One thing that gets killed off is your closest relationships. The relationships you care about, the people that matter to you in your lifethat's what gets damaged.
Illustration: Last month the Miami Herald ran this headline: "Youth Pastor Resigns over Porn." The reporter, Carolyn Salazar, writes:
Members of the Old Cutler Presbyterian church on Sunday accepted the resignation of a popular youth minister who stepped down from his post after admitting he had an addiction to adult pornography.
During an emotional meeting following morning services, a contrite Matthew Lomenick told more than 150 parishioners that he felt obliged to resign from his post to seek professional help and save his marriage.
Flanked by his wife, Dede, Lomenickwho resigned after his wife discovered porn on their home computersaid he would not hide from his fellow congregants at the church. Instead, he said he needs their love and compassion to heal from his addiction.
"I was living life in isolation," he said after the meeting. "I don't know how it affects other people, but I know how pornography was affecting me. And it was eating me up. It robbed from me and my wife."
While you're in your fantasy, you're slowly killing off something. You're killing off relationships in your life. You're killing off the relationship with a spouse or with friends or with the church people who care about you.
God wants to spare you the pain of isolation. He wants to spare you the pain of ruined relationships. So he's saying: The cost is too high for immorality. Don't go there.
Immorality kills our freedom
A second thing that dies is your freedom, your ability to make choices, your ability to take a responsible approach to your life.
Illustration: A Christian who spent a lot of time in strip bars wrote an article about his painful journey there and back, and he described it in three stages. First, awakening, because it started out exciting. Then it moved into obsession, where it was controlling a greater degree of his time and energy and money. And finally it moved to possession, where he was no longer walking the dog; the dog was walking him.
He wrote: "I learned quickly that lust points only in one direction. You can't go back to a lower level and stay satisfied. Always you want more." He said he reached the point where he couldn't control his eyes. The new Time magazine would come, and he'd be flipping through the pages looking for the occasional racy picturein Time. And when he traveled, he said, "I wished the motel room could be locked from the outside so I wouldn't leave."
Possession is a frightening state to be in. Addiction is not what God wants for you. You don't want it for yourself. He wants you to be a free human being. So he warns you, don't give in to immorality, because it can take you that way. The cost is too high.
Immorality kills our relationship with God
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." God wants to be seen by us and enjoyed by us and pursued by us, and impurity begins to give us cataracts over our vision, and we begin to lose the capacity to see and enjoy God.
Illustration: Nancy Ortberg wrote this:
I have this dear friend who is in a marriage that is just plain hard. It is. It's hard. But, rather than face the pain of the hard, she escapes for hours in the day into a fantasy world that's starring a man in her church, who does not even know that he's figuring in her fantasy. So she feels like it's safe. But it's an amazing amount of time that my friend daydreams and thinks about this personSexual idolatry could take a turn where it's got such a grip on you, you know full well it's an idol for you, and it's competing with and beginning to obscure who God is.
Most people assume the Bible warns against sexual immorality because God is a killjoy. No, no, no. God is a keepjoy. He wants to keep joy in your life, and he knows if you go there it's going to start to erode your relationships. It's going to start to kill off your own freedom and ability to choose. It's going to start damaging your relationship with God. And so he wants to save you from that, and he's telling you, the best for you is not giving into immorality.
Many of you are thinking, I agree with you, but it's a little late; I wish you would have told me this 15 years ago. You've already felt that move from awakening to obsession and to possession.
God does have mercy on those who have fallen. He wants your best. He believes in you. He has mercy. But let your fall push you toward repentance and not toward internal and , which is . Healing is difficult, but it's possible. It's going to take time. It's going to take some hard choices. There are going to be ups and downs. But it is possible for you. Even if you think it's not, it is.
We must avoid situations we know are sexually tempting.
I want to give clear guidelines on how you can reduce the likelihood of your falling into sexual immorality, so whether you're building a life of integrity or rebuilding a life of integrity, you can safeguard yourself from damage.
The first one sounds obvious: avoid situations you know are tempting for you. I sometimes hear people say, "I can handle this. I've got will power. That's not going to bother me." And I'm thinking, You have a much higher value on your will power than you should. If David, a man after God's own heart, can fall, who are you? Don't kid yourself. Build fences around your life and around those tempting situations, so you don't even have to use your will power.
In the Bible passage it says:
I was looking out the window of my house one day, and I saw a simpleminded young man who lacked common sense. He was crossing the street near the house of an immoral woman. He was strolling down the path by her house at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in.
You have to wonder, Did he have to cross the street right there where he knew she lived? And did he have to go right at twilight when he was most vulnerable? No wonder Scripture says this guy lacked a common sense.
Some of you right now are mentally walking across the street at twilight, and you are not avoiding the places you know are going to be seductive for you. You're walking by the desk of that , and you're kidding yourself about why you have to be there so much. Or you're spending a lot of time on the computer when you know full well that visiting porn sites is a problem for you. That doesn't make sense.
So I challenge you. Are you willing to be aggressive and put some things in place in your life that are going to protect you? You may need to change your policy about who you go to lunch with. Or you may need to change your address so you stop getting all those stupid porn . Or you may need to cut up your Blockbuster card, because the dvds you're renting are not helping you. You're not going to win the battle by will power alone. Make your battle easier by setting up some fences, putting holy boundaries into your life.
We must build relationships of accountability.
The second guideline is to build accountability. You have to build relationships now that have a level of honesty that when temptation comes you have a place to go. One reason immorality has so much power is that it isolates you. It makes you hide from other people, and then you try to handle it on your own.
You cannot beat this by yourself. You need pastors. You need friends. You need accountability. You need support. You need protection. I sometimes wonder how this Bible story would have been different if this guy had been walking with a friend across the street at twilight.
Illustration: Years ago I went out to Stanford and took a publishing course for a couple of weeks. It was in the summer, and it was beautiful. For two weeks I was there by myself, and they put us into work groups to do projects. So we had this group of about eight or ten people, and in the group was a woman who was about my age named Becky.
One night our project group was working late. Around 10 o'clock a bunch of people said, "Hey, let's go out into town," which meant go drink sake until wasted. Becky said, "I don't feel like going." And I said, "It's not my thing either."
Rather than saying, "I'm tired; I'm going home," we went to a restaurant together, had pie, and talked for a couple of hours. She started to tell me how her recent divorce had been hard on her, how she was lonely and needing companionship.
Are the warning bells going off for you? Because they weren't for me. And I should have known better. When Karen and I got married, we set a guideline. We said that since eating together with somebody can be intimate, we're not going to eat alone with someone of the opposite sex unless it's either truly necessary for workwhich this wasn'tor we give the other person advanced noticewhich I didn't.
Then, during the week, of course, every day our project groups were meeting and I was spending a lot of time talking with her. And I was thinking, Maybe I shouldn't be doing that, but we're friends. There's nothing wrong with talking.
And then the last night of the course there was a dance, and I remember thinking to myself, I wonder if I should ask her to dance with me. That probably wouldn't be a good idea. But on the other hand, if I don't she'll perceive me as rude. Do you see how my thinking was getting warped?
When you get in the sphere of sexual temptation, the cone of delusion comes down over you and you start believing ridiculous things. You start telling yourself ludicrous things you would never believe in your sane moments. And that's why you cannot make it alone. You need accountability.
What kept me on the safe side of the line, even though I had my toes right up there on it, were two people in my lifemy wife and my friend Tim Jones. I knew they were going to ask me how the course went. We have honesty in those relationships, and I wasn't going to be able to bluff them. So I remember talking to Karen about this. It was a hard conversation for her; it was a hard conversation for me. But that accountability is what saves you.
Do you have somebody in your life who you can be honest with, who you can report to, who will walk with you through these things? He's not going to condemn you but is going to be firm with you, because that's what you need.
We must count the cost of sexual immorality.
Lastly, count the cost. The heartbeat of this Bible passage is for you to count the cost. Immorality is always going to look goodit's always going to promise feeling good and all thatbut we forget that after this short, short pleasure, there's going to be a long, long pain. We need to know the consequences so it will sober us up.
Illustration: I read this list called "Consequences of a Moral Tumble" by a guy named Randy Alcorn:
One day having to look Jesus, the Righteous Judge, in the face and give an account for my actions.
Inflicting untold hurt on Nancy, my best friend and loyal wife.
Destroying my example and credibility with my children and nullifying both present and future efforts to teach them to obey God.
Creating a form of guilt awfully hard to shake. Even though God would forgive me, would I forgive myself?
Forfeiting the effect of years of witnessing to my father and reinforcing his distrust for Christians, which has only begun to soften by my example, but which could harden perhaps permanently by my immorality.
Bringing great pleasure to Satan, the enemy of God and all that is good.
The cost is high. What steps are you going to take to reduce your likelihood of falling? Because you will face these situations. And you may need to avoid situations you know are tempting for you. You may need to build in more aggressive boundaries around them. You may need to build honest, friendships that are going to protect you when you begin to lose your way. You may need to count the cost, so you sober up when you begin to lose your bearings.
God loves us. He wants the best for us. He wants to save every one of us from the tremendous pain that comes from sexual immorality. That's why he saying in his wisdom: Listen to me. Pay attention to my words. Don't let your heart stray that way, because her house is the road to the grave and her bedroom is the den of death.
Kevin Milleris vice president of Resources for Christianity Today International and editor at large for Leadership journal. His most recent book is Surviving Information Overload (Zondervan 2004).