Outside the Lines

By October 10, 2016Church

In doing research for this weekend’s message, I came across this letter from one friend to another and thought I’d share it with you.

Dear friend, pay close attention to this, my wisdom; listen very closely to the way I see it. Then you’ll acquire a taste for good sense; what I tell you will keep you out of trouble. The lips of a seductive woman are oh so sweet, her soft words are oh so smooth. But it won’t be long before she’s gravel in your mouth, a pain in your gut, a wound in your heart. She’s dancing down the primrose path to Death; she’s headed straight for Hell and taking you with her. She hasn’t a clue about Real Life, about who she is or where she’s going.  So, my friend, listen closely; don’t treat my words casually. Keep your distance from such a woman; absolutely stay out of her neighborhood. You don’t want to squander your wonderful life, to waste your precious life among the hardhearted. Why should you allow strangers to take advantage of you? Why be exploited by those who care nothing for you? You don’t want to end your life full of regrets, nothing but sin and bones, Saying, “Oh, why didn’t I do what they told me? Why did I reject a disciplined life? Why didn’t I listen to my mentors, or take my teachers seriously? My life is ruined! I haven’t one blessed thing to show for my life!” Do you know the saying, “Drink from your own rain barrel, draw water from your own spring-fed well”? It’s true. Otherwise, you may one day come home and find your barrel empty and your well polluted.  Your spring water is for you and you only, not to be passed around among strangers. Bless your fresh-flowing fountain! Enjoy the wife you married as a young man! Lovely as an angel, beautiful as a rose — don’t ever quit taking delight in her body. Never take her love for granted! Why would you trade enduring intimacies for cheap thrills with a whore? for dalliance with a promiscuous stranger? Mark well that God doesn’t miss a move you make; he’s aware of every step you take. The shadow of your sin will overtake you; you’ll find yourself stumbling all over yourself in the dark. Death is the reward of an undisciplined life; your foolish decisions trap you in a dead end.

Some people question if the Bible is relevant in today’s culture – does it say anything about the issues that affect my life? You might have guessed that the letter I just read is from the Bible. In fact, it’s Eugene Peterson’s translation of Proverbs 5.

But maybe we’ve progressed beyond way of thinking.

On AlterNet.org, Kali Holloway writes what many people may think:

“Monogamy is a nice idea in theory, but in practice, humans are less adept at it than they might admit. I mean, let’s be real: As long as relationships exist, there will be infidelity, and if recent studies are to be believed, there will be more of it all the time. Because we’re animals, people. And sometimes animals think with their loins, not their vows.”

If you or someone you love has ever been affected by an affair, I doubt you excused it simply on the basis that we’re all animals.

On topic of infidelity, the Bible may be more relevant than you think.

Psychologist and author Dr Willard Harley has spent much of his career studying infidelity. In one of his books he writes this about the nature of affairs:

“The vast majority of affairs — I’d say 95 percent — occur without planning or intent. Affairs usually start with a friendship. You find yourself attracted to another person, not necessarily sexually. You just like the person. You get along really well. Then one thing leads to another and eventually you develop an attraction and the affair becomes sexual.”

This reinforces what Solomon was teaching in Proverbs 5:1-5.

1 My son, pay attention to my wisdom, turn your ear to my words of insight, 2 that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge. 3 For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; 4 but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. 5 Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.

When are people – specifically husbands and wives – most vulnerable to sexual temptation? It’s often when they feel frustrated and discouraged. They don’t feel like they’re getting the affirmation or respect they deserve … And then along comes someone listens to him and laughs at jokes. This other person’s lips drip honey and their speech is smooth.

When the hurting person commits adultery it’s usually to prove to himself that someone still wants him.

Unfortunately, it’s a fairy tale and there’s no happy ending. Very few people get married with the intention of one day being unfaithful.

If that’s the case, then how do affairs happen? Are there risk factors to be aware of? In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Elisabeth Bernstein examined research done at Chapman University and Purdue University and complied a list of major risk factors for infidelity.

  1. Gender. Men are more likely to cheat than women but the gender gap is closing. Men cheat because they are looking for “variety and excitement.” Women cheat because they are “emotionally dissatisfied.”
  2. Age. Contrary to popular opinion, researchers at Chapman University found that people are less likely to cheat at middle age (35-50). The reason? They are usually too stressed or too busy to cheat. This means the most likely demographics are younger than 35 or older than 50.
  3. Opportunity. Does a person have the opportunity to cheat? Does your work require long hours, frequent travel, or place you in inappropriate situations with the opposite sex. All of these increase the likelihood of infidelity.
  4. Relationship Dissatisfaction. You may cheat because you are unhappy in the relationship, but cheating will make you unhappier. Researcher also found that satisfied couples rarely cheated.
  5. Personality. At Purdue University, psychologists studied large samples of people who cheated. What they found is that people who score low on “agreeableness” (kind/caring about others) and “conscientiousness” (dependable/self-discipline) are more likely to cheat.

Let me offer one word of clarification: these are risk factors, not guarantees that you will have an affair if you have three, four, or five of these characteristics.

While knowing risk factors is one thing; knowing how to avoid them is better. This is where Solomon goes next.

6 She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it. 7 Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say. 8 Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, 9 lest you lose your honor to others and your dignity to one who is cruel, 10 lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich the house of another. – Proverbs 5:6-10

In other words, if you don’t pursue purity with intentionality, you’re more likely to find yourself outside the lines. What does the intentional pursuit of purity look like?

  • Make a commitment to God’s standards. If you follow Jesus, you are called to live by a higher standard than what is socially-acceptable.
  • Manage my mind. Anywhere there is impurity it begins in the mind. Be proactive, not reactive. Remember: we’re all one step away from stupid.
  • Magnify the consequences. None of us with children would ever intentionally break the arm of our child. Yet if you engage in sexual activity outside of marriage, it will bring more pain into your home than a broken arm.
  • Maintain proper relationships. First of all, if you are having improper conversations with someone who is not your spouse, stop. The most important relationship to work on is with your spouse. Work on making your marriage better. Next, join a small group and invest in healthy relationships.

Solomon closes Proverbs 5 with a poignant reminder:

20 Why, my son, be intoxicated with another manʼs wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman? 21 For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all your paths. 22 The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast. 23 For lack of discipline they will die, led astray by their own great folly. – Proverbs 5:20-23

This isn’t your pastor saying, “God’s watching you!” It’s the Bible. It’s not there to scare you or make you paranoid. It’s simply stating reality: there is nowhere you can go where God is not present.

My hope is that each of you will go through your married life without experiencing the devastation of an affair. But I know that will not be everyone’s reality. So let close by addressing two groups of people.

If you are currently in an affair or contemplating one – STOP EVERYTHING. And I mean immediately. It’s not worth the cost to yourself, your family, and your relationship with God. Don’t try to phase out of it gradually. End it immediately. If you are a single person considering getting involved with a married person — DON’T!

For those of you who have been affected by an affair, let me close with a promise that comes from the book of Psalm. It’s a chapter that is filled with reminders of God’s power.

One of those reminders has to do with God’s power to heal and restore:

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. – Psalm 147:3

I would like to tell you this can happen in six weeks or less — but I can’t. It might take longer. How much longer? I don’t know, but I do know this: I have seen it happen. And I believe it will happen because it’s a promise from God.