Proverbs is like a father-son conversation. “My son” is the repeated address, and much of the advice seems appropriate for young men.
Sexual sin is one of the most powerful temptations for a young man. Other than wisdom in general, sexual issues receive the most sustained attention of any topic in Proverbs. There are four sections pertaining to the subject in the first seven chapters. 5:13-23 is one of those passages.
But don’t think these passages are only for young men struggling with sexual temptation. They help all Christians understand the nature of marriage and sexual sin in a confused and untethered society.
Before this passage, the Father already warned against some of the dangers of sexual sin, specifically adultery. For example:
Loss of strength and success (5:10)
Painful physical ailments (5:11)
Utter and public ruin (5:14)
In verse 15, he shifts from negative warnings against adultery to positive exhortation toward fidelity.
Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. (5:15)
Sexual desire is like thirst. Sexual sin is satisfying that thirst with forbidden waters. The solution the Father proposes is not to abstain from water, but to drink “from your own well.”
His poetic language first pictures the young man’s wife as a cistern, which is a manmade receptacle for runoff water. Then it enhances the image to a well, which contains fresh water from underground streams. She is not just a stagnant pool for desperate times; she is a source of fresh “flowing water.” She is not a source of water; she is his own source. She is the young man’s God-given source of sexual satisfaction. (Paul expands on this in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5.)
There are at least two applications we can take from just this verse. First, the most basic way to fight sexual temptation is not to abstain from sex, but to pursue marital intimacy. As with any temptation, resistance is often unhelpful. It is the positive pursuit of a superior pleasure that helps. I am seldom successful at eating well when I try to resist the ice cream in my freezer. But when I pursue the superior pleasure of having enough energy to play with my kids and the clarity of mind to work well, then I often have the strength to choose a better option. It’s not saying ‘no’ to temptation; it’s saying ‘yes’ to the better alternative.
For married people, the most basic way to fight sexual temptation is to pursue marital intimacy. For single people, it is to pursue the Lord’s will regarding calling and relationships. For young people, we should not teach abstinence only, but also the vigorous pursuit of God’s purpose.
Second, the most basic way to fight sexual immorality in our culture is not to rail against it, but to rally around the gift of marriage. While people are lapping from contaminated puddles, we can show them a better way by nurturing our own wells, and speaking the truth in love about marriage in general.
Next, the Father begins his “motivating argument”:
Should your springs be scattered abroad,
streams of water in the streets? (5:16)
The young man’s wife is not a mere cistern, or even a well. She is like streams and springs She is an active, abundant source of fresh, flowing waters. If the young man neglects her to pursue sexual sin with others, he will likely lose her. Attention, affection, and attraction leak when physical intimacy is not preserved. One spouse’s sexual sin makes the other spouse vulnerable to the same. This is a risk adulterers rarely consider until it’s too late.
Therefore, the Father offers three exhortations. Think of these as three protective walls around your marriage.
Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you. (5:17)
Recall this wonderful fact: your wife is your wife. You are the only one who gets to see her this way. You are the only one who gets to touch her this way. You are the only one who gets to be with her this way. And this is a profound, sacred privilege.
There are men who more aggressively protect their favorite chair than their wife. There are men who nurture their hobbies, careers, cars, and dogs more than their wives. And then they foolishly feel betrayed when their wives show signs of neglect.
Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe. (5:18-19a)
Let her be blessed. Rejoice in her. Rather than dwelling on her imperfections, dwell on the ways God has blessed you through her. List them. Let the Lord renew your vision of her. She is still the “lovely deer” you dated. She is still the “graceful doe” you married. She is God’s good and precious gift to you.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love. (5:19b)
Indulgence ruins most pleasures. If you eat dessert “at all times,” you’ll get fat and sick. If you buy things “always,” you’ll get into debt and financial stress. Marital intimacy is different. Moderation is no virtue here. Be filled to intoxication!
With these three walls in place, there is no reason to turn to sexual sin.
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? (5:20)
Imagine you enter a restaurant and the server can see by your face that you are desperately thirsty. Right away she brings you an ice-cold cup of your favorite drink and says, “Drink up! Free refills!” How crazy would it be for you to push it aside and instead drink the watered down, crumb-sprinkled back-wash from the stranger’s cup on the next table? There’s no reason for you to do that when you have before you a source of fresh satisfaction that is all yours.
This is in essence what adultery is. If you’re tempted away from your own source of sexual satisfaction, it is likely that your three protective walls are crumbling. It is time to ask yourself some important questions:
Are we maintaining our exclusive relationship? Are we patching up any intimacy leaks? Are we guarding against inappropriate intimacy with others? Are we beholding each other as our own?
Are we enjoying each other? Are we rejoicing in each other? Are we looking at each other with wedding day affection?
Are we satisfying each other? Are we physically intimate in a way that satisfies both of us?
We’ll end this sermon the way the Father ends his advice, with two deeper reasons to pursue marital fidelity.
Sexual sin is never done in private.
For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,
and he ponders all his paths. (5:21)
No flirtation, liaison, or internet viewing session is out of his sight. He not only sees it; he ponders it. He cares deeply about our sexual purity and our marriages, even when we don’t.
Sexual sin is always self-destructive.
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
and he is held fast in the cords of this sin.
He dies for lack of discipline,
and because of his great folly he is led astray. (5:22-23)
Sexual sin is not only bad, it’s foolish. When a man chooses it, his options dissolve, and soon he finds himself trapped in a prison of lies, secrets, guilt, shame, fear, and regret.
You may have sexual sin in your past. You may have it in your present. Or you may not have any issues with sexual sin at all. But we all have some form of sin in our lives. And all sin is forsaking fresh flowing waters for contaminated puddles.
For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)
The correct response to this passage is universal. We all must repent, turning from our unique broken cisterns, and receive through Jesus Christ renewed access to God. In Jesus, our self-imposed prisons of sin are destroyed, and we are freed to satisfy our souls in the Fountain of Living Waters.
While small groups facilitate increasingly open fellowship between participants, this passage deals with issues that require discretion. Therefore these discussion starters focus on Proverbs 5:21-23. Group leaders and participants are to use their own judgment as to whether or not elements of Proverbs 5:15-20 should be addressed in the small group session.
Married couples can use the questions contained in the sermon recap for personal discussion. Single people who would like to discuss the passage in a more personal way are encouraged to meet with trusted Christian friends. If this passage raises any difficult issues, all are encouraged to seek wise, godly counsel.
Read Proverbs 5:21-23 together. What’s your gut reaction to these verses?
How would each participant summarize these verses into one sentence?
What does it mean that “a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,” and that “he ponders all his paths”?