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The DEEP

The Butterfly Whisperer

Wisdom in reordering your desires

Proverbs 5:1-4 

1 My son, pay attention to my wisdom;
Lend your ear to my understanding,
 

That you may preserve discretion,
And your lips may keep knowledge.

For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey,
And her mouth is smoother than oil;

But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
Sharp as a two-edged sword.

 

My wife is the “butterfly whisperer.” She loves her backyard garden, with its flower beds, bird feeders, and little vegetable patch. She is worried about butterflies, however, as it seems less and less come around each year. 

The coastal region in which we live is growing and with each new neighborhood or retail center, more woods and natural areas are plowed under. With habitat loss comes changes in animal habits and populations–and a decline in butterflies that feed on native plants. 

Saddened by the fading butterfly numbers, my wife decided to do something about it. A few years ago she began planting and growing native and other plants that butterflies need. She grows milkweed for the striking orange and black monarch butterflies that migrate through in the spring. She also cultivates long vines of passion flower (or “maypops” as we call them in the south) for the gulf fritillary butterflies that appear in late summer. 

More than supplying a source of food, these plants give the butterflies a place to lay eggs and then sustain the ravenous caterpillars that hatch. After a few weeks of this process, the fattened larva form beautiful chrysalis and soon hatch into a new generation of butterflies. I built her a screened butterfly hatchery for her birthday one year and it has been her favorite gift. 

This week, my wife had thirty new monarchs, and when they were released in a cloud of orange and black wings, I could see the pure joy on her face. Almost immediately, these magnificent flying works of art began the search for sweet nectar and fuel for the journey ahead. God’s creation at its finest.

Proverbs chapter 5 opens with a reference to this sweet nectar. Specifically, the sweet honey of physical love that draws men and women to each other in that most ancient and fulfilling way. 

But like all sweet things, sex can become a snare or even a tragic problem in your life. Sex is given by God for a husband and wife to procreate, and to build an indelible physical and emotional bond between them. 

Unfortunately, like all good things, sex can be abused and can lead to a lifetime of heartache and pain. The consequences of physical disease can bring a shame and suffering–and children born of an illicit union are often caught in the parental turmoil that results. 

Solomon, in chapter 5 instructs his son in a tone that suggests that it is time for a father-son talk. This is more than a “birds and the bees” discussion, however. This is a man-to-man warning about adultery:

1 My son, pay attention to my wisdom;
Lend your ear to my understanding,–Proverbs 5:1

Here, the familiar preamble to the chapter of the father exhorting his son has shifted to the father tapping on the desk to awaken the boy, and bid him sit up and listen:

That you may preserve discretion,
And your lips may keep knowledge.–Proverbs 5:2

“Discretion” here is a call for the son to begin to use the wisdom he has been taught, to consider the impact of his actions. Commentator Bruce Waltke says, “The wise do not speak rashly but consider the consequences.” So here, the father is reminding his son that he is the keeper of knowledge, upholder of an ethic that reaches beyond his own immediate desires. 

The son’s lips are to be preserved for speaking the truth, for taking the wisdom he is being taught and, in turn, teaching it to others as he walks through life. His lips are contrasted with that of the sweet, deceptive lips of the adulteress:

For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey,
And her mouth is smoother than oil;–Proverbs 5:3
 

The lips of the adulteress are like the sweet nectar that attracts the butterflies. But, unlike the foreordained miracle of metamorphosis and the emerging of gossamer-winged pollinators, the dripping sweetness of the adulteress is a trap. Like the sticky sundew, or the alluring Venus flytrap, her lips will close around the soul of the boy and pull him down to death:

But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
Sharp as a two-edged sword.–Proverbs 5:4

At this point you may be thinking, “I know all of this. Did we not cover Dame Folly and her siren-song of deceitful wiles in chapter 2?” Yes, but more than a warning to avoid the seductress, Solomon is now preparing you for a deep-dive into the dark waters of particular sins that lead you into the heart of despair. 

The first of these will be adultery, the main focus of chapter 5. The others will follow the same pattern of the fabled “seven deadly sins” (or “cardinal sins”) of ancient tradition. First noted in 3rd century Christian writings, the seven deadly sins are referenced in The Canterbury Tales and Dante’s Purgatory. They are lust (adultery), pride, greed, wrath, envy, gluttony, and sloth. 

Each of these is but a perversion of something good, a virtue–or a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  They are the result of disordered desire.

Think about desire. What are things that you truly desire in life? Security, happiness, a loving relationship with your husband or wife, a club sandwich on rye.

Sorry about that last one, I’m a little hungry.

In studying for Proverbs 5 you will be reminded of St Augustine and his own struggles with these “deadly sins” or the vices of a young man living in ancient Rome. Augustine spent his young life in pursuit of all of the pleasures a man could want. From sexual excess, to drunkenness, and the idleness of selfish youth. 

When Augustine converted to Christianity, his life was turned upside down. His heart longed to abandon the empty pursuits of the flesh, so that it could be fulfilled in the pursuit of God and union with Christ. He began to see that in this new life, his desires needed to be reordered from sinful to godly. 

This reordering set Augustine’s heart burning within him:

O Love ever burning, never quenched! O Charity, my God, set me on fire with your love! You command me to be continent. Give me the grace to do as you command, and command me to do what you will! (Confessions, X.29).

Tim Keller notes this need for the christian to reorder desire as a mark of wisdom:

Augustine did not see our problems as stemming only from a lack of love. He also observed that the heart’s loves have an order to them, and that we often love less important things more and the more important things less. Therefore, the unhappiness and disorder of our lives are caused by the disorder of our loves.–Timothy Keller, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life”“

Where do you focus your desires in this life? Is there order or disorder? You struggle with sin, of course, but what about the good things in which you place importance and hope? How about parents, friends, your children, your job, or retiring securely someday?  It is easy to lose perspective on all of these things and have them assume command of your heart. 

Our modern culture is driven by desire. Not only in the glittering product placement that characterizes the consumer-driven west, but feelings and the pursuit of personal happiness dominates all other loyalties. As Tim Keller again points out:

Today's society identifies our strongest feelings as “true self” and insists we express them.–Timothy Keller, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life”

It is only if you shout your opinions on social media, or demand your preferences at every turn, can you be considered “authentic” in the eyes of others. This is the crux of the vitriol surrounding the recent supreme court decision to overturn Roe V Wade. Abortion–pre-birth infanticide–exists mainly for the purpose of satisfying individual desires. For many, the life of a child is not worth a career, personal freedom, or the ability to continue to indulge in recreational sex outside of marriage. When this is threatened, white-hot anger is the result. 

As a complicated human being, you are created with innate desires. Unlike the butterfly, whose desire is purely for that pollinating action for which it was created, you must divide and order your desires to proper ends. This is one of the things that makes you unique as a creature in this world. As C.S. Lewis said, it makes you otherworldly:

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.–C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity 

Where then is the primary focus of your desire? Like Solomon calling his son’s attention to the danger of the adulteress, you see the sinful trappings of this world and know that you must focus on your heavenly Father as your only hope. As the Psalmist says: 

15  As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness;
I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.–Psalm 17:15

Is your desire to talk with, be with, and one day see your savior Jesus? Do you actively seek to satisfy your earthly longings in Him? This may mean relinquishing control over your children’s accomplishments, your status among your siblings, or your longing to receive approval from a parent. 

Desiring God, instead of your own devotions may mean that you stop requiring your husband to give you physical affection you crave, or your wife to speak with you as sweetly as she does the cat. 

Jesus knew where His desires lay. They were ordered to serve His father: 

38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.–John 6:38 

In this, is true satisfaction. Psalm 17:28 speaks of this deep love for your Heavenly Father:

28 But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord God,
That I may declare all Your works.–Psalm 17:28

Augustine, reading this Psalm, was filled with new understanding for this new and radical way of thinking, of desires pointed heavenward, instead of down to earth:

 …did not say, ‘for me the good is the possession of abundant wealth,’ or, ‘to enjoy the distinction of the purple robe and the glory of the sceptre or crown;’ nor…’my good is bodily pleasure’; nor…’my good is the virtue of my soul.’ What he said was ‘As for me, my true good is to cling to God.’”–Augustine, “City of God” 

Do you cling to God? To reorder your desires can save you from the adulteress, from destructive sins and a world of hurt. It is not easy, but it is all you can do. Like the old hymn “Rock of Ages” intones [performed here by Tennessee Ernie Ford]:


Nothing in my hand I bring, 
simply to the cross I cling; 
naked, come to thee for dress; 
helpless, look to thee for grace; 
foul, I to the fountain fly; 
wash me, Savior, or I die. 

 

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

 

 

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