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Playing with Fire

Burnt by the foolishness of lust

Proverbs 6:27-29

27 Can a man take fire to his bosom,
And his clothes not be burned?

28 Can one walk on hot coals,
And his feet not be seared?

29 So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife;
Whoever touches her shall not be innocent.


Strike a match. While it is burning, touch the flame. What do you feel?

Fire. Heat. The scourge of Prometheus. The toaster of marshmallows (to paraphrase Homer Simpson). Fire can be a servant of man–and it can be the mode of his destruction. Even children know not to play with matches, but adults often need a refresher course.  

Solomon draws on fire as an illustration in Proverbs, chapter 6. Here, he continues to instruct his son on the folly of lust and the curse of adultery. In these passages the children of Israel are told not only of the destructiveness of lust in their lives and in the lives of others–it is a chill warning against impending doom for all who do not resist it:

27 Can a man take fire to his bosom,
And his clothes not be burned?–Proverbs 6:27

Here, the wise king asks his pupil a rhetorical question. Fire causes pain when touched by human flesh. Solomon’s example here is one of pure logic: you can carry a Bic in your pocket, but not the flame. He has been describing lust and its eventual manifestation in adultery. He moves from the severity of the punishment to that of the foolish behavior’s permanent damage-and the inevitability of judgement.

There is a scene in the 1962 epic “Lawrence of Arabia” where the pain of fire is illustrated. Lawrence, the eccentric British officer, impresses his colleagues with a simple parlor trick involving a lighted match. Lawrence extinguishes a match between his thumb and forefinger. Lawrence does not even wince. An enlisted man, William Potter, surreptitiously attempts the same.  “Ow!” Potter says, “That ‘urts!”

T.E. Lawrence: Certainly it hurts.

Potter: What's the trick then?

T. E. Lawrence: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.

You may not be averse to snuffing out a candle with your fingers or touching a hot, biscuit fresh from the oven–but if you touch the hot oven you will not soon forget. Lust, Solomon says, should have the same effect on you, and yet lust seems to be so easily carried sometimes. He continues:

28 Can one walk on hot coals,
And his feet not be seared?–Proverbs 6:28

“Firewalking” is an ancient custom in some parts of the world, dating back to 1,200 BC, and so doubtless was known to Solomon. But he is not talking about a party trick or a religious rite that employs the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. He is talking about unintended consequences. 

The picture is more of one where you awaken early one morning on a camping trip and, padding about barefoot trying to make coffee, you accidentally step on a hot coal from last night’s campfire. You will do a one-legged “Riverdance”-style jig around the campsite and awaken your neighbors with your suffering. (Yes, I may be describing a personal experience here.)  

This is a picture of permanent, disfiguring pain that comes from a third-degree burn. This is the sort damage that comes when lust runs unchecked–your heart, and the tender lives of others, can be permanently scarred. 

Think about lust and the damage it does. It can drive the mind to distraction, where you look upon a man or woman as if wearing x-ray glasses, or it can fill your every thought. Lust can drive you to premarital sex, can cause you to make uncomfortable sexual demands on a spouse, and scar your children’s minds when your obsession leads to their being led astray.   

What is lust, really? John Piper has written extensively on lust and its curse:

Lust is a sexual desire that dishonors its object and disregards God.–John Piper

Now sex is not wrong. It is a wonderful thing created by God for His glory and the pleasure of those in the marriage covenant. Like any pleasure, the lust and desire for sex can turn something beautiful into a twisted, sinful aberration. But when the desire for sex overwhelms and it becomes an idol in your heart, it will cause to both mistreat the very person you want–and places you in rebellion against God. 

What’s more, when you succumb to lust, you are not really want the person after whom you are lusting. Tim Keller explains:

It is one thing to notice someones attractiveness, another to be intensely drawn to possess someone’s beautiful body.–Tim Keller

C.S. Lewis takes this deeper when he describes what is really happening in the lust-filled heart:

We use a most unfortunate idiom when we say, of a lustful man prowling the streets, that he "wants a woman". Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus.–C.S. Lewis, “The Four Loves” 

Does living like this lead to God’s greater glory? Does this enrich the marriage covenant or even have a good effect on those you love? It leads instead to death, as the author of James tells you:

15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.–James 1:15

Death, then, is the ultimate stopping place and the true consequence of lust. Solomon closes in on his point:

29 So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife;
Whoever touches her shall not be innocent.–Proverbs 6:29

Wait, how can lust lead to death? It is one thing to carry on with fantasies and another thing entirely to act on them, right? Jesus, who tells you that to even lust in your heart is to commit adultery, gives you a drastic step to take to prevent it: 

29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.–Matthew 5:29

Jesus is laying out the consequences of lust and adultery, plain and simple. To live in a way that entertains lust, or feels that your certain circumstances somehow permit you an illicit dalliance with your neighbor’s wife, is to invite eternal damnation. 

The physical pain of broken families, shattered marriages, or just crippling sinful habits can be one thing–it is another to consider how you are transgressing against the living God.   

Think of the “important” things in life that you fear: war, economic troubles, political turmoil, losing a job, or a cancer diagnosis. These earthy horrors are nothing compared to the eternal pain of turning your back on your Heavenly Father. Jesus says, that you must work to root out the evil that leads you astray, even if it means a step as drastic your own disfigurement.

You are not called to wallow in lust, but to something far greater. Paul writes to the Thessalonians: 

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God;–I Thessalonians 4:3-5

You are called to shun the immorality of the pagan world and live in honor as you pursue the path of holiness. You may not need to cut out your eye, but you are called to live a life of self-sacrifice–even as your savior denied himself to His ultimate sacrifice for you. 

This takes practice and commitment. This takes a love for Christ that surpasses your love for the flesh, or the feelings that a fantasy romance gives you. Martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew well the meaning of sacrifice and the self-discipline that is required to follow Christ: 

The real difference in the believer who follows Christ and has mortified his will and died after the old man in Christ, is that he is more clearly aware than other men of the rebelliousness and perennial pride of the flesh, he is conscious of his sloth and self-indulgence and knows that his arrogance must be eradicated. Hence there is a need for daily self-discipline.–Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

You are called to have faith in Christ, but this comes with a duty to obey. The phrase “follow Jesus” can sound almost like a slogan, this is a call to that daily self-discipline. Like the old hymn “Trust and Obey” intones [sung here in amazing acapella by a Ugandan choir!]:

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet
Or we'll walk by His side in the way
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go
Never fear, only trust and obey

Trust and obey, for there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey

This daily walk is a battle, a fight, and often an uphill climb, but it is the fight you must make. As John Piper again tells you: 

The battle for obedience is the fight of faith.–John Piper

Can you fight this fight? The only way to do this is to get to know the One who has provided the victory to you. Search the words of Jesus and walk the roads of His life as you find them in His Word. Another hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” describes His greatness and the depths of Jesus’s victory over the death that lust will bring:  

He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
he sets the prisoner free;
his blood can make the foulest clean;

his blood availed for me.

Yours is but to live this victory, laying down even your very desires at the foot of the cross in order to be free. Once you realize that Christ’s blood can cover even this, you will see lust for what it is, as C.S. Lewis reveals:  

Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed.–C.S. Lewis, “The Great Divorce

Can you taste the victory that is found in Christ? In order to have victory over sin is to acknowledge its power over you and stop making excuses or allowances for it in your life. It is to love God more than the sin, and to know that death will result if you do not turn. It is to not deaden yourself to the pain sin causes, and not mind its effects on your heart, your loved ones–or your Heavenly Father.

Go back to Lawrence of Arabia and his endurance of the pain of the flame: “the trick is not minding that it hurts.” Do you mind the hurt of sin–or will you know freedom from it?  



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:

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

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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