It is often noted that men are aroused by visible stimuli and women by emotional—that men want the act of intimacy, while women want, well, intimacy. I think both concepts are so simplistic as to be unhelpful. First, statistics indicate that women partake of visual stimuli like pornography at a much higher rate than is normally assumed. Also, it should be obvious that women have desires that are physical, not just emotional. Second, and more essential to this study, the idea that men have a caveman-like desire to merely obtain the woman they see in order to satisfy a purely physical appetite is naïve. Certainly there are men who are visually and physically enticed and “dive in.” (Samson comes to mind.) But most men—and women—are tempted by something far more complex: flattery. What tempts us to immoral fantasies and actions is often more psychological than physical. Proverbs says so.
There’s no question that the temptress in Proverbs is provocative physically. She dresses to gain a man’s attention (Prov 7:10). She touches him to arouse him physically (Prov 7:13). However, it seems that her most reliable weapon is flattery:
- “To deliver you from the strange woman, from the adulteress who flatters with her words” (Prov 2:16, NASB)
- “To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.” (Prov 6:24, NASB)
- “That they may keep you from an adulteress, From the foreigner who flatters with her words.” (Prov 7:5, NASB)
- “With her many persuasions she entices him; With her flattering lips she seduces him.” (Prov 7:21, NASB)
What does the flattery of the temptress look like in action? Proverbs 7:15 shows us. The temptress tells her prey that he is the one she wants: “I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you.” No one else will do—for now, anyway. She is appealing to his ego, not just his hormones. Her battle is for his mind and heart, not just his body. The Scriptures (and humanity’s collective experience) indicate that one of the greatest temptations to moral sin is flattery.
So men fantasize not merely of having their desires fulfilled, but of being desired. They think to themselves “I could have her, if I would.” And temptation capitalizes on this—models pose with looks of longing; emails and pop-up ads shout “I’m lonely, please talk to me”; women in their twenties are somehow irresistibly drawn to men in their forties and fifties. The whole world may think “Pops” is over-the-hill, as his bald spot, wrinkles, and belly testify. But the temptress knows better. She knows he’s a treasure. And men, like a dumb ox, buy it. They look at garbage, imagining themselves into the scene. They talk to a sultry stranger, racking up ridiculous phone bills. They yield to the prostitute’s looks—not just how she looks to them, but how she looks at them. They accept and perhaps return the adoring attention of the fellow church member that thinks they’re “all that.” What the temptress is selling isn’t just sex; it’s the idea that you can be sexy, a “conqueror,” if you will. It’s flattery, and it works.
Men aren’t the only ones duped by flattery. Emotional strings can pull women into sin in a way that purely physical lust cannot. Respectable women—wives, moms, and Sunday School teachers. It might look something like this: a lady who is “just mom” at home is secretly thrilled when a male co-worker says she looks nice. He’s not asking for lunch money or wondering where his socks are; he’s noticing her. Though as a respectable Christian woman, she would never have an illicit affair with him (she reasons to herself), she does find herself primping a bit more in the morning, wearing a particularly flattering dress, perhaps donning some perfume for the office—not to be the proverbial temptress, of course, but because the attention she’s received is invigorating. It’s fun. Soon, she’s anticipating his attention. An intimate email or phone call seems harmless enough. A lunch together won’t hurt. And in time, what started with appreciation for a flattering comment or look escalates into an adulterous relationship.
It’s undeniable that men and women are tempted to sexual sins through flattery. But how does recognizing this fact help us?
- It unmasks one of the chief lies of temptation, helping us recognize dangerous flattery when we see it (Prov 22:3).
- It allows us to pay attention to ourselves—to beware when our hearts start to wander, whether our eyes are wandering or not (Prov 4:23).
- It reveals the nature of our battle—that our struggle is primarily internal (Mat 15:19).
- It teaches us that sensuality, like most every sin, is rooted in pride. Our fight for purity is as much against “the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” as it is against “the lust of the flesh” (1 John 2:16).
- It reveals that our greatest desire is not for sensual pleasure, but for self-worship (Phil 3:19; Is 14:14).
Lust is a heart problem, not just an eye or body problem. The problem is deeper than we might have imagined. Thus, it requires a deep-rooted solution—not just a cold shower or a “think of something else” strategy, but a dependence on the heart-changing, heart-satisfying gospel of Jesus Christ, who not only forgives our sins, but frees us from them.
Previous posts in this series:
- Help for Fighting Lust: Transparency
- Help for Fighting Lust: The Pious Prostitute
- Help for Fighting Lust: Applying the Gospel to Sexuality
- More help to come, Lord willing.