“Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished.”- Proverbs 6:27–29
One of the first things we learn as children is that we should never play with fire. For many of us, all it took was for our parents to say, “Don’t play with fire.” Others of us heard those words and did not heed them until we burned ourselves. Perhaps we played with matches carelessly or intentionally touched a hot stove. With these dangers in mind, we can understand why the proverb “if you play with fire, you get burned” is so memorable and popular. We all know that fire causes injury when handled carelessly, so it is easy to use the imagery in a broader context to warn ourselves not to get involved with potentially dangerous persons or situations. If we do, we will not escape injury.
The biblical book of Proverbs contains a similar saying that conveys a similar lesson. Proverbs 6:27–29 warns the young man, who ultimately personifies the entire community, not to go “in to his neighbor’s wife” (v. 29) because he will not escape punishment, just as those who handle fire with carelessness will certainly be injured. The specific warning deals with adultery; these verses are telling us that we dare not think we can sleep with another person’s spouse and get away with it. Those who commit adultery will not go unpunished; our sin will find us out, and we will suffer for it. David learned this lesson the hard way (2 Sam. 11:1–12:23), and countless men and women have done so as well. Adultery destroys families, harms children, causes strife in the community, and leads to a host of other negative consequences. Yet even in those rare cases where an adulterous relationship never gets revealed in this life, the guilty parties will still face the Lord, before whom all hidden things will be manifest and all secret things will come to light (Mark 4:22).
Although this proverb deals most directly with adultery, we can certainly apply its teaching more broadly to all sin. Simply put, playing with sin is dangerous, even deadly. When we toy with sin, failing to deal with it through repentance and mortification, we will inevitably face disaster. Adam and Eve give us the best example of this. They entertained the idea that it would be wise for them to become like God, to take His place as the lawgiver who defines right and wrong. And the moment they were willing to disobey our Creator, all of creation fell into ruin (Gen. 3:1–7). Our sin may not have such universal ramifications, but make no mistake, if we play with it as with fire, we—and many others—will get burned.
All too often, we think that we can entertain temptation or get too close to a particular sin and not fall into transgression. That shows us just how important it is for us to be reminded of Proverbs 6:27–29. Knowing our own weaknesses, we should avoid those occasions, people, or places where we might find ourselves playing with the fire of sin. If we do not do that, we will set ourselves up for failure and compromise the holiness to which God calls us.
Passages for Further Study
1 Kings 11:1–8
1 Corinthians 10:13