“Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?” – Proverbs 6:27
Don’t play with fire. Why would anyone need to be told that? Perhaps more intriguing is why many grown men, myself included, who are well acquainted with the properties of fire, would still need that admonition? Is it because we forget what fire does? Or is it because we think there’s something special about us, something that sets us apart from other men, that would enable us to come out unscathed where most would suffer harm? Most likely it is a combination of both.
This proverb’s context is a warning against adultery, but it serves as a warning against any sin. God’s wisdom here is less like a friendly caution against playing with fire, and more like an imperative of: “don’t touch a hot stove!” Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? The answer to the rhetorical question is “obviously not.” There are no exceptions to this rule. To take the analogy of touching a red-hot stove, it’s not as if it only burns you four out of five times, but maybe you’ll get lucky. Certainly, there are degrees of pain and consequences, depending on how long you carry the fire against your chest, or how hot the stove is when you touch it, but the result is always the same. It’s a rule of nature.
Proverbs is a book of wisdom, and a good deal of wisdom is seeing the world as it really is, as well as the greater challenge of seeing yourself as you really are. Maybe I downplay how dangerous fire really is. Maybe I overplay my own strength. Either way, I foolishly believe that I know just how much fire to carry, for how long, and how close I can hold it, before I set it down without singeing a single hair. Proverbs tells us that will never work. I’ll get burned every time.
The good news is that Jesus did get burned for us. It’s as if all the fire that we carry burned him and not us. Part of the reason Jesus went to the cross, however, was so that we could see and never forget what carrying fire or touching a hot stove does. One of the results of the Fall is that we are inclined to overestimate the goodness of our hearts, and underestimate the consequences of sin. We think sin is not really that bad, or that I can dally in sin for just long enough to enjoy its perks while avoiding its pains.
One of the recurring messages of Proverbs is, in a sense, “don’t be stupid!” Remember what fire actually is. The humbling reality of life as a sinner is that we need God’s help to see clearly, even basic truths like these. We need to ask for God’s strength to make what should be simple choices of self-preservation. We must be grateful God’s Spirit is transforming our minds, and that He gives us his Word so that we have a constant reminder that fire is fire, and that means it will burn you.