While I was enrolled in my M. Div. program, my commute to seminary was approximately one hour and fifteen minutes one-way without traffic. During one especially weary season, when the drive felt unusually burdensome, I began listening to a popular sports radio program to help the time pass more quickly. This practice was incredibly effective. The show was entertaining, I learned a great deal about sports that I had previously been ignorant about, and I began to look forward to my time in the car. Then something predictable happened—my consumption of all things sports expanded beyond the confines of my Honda Civic. Prior to this I was primarily a college football fan and cared little for the NFL. Now, I experienced the urge to tune into Thursday Night Football games between two teams that were insignificant to me. How did this happen? Frequent exposure to a product designed to create interest in sports resulted in an increased desire to allocate my time and resources in sport-related events.
This same concept carries over to proximity. Proximity has a powerful ability to develop a person’s passions. Individuals who have spent their free time frequenting the golf range have retired to Florida communities built around golf courses. Families that have invested time and resources in vacations to the beach or trips to the snow-covered mountains have purchased second homes in those environments so that they can enjoy their benefits more regularly. From these examples, it is possible to see that increased passions are powerful motivators of all kinds of actions. The reality that proximity is part of our daily lives, and that it can powerfully influence the way we live, should cause us to consider how to think about our location and all that it has to offer.
Scripture is filled with examples of how proximity is a major category that individual hearts consider when walking through the spheres and stages of life. First, let’s consider a few illustrations that demonstrate how proximity can potentially play a negative role in someone’s life. Note the wording of the tenth commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exod 20:17, ESV). When viewed through the lens of proximity, a very noticeable, practical theme emerges: it is likely that the greatest temptations to a covetous heart are also the closest in proximity.
In ancient Israel, the people you were most likely to see and interact with on a consistent basis lived next door. Whose house and livestock are you most likely to compare to your own each day? Whose spouse and servants will you be most tempted to covet? It’s not the king of Israel, or the foreign delegate who travels to Jerusalem to worship three times a year. It’s your neighbor. The close one. The one who is most within reach. The one who borrows your food and who brings your ox back when he escapes from his pen.
Since the Bible has a great deal to say on the topic of adultery, it will serve as an excellent case study. Who is the young man lacking sense in the Proverbs? It is the young man who intentionally takes the road to the house of an adulterous woman so that he might be near the corner where she lives (Prov 7:6-9). The limited cases of adultery that I have been exposed to in my life share a few common elements. First, it was never a one-night stand with a random person. Sins of that nature rarely materialize suddenly in unknown environments. Second, all without exception were the result of a cultivated relationship that grew during times of nearness. One employee sees another on a frequent basis as they come to work at the same office. A shy smile is reciprocated and leads to friendly greetings, which turns into formal conversations, which result in group lunch outings, which become single lunch outings. Eventually, the emotional connection ends in a physical one and the lives of both individuals are devastated. This illustrates the principle of the neighbor’s wife. A person should avoid at all costs cultivating a passion for a forbidden person or experience that is, most of the time, within reach.
What is true of physical adultery is true for spiritual adultery. When Solomon sinned, and the Lord responded by splitting the kingdom of Israel, Jeroboam was selected by the Lord to rule over ten of the tribes (1 Kings 11:1-35). Despite the Lord’s promise to bless Jeroboam if he served him as David did (1 Kings 11:37-38), Jeroboam became fearful and doubted the Lord’s faithfulness. He reasoned in his heart, “If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam kind of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah” (1 Kings 12:27). The perceived problem was an issue of proximity! He thought, “If the people travel to the temple of the Lord, and they experience its beauty, their passion for him will be rekindled and they will reject me!” What was the answer to his perceived problem? Jeroboam and his counselors devised a proximity-based solution. In an act of great sin against the Lord, Jeroboam established false worship that was conveniently located for maximum ease and caused the whole northern tribe to forsake the Lord (1 Kings 12:28-33). And that is how proximity became central to the spiritual adultery of God’s chosen people in the days after Solomon.
While the Bible has far more to say about the negative ways that proximity can be abused, it also gives the positive remedy to help God’s people walk in a manner worthy of their calling. The guard against committing adultery with a neighbor’s wife or adulterous woman is to invest their passions in the closest human relationship a person can possess—their own spouse! As they faithfully pour their life and resources into their own spouse, they will be protected from the temptation to gratify their desires outside of the only context that is acceptable before God (Prov 5:15-19). Therefore, it is appropriate to say that the solution to a proximity-based problem can often be found in an even closer proximity-based solution. While the neighbor’s wife lives in the house next door, your wife lives in your own house! In the case of marriage and family, to faithfully invest in the areas of proximity for which you are responsible before God will produce passions that are most pleasing in his sight.