Lessons from the Life of Joseph (3)
“Success & Temptation” Genesis 39:5-15 & 1 Corinthians 10:11-13
Joseph made the decision to trust God. He may have been a slave in the house of the Egyptian official Potiphar but his attitude of trust lifted him above his circumstances – and God blessed everything he did. He didn’t have to say anything. People noticed. Potiphar noticed. He was not only impressed with the way Joseph worked. He not only admired Joseph’s upright character and winsome personality - he saw something in Joseph that made a deep impression on him. He recognized that the reason Joseph was so different was that God was with him. Joseph’s relationship with God was so real that Potiphar could not help but make the connection between him and his God.
How about you and me? Do people see Jesus in us – in our words, in our attitudes, in the things we do? Do they connect the way we live with the fact we know God? American preacher John MacArthur said: “Your lifestyle is your most powerful message”. How true that is! People can read us like a book. In the New Testament we have the four gospels - the Gospel according to Matthew, the Gospel according to Mark, the Gospel according to Luke, and the Gospel according to John. Well, what is the Gospel according to you? What do people learn about Jesus from your life? Do they see Jesus in you?
Potiphar was so impressed with what he saw in Joseph, we read in v 4, that he “…put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.” Joseph made such an impression, and God blessed him so much, that Potiphar appointed him as manager of his whole estate. Notice something else in v. 5, “From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field.” Not only was God with Joseph. Not only did God bless Joseph and have him promoted. More than that – God blessed Joseph’s boss, Potiphar and his whole estate. Directly because of Joseph those he worked for and all those he worked with were blessed. What an incredible testimony!
I am reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” When people see something different in us, they often ask why. Of course when they do not see anything there is nothing to ask!
Let me give you some examples of how this can work. Take for example the influence of a Christian teacher. Their influence can go way beyond the classroom. It can affect the whole school – other teachers, other pupils and even their homes. I have also seen the way a Christian can impact others on the sport’s field. By playing fairly and cleanly a culture of sportsmanship spreads to other players. There was a great South African cricketer called Jonty Rhodes who together with other Christians in the Springbok team influenced not only the team but the whole country. Michael Jones, the famous All Black rugby player, had a similar influence. The same can happen in the business world or in any professional field as Christians live godly lives.
So Joseph began to enjoy success. Potiphar also prospered. His investment portfolio was looking extremely healthy. His estate, his house & fields were flourishing. His work force was happy. With Joseph in charge, someone in whom he had complete confidence, things were going really well. And what a change in circumstances for young Joseph! He had come from the bottom of a dry cistern in the desert, and from being sold as a slave in Egypt, and was now a very successful manager on the estate of one of Egypt’s top officials. He was respected. He was trusted. But success brings other challenges. The higher up one rises the further one has to fall, and others may well try to pull you down. Those with responsibilities or status often become the focus of criticism. No one seems to have been criticising Joseph but popularity also has other inherent dangers. And Joseph was very popular.
We read in v 6 & 7, “Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’” There is danger in being good looking – whether we are male or female. Beautiful girls or handsome, gifted men face temptations that can if they are not careful destroy them. In fact all of us face temptations, whether we are good looking or not. Temptations come to all of us at one time or other.
Often there is a progression in temptation. It often starts with just a look. Potiphar’s wife “took notice of Joseph”. She looked at him and then looked again – in a way that a married woman should not look at another man. Her looking turned into lustful thoughts, and it was not long before lust took over. She forgot modesty & unashamedly said to Joseph, “Come to bed with me!” Wow, this lady was a fast mover! She would have fitted well in a modern movie where one minute a man notices a pretty lady and the next minute he has her in his arms. Only here, it is the woman who does the chasing, not the man! There is a warning for us in this story. We need to refuse to allow lustful thoughts to settle in our minds. This is why we need self-discipline when watching television or surfing the net. We must refuse the temptation to click on images that feed lust. Pornography feeds lust & can become a crippling addiction bringing ruin to other healthy & precious relationships.
How would Joseph respond to the sexy suggestions of Potiphar’s wife? Would he take the line of least resistance? Look how he responds in verses 8 & 9, “But he refused. ‘With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’” Immorality was part of Egyptian society and Egyptian women were known, at the time, for their loose morals. Joseph could have looked at the culture around him and decided that it was OK to go along with the majority. After all he was now living in Egypt. He could have argued that it was best to do as the Egyptians do. But no, Joseph acted on principle. He made his decision on the basis of what he knew was right and what he knew was wrong. No doubt long before Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph he had made up his mind to keep himself pure & to be pleasing to God, not least in how he related to women.
Let me encourage our young people to be like Joseph. Decide now that no matter what others around you are saying or doing, by God’s grace & with the help of the Holy Spirit, you will keep yourself pure & pleasing to God. Unless you make up your mind & set boundaries beforehand, when faced by unexpected temptation, it’s not easy to think as clearly or act as decisively as Joseph did. Purity is precious & worth fighting for. If we compromise in this area we place ourselves outside the will of God. His hand of blessing will be withdrawn. We will lose our testimony & our usefulness to the Master.
Joseph’s response to the temptation was based on principle – on his understanding of right & wrong. He could so easily have made excuses and compromised his principles. He could have given in to Potiphar’s wife. He could have rationalized by saying to himself: “Giving in just once won’t harm me,” or “She initiated this so I can’t get the blame,” or “this small compromise could help advance my career.” No, Joseph did not rationalize. He did not make excuses. Look again at what he said, “My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Joseph knew that marriage was sacred. He was a single man & Potiphar’s wife was a married woman. For him to flirt with her let alone have sex with her would be to violate not only the trust of Potiphar but also to violate their marriage relationship. It would be a sin against Potiphar. But more than that, Joseph knew that it would be a sin against God. Basically sin is rebellion against God.
There is no greater help in overcoming temptation than to have a holy fear of God. It is not like the sudden fear we have when we notice a police trap & realise that we are going 70 kph in a 50 kph speed zone. That is the fear of being caught. Our fear of God is more like the fear of grieving someone we love – it is the last thing we would want to do. And, like Joseph, we know that God is with us always & He sees everything – even what is in our hearts. When we truly love & fear Him we desire only to do what is pleasing in His sight. Joseph knew that to commit adultery would be an act of rebellion against the God he loved & served. No matter what today’s culture says sexual sin is not just something between two consenting adults. It is disobedience against God.
Joseph successfully refused to compromise his purity. He refused to go along with Potiphar’s wife. But his refusal only made her more determined. She sought out every opportunity to seduce him. Whenever she saw Joseph, and if it was safe to do so, she gave him those sexy looks. She brushed past him so close he could smell her perfume. “Joseph, I think of you constantly. Come on, who will know? What’s wrong with a little bit of fun?” Who knows what she said or did, but the Bible says she kept at him day after day. I do not think Potiphar’s wife was very much older than Joseph nor was she unattractive. Potiphar as a high official & a wealthy aristocrat in all likelihood had a pretty stunning wife. Yet Joseph was not moved by her beauty or by her persistence. Verse 10 tells us, “…though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.”
Joseph faced temptation daily – “day after day” Potiphar’s wife tried her charm on him. To overcome repeated temptations is much more difficult than to overcome a one-off temptation. For example if we had a cheese cake sitting in our fridge – sooner or later I’d be tempted to help myself – probably one piece with morning tea & another with my afternoon cup of coffee. If there was no cheese cake in the fridge I would not even think about it. That is a trivial example but here is one that is not so trivial, mentioned by a pastor friend of mine. A couple who were thinking of marriage assured him, “Pastor, we don’t sleep together. We keep busy and have everything under control!” A few months went by and my pastor friend noticed the same couple were avoiding him. He guessed what had happened. They were not strong enough to face on-going temptation. They forgot that they were weak & allowed themselves to get into compromising situations. Only by drawing on the power of God can we resist the devil, and when we do resist him he will run from us.
Joseph took action. Verse 10 says, “…he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.” Joseph wisely tried to avoid being with her. He was not someone who said, “I resisted the temptation yesterday. Today should be fine too.” No, he knew he should remain vigilant. 1 Corinthians 10:12 says “If you think you are standing, be careful that you don’t fall.” The very next verse in that passage goes on, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Joseph needed that special way out and for him it was to run.
In Genesis 39:11 &12 we read, “One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.” There are times, friends, when the only way to overcome temptation is to get out of temptation’s way as fast as possible. Even though Potiphar’s wife grabbed his cloak Joseph knew it was better to lose his cloak than to lose his character.
Next time we will see what happened to Joseph and will discover that doing things God’s way doesn’t always result in everything turning out well for us. In fact Joseph got falsely accused and ended up in prison – but his integrity was intact and God was still with him. Finally, I want to say a word to those for whom talking about temptation brings up bad memories of past failure. The Lord wants you to know that He can forgive the past and can give new hope for the future. The Lord says in Jeremiah 31:34 “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sin no more.” This is His promise to all who repent of their sin and turn away from it. The Lord is not only ready to forgive us but He is able to take away our guilt and shame. And by His Holy Spirit He gives us new strength, like Joseph, to choose to do what is right, regardless of the consequences.