Sexual temptation is a real and ferocious battle. In recent times it has often been blamed on the internet but this problem has always existed. It is not going to be won with an internet filter or by finding a mate to be accountable to, good as both of those are, they cannot win the war. The war is won by Spirit-filled convictions which over time produce new desires.
Joseph knew how to win the war and he only had a fraction of the revelation and understanding of God that we now have. After he was sold into slavery by his own brothers, God brought him to the house of Potiphar, an Egyptian officer and Captain of the Guard. Potiphar was an influential and powerful man. Joseph found himself amongst a culture that was very different. The ways of doing things were different, the sights and smells were different and Joseph was having to learn quickly. Even in this God was still with Joseph.
The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. Genesis 39:2-3
Joseph learned and adapted, God was with him in his slavery in this strange land and Joseph became much trusted by Potiphar.
So Joseph found favour in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. Genesis 39:4
But someone else had also noticed and admired Joseph. Someone else had ideas for the new slave namely Potiphar’s wife. She, because of her husband’s busy and demanding job, was often at home alone. Joseph was also her property to be used as she wished.
So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” Genesis 39:6-7
However, Joseph was filled with strength and conviction and refused her advances. His will to refuse and his belief that the request was wrong governed his reply. The outcome, we know, would lead him to be thrown in prison but righteousness and holiness should be our governing desire.
But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Genesis 39:8-9
How did Joseph do this? How did he resist temptation? How did his self control tip the balance? For what it’s worth here are some things I see.
Trust is foundational and valuable to everything we are and do. It is also very fragile and can be easily broken.
Joseph’s reply to Potiphar’s wife was, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge.” Sexual sin destroys trust in every direction. Joseph’s expressed concern is not just that he would lose his position within the household but that he would betray Potiphar’s hard earned trust. This is not the greatest conviction over which Joseph is having to exercise self-control but it is the first one he mentions, and it’s important for defeating sexual sin. Do you prize the trust you have with your husband or wife, your children, your boss, your friends, your church, or are you secretly all too happy to risk that trust in order to satisfy your passions?
Joseph knew to ‘handle with care’ all the trust he had been given and to treat Potiphar’s faith in him as a gift therefore he did not want to break that trust.
Joseph would not abuse his position. Joseph says, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you”
Potiphar had given Joseph unparalleled authority over his home, over his business, over all his possessions, which gave Joseph exceptional access and privilege, even to that of being trusted to being left alone in the home with his wife.
Our news headlines are filled with gifted and powerful men who have abused this kind of authority using their position and power to take advantage of women, but Joseph refused to abuse his role even when Potiphar’s wife tried repeatedly to seduce him day after day. “I will not lie with you,” and as a result he went to prison for years. Everyone of us has God given responsibilities and we should not abuse what God has given us.
Joseph had a high view of marriage. He would not sleep with Potiphar’s wife because she was married. Despite her looks and appeals Joseph would not dishonour the marriage. On the other hand Potiphar’s wife was willing to treat her marriage with contempt in order to have a handsome young man for an hour or two, remarkably her marriage was worth far more in Joseph’s eyes than it was to her. Joseph knew God had joined Potiphar to his wife. He knew that just as God had formed Eve and brought her to Adam, so he had sovereignly brought together this man and this woman, he would not break apart that which God had joined (Mark 10:7-9)
“Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” Hebrews 13:4
Joseph did not want to sin. Many people who profess to be Christians know that sin is wrong, but the key to killing sin is not simply knowing sin is wrong but hating sin. As we grow in Christ, sin should become, over time, more and more offensive, even disgusting to us. When other men would be all too happy to jump into bed with an attractive, powerful, and eager woman, Joseph asks, “How could I do this great wickedness?”
Adultery is not just wrong it is wicked (that is the biblical word not mine, it is put that way so that we understand God’s view of sin) and it is not just wicked it is a “great wickedness.” When you say “No” to temptation, is it because you know this is wrong, even though everything in you wants to do it anyway?
It is true, that there is an inner conflict, one where we feel the pull of sin’s allure but the trouble can be, we tell ourselves it is okay and we give ourselves great justifications and reasons as to why it will be alright to sin. It’s going to be a battle, temptation is never easy. Sin is wrong, but it is also destructive. Ask God to make it more offensive in your eyes.
Let’s move on to something a bit controversial. God, and the pleasure found in Him, is better than sex. As sin becomes more and more offensive, even horrible to us then God becomes more beautiful, more precious and more satisfying. Adultery loses its seductive power and its pleasures pale next to the deep and enduring joy He promises (as an aside: there is no marriage in heaven, therefore no need for sexual pleasure).
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11
Joseph lived for the glory of God. How could he do this to God?
Joseph was not primarily worried about losing his position for some sexual pleasure but rather he refused to lose God. God’s glory was too beautiful, His friendship too precious and His promises too great for Joseph to ‘lie with her.’ If you want to stay out of bed with someone else’s wife, make yourself as happy as possible in God.
We are going to have to persevere. Potiphar’s wife did not try to seduce Joseph just once. “As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her” (vs 10). Joseph didn’t just say “No” once he refused repeatedly and persistently. She kept trying, and he kept refusing. His convictions didn’t just keep him from one mistake but strengthened his resolve over and over and over again. He wasn’t worn down. Temptation does not go away.
Okay, being practical, this is not a one size fits all answer but it’s good to ask the question often, “If I were the devil, where would I attack me?” In other words, identify your weaknesses, your vulnerable spots, areas where you’ve failed before and take steps to protect yourself in the future. For example, if your fantasies are easily fuelled by visual images, stay away from such temptation.
Deal radically with sin. In the words of Jesus, “if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Mathew 5:29).
Deal with your temptation at the beginning not at the end. In other words, the best and most effective tactic against temptation is to deal with it from a position of strength before it has an opportunity to weaken you.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8