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.” But he refused. (Genesis 39:6-8)
Please open your Bible at Genesis 39. We are continuing our series in the life of Joseph, “Snapshots of a Godly Life.” We have seen that Joseph was loved and favored, hated and despised, and yet blessed and successful in all that he did. And in all of these ways he points us to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Today we see that Joseph was tempted and that he was faithful. The story before us today speaks powerfully to the issue of sexual temptation in all of its forms. I am well aware of the importance and the sensitivity of this subject, and I have two things to say by way of introduction.
The first thing is that Genesis 39 comes immediately after Genesis 38. Now, you might be thinking, “That’s not the most profound observation I’ve ever heard.” Yes, but it is important for this reason: In Genesis 39, we have a story in which a man suffers greatly because of the sins of a woman. In Genesis 38, we have the story of Tamar and Judah, where a woman suffers greatly because of the sins of a man. There is no monopoly on virtue or on vice for either gender. The themes of tempting and being tempted speak to men and to women alike.
It would be easy, as we come to this story today, for the men to put themselves in Joseph’s shoes, and for the women to feel distanced from the story, because who wants to identify themselves with Potiphar’s wife? But this story is for all of us, so ladies, I want you to try and stand in Joseph’s shoes. I want you to see yourself in him, as a person who will be tempted, and as a person who can stand strong against temptation in Jesus Christ.
The second thing is that I am always grateful that so many children are in our congregation. So, in preparing to speak today, I have asked the Lord to help me speak in a way that is both clear and discreet.
There are three parts to the message today:
- When you are vulnerable to temptation.
- How you can stand strong against temptation.
- What will come of your faithfulness.
7 Seasons When You Are Vulnerable to Temptation
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Matthew 26:41)
We understand why Jesus told us to “pray,” but why did he tell us to “watch?” Because there are particular times and seasons when we’re especially vulnerable to temptation. You need to find out what they are.
When are you tempted? Is there a pattern to the times when you fall? You are in a battle. And this is really important intelligence you need to have in order to effectively fight this type of warfare. From the story of Joseph, here are seven seasons when we are especially vulnerable to temptation:
1. When you are young and single
At this point of the story, Joseph would have been 27 or 28 years old. He is young, fit, and strong. He would have experienced all the tensions in his body and all the longings in his soul that come with the desire for intimacy that God has placed within us all.
These tensions and longings are surely not exclusive to the young, but they are at their most intense when we are young. And Joseph was right at the point of life where temptation would have had its greatest power. So this is a story that speaks very powerfully to all of the students and young adults here today.
We live in a culture that assumes that being sexually active is an essential part of a normal life. And if you believe that God has placed this gift within the bounds of a life-long commitment of marriage between a man and a woman, you are going to find yourself under all kinds of pressure.
My prayer is that this story will bring strength and hope for all, (whether single or married) who find themselves tempted because of pressures and frustrations in this area of life.
2. When you are good looking
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. (Genesis 39:6)
Joseph was a really good looking fellow! I enjoyed the comment made to me by a member of our congregation, who I highly esteem, some years ago. He was cautious and genuinely concerned about the use of video in our services, and so he said to me, “Colin, I want you to know that you sound better than you look!” I did not dispute with him.
I guess most of would like to look better than we do. Some have been given greater gifts in this area than others, and if God has given you the gift of being handsome or beautiful in form and appearance, you need to know that there are pressures and temptations that will come with it.
George Lawson, a nineteenth century writer, says in the language of the day, “Hast thou beauty? Trust not in it, but be modest and cautious. Dost thou want beauty? Be content, and thankful that you are free from those snares which often attend it.” 
3. When you have worked hard and been successful
Joseph worked hard. He gained multiple promotions, and God gave him success in all that he did. Temptation, in its many forms, is especially powerful when you have been working hard. Your energies are drained. You are tired, depleted, and your heart says, “You have been working hard and you deserve a reward.”
4. When you have opportunity
Joseph didn’t go looking for temptation; temptation came looking for him. Sometimes a person may have desire but not opportunity. Other times you can have opportunity but not desire. But when desire and opportunity come together, temptation is at the height of its power. It’s a lethal mix.
5. When you are away from home
Many of you know the pressure of this in your working life. Your work means that you must travel, so you spend a lot of nights in a hotel.
You know the routine: You check into a hotel, and there you are in a strange, anonymous place. And you are lonely. There’s something disorienting about travel. You can get the feeling, when you are in a different place, that the normal rules do not apply. You’re on your own, away from your wife, with time on your hands, and you’re vulnerable to temptation.
6. When you have no one to hold you accountable
Many have found great help in the battle with temptation through the support of an accountability partner. But Joseph had nobody to share his struggle with. Put yourself in his shoes: He had no external support whatsoever. He was alone and anonymous in Egypt, and that could only have heightened the power of temptation in his soul.
7. When temptation continues over a long period of time
[Potiphar’s wife] spoke to Joseph day after day. (Genesis 39:10)
This was not a passing temptation. This was a relentless campaign! It is not too hard to resist a fleeting temptation. But when it grinds on day after day, always at you, always in your face, it wears you down. You just get tired of the battle.
That may be where you are right now, “How did God know that I’m tired of the battle?” He is speaking to you right now from this story. You face a particular temptation, and you have been battling it for a long time. You have fought and now you are tired of fighting.
Put all of this together and you will see the cumulative pressure that Joseph was facing: He was young, and single, and good looking. He had worked hard and been successful. He had opportunity, and he was away from home with no one to hold him accountable. And he had been fighting the temptation for a long period of time.
That looks like a recipe for disaster. He’s got to fall! And yet, to our astonishment, Joseph stood strong in the face of temptation. How did he do that? Where did he find that kind of strength under these circumstances? How was it possible for him to stand, and how is it possible for us to do the same?
How You Can Stand Strong in Temptation
There are two parts to the answer here – motives and strategies, and both of them are important. Strategies deal with how you stand up to temptation. Motives deal with the desire and the power you need to put the strategies into practice.
Strategy #1: Clear commitment
“How then can I do this?” (Genesis 39:9)
Joseph must have been aware that Potiphar’s wife had her eyes on him. He saw that trouble was brewing, and when it came out into the open, he had already settled the issue in his mind, “I cannot do this.”
Why does an open mind in the face of temptation make failure inevitable? Because a godly life revolves around commitments, and if you have none your life will drift. In any situation of life you need to ask, “What will likely be the big temptation here for me?” Name it, and then make a commitment before God to guard against it.
This is huge when you go off to college. This is huge in the workplace. This is huge in any situation where you know that you’re likely to face temptation.
There is tremendous value in making a vow of sexual purity before marriage, a vow that you will keep yourself for the spouse God may (or may not) have for you in the future. This is a vow or a commitment between you and God that you might share with a trusted friend.
Then there is tremendous value in making a vow of sexual faithfulness within marriage. At the heart of a wedding is the giving and receiving of a vow, in which a man and a woman say to each other: “I will be loyal to you in regard to my body, my heart, and my mind.”
The reason we make such a vow is that this gift of sexual union is a sacred trust from God, and it is not to be entered into lightly. So when we receive it, we surround it with the protection of a lifelong commitment to love, faithfulness, loyalty, and respect.
This is what makes marriage totally different from moving in with somebody else. When you move in together, you are receiving the gift without the commitment of a sacred vow that comes with a public wedding ceremony.
Strategy #2: Clear communication
[Potiphar’s] wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused. (Genesis 39:7-8)
Do you get the clarity of this? Joseph didn’t say, “Let’s go out to Starbucks and talk about how both of us feel.” He refused. There were no mixed messages from Joseph.
Strategy #3: Clear boundaries
As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her. (Genesis 39:10)
Joseph didn’t say, “I can’t do what you ask, but we can always be friends.” After this thing had come out into the open, he gave Potiphar’s wife a wide berth. He did not play the game: How close can we get to the fire without getting burned?
But one day, when the other servants were gone, Potiphar’s wife took advantage of the situation. She grabbed Joseph by his robe, and Joseph did the only thing he could do: He ran out of the house. Better to lose his robe, better to lose his job, better to lose anything, than to sin against God and against Potiphar and against the woman who was tempting him.
How you can stand strong in temptation? You’ll never do it with an open mind. You have to have clear commitments, clear communication, and clear boundaries.
Now you may be saying, “This makes perfect sense to me. I can see the wisdom of the strategies. But that’s not my problem. My problem is finding the desire, the power, the motivation to do this. Where do I get the strength to implement the strategies?”
Motive #1: The trust of a servant
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.” (Genesis 39:8)
Notice Joseph’s reasoning, his motive, and the clarity with which he deals with temptation: I’m a trusted servant, not a free agent, drifting around from one thing to another at the impulse of my own heart. I have a master. He has been good to me, and I will be loyal to him. You are not a free agent either. You are a servant of the Lord. Your master has been good to you.
Motive #2: The wickedness of sin
“How then can I do this great wickedness?” (Genesis 39:9)
Joseph calls sin by its proper name. The world is always in the business of coining fresh language to make sin more acceptable. Instead of describing what Joseph was tempted to as an act of “adultery,” people today would call it “an affair” or “a fling.” It doesn’t sound quite so bad when you put it that way.
Change the language and it doesn’t sound like such a big deal. And if Satan can persuade you that the sin to which you are tempted is not a big deal, it will not be long until you fall into temptation. What is the defense against this?
What is the sin to which you are tempted? Call it by its proper name. Is it pride? Is it envy? The Bible says these things are an abomination to the Lord. If I call it that, it’s going to help motivate me to fight against it. Joseph calls the sin to which he is tempted, “wickedness.” He sees and feels the sinfulness of sin, and that acts as a defense in his soul.
Motive #3: The fear of the Lord
“How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9)
The great motive for the Christian in the battle against temptation is that you have come to love God. The fear of the Lord means that his frown would be your greatest dread, and his smile would be your greatest delight, and so for that reason, what God thinks of what you are doing carries weight in your life, in fact, it is the decisive thing.
If you love the Lord, then grieving the Father who loves you, sinning against the Christ who died for you, and resisting the Holy Spirit who lives within you, will seem like a fearful thing, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”
What Will Come of Your Faithfulness?
Does it really matter? Two things here – one you can guess, the other you cannot imagine.
The part you can guess is that faithfulness will not be easy. Joseph must have known that his faithfulness would be costly. It was not beyond him to foresee what Potiphar’s wife would do with the robe. And sure enough, as we will see next time, the immediate outcome of Joseph’s faithfulness to God in pursuing the path of purity was that it landed him in prison.
To those who are single: If you choose the path of purity before marriage, you will not find it easy. Some people will wonder what’s wrong with you. You may lose the affection of someone who wanted what you were not ready to give, and you find yourself experiencing what Jesus said, “If you would follow me, you must take up your cross and follow me.”
To those who are married: If, for the sake of Christ, you choose the path of faithfulness in a marriage to an ungrateful or an unresponsive spouse, it will not be easy. There may be times when you find yourself thinking your life could be very different. That part you can guess.
But there’s something else here – another part that you cannot imagine, and that is the good that God will bring from your faithfulness. Think about this and follow the chain of connection:
It was through the faithfulness of Joseph that he ended up in prison. Yes, but it was through being in prison that he met Pharaoh’s cupbearer. It was through the cupbearer that Joseph was introduced to Pharaoh. And it was through Pharaoh that he became the wise prime minister who provided food for his people.
It was through the food he supplied that the life of Judah and the other brothers were saved in a time of famine. And it was through the line of Judah that Jesus Christ was born into the world. It is through Jesus Christ that a great company of people will be gathered forever with great joy in the presence of Almighty God.
Joseph could not possibly have imagined the chain of connections, and the good that God would bring. It was beyond anything that he could have imagined there in Potiphar’s house.
So here you are trying to find the strength, the motivation, and the energy to stand strong against temptation when it is at its most intense. What will be the effect of your standing strong and being faithful on your son, your daughter, your friend, or your colleague? What will be the good of it for your future husband or wife? How will God weave this strand of your faithfulness into the tapestry of his gracious work in the lives of others?
You throw a stone into a lake when the water is completely still, and it looks like a piece of glass. One stone produces a ripple, a series of rings, and you can hardly believe how far they go. That’s how it will be with your faithfulness.
One of the joys of heaven will be to see the fruit that comes from the especially intense battles that you have fought with temptation in your life. To have Christ say to you, “Remember the time you fought a battle with temptation in that hotel? You said, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. How can I do this wicked thing and sin against God?’ By God’s grace you prevailed. What you didn’t know was that if you’d given in, a whole different series of events would have transpired. But you stood strong, and now I want you to see what came of it.”
You say, “I find all of this very difficult to imagine.” Don’t you think Joseph would have said the same thing?
Jesus came to bring forgiveness for our past sins and power to face our future temptations. We need both. I hope that many of us will be moved make new commitments to purity today. We need the strength of Jesus to be faithful. Some of us may feel swamped by a sense of our own past failure. We need the grace of Jesus to bring us forgiveness and cleansing. And this is why this story is in the Bible.
In Genesis 38, we have the story of Judah’s moral failure. He gave way to the desires of his heart and brought unimaginable sorrow to the people around him. You might be saying, “I am more like Judah than Joseph!”
That’s why the story of Joseph is in the Bible, not simply to say, “He is a paragon of virtue, and we should be too.” No, it’s there because of the reality of chapter 38. Joseph is a pointer to Jesus for all of us who, in body or in mind, have found ourselves to be sinners like Judah.
Joseph stood where Judah had failed, and Jesus stood where we have failed. The Bible says Jesus was tempted “in every respect… as we are, yet without sin”(Heb. 4:15).
A.W. Pink points out that the difference between Joseph and Jesus is that while Joseph wisely flees from temptations of Satan, with Jesus, it is Satan who flees from him (Mat. 4:11)! 
Then our Jesus goes to the cross, and why is he on the cross? He bears the guilt and the shame of our sins, of every kind, including sexual sins of the mind and of the body. He bore our sins in his body on the tree. He carried them into his death, and he buried them there, as far as his people are concerned.
Then Jesus rose from the dead in the power of a new and endless life. Our living Savior, holds out his arms and invites us to come to him, whatever we have done, whatever our sense of guilt and shame, in faith and in repentance. He is ready to forgive you. He is able to help you!
Jesus came to bring forgiveness for your past sins, and he came to bring power to face your future temptations. That is who he is. That is why he is the Savior. And that is why there is hope for every person in him.
 George Lawson, “The Life of Joseph,” p. 32, Banner of Truth, 1996. Lawson cites the story of Sarah here.
 A. W. Pink, “Gleanings in Genesis,” p. 367, Moody press, 1922.
© Colin S. Smith
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