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In the new series, Profiles in Courage, Pastor Philip explores the lives of biblical figures who exemplify God-given courage. From Genesis to Revelation, these profiles of courage will inspire us to take a stand for righteousness and unwavering faith.
Courage is not limited to a select few; it is a quality all believers must cultivate. It involves putting ourselves at risk, sacrificing comfort, and persevering in the face of opposition. It demands a firm commitment to truth and an unwavering determination to do what others cannot or will not do.
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Well, take your Bible and turn to Genesis 39. We’re in a series, if you’re visiting with us, called Profiles in Courage. We’re looking at some biblical characters, men in particular, who showed some chutzpah, who showed courage, who stood up rather than kneel to the culture. We have looked at several of those. We looked at Elijah and the courage to take sides. We looked at Joshua and the courage to step up. We looked at Nehemiah and the courage to keep going. And this morning we’re going to look at Joseph and the courage to say “no”—to say “no” to sexual temptation, to say “no” to a culture that seeks to seduce the man of God.
So, follow along. We’ll take some time to read God’s Word, beginning at verse 7. In fact, breaking into the last few words of verse 6, Genesis 39:
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.
And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”
But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her.
But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, “See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside.”
So she kept his garment with her until his master came home. Then she spoke to him with words like these, saying, “The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me and fled outside.”
So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, “Your servant did to me after this manner,” that his anger was aroused. Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy.
So reads God’s Word.
I want to speak this morning on a message I’ve entitled “Indecent Proposal” from Genesis 39:7–20. A couple of years back, I was standing in the Colosseum in Rome. June and I were there on a missions trip, and Fred Whitman, the missionary we were working with, was giving us a wonderful tour of the beautiful and intriguing city of Rome. We spent an afternoon in the Colosseum, and while I was there, I tried to imagine the historic moment that ended the gladiatorial games in Rome. The story centers on a monk in the fourth century who felt called by God to go to Rome, and so he left his kind of cloistered surroundings. Telemachus was his name. He gets to Rome, and he’s intrigued by the sights and the sounds and the sins of the great city.
On one particular day, he follows the crowd as it enters the Colosseum, and inside he’s shocked by what he sees: the bloodletting and the blood lust, the reenactment of historic Roman victories, the gladiatorial contests, the crowds deciding who lives and who dies. He was so bothered by it, so offended by it, so moved by it that he jumps the railing, and he inserts himself into the middle of a gladiatorial contest. The gladiators immediately kind of step back, shocked at this monk standing between them. For a moment no one knew what to do, but after a while the crowd begins to get angry.
Telemachus has told the gladiators, “In the name of Jesus, forbear, cease, desist, stop.” But as the crowd gets angry, the message is clear to the gladiator to run his sword through the stomach of Telemachus, and that’s what he does. The monk falls to the ground, with his life draining from him. Again, the words that he had said moments ago are his dying words: “In the name of Jesus, forbear, stop, cease.” His thinking was, “Four centuries after the birth of Jesus and men are still murdering each other for sport?” He perishes there, and in a holy moment, in a historic moment, some people begin to filter out of the Colosseum. There are two perspectives on this incident historically. Some say that that day the Colosseum emptied and that was the end of the gladiatorial games. Others say within a short period of time, the emperor did ban the gladiatorial games. This man’s death had brought a moment of realism and reflection on the part of the empire.
But here’s the point I want to take from the story. In our series Profiles in Courage, as we think of Telemachus, it takes courage to say, “No. In Christ’s name, forbear.” It takes courage to shout, “Stop.” It takes courage to do what is right. It takes courage to refuse to participate in the prevailing pleasures of the culture. It takes courage to expose and oppose sin in society. And in our present series Profiles in Courage, I want to challenge you as a body of men and as a body of brothers to such courage, to such resoluteness and bravery, because courage is central and pivotal to our manhood and our life in Jesus Christ as disciples.
Remember what God said to Joshua? “Be strong and courageous.” Remember what Paul said to the Corinthians? “Be strong. Act like men.” God and His apostles and His prophets expect courage on the part of men.
And in terms of finding courage to say “no,” shout “stop,” do the right thing, is there any greater challenge that a man faces today than to have the courage to say “no,” shout “stop,” in the face of sexual temptation? Because ours is a society that oozes sexuality from its very pores. Ours is a culture that criticizes morality, censors decency, celebrates fornication, consumes pornography, condones adultery, and commends sexual expression every which way. Ours is an oversexualized society. Day in and day out, the Christian man is bombarded with sexual pictures, propaganda, and peer pressure.
Let me quote Kevin DeYoung in his book The Hole in Our Holiness. This about summarizes the context in which you and I operate and live out our lives in Christ: “The world is no friend to us in our fight for sexual purity.” Can I get an amen?
That’s where we’re at. “The world is no friend to us in our fight for sexual purity.” We daily inhale sexual err, are bombarded with sexual images, are made to believe sexuality defines who we are. Sex sells, and even Christians who wait until marriage and confess their struggles to accountability partners are adept at buying the world’s sexual wares through the internet, at the ticket counter, in the mall, by a thousand other means. Sexual immorality is everywhere to see, and few of us with the mind of Christ are bothering to close our eyes.
In fact, I think this is a true statement. You and I are not only living in a world that sells pornography; you and I are living in a world that’s pornographic. Our entertainment is pornographic. Our dress styles, especially in southern California: pornographic. Our music videos and halftime shows at NFL National Football Games: pornographic. Our humanity departments and our universities: pornographic. Our laws: pornographic. That’s where we’re at. That’s the challenge that you and I face, and it’s going to take courage to stay pure. It’s going to take courage to show moral fidelity. And this is real, and it’s raw.
I like the story Philip Graham Ryken tells of a little girl in his church in Philadelphia who was caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She confessed to her mother, quote, “Sometimes the devil tempts me. And at other times, he tempts me real good.” And I think when it comes to sexual sin and compromise, the devil tempts the Christian man real good. That’s why I want to reinforce our need to stay pure, to fight the good fight in terms of our sexual fidelity.
Listen to Paul as he writes to the Corinthians in chapter 6, verse 18” “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:18-20).
One other passage before we go to the passage we want to consider in depth. First Thessalonians 4:3–7: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.”
Guys, the world calls us to uncleanness. God calls us to holiness. We’re to flee sexual immorality. Do you realize that the first sexual revolution was carried out by the Christians in the first century? That was a sexual revolution going in the right direction. Christianity taught men to restrain themselves. That was unheard of in the culture. Christianity taught and commended and commanded mutuality between a husband and a wife, unheard of in the culture. Christianity preached consent in the sexual act, unheard of in the culture. If you study the ethics of the New Testament, the very passages that we have read that seem so normal to us were so radical then. The first sexual revolution came through the church, where purity was taught; and a woman’s dignity was protected; and the sanctity of marriage was treasured; and men were told to possess their bodies in honor, to deal with their wives with sensitivity, and to guard their hearts and watch their eyes.
So, let’s come to Genesis 39 and the story of Joseph displaying moral courage in refusing the sexual advances of his boss’s wife. This is a great story; it’s a challenging story. As one writer said, it wasn’t easy for Joseph to resist as a man, and it was not safe for Joseph to resist as a slave. That’s a good little statement that just helps us quickly enter into the drama and the emotion of the moment. When he says “no,” that wasn’t easy as a man. When he said “no” to her, that wasn’t safe as a slave. All of that took courage. All of that took bravery. Now, we’re just going to jump in to Genesis 39.
If I’m kind of to pull the camera lens back a little bit, you know that the big arc of the Joseph story is that God uses Joseph’s suffering to keep His covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob—that a great nation would come from Abraham that would bless the world. And God uses the jealousy and the portrayal of Joseph’s brothers towards him to send him down to Egypt. He goes from the pit to the prison to the palace, and he becomes a means of saving Abraham’s seed. In fact, he says that to his brothers later on in Genesis 45:7: You know what? God sent me ahead to preserve Jacob’s family. He’ll reflect on the fact in Genesis 50:20, that what you meant for evil, God meant for good. So, in a sense, the arc or the big picture of the Joseph story is that God’s will and redemptive plan promised through Abraham is still on track.
In fact, I heard an outstanding message by D. A. Carson over at Cal Baptist a few years ago on this very passage, on Joseph’s temptation. And he finished his message with this line that I’ve never forgotten. It’s going to strike you as soon as you hear it. He said this: “Eventually, Jesus was born because Joseph kept his zipper up.” It’s a striking statement, and he’s playing into that—that the Joseph story is part of the unfolding of redemption’s plan and the promises that God has made through Abraham and the covenant He made. Jesus was born because Joseph kept his zipper up. That’s the big picture, but now we’re going to narrow down into an episode within the story, and it’s Joseph’s temptation and his ability to say “no.”
If you’re taking notes, I’ve got four thoughts: the test, the time, the temptation, the travesty.
Let’s look at the text. Now, this is going to take us actually out of the text. I’m going to take you to a text outside the text, related to the text, that will allow us to come back with a greater understanding into the text. And what I’m thinking of here is Psalm 105:16–22. What you have in Psalm 105 is a divine commentary on the Joseph story. It’s kind of a summary, a Reader’s Digest version of chapters 37 through to 50 in the book of Genesis. Listen to what the psalmist says:
Moreover He called for a famine in the land;
He destroyed all the provision of bread.
He sent a man before them—
Joseph—who was sold as a slave.
They hurt his feet with fetters,
He was laid in irons.
Until the time that his word came to pass,
The word of the Lord tested him.
That’s where I get my first thought. What’s going on in Genesis 39 is a test from God before it is a temptation from Satan. And I just think we need to get that perspective. I like the way the NIV translates that verse regarding Joseph, that he was kept in fetters, he was imprisoned “til the word of the Lord proved him true.” This episode in Joseph’s life, like the whole story of his sojourn into Egypt, is a test. The soil of Egypt was proving ground to this man’s life and leadership qualities, and I don’t want you to miss that.
Before this was a temptation from below, it was a test from above. You see, in temptation, Satan seeks to disapprove us, but God seeks to prove us. In temptation, Satan seeks to bring us down, while God’s testing seeks to build us up.
In fact, over in James chapter 1, the same Greek word is used both for testing sent from heaven and temptation that emerges from hell. Look at verses 12–13 of James 1: “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” Same Greek word. It’s used in verse 12 of a test, a trial that a Christian is put through to strengthen him, to temper him, to shape his character. And it’s used for something that the devil sets before a man to draw him away and bring him down.
So, I just want you to see back here in Genesis 39, that we’re going to see in a moment or two, the details and the elements of this temptation. But, in the big picture, God’s using a temptation that’s sponsored by hell to test His servant, to allow him to prove himself true.
When I worked in an industry before the pastorate, I worked in an aerospace company in Belfast called Short Brothers, and it was right beside the great ship building factory called Harland & Wolff, where the Titanic was built. And sometimes we would see the great ships that were still being built there head out into Belfast Lough and out into the Irish Sea for what was known as what? Sea trials. Now, what was the purpose of the sea trial? Was it to disapprove the product of Harland & Wolff, or was it to approve the product of Harland and Wolff? Well, it was to approve it. It was to test the engine. It was to make sure that the ship was seaworthy, that everything was functioning. The purpose of the trial was a good purpose, to highlight the workmanship of the employees of that great shipyard, and the same with you and me.
Before Joseph takes on a role of leadership and savior, his integrity must be proven, his life must be tested. Right? What does it say of the deacon in 1 Timothy 3:10? Let the deacon first be proved.
If you notice, in the story of Joseph, God is completely dedicated to Joseph (vv. 3, 5). “The Lord was with him and . . . made all he did to prosper.” Joseph was completely dedicated to Potiphar. He says in verse 9, in rebuking the advances of his wife: You know what? Your husband has kept nothing back from me except you, and that’s okay because you’re his wife. And Potiphar was completely dedicated to Joseph (vv. 3–4). He gave him complete oversight of his house and put everything under his authority. And now, in this temptation, come test, test come temptation, Joseph is being tested to see if he’s completely dedicated to God and qualified for leadership.
I like what Gary Inrig says in his book on Joseph. Speaking of Psalm 105, he says this: “This is an inspired insight into the accumulating trials experienced by Joseph. They were, in part, a God-intended testing. The term is significant: testing refers to the refining of metals, whereby they are placed in a fire to be both purified of impurities and authenticated as to worth. Joseph was indeed in a fire, but it was a refiner’s fire.” And you and I need to see that and embrace that.
In 1982, two Russian cosmonauts touched down after 211 days in the space station Salyut 7. At zero gravity, their muscles had atrophied due to the complete lack of resistance. In fact, when they got back down to Earth, they were unable to walk for almost 30 days, their muscles had so atrophied. So, the Russian scientists put their minds to work on this with another space adventure around the corner, and they invented what was called the penguin suit, which was a running suit laced with elastic bands. That meant that every time a cosmonaut moved inside the spacecraft, they faced resistance. The resistance built muscle so that they didn’t atrophy during long periods of time in space. The next space adventure for the Soviets lasted 326 days, and when the men came back, they didn’t face the same kind of collapse or atrophy that those before them had dealt with.
And, you know what? Resistance, guys, tests, challenges, uphill battles, that’s a spiritual penguin suit to help you and me develop character and prove the genuineness of our spiritual metal.
Let’s look secondly at what I call the time. Notice verse 7: “And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph.” This indecent proposal comes on the heels of promotion and progress. That’s verses 1–6. You can read it for yourself, but you know what? Joseph is sold into slavery. In God’s providence, he becomes the possession of a man called Potiphar (v.1), an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard. In fact, he may have indeed been in charge of the very jail that he will later put Joseph into. But when Joseph’s there, his master saw that the Lord was with him and the Lord made all that he did to prosper (v. 3), and so Joseph found favor in his sight.
And it’s after these things, right? Joseph catches his breath, the sun comes out a little bit, the dark skies have parted just a smidgen, and he is going, “You know what? I sense God’s hand in this, and these are times of promotion and progress.” Things were looking up, but here’s the issue. When things look up, the devil will want to bring you down. To quote Gary Inrig again, “There is an important reminder here: God’s blessings do not make us bullet-proof. Very often, they expose us to even stronger enticements. Climbing the ladder of godly success only stirs Satan’s interest in bringing us down. The higher we are, the farther and harder we can fall.” And we see that principle here in the timing of this, after these things.
Victory can make us vulnerable, right? Think about the timing of Jesus’ temptation. In Matthew 3:17, following His baptism with John, the heavens opened, and the Father says, “This is my beloved Son. Hear Him.” It’s a wonderful moment, and yet immediately it says the Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
Think about Peter being a propagandist for Satan immediately after being a mouthpiece for God. Right? Matthew 16:16–17: “Who do men say that I am?” Peter says, “Lord, you’re the Son of the living God.” Jesus says, “That’s good, Peter. You know what? Flesh and blood didn’t reveal that. It took the Holy Spirit to help you see that.” And then He tells His disciples, “I must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die.” And Peter takes Him aside, says, “Lord, that’s not going to happen under my watch. You’re not going to die. Well, what kind of a plan’s that?” And in the middle of that, what does Jesus say? “Get behind me, Satan.” On the one hand, an instrument of God; in the next moment, a tool of Satan.
There’s a fine line between obedience and disobedience. There’s a short step from submission to God to coming out from under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Temptation to sin often follows spiritual success, and we need to be aware of that. If we are not careful, prosperity, success, spiritual advancement can lull us into a false sense of security. In fact, right now, if your marriage is good, you’re gainfully employed, the doctor says you’re pretty healthy, you have a little bit of margin in the bank, your children love you, you’ve got a circle of friends, you’ve got a great church—watch out. I know that’s all good, and I’m not telling you not to enjoy that because God has given us all things to enjoy, okay? But watch out because victory makes us vulnerable. Blessing does not make us bulletproof.
Trust in God can easily give way to self-assurance in times of prosperity. Humility can easily give way to pride when things are going good, and we fall into the temptation of Nebuchadnezzar: “Well, you know what? Come into my house, and I’ll tell you the story of how I built this kingdom.” Vigilance can unconsciously give way to complacency. Just when you think you have arrived, that’s when you’re most vulnerable. Just when you think you’ve got the sin issue and the devil on a leash, that’s when they are most dangerous. F. B. Meyer: “We may expect temptation in days of prosperity and ease rather than in those of privation and toil. . . . not where men frow, but where they smile sweet exquisite smiles of flattery—it is there, it is there that the temptress lies in wait! Beware! If you go armed anywhere, you must, above all, go armed here.”
In 1985, Jose Cubero was one of the great matadors of Spain. The house is full. He’s 21; he’s a rising star. And during this spectacle, this bullfight, he makes a grave mistake. See, he had thrust his sword for a final time into a bleeding and delirious bull that eventually falls over. Considering the struggle finished, Cubero turns to the crowd and drinks in the applause, drinks in the adulation. But the bull was not dead. It rose, lunged at him, and its horn pierced his back, puncturing his heart. And here’s his dying words: “This bull has killed me.” The bull that he thought he had killed, killed him. And just when you and I think that our fight with sin is over and our sin issue is dead and we’ve tamed the devil, be careful. Be careful. As John Owen says, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”
We’ve got the test. We’ve got the time. What about the temptation? At the heart of this story is a proposition to engage in casual sex, right? Verse 7: “Lie with me.” Verse 10: “Lie with her.” Verse 12: “Lie with me.” Joseph is being propositioned to partake of the forbidden fruit of adultery. Potiphar’s wife was the original Mrs. Robinson. Within the text, Joseph had earlier caught the eye of Potiphar, right? “And his master saw that the Lord was with him,” and he saw that all that he did prospered (v. 3). Later, it’s Potiphar’s wife whose eye catches Joseph because he’s handsome (v. 6). And we read, she “cast longing eyes on Joseph” (v. 7) Potiphar appreciated Joseph’s brilliance. Potiphar’s wife appreciated Joseph’s body because he was handsome, and he was of an attractive form. In fact, he probably inherited the good looks of his mother, Rachel, who’s described as beautiful in appearance in Genesis 29:17.
I like what R. Kent Hughes says of that. What a magnificent spectacle he was in his Egyptian kilt: tanned, broad shouldered, cut, great abs. It was here that the story turned, for with all his gifts, Joseph “suffer[ed] from one endowment too many.” And so she solicits him. Let me just unfold a little bit more of the nature of this temptation.
Number one, it was natural, wasn’t it? This call to casual sex was natural, insidious, and ongoing. In Genesis 37:2, Joseph is said to be 17. Let’s just add a year or two. Probably here in Genesis 39, he’s 18 or 19, okay? His body is brimming over with sexual tension. He’s past puberty. He’s red-blooded. He’s sexually curious. This is a natural temptation that is set before him.
And not only is it natural; it’s insidious. This is a married woman who’s cruelly and callously taking advantage of a young slave and a vulnerable young man. How wicked is that?
Three, it’s ongoing. Verse 10 tells us that she spoke to Joseph day by day, but he did not heed her. Temptation, guys, is rarely a single event. Have you ever noticed that? Opportunity knocks once. Temptation leans on the doorbell. Luke 4:13, after Jesus overcame His temptation and His testing, it said that the devil left Him for a more “opportune time.”
When the IRA tried to kill Margaret Thatcher and failed, they sent a message out of their Dublin headquarters: “Yesterday, you were lucky, but you need to be lucky all the time. We only need to be lucky once.” That’s the kind of threat you and I live under.
Temptation: natural, insidious, ongoing. How does he deal with it? Well, there’s a few things. Number one, I want you to see his readiness. That’s the thing that strikes me about Joseph’s rebuttal and refusal is his readiness. He is immediately on point. He doesn’t flirt. He doesn’t entice. He doesn’t engage in a conversation. There’s not the slightest entertainment of it. He’s got his game face on. He’s up for the fight. As soon as the bell rings, he’s out, ready to fight. Joseph didn’t sin a little and then tell himself that he’s better than most. His refusal was instinctive because of a mindset of readiness. In terms of sin and sexual temptation, Joseph did not go about like a dumb ox. He knew the dangers, he understood the cost, and he guarded his heart. Right?
Proverbs 6 to 7 and Proverbs 22 to 23: that’s the description of the seductress. It’s the description of a naive young man who goes by her house, dumb as a brick. What are you doing over there at that time of night? What are you thinking? You just put your head in a noose, you idiot. That’s the kind of message coming out of Proverbs 7:6–9. In fact, when you get to the end of that story, when that young man goes into the house of the prostitute and the seductress, it says that he went to his death like an ox to the slaughter—a dumb ox driven by animal instinct, devoid of thought and consciousness.
Guys, you and I need to be ready. Matthew 26:41: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” Ephesians 6:18 tells us to put on the whole armor of God and then to pray and watch at all times. First Peter 5:8–9: “Be sober.” Okay? Be serious about this. “Be sober . . . because your adversary . . . walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
I’m just struck by his readiness. One writer says the best place to eliminate a rattlesnake is when it’s still an egg. The easiest place to stop a snowball is before it rolls down the hill. Football players try to break up their opponent’s play behind the line of scrimmage before the game gets going. And it’s the same with temptation. Too many flirt with temptation and fail to escape. A Chinese proverb puts it this way: “He who would not enter the room of sin must not sit at the door of temptation.” And so, it strikes me that as soon as she propositions him, he’s ready, and he gives her several arguments we’ll get to in a moment. But just be struck by his readiness. You ready? When you go out every morning into whatever context you face, or late at night when you’re by yourself watching television or on the computer, are you ready? Are you alert?
When I was in the police in Northern Ireland for six years, I worked out of Antrim Road Police Station in North Belfast. We did two things before we went out either on a vehicle patrol or on a foot patrol, and that was check our radios were working and, number two, load our weapons. We’d go down to the loading bay, and we’d check our rifles, our sub machine guns. And I’ll always remember, as we loaded our weapons to head out, the last thing we saw before we left the station was on the wall of the loading bay. And it would say this: “Stay alert, stay alive.” That’s a good word to a police officer in North Belfast, which was a nest of IRA activity. It’s a great word to a Christian man who’s in a world that’s a moral minefield in a spiritual battlefield. Stay alert if you’re going to stay alive.
Number two, do you notice his refusal? His refusal’s abrupt, strong, and commendable. Look at verse 8. When she propositions him, “Lie with me,” notice verse 8, “But he refused.” He was ready with the refusal, and he said, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all . . . to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I.” He has kept nothing back. You’re his wife; can’t touch you. This is a great wickedness against God. Did you notice he didn’t rationalize? He refused. He didn’t rationalize; he refused. It’s another great little lesson, men. When you start to rationalize, if you give sin as a thought a nanosecond, then the devil has a toe in the door; and you’re in trouble, and I’m in trouble. We have got to refuse, not rationalize.
Think about how he could have rationalized. He could have argued victimhood. I mean, he grew up in a home that was marked by polygamy, incest, and rape. “Well, I didn’t have a good example growing up. What do you expect?” He didn’t argue victimhood. He didn’t argue the anonymity of the moment. “Well, no one will know.” He didn’t argue blood and biology. He didn’t give into that brimming sexual tension and curiosity that marked the life of an 18-year-old. He didn’t rationalize the master-servant relationship. He didn’t think there’s such a thing as situational ethics and, “You know what? What about the preserving of my life? I mean, who would blame me?” Doesn’t do any of that. “No. No. No.” It went on, day in and day out. He saw it for what it was. He called it for what it was. It was a great sin and wickedness against God. He let the Scriptures inform his thinking and set the rules, not his glands, not his hormones, not the culture. Joseph was not pragmatic; he was principled. He didn’t try to rationalize his sin. He didn’t try to refine it. He didn’t try to redefine it. Adultery was adultery, and it was a great wickedness before God.
I think that’s just another thing to bear in mind as we fight the good fight of faith. We’ve got to keep reminding ourselves to look at life from a biblically defined perspective, because the world’s always trying to squeeze us into its mold. The world’s always trying to file the corners off things. We need to remind ourselves that sex before marriage is fornication. We need to remind ourselves that adultery is a grave violation of God’s law. We need to remind ourselves that transgenderism and homosexuality and any perversity of the heterosexual norm is a perversity.
We need to keep soaking ourselves and marinating ourselves in biblical thought so that we keep renewing our minds so we don’t conform to this world (Rom. 12). Because you see, one of the things the world does, it likes to rationalize and redefine sin. Abraham Lincoln was known for his wit and his wisdom. On one occasion, he asked a critic, “How many legs would a dog have if you counted its tail as a leg?” To which the man replied, “Five.” To which Lincoln replied, “No, four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” And in a similar manner, we can call sin any name we want—avant-garde, the new ethic—but it’s still sin.
In 1859, the American Medical Association labeled abortion wanton destruction and murderous destruction. By 1967, it had become the interruption of an unwanted pregnancy. Now it’s called a medical procedure. Changing the words doesn’t change the fact that abortion is the killing of an innocent life.
Many today talk about having an affair or a meaningful relationship when what they’re talking about is a lawless act of adultery. Others talk about an acceptable alternative lifestyle. What they’re talking about is the abomination of homosexuality, men violating men. Let’s call it for what it is. And if we call it for what it is, we call a spade a spade. It helps us in the fight. It’s not the silver bullet, but in a sense, the whole fight with sexual sin begins with definitions. And we allow those definitions to define us and our reactions. Don’t compromise on the definitions, or you’re in trouble.
You notice his readiness, his refusal. What about his reasoning? J. C. Ryle said this, “Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God.” It’s a good quote. “Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God.” In fact, to flip that, that’s what confession’s all about. When you and I are not one mind with God—and we violate His law, and we step into forbidden territory, and we do that which is lawless—when you and I confess our sin before God, the Greek word means to agree with God. See, even coming back requires us to be one mind with God. Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, and I can tell you as you read this story, Joseph had a mind alive to God—alive to his moral responsibilities, alive to the importance of marriage, alive to the cost of sexual sin.
Here’s a very interesting little insight I took from one of the commentators. Her proposal, “Lie with me,” is two words in the Hebrew. His rebuttal is 35 words long. He’s reasoning; he’s ready. He refuses because he’s got this ongoing conversation in his head and what he wants to be as a man, what he knows God calls him to be as a disciple. So, if you look at his arguments with her, verse 8: You know what? My master does not know what is with me in the house and he has committed all this to my hand. There’s no one greater. He’s kept nothing back but you, and you’re his wife. I can’t do this. It would be a great wickedness. I’ll be sinning against God. Just those three things. He argued trust. He considered it a sacred trust to live out his obligations to Potiphar.
It’s a wonderful thing to be a man of trust and integrity, to deliver on your promises. He argued the sanctity of marriage: You’re his wife, and that means I can’t touch you. There’s a ring on your finger. You’re off limits. He believed in the sanctity of marriage. He believed what we read earlier in Genesis, that it’s God’s purpose that a man stays pure, that a woman stays virgin until they become one flesh in the covenant of marriage for life. And marriage is the cornerstone of a healthy society. That’s why we are in trouble here in the United States, because we have redefined it, and we continue to redefine it. And our divorce courts have lines out the door. We are in big trouble because the very building block of a society is marriage between a man and a woman for life.
And he understands the sacredness of trust and obligation, the sanctity of marriage, and he argues the holiness of God. He argues the holiness of God. This would be a great sin. Remember, we’re back to definitions. This is a sin. You can call it whatever you want. You can justify it in any manner you like, and you can rationalize it in your mind every which way. But it’s a sin, and I’m not going to partake of it. It’s a great sin, and it’s against God. And I think, implicit, given the background of the story, he argued personal cost. Remember, Joseph was given a dream. I think he held onto it. We certainly know that God’s intention is to elevate him, and someday his brothers will come and bow down before him. He has a destiny. He has a God-given purpose and potential, and I think that’s somewhere in his thinking. And he’s not about to jeopardize it in a moment of fleeting pleasure, in the heat of sexual temptation.
Now, he cools himself down; he reasons himself past the insanity of sin. There’s an insanity to sin, isn’t there? That’s why in the story of the prodigal, Jesus says, “There comes a moment when he comes to himself, when he looks back and goes, ‘That’s insane what I did. I left a good father and a good home and an inheritance, and I came here to Las Vegas and wasted it all.’” Well, that’s insanity. You need to see the insanity in prospect, not in retrospect. Joseph did. He argues and fights his way through.
Look at his retreat. Initially, he kept this distance (v.10), right? It would seem initially when she was propositioning him, he did not heed her to lie with her or, notice this at the end of verse 10, “to be with her.” So, remember, he’s limited, he’s bound, but whatever way he could, he stays away from her. And when she’s in the room, he tries to be out of the room. He tries to work his hours, whatever flexibility he has, to try and have the least amount of time in her presence. But she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. So it would seem that she either arranged it or there was a fortuitous moment when everybody was out of the house and she’s in the house. Joseph comes in, and she grabs him. She’s a sexual predator. Joseph suffered from sexual harassment in the workplace. Potiphar’s wife would not take “no” for an answer. Her pride was wounded, and her anger and jealousy were aroused. She became aggressive, and at this point he has no option but to flee, right? We’re back to 1 Corinthians 6:18: “Flee sexual immorality.” He gave sexual temptation a wide birth. He left his coat, kept his character.
That was the second time he lost his coat, by the way. Remember, his brothers took it? His brothers took it and used it as evidence that the animals had eaten him, and now he’s lost the second coat. But here’s the point. And I’m going to leave out the last thought, travesty, which is just the rest of the fact that she who said “Lie with me,” when he didn’t, lies about him not lying with her. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. The point I would’ve made if I’d have gone there and the travesty is that, you know what? Bob Jones used to say, “Do right till the stars fall.” And you’ll notice that doing right didn’t bring immediate reward; it put him in prison. But, ultimately, there was reward. Ultimately, God honored him for honoring God. But just bear that in mind: doing right comes with a cost. There are not necessarily any immediate rewards. The bunting doesn’t fall from heaven, and the bond doesn’t strike up. But you know what? In Matthew 5, Jesus talked about being persecuted and a reward that’s coming in heaven.
But let me just finish with this idea here of him running, him retreating. He tried avoidance; it worked for a time. When that didn’t work, he did whatever was needed to escape the clutch of sexual temptation. That’s where I’m finishing. He did whatever was needed. He lost his coat. And Charles Dyer of Dallas Theological Assembly argues seriously that he may have been naked at this point, or he certainly was half naked when he ran out of the house. How embarrassing. But embarrassment is better than entrapment. I think I have some justification in saying this, that Joseph would rather be a streaker than a sinner. I mean, think about that, his outer tunic was ripped off, and he was either half naked or completely naked, and he had to run out. It’s awkward. But that was the price he had to pay. That was the measure he had to take to escape the clutch of sexual temptation.
Guys, we need to get real, and we need to get radical. That’s Jesus’ point when it comes to sexual temptation. If your hand offends, you cut it off. That’s not literal. Some church history took that literally, but if you cut off one hand, you’ve got the other hand. If you plucked out one eye, you’ve got the other eye to sin with. The point is simply do what’s necessary. And you know what? I could make all kinds of applications, but you need to make them. I don’t know what it’s going to take for you. I need to think through what it’s going to take for me on a continual basis. What are the measures I need to take? Is it unplugging some form of entertainment? Is it getting rid of some technology? Is it avoiding certain people? Is it changing my circumstances because they’ve become impossible? I don’t know what that is, but whatever it is, it’s a small price to pay to love the One who paid the ultimate price for you. Get real and get radical in all of that.
Don’t be lingering over temptation. Don’t stay within its reach. Don’t do what I did. Halloween, teenager, I think—I don’t know, 13, 14. We’d set a couple of fireworks off. We’d put one in a bottle and lit it. It didn’t go off, so I went over and had a look. Dumb move. I’m standing over a milk bottle with a firework in it, looking down. It blew up in my face, literally. I got pit marks all over my face. I’m temporarily blind. I’m not kidding you. My mother went nuts. She brought me to the hospital. Over time, my eyesight started to come back. They gave me some cream for my wounds. My mother took me home. And, when the moment was right, she gave me the biggest hiding of my life for scaring the living daylights out of her, thinking that her son was blind.
But, you know what? Imagine, looking back, how dumb was that, looking at and lingering over a firework? No dumber than you, late at night, hanging around a computer, watching TV when your wife’s in bed. All kinds of things are dumb, dangerous. Do whatever is necessary. Whatever the price, pay it for the One who paid the ultimate price for you. God gave you and me courage to say “no” to a seductress and a seducing society.
Father, thank You for the story of Joseph, another Profile in Courage. This isn’t so much physical courage like Elijah facing 850 prophets. This is moral courage, inner fortitude, spiritual warfare—where he kept his virginity, where he kept faith with his boss, where he kept faith with You. It was hard. It was relentless. It came at a cost. But the beauty of holiness is something to be protected. And so, Lord, we’re in a fight as men, and we know it. We don’t just live in a society where pornography is being sold; we live in a pornographic society. And so, help us to be ready, able to refuse for good and godly reasons. Help us to retreat. We’ve got to be in the world but not of it, and we’ve got to learn that dance. And so we pray these things in Christ’s name, for His glory, seeking His power. Amen.