Monday, January 06, 2014

Joseph (part 3) - Dealing with Temptation

In Genesis 39 we continue through our story and our series on the life of Joseph.  In our previous message we saw Joseph in the pit of betrayal.  That was a message that really was very practical for many of us, but this part of the story is even more practical.  Though many of us have at some time in our lives been in the pit of betrayal, not all of us have.  However, all of us have faced temptation.  And though not all of us will find ourselves in the pit of betrayal in the future, all of us will find ourselves faced with temptation. 

From the story of Joseph I want to share with you four laws that you need to know if you're going to resist temptation.  This is practical to all of us.  It doesn't matter if you're male or female, young or old, rich or poor.  It doesn't matter if you grew up in church or not.  All of us need to know how to resist temptation.  And that's exactly what we're going to see.

Resisting temptation is not founded on the reality of your circumstances, but rather, on your commitment to Christ.

Let’s think about this from the life of Joseph.  Joseph was the favorite son of his father Jacob.  He had ten older brothers.  His mother died in childbirth with his younger brother Benjamin.  The ten older brothers developed hatred toward Joseph because he was their father's favorite.  As a result, one day his brothers assaulted him, tore off of his back the coat of many colors given to him by his father, and then they threw him in a pit.  Ultimately, they took him out of the pit and they sold him to a group of Ishmaelites who were on their way to Egypt. 

Joseph found himself on the slavery block in Egypt, in a foreign land with a foreign culture where everyone spoke a foreign language.  He didn’t know a soul.  He had been betrayed by everyone he thought was close to him and he feared he would never see his father again.  Those are certainly difficult circumstances. 

When our circumstances become difficult in our life, it becomes much easier for us to give in to temptation.  Things aren't going good.  We wonder if God's abandoned us.  As a result, it becomes very easy to rationalize away our need to be obedient.  And Joseph is about to face a very difficult temptation, even in the best of circumstances.  If you look at just his circumstances, it would seem to me like Joseph, more than anyone else in the Bible, is a guy who might just have a right to rationalize his actions away.  But he won't.  Notice what the Bible says in Genesis 39:1. 

“Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there.”

So what happens to Joseph?  He ends up a slave in the home of Potiphar.  Potiphar was a very powerful man in Egypt.  In fact, according to the text, he was the captain of the bodyguard.  In other words, he was the one who was in charge of the elite group of men whose job it was to protect the palace and protect Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.  He was a very powerful and a very rich man.  I'm sure he had many slaves.  And he ends up also buying Joseph. 

That wasn't coincidence.  God is always at work behind the scenes orchestrating our lives even in the midst pf difficult circumstances.  Joseph gets bought by Potiphar and he becomes a slave in his home.  This is where he will face this enormous temptation.  The reality of his circumstances was very difficult.  If anyone seemed to have an excuse to rationalize away their actions and indulge in sinful pleasures, you would think it would be Joseph.

However, in spite of the fact that his circumstances were difficult, Joseph's relationship with God remained strong.  Even through the difficult situations.  Even through betrayal.  Even through loneliness.  Even through grief.  Even through being sold as a slave and being in a foreign land with a foreign culture and a foreign language.  His commitment to God remained strong.  We know this to be true because in Genesis 39:2, the Bible says,

“The Lord was with Joseph so he became a successful man.”

Even in the midst of his difficult circumstances, his commitment to God remained strong.  Folks, listen, if you and I are going to resist temptation in our life we have to understand that our resisting temptation is not founded upon the reality of our circumstances but on the resolve of our commitment to God. 

The question I have for you is not, “What's the reality of your circumstances?”  That is an important question but it's not the key question.  The question I have for you is, “In spite of your circumstances, whether things are going wonderful or things are going horrible, how is the resolve of your commitment to God?”  How committed are you this day to loving God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind?  How committed are you today to obeying God no matter what circumstance you find yourself in?  The key to resisting temptation is to understand that resisting temptation is not founded on the reality of our circumstances, but rather, on the resolve of our commitment to God. 

You also see this with Daniel in the Old Testament when he is tempted in Babylon.  He stands firm and the Bible says he had purposed in his heart to obey God.  He had a commitment.  He was resolved in that commitment.  Circumstances wouldn't change that commitment.  How is your personal commitment to God?  How strong is it?  How resolved are you?  If you are not strong in that commitment, when the reality of our circumstances goes south, and I guarantee you that they will, you will be far more likely to succumb to temptation. 

Resisting temptation can become even more difficult with success.

Not only do we become more prone to giving in to temptation when our circumstances are bad, but on the flip-side, when we find successes in our life we also become more vulnerable to temptation.  The more success we have as a person, the more prone we are to develop a heart of pride and arrogance.  The more prideful we become, the more vulnerable we become.  What's the Bible say about pride?  It says that pride comes before the fall. 

When success takes place in your life, it can breed an attitude of pride.  It can breed a heart of arrogance.  And when pride and arrogance build up in your life you become more and more vulnerable to temptation.  Not only does success bring about pride but success also brings about an attitude of self-sufficiency.  The more success I have, the more I depend on myself.  The more money I have, the more I trust in my money instead of God.  The more power I have, the more I trust in my power instead of God. 

With success comes vulnerability to temptation.  Joseph had many successes.  First, there was some SPIRITUAL success in his life.  Genesis 39:3 says,

“Now his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand.”

Joseph's spiritual success was so good that even a pagan like Potiphar noticed it.  That's how well he was doing spiritually.  The Lord was with him and he was having success, and even a pagan guy like Potiphar noticed the success he was having because of his relationship with his God.  So there was spiritual success in Joseph's life.  Can spiritual success lead to pride?  You bet it can.  Can spiritual success lead to self-sufficiency?  Sure, it can. 

Not only was there spiritual success, we also see in Joseph's life that there was VOCATIONAL success.  Notice what happens to him even as a slave in Potiphar's house.  Look at verses 4-5:

“So Joseph found favor in Potiphar's sight and became his personal servant.  Now, Potiphar had many servants but he elevates Joseph to the chief one and he made Joseph overseer over his house and all that Potiphar owned he put in Joseph's charge.  It came about that from the time he had made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the Lord blessed Egyptian's house on account of Joseph.  Thus, the Lord's blessing was upon all that he owned in the house and in the field.”

Now that’s vocational success.  He gets promoted to top slave, and as the top slave, he's in charge of all Potiphar's house.  Everything that Potiphar owned was now under the control of Joseph.  Joseph had the Midas touch.  Everything he managed prospered and as a result, Potiphar, who was already very powerful and very wealthy, now becomes even more powerful and wealthier. 

Joseph is experiencing spiritual success.  He’s experiencing vocational success.  Now there is a third type of success that we're prone to overlook it but we shouldn't.  It's in the text for a reason.  There was also what we could call PHYSICAL success.  Look at verse number 6.  The very end of the verse, the last sentence says this:

“Now, Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.”

Don't just gloss over that.  Joseph was very handsome in form and appearance.  In other words, he had a beautiful, handsome face and he was very well built.  To put it in modern vernacular, he was a hunk.  That was Joseph - Joseph the hunk.  There's no other way to put it.  He had physical success.  There are only three men, other than Joseph, described in the Bible with that phrase - King Saul, King David and David's son, Absalom.  Those are the three.  Add Joseph to this list of Biblical hunks.  They're the only four individuals in the Bible who are described as being “handsome in form and appearance.” 

There's no coincidence that the very next verse after that sentence describes a sexual temptation that comes into Joseph's life.  Now, again, I'm not saying if you have no success you'll have no temptation.  Remember, the reality of our circumstances often causes us to fall into temptation.  But these successes made Joseph a bigger target.  Resisting temptation can become more difficult with success.  The higher you go up the ladder, the more vulnerable you can become.  The more you acquire wealth, the more vulnerable you can become.  The higher position you attain, the more vulnerable you can become. 

Here's what often happens.  When success comes into our life we tend to become so prideful and so self-sufficient that, even though we may not even realize it, we let down our guard.  Folks, listen, Satan is sly.  He is a deceiver.  He's a schemer.  The moment you let down your guard, he will pounce.  The truth is that with success we need to raise the guards around us, not lower them.  Resisting temptation can become more difficult with success. 

Resisting temptation requires a firm response

If Joseph did not have a firm response, there's no doubt in my mind that Joseph would have fallen.  There comes a point in the story where Potiphar’s wife desires Joseph and propositions him sexually.  We see this in Genesis 39:7: 

“It came about after these events that his master's wife looked with desire at Joseph.”

She says to him, “Lie with me.”  Potiphar's wife now very abruptly propositions Joseph.  Stop for a second.  Gentlemen, put yourself in Joseph's sandals.  You've been betrayed by your own family.  Your dad thinks you're dead.  In your mind, you'll never see him again.  You are now a slave living in a foreign land where you don't know a soul.  You barely know the language.  You barely know the culture.  And this very powerful woman (and my guess is if it's Potiphar's wife she probably was fairly attractive because he's a powerful, rich man) propositions you to a time of pleasure. 

My guess is that most men would have fallen at this point.  Unlike King David who also faced sexual temptation and fell quickly, Joseph directly and firmly resists.  Verses 8 and 9 tell us that “he refused.”  Do you see that commitment?  Remember, resisting temptation is not founded upon the reality of your circumstances but on the resolve of your commitment.  Why was Joseph able to resist the temptation?  I believe it was because he wasn't focused on his circumstances.  He was resolved in his commitment and took a firm stand.  Joseph responded to Potiphar’s wife saying,

“He refused and said, ‘Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house.  He's withheld nothing from me but you because you are his wife.  How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?’”

Notice two things about his response.  He knows that if he were to give in to the temptation it would dishonor and hurt his master.  And he says, “I can't do that.  I can't dishonor my master.  I can't hurt my master.  He's been good to me.”  Joseph understood a principle that I don't think we totally get.  It's impossible for you to give in to temptation and have it only hurt you.  Whenever you give in to temptation, it hurts others.  And usually it hurts those who are closest to you. 

You can't give in to temptation without it hurting your spouse.  You can't give in to temptation without it hurting your family.  You say, “But my family doesn't even know about what I'm involved in.”  That doesn't matter.  You can't sin and have it only affect you.  Every time you choose to sin, you hurt those closest to you.  You hurt your spouse.  You hurt your children.  You hurt your parents.  You hurt your church.  The examples of that are all throughout the Bible.  And Joseph said, “I can't do that.” 

But notice again the last line of the verse – “How could I do this great evil and sin against God?”  If you ever had any doubt as to if Joseph kept his commitment to the Lord strong through the pit of betrayal and into slavery, this should answer the question.  It's obvious.  And that is so very important because this temptation was not a one-time done deal.  Potiphar's wife continues this seduction but Joseph doesn't give her an opening.  Verse 10 says that, “It came about as Potiphar's wife spoke to Joseph day after day.”  Don't miss that.  This wasn't a one-time temptation.  This was a daily temptation.  This was the type of temptation that will wear you down.  This temptation occurred day after day after day after day as she continues to proposition him.  Joseph refuses to give an opening.  Verse 10 goes on and says,

“It came about as she spoke to Joseph day after day that he did not listen to her.”

That's important.  Joseph gets to the point where he says, I'm going to refuse to listen to the temptation.  I'm going to do everything I can not to listen to it.  Now, when you compare him with King David you find that David did just the opposite.  David initiated more conversation.  Joseph won't even listen.  If you and I are going to resist temptation, you have to quit listening to it.  It is speaking to us from everywhere.  It speaks to us through advertisements.  It speaks to through magazines.  It speaks to us through movies.  It speaks to us through music.  It speaks to us through TV shows.  It speaks to us through jokes.  It speaks to us through relationships and friendships.  If we're really going to resist temptation, we have to quit listening. 

Don't take me wrong.  I'm not jumping off the ledge into legalism.  I'm not doing that.  I'm not saying all secular music is wrong because I don't think it is.  I'm not saying that all movies and all TV are wrong.  I'm simply saying this.  There are portions of every one of those examples where temptation speaks to us. You know what it is.  You know the TV shows you watch in which temptation speaks to you.  You know the movies you go see in which temptation speaks to you.  You know what relationships you have in which temptation speaking to you.  You know what websites you go to that has temptation speaking to you.  You know what magazines you peruse that has temptation speaking to you.  Folks, listen.  If we're going to resist temptation we have to take a firm response and a firm response says, I won't listen to temptation. 

Not only would Joseph not listen to her, he would not “lie beside her” either.  Potiphar's wife tried the direct approach and Joseph refused.  Now she tries to lure him in.  She no longer just says “lie with me,” she says, “Hey, Joseph, come here.  Just sit down next to me as I recline on my couch.  Just come lie down next to me.”  She tries to lure him closer.  And Joseph says, “No.  I won't sit next to you.  I won't lie down next to you.”  If you and I are going to resist temptation, we have to take a firm response and a firm response says, “I won't do anything that takes me one step closer to it.”  I Thessalonians 4:3 says,

“This is the will of God for your life that you abstain from sexual immorality.”

What is sexual immorality?  The word used in this verse describes any sexual involvement outside of God's plan.  There's only one way to define God's plan if you take the Bible literally.  God’s plan is that sex is to be involved in a relationship between one man and one woman in the bonds of marriage.  If it's not one man and one woman, it's not God's plan.  If it's not in the bonds of marriage, it's not God's plan.  We are to abstain from anything outside that plan. 

Our mind-set today asks, “How close can we get to the line of sin without crossing it?”  However, the word abstain means to stay as far away from the line as possible.  Resisting temptation requires a firm approach.  Joseph knew that if he sat down next to Potiphar’s wife, if he were to lie down next to her, he was taking one step closer to falling in the trap.  If you're going to really resist temptation in your life, you need to do an inventory.  What is in your life that's taking you one step closer to the line of sin?  What shows are you watching that take you closer to the line?  What movies do you watch that take you closer to the line?  What websites do you look at that take you closer to the line?  What magazines do you look at that take you closer to the line?  Resisting temptation requires a firm response. 

The passage also says that Joseph wouldn’t even “be with her.”  In other words, if she was inside, he stayed outside.  If she was outside, he went inside.  If she's upstairs, he’s downstairs.  If she's downstairs, he’s upstairs.  He did his best not even to be with her because resisting temptation requires a firm response.  Potiphar's wife now becomes desperate.  She resorts to a desperate, drastic measure as seen in verse 12:

“Now it happened one day that he went into the house and none of the men of the household were inside and she caught him by his garment.”

Now it is no longer just a verbal proposition.  Now it's a physical proposition.  The sense of touch is now involved and she says to him, “Lie with me.”  Joseph at this moment leaves his coat in her hands and he runs out of the house as fast as he can run.  Why does he run?  He does so because he understands his weakness.  He understands that when she grabs him and he can now feel her touch that if he stays there any longer, he will probably give in.  When you get to that point where you realize if I stay here any longer I will probably give in, you have already overstayed your welcome.  And sometimes the only thing you can do is run.  That's what Paul told Timothy, a young pastor, in 2 Timothy 2:22, when he says, “Flee youthful lusts.”  If you don’t start running you are going to fall. 

Some of you are involved in relationships right now that you shouldn't be involved in.  Some of you are feeling attractions to somebody who's not your mate.  Some of you are playing with fire on the internet.  And I'm here to tell you that the greatest thing you can do if I just described you is run.  Run from that temptation.  Stay away from that individual you're feeling those feelings towards that you shouldn't be feeling those feelings toward.  And if you can't handle the computer, quit using the computer at home.  If you’re a man and you are struggling with the computer, here's what you need to do.  Have your wife set up the password so the only way you can get on the computer is if your wife puts in the password.  That's some good accountability right there.  That will help you.  You may think that is somewhat extreme but there are times you need to be extreme because resisting temptation requires a firm response. 

Resisting temptation does not always result in immediate positive results.

When I'm reading the story of Joseph and I see Joseph stand firm against that temptation, especially in the culture we live in today where that temptation is so flaunted, I just want to cheer.  I just want to applaud.  I want to give him a standing ovation.  If I were God, I would bless him and put all kinds of riches on him and put him on a pedestal and give him the spiritual gold medal.  That’s not what happens.  Potiphar's wife's desire for Joseph now turns to anger.  The chapter goes on and says that she gives the following report to her husband, 

“The Hebrew slave whom you brought to us came into me to make sport of me and it happened as I raised my voice and screamed that he left his garment beside me and he fled outside.” (Genesis 39:17-18)

What's the old saying?  Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.  Why does she get so angry?  My guess is that I don't think Joseph was the first person she ever propositioned.  I think she did so with most of the slaves but I think Joseph was the first one to say no.  And in her anger, she accuses him and notice what Potiphar does:

“Now, it came about when his master heard the words of his wife his anger burned and Joseph's master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king's prisoners were confined.” (Genesis 39:20)

Joseph just resisted a very difficult temptation under very difficult circumstances and how does he get rewarded?  He gets thrown in prison.  But don't miss the next verse.  Genesis 39:21 says,

“The Lord was with Joseph in the prison.”

Resisting temptation many times has a cost.  It may cost you your job.  It may cost you that promotion or that raise.  It may cost you a friendship.  It may cost you some mockery or scorn.  For Joseph, it cost him years in the prison.  But as we will see, God had a purpose.  Think of Galatians 6:9.  I love it.  Let me paraphrase it:

“Never get tired of doing what is right because in due season -- and that's the key phrase -- in due season you will reap harvests of blessings if you don't get discouraged and give up.”

Never get tired of doing right.  You may not see the result immediately but I promise you this - God always rewards obedience.  In due season, Joseph will get rewarded.  He will go from the prison to the palace.  He will go from being a prisoner to being a Prime Minister.  It's an amazing story.  And I guarantee you, if you will resist temptation, in due season God will honor you, as well.  

1 comment:

jackie said...

Another great post!!! Thank You For Your Succinct, Thought Provoking Post!!!!!!! jackie :)