One of the greatest Roman generals was a man by the name of Marc Antony. He was a remarkable leader of man. He was an incredible orator; he was called the "Silver-Mouthed Orator of Rome." He was good-looking, he was an aggressive leader. And yet he had a flaw. And the flaw was brought to his attention one day by his personal tutor who shouted it in his face. He said, "Antony, Marcus, oh colossal child, able to conquer the world, but unable to withstand temptation." He had everything going for him but that moral weakness of yielding to temptation.
There has never been a human being alive, including Jesus Christ, who has not faced temptation. And there hasn't been a human being alive, except Jesus, who hasn't yielded to temptation and suffered the consequences of it. It is inevitable. The fact that you and I get tempted proves that you are a human being. All of us are tempted. There is no place to hide from it. There's no secret island. There's no church that will keep you from being tempted. All of us are tempted, many of us yield, and we face the consequences. No matter where you go, you take your mind with you, your thoughts, the very vehicle of temptation. Even the monk in the monastery faces temptation like the man on Wall Street, or Los Angeles or Downtown Albuquerque. The minister in the pulpit faces temptation like the person in the pew. And no one is exempt from temptation, but there are ways in counteracting it. Uh, Paul the Apostle hit the nail on the head when he wrote these words. It's a version perhaps you're not familiar with, but it's out of Galatians. It says, "For we naturally love to do evil things that are just the opposite from the things the Holy Spirit tells us to do and the good things we want to do when the spirit has His way with us are just the opposite of our natural desires. These two forces within us are constantly fighting each other to win control over us and our wishes are never free from their pressures." Our wishes are never free from their pressures.
Now, we know how the world handles temptation- they just give into it. The poet Oscar Wilde said, "I can resist anything except temptation." He said, "The only way I have found to get rid of temptation is to simply yield to it." Now yielding to temptation is much more popular and exciting than resisting it. Yet, in Joseph, we find an example of a person who is tempted in a couple different fronts, and yet he resisted temptation and stuck close to the Lord. And there are some liberating truths in this chapter for all of us since we all are on the battlefront of temptation constantly. And by the way, folks, we speak here this morning about victory and triumph over temptation. Keep something in mind- those words, "victory" and "triumph" means that a battle has been going on. You cannot have a victory or a triumph without fighting a battle. Joseph fought his battle and look at, uh, look back at Chapter 37 for just a moment. Let's look at how unfair life was for Joseph. The last verse, verse 36. Chapter 37, verse 36, "Now the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, the official of Pharaoh and captain of the guard." Chapter 39 now, verse 1, "Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there." At this point the tide is against Joseph. He's been sold into Egypt as a slave; he has no rights of his own. He's been bound by ropes or by chains and he is now the household slave of a master of the Egyptians named Potiphar. And think about it for just a moment. Think of how the tide is against him. Here's a good kid who told the truth at home to his dad. And he gets rewarded by being put in a pit and being sold to the Egyptians. He was honest, he was fair, and now he's a slave. And it's not even his fault. What has he done wrong? Nothing, he's done everything right, spiritually. He's a godly, honest kid. I bring that to our attention this morning because there are a lot of people who share Joseph's experience. They are hassled, they're criticized, they have financial problems and they didn't do anything wrong. In fact, they've done everything right. You may be one of those persons. You've served the Lord, you've read your Bible, you've shared the Gospel at work, you have been diligent in the things of God. And so you automatically think, like most of us, that life should be totally fair. That if you do good, that good things come, that if you do bad, evil comes and it's sort of a, you know, a balance. And it's not true. Doesn't always happen that way. There's not an immediate cause-and-effect relationship. And there's not one person listening to me who can't relate to that. All of us have done things right and suffered evil for it. And we think it should be the other way around. In this case it wasn't.
Joseph loved God. Not only that, Joseph received visions from God; God gave him prophetic visions. You don't get much more spiritual than that, that when God actually speaks to you through visions. Here's a kid who's tight with the Lord, and he's in prison. The tide is against him. I am sure that Joseph was tempted like we are at times like this to be bitter. Right? To complain, to get angry. "It's not fair, God. I didn't bargain for this when I raised my hand that one Sunday morning and said I wanted to accept Jesus Christ. I thought you'd take care of me." "I was honest with my father. I love my brothers. And I've been hated, I've been mistreated, I've been sold as a slave, and here I am away from home in a totally different world all because I served you." Think about Paul the Apostle for a moment. Before he became a Christian, he was a rich, well-known pharisee. After he accepted Jesus Christ, God blessed him. He was filled, and yet he wrote, "I've been in prison, I've been beaten, I've gone hungry, I've gone thirsty, I've had all sorts of heartaches."
The truth is that in order to realize the worth of the anchor, you must feel the stress of the storm. You know what I'm talking about? To feel the worth of the anchor, you must feel the stress of the storm. Well he has felt the stress of the storm, but look at what his anchor is. Verse 2, "The Lord was with Joseph," oh, I love that. I love that recurrent phrase in this chapter. The tide is against Joseph, the Lord is with him. "And he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. And so Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put in his hand. And so it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had in the house and in the field. So Joseph," or, excuse me, "so he," that is, Potiphar, "left all that he had in Joseph’s hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate." In other words, he wasn't concerned about anything except showing up for breakfast, lunch and dinner. "And Joseph was handsome in form and appearance." Now here's a guy, the tide is against him, he's sold into Egypt, he's been hated and mistreated by his brothers, he's all alone, probably tempted to become very bitter, and yet the Lord is with him, and everything he does turns to gold. He's successful. He's a good slave, and his master says, "This guy's a good employee." And pretty soon he gets raised up to a position of high authority. God is with him.
Now, just so that you don't mistake that life was totally rosy for Joseph. I think most of you know how the story goes on, how he was tempted by Potiphar's wife. He did not yield to the temptation; he ran out of the house. It made this woman very angry and she told her husband a lie that Joseph tried to rape her. So what happened? Well, look down at verse 19. "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." Now what's Joseph's reward for being a good, godly kid? He gets thrown into a pit. Well, what's his reward for being an honest, diligent slave? He gets thrown into prison. I'd say he was pretty tempted to become a bitter individual. I mean, think of all of those things that would happen to one person over a short period of time. Probably still seventeen, maybe eighteen years of age, taken from your homeland, hated by your brothers, just when things are coming up and things are doing good for ya, and the Lord is with you, you get thrown into prison. The Lord was with Joseph. The Lord was always with Joseph, even before this event. But you know what? Times of adversity, when life isn't fair, tend to make us realize the presence of God, right? Ever notice that? As a Christian, you know, yeah God is always with me, but when the pressure is on, maybe you've contracted a disease, life isn't fair, you've lost a job, you've lost a spouse, a child, all of a sudden you are more aware of the eternal. And I think God sometimes has a mode of operation where He actually uses adversity to make our brains and our hearts click on; to make us aware of His presence. He'll pull the rug out from under us because it is in those times where we're floundering for a foundation, we'll start really trusting in Him, and we feel the presence of the Lord in those times more often.
But, look at verse 21, "But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to to Joseph’s hand all of the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s hand, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper." That's beautiful. You know, being in a prison, or being a slave in Egypt, you can have as a Christian, I suppose, one of two responses. You could complain, get very angry at God. You could start saying, "This stinks. I hate it." Or, how about this, "Boy the devil is really doing this stuff to me. It's all the devil and the devil's getting the victory." And you could become angry at God, say God isn't fair. Or, could have the position of just tough trust, like Joseph. "Alright, I'm a slave. I'm in Egypt, I'm far from home. I can sit and complain about it or I can say 'I'm going to be the best slave Egypt ever had.' I'm going to work hard at it. I'm not going to complain. I'm going to be good. I'm going to be a diligent slave. Alright, now I'm in prison. I can sit here and wallow and complain and cry and be a baby or I can say, 'Alright, I'm going to be the best prisoner this prison has ever seen.' I'm going to be good. I'm going to devote myself to making the best of it." Joseph was aware of the sovereignty of God. Joseph believed something that most of us forget in times of adversity and that is, that there is a sovereign control of God over your life and He doesn't let things happen to you by accident; they're predesigned. He doesn't let something slip into our lives unless He first inspects it and He says, "Yeah, that's a nice trial. That'll do him well." Plop. Joseph recognized the sovereign hand of God. He knew that it was God that somehow allowed him to be in Egypt and somehow allowed him to be in prison and he decided to be the best slave. How often are you tempted in your job which is so boring and monotonous to say, "Oh, what does it matter? I hate this job anyway. This is, this is a horrible thing to do. It doesn't challenge me. And my job isn't that important and it's not important that I do a good job."
There is one issue that God is concerned about and that is faithfulness. Just being faithful to whatever circumstance you happen to be in. "Ah, but you don't know about my job. I mean, I do the same thing on an assembly line day after day, hour after hour." Or, "All I do is push a broom. Could God call me to be a broom-pusher?" I don't know, but be the best broom-pusher the company has. And you know that that was the greatest witness to Potiphar? Because I'm sure he looked at Joseph and this guy was diligent and hardworking and Joseph said, "Well, it's the Lord. You know, He's really, He's really my friend and I trust the Lord and it's all done unto the Lord." And it was the greatest witness. And conversely, a lazy Christian ruins the witness of the Gospel. Joseph was diligent, he pursued excellence.
Okay, he's triumphant. Good job, Joe. Life is hard, you're doing great. Because of that, he's vulnerable. Look at verse 5 again. "So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had in the house and in the field. And so he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate.
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes," goo-goo eyes, "on Joseph, and she said," notice, "'Lie with me.'" It seemed that Joseph had the Midas touch. Whatever he touched, as far as his work ethic was concerned, turned to gold. God exalted him and God blessed him. Plus, Joseph was determined to be a clean, pure, clear-cut witness for the Lord, attributing all of his success over to God. When you put those two things together, and you are expecting something else actually. You can expect something else, a friendly visit from your unfriendly neighborhood tempter, the devil. Those two things put together, you are inviting trouble. You are vulnerable because you are triumphing over areas of temptation already. In one sense, you are moving way out ahead and making real strides and you're out in the open. Because he was triumphant, he was therefore vulnerable. Now think about it. His temptation was totally unexpected. I mean, everything was going good for him. Everything was on the up and up. And now he's tempted. In fact, it was God's blessing that made him successful but he was not immune to the devil's temptation. You see, after a victory, we are the most vulnerable. After we have conquered some temptation, we're vulnerable. You know why? Because, after a trial, we least expect temptation. After conquering one temptation, we kind of think, "Whew, made it through that one. I can kick back and relax." And so we come back from the battlefield, we've won the victory, we put our armor down, we, oh, throw our arms back, we relax. We're still a target, however. Satan does not give up easily. I think the devil has a sign, like the football team in college in the locker room that says, "Defeat is worth than death because you have to live with it." So he thought, "Great Joseph. Joseph you're really doing good. You have conquered the temptation to become bitter at your brothers. You have conquered the temptation to become discouraged with God. Boy, you're really growing Joseph, congratulations. I just wanna shake your hand. Put your armor down, let me shake your hand." Like the story I told you before of the guy who was in a state, committed a crime. He was being chased by a state trooper all the way across the state until he finally succeeded in going into the other state and he was at the state line and he could breathe easy. And the state trooper faced him off at the state line and he said, "Look, I can't touch you, you're on that side of the state line, but I'm gonna make a few phone calls and I'll be after you." He said, "You know what? You really succeeded in outwitting me. I thought I was going to catch you, and I didn't. Congratulations. Since I can't touch you, let's just shake on it." Guy said, "Okay (laughter)," stuck his hand out and what did the state trooper do. Whoo. Pulled him back over on his side of the state line so now he could bust him. As soon as we have any kind of victory, we are making any kind of stride, we are growing in any capacity, we are in perhaps greater danger than the Christian who is just doing nothing. Because we have made the strides, we're out in the open, we're open prey, and number one, we're a threat to the devil because we're really making headway with the Lord. And number two, we tend to put our armor down; we relax. The walls of defense come down. Remember the story in the Old Testament of the children of Israel after they fought Jericho? They go to Ai to spy out the land and they say, "Oh, Joshua, this is a easy, breezy thing to do. Just keep the army at home. Give me two, three thousand men and we'll wipe out the city." And they ran back home defeated from that battle because, in self-confidence, they did not seek the Lord. They became too confident after Jericho, and they lost to Ai.
Let's go on. Let's look at this temptation. He was tempted day after day. It says in verse 6 that Joseph was handsome in form and appearance, or literally, "Beauty of form and face." He was a young, good-looking, single guy. Um, are you familiar with that passage in James? Where James says, "Each man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desire and enticed." The word "enticed" means literally, it's a fishing term, "to drop the bait". Put the bait on the hook and, whoo, throw it in the water. Each man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desire and the bait is dropped. Now Joseph's a good-looking kid. Look at verse 7 again. She said, "Lie with me." That's what I call dropping the bait. That's serious bait-dropping here. And she is not subtle about it. She basically comes up to him and say, "Would you hop in bed with me?" "But he refused," verse 8. You might wanna underline that. Refused. He didn't think about it, didn't pray about it, "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." Perhaps Potiphar's wife is the classic lonely, romantic wife, married to a busy, preoccupied husband who has lost interest. Perhaps. Or, probably more likely, Potiphar had many women like it was customary in those days, and he's out running around with another woman and she's jealous and she's gonna seek revenge. One thing we know is that Egyptian women in that day were the most liberated women of the ancient world. And she just walked up to the guy and, you know, didn't make any kind of visual sign. She just verbally said, "Come to bed with me." But he refused. Okay, so far so good. However, the battle is not over. It says in verse 10, "So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed to her, or lie with her to be with her. But it happened," ah, Satan doesn't give it up that quickly, "But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house were inside," he's all alone, probably by her design, "that she caught him by the garment, saying, 'Lie with me.'" Now she's gettin' real aggressive here. "But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside." And the results are predictable. An overt, sexual gesture, met with rejection brings wrath. And she got ticked off, fabricated a lie, told her husband and Joseph got put in prison.
Now, Joseph's resistance to this temptation is outstanding, because of his environment. Think about this. Joseph is young. He is single. He is far away from home; nobody knows him, really, there. He is in the midst of a culture where everybody's doing it, right? It's acceptable in many of those cases. Who's gonna find out? Why not simply yield to the temptation? "Nobody's watching me, it's a perfect opportunity for Satan to throw his dart because I'm all alone." But he doesn't do it. He, haha, as some commentators say, "He streaks out of the house." He's gone. Better to lose your garment than to lose your character. That was his motto.
I have gone through this chapter this morning because I think that there is a strategy for overcoming temptation. We are all faced with a battle of temptation and we can all overcome it. Let's give up on this whole thing that, "Well, it was just too much for me. I couldn't, I couldn't withstand the temptation." That's a copout, it's a lie. God said He would give us the power to overcome anything that the devil throws our way.
Well how do we do it then? What was Joseph's secret? What are the principles for overcoming temptation? This kind of overt temptation. And perhaps you don't have people saying, "Come to bed with me," but we all face temptation on a daily basis. How do you overcome it? Number one, you need strong convictions, folks. You need deep-seeded, strong, unmovable convictions. What were Joseph's convictions? Look at verse 9, carefully. "There in no one greater in this house than I, nor has he, Potiphar, kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife." You get that? "Potiphar trusts me. He trusts me with you. He's put everything into my hand. I would sin against Potiphar if I were to do this." His conviction was that he would violate the trust of his employer, of another person. He would hurt another person, and that was something he would never ever do. Have you ever thought of all the people that trust you to not fall into temptation? Your wife, your husband trust you not to fall to succumb to temptation; has made a covenant with you, a trust, at the marriage altar. They are trusting that you would not fall into that temptation or succumb. Your children. The church. Believers. Even unbelievers who look at your life and you have presented the Gospel in some fashion, you've said, "I'm a Christian now," and they trust you to not violate trust. To not fall, to heed temptation. There's another conviction. Look at the rest of verse 9, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" He had an unquestioned loyalty to God. To Joseph, the greatest sin on earth was the failure to please God. Is that our motivation? Do we say, "Well, I'm not gonna get involved in this cause I might get caught." Or is our motivation, "This would not please the Lord, and I love him. And to be the greatest sin is the failure to please my Lord." Remember what Paul said in 2 Corinthians? He said, "We always aim, we make it our aim, our target, whether present or absent, to be well-pleasing to the Lord." That's our aim, that's our motivation. The greatest deterrent against temptation is the relationship you have with God. That's the greatest deterrent. It's not the law, it's not if your wife or husband find out, it's not if the church finds out, it's your relationship to God. That will become the greatest deterrent. How are you with God one-on-one when nobody's looking? That relationship of intimacy, that relationship with God will be, if it's tight, the greatest deterrent against any sexual temptation. Look at verse 9 again. "How then can I do this," what, "great wickedness." That's what he calls it. He doesn't say, "How can I have this little fling? How could I have an affair? How could I make a mistake?" But, "How could I do this great wickedness before God?" That's how he viewed sin. He had a deep conviction that it's wrong to hurt and violate the trust of others, it's a great wickedness against God, and failure to please God is the greatest sin. Whew.
Look at number or verse 10 now. Next principle. It's verse that we skipped over. We probably didn't notice this little thing at the end of it but it says, "So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not listen to her, to lie with her or to be with her." Got it? He closed the gates of temptation. He not only had strong convictions, but he wouldn't not let himself be in a vulnerable position; to even be around her would be tempting. Not only did he refuse to lie with her, he wouldn't even be around her. She's coming down the hall and he'd go around the house if he needed to to get to the backyard. Stay away from temp- close the gates. Picture yourself as a city- a city with walls and gates, okay? The gates are there to let people and things into the city and to let people leave the city. Let's say you're the mayor of your own little city and you want no air pollution at all in town. How do you do it? Well, every time you see a car coming down the road, it might be a tough law to enforce, but every see, time you see a car coming down to come into the city, you close the gate. Every time a diesel truck's coming up the hill and it's out at the gate, you say, "Gatekeeper, close the gate. Don't let it in." Eventually, you'll have a smog-free city. Well, in your body, your eyes and your ears are gates. They receive stimuli- visual and verbal stimuli. And most temptation comes to us through the eye gates, the ear gates, we see something, it stimulates us, close the gate. If you are watching a movie and you know it's harmful to you, it is affecting you going through your eye gate and what you are hearing, walk out. If somebody is saying something to you and you know it's not profitable, you know it's, it's gonna harm you the things you hear, leave the room. If you walk by a magazine stand and there are those dirty, little magazines and you know that just by glancing at them while you're looking for a Newsweek could harm you and you can't handle it, don't go in there. Quit clucking your tongue and wagging your head as you linger over the pages. "(Clicks tongue) Whew, that's bad stuff." (Laughter) Close the gates. He refused to even be in a place where the weakness of his flesh was vulnerable. Now I realized that we live in a society that's got temptation all around. The only way to completely remove yourself is to perhaps buy an acre of land on the moon and live there. However, there's a thing in the Bible, a fruit of the spirit called self-control, which means "mastery over yourself." You can say no when you come to a place of weakness. And so can I.
He closed the gates, which means we need to pray, folks. Remember what Jesus taught us to pray? "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one." We need to pray, "Lord, help me to keep the gates closed." It's like the little kid who was saving up all of his pennies for a baseball bat. And he was just saving away day after day and one night, his mom heard him pray. "Oh God, please help me save my money so that I can buy a baseball bat." And he waited and he said, "Oh, oh yes God please, don't let the ice cream man come down this street." (Laughter) It'd be too tempting for him. He'd spend his money on ice cream. Close the gates.
There is a third strategy he followed. Not only did he have firm convictions of his respect for other people's property and for other people's relationship, not only did he have the deep-seeded conviction that displeasing God was the greatest sin, not only did he close the gates, but he acted immediately. Notice as soon as the temptation comes, right at the beginning, he says no. Day after day he said, "No, no" so that he had now laid a foundation, a pattern of refusal, so that when she was more aggressive and grabbed him by the cloak and drew him in and said, "(Growling) Come to bed with me," his immediate reaction was to unloose himself from the robe if need be and run out of the house, because he did it immediately. He didn't think, "Now, I wonder if I'll offend her if I just walk away. Maybe that's a little rude. Maybe I should witness to her right now." (Laughter) I mean, you shouldn't just walk out of a room if somebody's telling you a dirty joke, should you? Why not? "Well it might offend them." Oh. There is a word for people who linger with lust and temptation. It's called, "victims." Don't make a covenant with it. Do it and do it immediately.
And I guess the underscoring lesson in it all is maintaining a close relationship with the Lord. Joseph at an early age, knew what it meant to be close to the Lord. Here's a seventeen-year-old kid. Saying, "God-forbid that I would do this great wickedness and sin against the Lord." That's pretty good for a seventeen-year-old kid. He had obviously had a relationship with God that was ongoing. Folks, there is no substitute for intimacy with God. There is no substitute for being close constantly and abiding in the Lord. And that relationship is the greatest deterrent against sexual temptation. Martin Luther, the great reformer, was often known for, hah, graphic description of temptation. And, uh, somebody asked him one time how he overcame the devil, and he said this, "Well, when he comes knocking upon the door of my heart and asks, 'Who lives there?' the dear Lord Jesus goes to the door and said, 'Martin Luther used to live here, but he moved out, and now I live here.' The devil, in seeing the nail prints on his hands and his pierced side, takes flight immediately." That intimacy with Jesus, there's no substitute for it. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, We know the tendencies of our flesh. We know our own nature, our thoughts travel with us wherever we walk, wherever we drive. We know it's weakness. We, by experience, confirm what the Lord Jesus said, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." We know that. Yet, today, we are, we're faced with also the knowledge that you do not allow us to be tempted above what we are able to endure but You always give us an escape. Lord I pray for Your church that we would be a pure and holy people. That when we are tempted to become bitter, we would instead look to Your sovereignty. That when we are in hard situations in the workplace, in the home, that we would say, "I am determined to be the best at what I do." Keep our witness pure before the world in that way and also Lord, I pray that our convictions of who You are would be deep. Help us Lord to not give an occasion to the flesh. And Lord, we do pray that you would not let that ice cream man come down our street. Deliver us, Lord, from evil, as you tau-taught us to pray. Show us where those gates are, those weak, those weak points on our walls, that we can keep them closed and that we can retreat into You. That we can run into our hiding place.