Please turn with me to Genesis 39. We said last Lord’s Day evening that it is far easier to avoid sexual sin and temptation than it is to resist it in the heat of the moment.
I speculate that 90 to 95% of our success in struggling for purity will be owing to what we’ve done to scrupulously avoid sexual sin and temptation. The concerned father of Proverbs 7 urges us to…
- Hide God’s word in our heart.
- Do not let our hearts turn to her ways.
- Do not even go near her door.
- Look past her to the chambers of death.
I say, I speculate that 90 to 95% of our success in struggling for purity will be owing to what we’ve done to scrupulously avoid sexual sin and temptation. But that in no way is meant to minimize the seriousness and danger of the remaining 5 to 10% of our struggle—resistance.
I’m praying that we are not only warned and summoned to resist, but inspired by Joseph’s example—after all he is a mere mortal like us and we have all the resources he had. He is our inspiration. Please follow as I read Genesis 39.
It is always our moral duty to avoid temptation—to shun it and never to venture near her door. But sometimes she comes to us. We are about the King’s business. We are where we are supposed to be and we are doing what we are supposed to be doing and she approaches us. How do we resist? What does Joseph show us?
- Venture all on the first refusal as though it were our last stand.
Listen to his refusal. “With me in charge, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. (All of what he’s said so far would be rational for a lesser man to accept her invitation. Not so with Joseph.) My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” v.8-9
Joseph understands that if he only puts up minor resistance at the start it may be insufficient to ward off her advance. It may signal he is only rejecting her for the moment, but there may come a time when he’ll entertain her invitation. But Joseph doesn’t give her the least bit of encouragement. There was no twinkle of consideration in his eyes. There was no pausing—looking to the left, looking to the right, wondering if they were safely out of sight—no pondering when Potiphar might be coming home. Not even for a millisecond. “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”
Before we find ourselves confronted with such a temptation, we would do well to cultivate similar convictions, Joseph’s convictions, about our sin—that it is both wicked and ultimately against God.
- All sin is wicked, but some sins are more heinous in the sight of God than others because of the great pain and destruction they bring upon oneself and others.
Man’s sin nature has not changed over the years even though there may be vast differences from culture to culture. We can be sure that his culture, the culture in which Joseph had to work out his sanctification, had a way of normalizing sin and eroding sensitivity to it, just like our own.
C.S. Lewis would say, “Poster after poster, film after film, novel after novel, associate the idea of sexual indulgence with ideas of normality.” I would add “song after song”.
Consider Ted Bundy’s remark to Dr. Dobson just hours before his execution in 1989 for killing 28 women and girls. “…what scares and appalls me, Dr. Dobson, is that when I see what’s on cable TV, some of the movies that come into homes today is stuff that they wouldn’t show in X-rated adult theaters 30 years ago.”
Being constantly inundated and bombarded with innuendo and soft porn makes our culture all too familiar with this vice. C. Bridges reminds us that, “familiarity with sin, weakens abhorrence.” Praise God, not for Joseph. “How could I do this wicked thing?” That was his first conviction, that it was wicked and still is.
- His second conviction is that it is not only a sin against Potiphar, but ultimately against God.
“Sin is the revolt of the self vs. God, the dethronement of God with a view to the enthronement of oneself. Ultimately, sin is self-deification, the reckless determination to occupy the throne which belongs to God alone.” [Stott]
John Piper defines lust as “…sexual desire minus honor and holiness. It is the removal of honor toward fellow humans and reverence for God.” Calvin—“Nothing is more powerful to (resist) temptation than the fear of God.” Fearing God is the continual awareness that everything I think, say and do, is open to full view of my heavenly Father who both rewards and disciplines me accordingly. There is no such thing as a private or secret moment or place. My heavenly Father sees all.
There in that critical moment of great temptation Joseph saw his unseen Father and spoke like all of us wish we would if we could see our heavenly Father beside us in the hour of temptation.
Joseph knew something that David forgot in the heat of the moment, that this sin is at bottom a despising of God. Nathan would later be sent to rebuke David with that very truth.
The first thing Joseph shows us is to venture all on the first refusal as though it were our last stand. Fire all your guns, use all your powder, and don’t hold anything back. Worry about finding more powder and reloading when the enemy is retreating, but for now let fly with all you have. Stuff the cannons with anything and everything hard and sharp from broken pottery to expensive coins and jewelry. Venture it all!
When the temptation retreats then we reload by committing ourselves again to the principles of avoidance, hiding the scripture in our heart and keeping it alive, not letting our heart turn to her way, not going physically near her door and looking past her to the chambers of death.
We stock up more gun powder by regularly offering up prayers of mortification and vivification perhaps like this one…
“Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth, Giver of every good and perfect gift, I do openly acknowledge and confess before Thee, that I am a sinner in thought, word, and deed; and apart from Thy sanctifying Spirit, every inclination of the thoughts of my heart would be only evil all the time. Genesis 6:5
I repent of my unchaste thoughts, words and actions and do humbly beseech Thy mortifying graces.
Grant to me a true sense of the evil of this particular sin.., that I may grieve over, hate and abhor it for what it is – a most heinous abomination in Thy sight.
Grant to me a holy fear of the overwhelming power and death grip of unbridled lust; of its ability to dull my senses and thereby lead me as an ox to the slaughter. (Prov. 7:22)
0, help me this day, to make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts (Romans 13:14), to gouge out the offending eye (Mt. 5:29), to flee sexual immorality (I Cor. 6:18).
Make me ever mindful of the serious and inevitable consequences of this unlawful passion. Blows and disgrace will be my lot and shame will never be wiped away. (Prov. 6:33) If unchecked, it will cost my good name, my wife, my children, and most grievously, fellowship with Thee and Thy holy Church perhaps throughout eternity.
I ask Thee for a true sense of this evil; that I might turn from it with full purpose of and endeavor after new obedience; that I might with righteous Job, make a covenant with my eyes never to cast a lustful look upon another woman. (Job 31:1)
Rather, I choose contentment with Thy gift and rejoice in the wife of my youth (Prov. 5:18), whom I have from Thy gracious hand, to be satisfied with her always, ever captivated by (Prov. 5:19), ever intoxicated with her love.
Fill my imagination with pure thoughts and my mouth with life-giving words that only nourish and cherish (Eph. 5:29) her, that I might present her holy and blameless (Eph. 5:27) to Thee.
To this end, help me, 0 God, that Thy undying love for, and Thy enduring faithfulness to Thy holy Bride – the Church, might be imaged (Eph. 5:25,32) forth in my marriage with clarity, power, splendour and glory.
0 hear this poor penitent’s earnest and hopeful prayer, offered in Thy Son’s most holy and worthy name. Amen.
Between these two inspiring scenes of resisting temptation, the first refusal of vv. 8-9 and his flat out fleeing picked up in vv. 11-12 is sandwiched a verse we could easily miss. “And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.” v. 10 Now, knowing his place of work would be attended with moral danger, he no doubt had to prepare himself, carefully guarding his heart, day by day lest his resolve weaken. I cannot emphasize enough, so much comes back to the heart, the Lord Jesus Christ must do a great work there and we must guard it as the wellspring of our life.
Our hearts as the wellspring of life is poignantly illustrated in a brief story entitled “The Keeper of the Spring”.
“An elderly quiet forest dweller once lived high above an Austrian village along the eastern slopes of the Alps. Many years ago, the town council had hired this old gentleman as Keeper of the Spring to maintain the purity of the pools of water in the mountain crevices. The overflow from these pools ran down the mountainside and fed the lovely spring that flowed through the town. With faithful, silent regularity the Keeper of the Spring patrolled the hills, removed the leaves and branches from the pools, and wiped away the silt that would otherwise choke and contaminate the fresh flow of water.
By and by the village became a popular attraction for vacationers. Graceful swans floated along the crystal-clear spring, the mill wheels of various businesses located near the water turned day and night, farmlands were naturally irrigated, and the view from restaurants sparkled.
Years passed. One evening the town council met for its semi-annual meeting. As the council members reviewed the budget, one man’s eye caught the salary paid the obscure Keeper of the Spring. “Who is this old man?” he asked indignantly “Why do we keep paying him year after year? No one ever sees him. For all we know this man does us no good. He isn’t necessary any longer!” By a unanimous vote, the council dispensed with the old man’s services.
For several weeks nothing changed. But by early autumn, the trees began to shed their leaves. Small branches snapped off and fell into the pools, hindering the rushing flow of sparkling water. One afternoon, someone noticed a slight yellowish-brown tint to the water in the spring. A few days later, the water had darkened even more. Within a week, a slimy film covered sections of the water along the banks, and a foul odor emanated from the spring. The mill wheels moved slowly; some finally ground to a halt. Businesses that were located near the water closed. The swans migrated to Fresher waters far away and tourists no longer visited the town. Eventually the clammy fingers of disease and sickness reached deeply into the village. The shortsighted town council had enjoyed the beauty of the spring but underestimated the importance of guarding its source.”
- The second thing Joseph models for us is simply to FLEE.
“One day he went into the house to attend to his duties and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.” Vv. 11,12 Crisis!
Derek Kidner comments, “All is lost or won in a moment.” Our success or failure will be determined in the ensuing flash! Joseph seemed to understand what D. Bonhoeffer would later describe in his manuscript entitled ‘Temptation’, when he said…”In our members there is a slumbering inclination towards desire which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power desire seizes mastery over the flesh. All at once a secret, smouldering fire is kindled. The flesh burns and is in flames…. Joy in God is extinguished in us and we seek all our joy in the creature. At this moment God is quite unreal to us, we are filled with forgetfulness of God. Lust aroused envelops the mind and will of man in deepest darkness. The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us.”
Young men, high school sons. There is an inspiring scene in the Fellowship of the Ring where Gandalf and company are fleeing from this diabolical, giant, fire breathing creature that is gaining on them inside of a mountain. At one point Gandalf stops fleeing and takes his stand on a narrow bridge suspended over a great abyss. He faces this creature and says with great resolve, “You cannot pass!” buying the fellowship more time to escape. This creature draws its fire sword and clashes with Gandalf to no avail. Gandalf continues resisting, “Dark fire will not avail you. Go back to the shadow!” At this point the creature rises up with all its fury and is about to strike Gandalf with its fiery whip when Galdalf raises his staff and then drives it down on the bridge yelling, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” The bridge crumbles, the creature falls into the abyss, but not before hooking Gandalf and taking him too. It was a moving and courageous scene of taking a stand.
Young men, high school sons. There is a time to take such bold stands against some forms of evil, but this is not one of them. Joseph seemed to know when to venture all on the first refusal, but he also knew that when the temptation returns with greater force there is only one thing to do…FLEE! Too much is at stake.
I’ve been repeating ad nauseum. Avoiding sexual sin and temptation is always easier than resisting it in the heat of the moment. And so we must not neglect but pursue with renewed zeal the things that belong to our purity, honor and self-respect.
Perhaps like me you’ve felt a little beat up after last Lord’s Day evening’s message or are still feeling that way after tonight’s message. Good! I intended for this to be a stiff warning of the serious nature and consequences of this evil. But I also hope our young men, our sons, are better equipped to avoid and resist this temptation; and that they put these principles into practice sooner than I did. And I hope that our seasoned warriors who weary from this battle will be inspired again to pluck up heart and pick up sword.
But I want to end on a note of consolation for past failures and hope for future progress. The most realistic help for consolation and hope I’ve found to date are the insightful words of C.S. Lewis. “We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity will not be attained by any merely human efforts. [Nor without.] You must ask for God’s help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. [ Oh, can seasoned warriors relate to that!] Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up and try again. [There is no magic formula.] Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself, but just this power (determination) of always trying again. This process (of trying, failing, asking forgiveness and trying again) trains us in habits of the soul. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to ‘give up entirely’.” [Mere Christianity, pgs. 101-102.]
Of this one thing I’m sure, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the Day of Christ Jesus.” We have His unbreakable word on it. May that lift up our countenance! Amen.