Joseph faced great temptation, and all the odds were stacked against. He seemed bound to fail. And yet, to our astonishment, Joseph stood strong in the face of temptation.
How did he do that? Where did he find that kind of strength under these circumstances? How was it possible for him to stand strong in temptation, and how is it possible for us to do the same?
There are two parts to the answer here—strategies and motives, and both are important. Strategies deal with how you stand up to temptation. Motives deal with the desire and the power you need to put the strategies into practice.
Strategy #1: Clear commitment
“How then can I do this?” (Genesis 39:9)
Joseph must have been aware that Potiphar’s wife had her eyes on him. He saw that trouble was brewing, and when it came out into the open, he had already settled the issue in his mind, “I cannot do this.”
Why does an open mind in the face of temptation make failure inevitable? Because a godly life revolves around commitments, and if you have none your life will drift. In any situation of life, you need to ask, “What will likely be the big temptation here for me?” Name it, and then make a commitment before God to guard against it.
This is huge when you go off to college. This is huge in the workplace. This is huge in any situation where you know that you’re likely to face temptation.
There is tremendous value in making a vow of sexual purity before marriage, a vow that you will keep yourself for the spouse God may (or may not) have for you in the future. This is a vow or a commitment between you and God that you might share with a trusted friend.
Then there is tremendous value in making a vow of sexual faithfulness within marriage. At the heart of a wedding is the giving and receiving of a vow, in which a man and a woman say to each other: “I will be loyal to you in regard to my body, my heart, and my mind.”
The reason we make such a vow is that this gift of sexual union is a sacred trust from God, and it is not to be entered into lightly. So when we receive it, we surround it with the protection of a lifelong commitment to love, faithfulness, loyalty, and respect.
Strategy #2: Clear communication
[Potiphar’s] wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused. (Genesis 39:7-8)
Do you get the clarity of this? Joseph didn’t say, “Let’s go out to Starbucks and talk about how both of us feel.” He refused. There were no mixed messages from Joseph.
Strategy #3: Clear boundaries
As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her. (Genesis 39:10)
Joseph didn’t say, “I can’t do what you ask, but we can always be friends.” After this thing had come out into the open, he gave Potiphar’s wife a wide berth. He did not play the game: How close can we get to the fire without getting burned?
But one day, when the other servants were gone, Potiphar’s wife took advantage of the situation. She grabbed Joseph by his robe, and Joseph did the only thing he could do: He ran out of the house. Better to lose his robe, better to lose his job, better to lose anything, than to sin against God and against Potiphar and against the woman who was tempting him.
How you can stand strong in temptation? You’ll never do it with an open mind. You have to have clear commitments, clear communication, and clear boundaries.
Now you may be saying, “This makes perfect sense to me. I can see the wisdom of the strategies. But that’s not my problem. My problem is finding the desire, the power, the motivation to do this. Where do I get the strength to implement the strategies?”
Motive #1: The trust of a servant
He refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge.” (Genesis 39:8)
Notice Joseph’s reasoning, his motive, and the clarity with which he deals with temptation: I’m a trusted servant, not a free agent, drifting around from one thing to another at the impulse of my own heart. I have a master. He has been good to me, and I will be loyal to him.
You are not a free agent either. You are a servant of the Lord. Your master has been good to you.
Motive #2: The wickedness of sin
“How then can I do this great wickedness?” (Genesis 39:9)
Joseph calls sin by its proper name. The world is always in the business of coining fresh language to make sin more acceptable. Instead of describing what Joseph was tempted to as an act of “adultery,” people today would call it “an affair” or “a fling.” It doesn’t sound quite so bad when you put it that way.
Change the language and it doesn’t sound like such a big deal. And if Satan can persuade you that the sin to which you are tempted is not a big deal, it will not be long until you fall into temptation. What is the defense against this?
What is the sin to which you are tempted? Call it by its proper name. Is it pride? Is it envy? The Bible says these things are an abomination to the Lord. If I call it that, it’s going to help motivate me to fight against it. Joseph calls the sin to which he is tempted “wickedness.” He sees and feels the sinfulness of sin, and that acts as a defense in his soul.
Motive #3: The fear of the Lord
“How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9)
The great motive for the Christian in the battle against temptation is that you have come to love God. The fear of the Lord means that his frown would be your greatest dread, and His smile would be your greatest delight, and so for that reason, what God thinks of what you are doing carries weight in your life, in fact, it is the decisive thing.
If you love the Lord, then grieving the Father who loves you, sinning against the Christ who died for you, and resisting the Holy Spirit who lives within you, will seem like a fearful thing, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?“