Friday, June 27, 2014

The Gospel According to Joseph: Temptation and Godly Living

As we talked about in the first sermon of The Gospel According to Joseph series and as Pastor Hutchinson pointed out in his first and second articles about preaching Old Testament stories, we must avoid the extreme of treating these stories as simply self-improvement stories and teaching them merely as moral lessons. Yet, at times, we can still find some examples that our Lord Jesus would have us follow (cf. He. 11:1-12:2). In the episodes covered in the sermon that will be posted this Sunday, there is such an example, and because of time and scope, it won't brought out in Sunday's sermon. So, we'll look at it here.

In Ge. 39, Joseph finds himself sold as a slave to Potiphar, Pharaoh's captain of the guard. There, because God's personal presence is with Joseph, he is quite successful and eventually Potiphar makes him overseer of his entire household. Well, apparently Joseph caught more than Potiphar's eye. Potiphar's wife took an interest in Joseph, but for a very different reason. Moses tells us in 39:6b that "Joseph was handsome in form and appearance," which caught the attention of Potiphar's wife. "Day after day" she made sexual advances and propositions to him, but he refused. And, I believe there are four things that we can learn about temptation and godly living from Joseph's response to Potiphar's wife.

First, Moses tells us in the text that Joseph refused even "to be with her." Joseph refused even to spend any time around her. Her temptations were strong, but Joseph protected himself by not even flirting with the danger. Joseph probably knew that if we crossed that line and spent time around her, resisting her advances would be even more difficult, so he stayed as far away from her as he could. We can learn from Joseph's example here. Sometimes we put ourselves in situations where we know the temptation to a certain sin will be strong, and when we do that, it should be no surprise at all when we give in. Joseph shows us that in the battle against sin, we need to stay far away from places, times, and situations where we know temptation will assault us. In 1 Co. 10:13 that God will always provide a way out for us, and sometimes that way out is never to approach the places, times, and situations of temptation in the first place.

Second, what happens when we can't avoid a place, time, or situation of temptation? Well, in v. 12, Moses tells us that Potiphar's wife "caught [Joseph] by his garment," and Joseph "left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house." Joseph got out of there as quickly as he possibly could, so fast that he didn't even take the time to remove his garment from her grasp. When we find ourselves unavoidably in a place, time, or situation of temptation, we need to flee it. Here, Joseph points us to Jesus' teaching by the pen of Paul in several NT passages: "flee sexual immorality" (1 Co. 6:18), "flee from idolatry" (1 Co. 10:14), "flee [false teaching, quarrels, and the love of money]" (1 Ti. 6:12), and "flee youthful passions" (2 Ti. 2:22). Joseph and Paul show us that we aren't to mess around with temptations to sin. In such cases, don't try to be a hero, run from it. Now, sometimes our "running" might be in a figurative sense, which often looks like Jesus' example in Mt. 4 of using Scripture to battle temptation thus redirecting our thoughts "on things that are above," and sometimes our running might mean literally removing ourselves from the situation as fast as we can. (It is worth of note in the literary context of this story, that Joseph's flight is in stark contrast to Judah's solicitation of the Tamar as a prostitute. Judah walked right into temptation in Ge. 38:15-16. In slavery, because God's presence was with him, Joseph was faithful. In freedom, Judah descended further into sin.)

Third, Joseph's words to Potiphar's wife show us that he kept a God-centered perspective on his service and on sin. In vv. 8-9, Joseph tells her that Potiphar has trusted him with everything and not kept anything back from him (except her), and we might expect him then to say, "How can I sin against him, your husband?" But, Joseph ends his statement with "How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" Joseph realized what David did after his sin with Bathsheba: "Against you [God], you only, have I sinned." (Ps. 51:4) Sometimes it's easy to rationalize sin when it's against someone whose also a sinner like us. If Joseph had been thinking only in reference to Potiphar, he could have rationalized it by saying something like, "Potiphar bought me as a slave, so, for that reason alone, he deserves it." He, however, had a God-centered perspective on sin: that every sin is ultimately against God Himself. That changes our perspective on sin, and it gets at our primary motivation to resist sin: thankfulness to God. The Heidelberg Catechism states in the answer to question 84, "We do good... so that in all our living... we may show that we are thankful to God for all He has done for us."

Fourth and finally, this story also shows us that sometimes obeying God means incurring the wrath of men. Joseph resisted Potiphar's wife, and she was so upset by his final flight that she took revenge on him and lied about him to Potiphar. She told Potiphar that Joseph tried to tempt her just as she had done to him, which is a little bit of irony for you, and Potiphar threw Joseph in jail. Sometimes following Christ and living for Him will cost us greatly. Sometimes telling the truth gets you fired. Sometimes playing by the rules gets you in last place. But, our hope as Christians is not in our jobs or winning. It's in the ultimate justice and providence of God secured for those who are in Christ. Ro. 8:28 is going to come up a lot in this series because Joseph's story is a real-world example of this promise to those who are in Christ: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." The key here is God’s purpose. We cannot separate providence from purpose or substitute our purpose for His. Yet, since God has given us everything in Christ (cf. Ro. 8:29-32), we can trust His purpose, even when it costs us materially in this life.

These are four things that we can learn from Joseph's example, but I do want to make it clear that Joseph's example is not the emphasis of these two chapters. Moses emphasizes the impact of God's personal presence on our lives by highlighting how "the LORD was with Joseph" and what that did in him. That will be the topic of the sermon that will be posted Sunday afternoon.

By His Grace,

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