Do You Know Who You Are?

Genesis 39

September 29, 2013 | Ray Pritchard

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Who said this?

“The world looks at me as a football player who’s a Christian, but I look at the world and say, ’I’m a Christian who happens to play football.’”

Those are the words of Tim Tebow, speaking to 26,000 people at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego in June 2012.

Who said this?

“I am not a role model. Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

That’s Charles Barkley, and those words come from a famous Nike commercial.

When Tim Tebow spoke in San Diego, he was asked, “Do you see yourself as a role model?” His answer was simple and clear:

“There are a lot of role models out there, there just aren’t many good ones. To me, that’s so frustrating because you have in today’s society so many famous athletes in baseball and basketball and football and golf, every sport there is. If we come together to be great role models, it would be amazing to see how the next generation turns out.”

Here’s a bit from the news coverage of the event:

“I loved how genuine he was,” said Tracy Cox of Santee. She attended the event with her extended family, who she described as football fans and Christians.

Her mother-in-law, Sharon Cox, added, “He loves the Lord so much, there’s no embarrassment when he drops to his knees.”

Just pause for a moment and consider those two words:

“No embarrassment.” </h6 class=”pullquote”>

“No embarrassment.”

That’s high praise for any Christian.

Not embarrassed to be a Christian.
Not embarrassed by the criticism.
Not embarrassed to bow your knee and thank God publicly.

Then we have these words by the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard:

“Now, with God’s help, I will become myself.”

When you know who you are, you can serve Christ anywhere. </h6 class=”pullquote”>

Without God’s help, you will never become who you were meant to be.
This is perhaps life’s hardest question: “Do you know who you are?”
Until you do, you’ll never really know where you fit in.
Once you know who you are, you can fit in anywhere.

A Slave in Egypt

With that in mind, we return to the story of Joseph. When last we saw our hero, he had been betrayed by his brothers and sold to desert traders who took him to Egypt where they sold him to a man named Potiphar who was head of Pharaoh’s security detail.

“With God’s help, I will become myself”
</h6 class=”pullquote”>

He’s far from home.
He’s a slave in Egypt.
His brothers have abandoned him.
His father thinks he’s dead.

The Lord was with Joseph </h6 class=”pullquote”>

As Genesis 39 opens, his future appears bleak indeed. There is one fact—and only one fact—that should give us any hope that his story will turn out well. After informing us that he is now a slave in Potiphar’s house, the text adds one all-important detail: “The Lord was with Joseph” (v. 2).

That fact makes all the difference.

This is the story of Joseph’s battle with sexual temptation. We will see how Potiphar’s wife does all she can to seduce this fine-looking young Hebrew slave. We will also see how and why Joseph was able to resist her advances.

Let’s begin our investigation of this story with two revealing quotes:

British playwright Oscar Wilde once remarked, “I can resist anything except temptation.” His own life proved the truth of those words. When we hear them, we chuckle because we all know, in various ways, how true they are.

We desperately need the Lord </h6 class=”pullquote”>

On the other side we have C. S. Lewis who observed that “no man knows how bad he is until he has tried to be good.” The first quote proves the second. It is precisely because we can’t resist temptation that we learn how bad we really are—and how greatly we stand in need of God’s grace.

Temptation is not new in any sense. Temptation is the same for us as it was for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Satan tempts us today in the same way he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. From the very beginning a battle has raged for the souls of men and women, a battle that touches all of us sooner or later.

You can’t blame your parents or your DNA </h6 class=”pullquote”>

What exactly is temptation? Here is a working definition: “Temptation is the inner urge to do wrong that hits us in the place of our own personal weakness.” I find that helpful because it emphasizes that temptation ultimately comes from the inside. While the stimulus may start from the outside, the urge to do wrong comes from the inside. That’s hugely important because we all tend to blame something else or someone else when we fall into sin. But it’s not the devil who made us do it, nor is it some titillating scene or some irritating person or some questionable relationship. We can’t blame our parents or our grandparents, and we can’t blame our DNA. Those things are factors in the equation, but the inner urge belongs to us.

We can’t lay that off on people or circumstances.
No one makes us sin.
We do that on our own.

Five Principles We Need to Know

The familiar words of 1 Corinthians 10:13 remind us that while we all face temptation, God will always provide a way of escape if we are willing to take it. There is no better example of this truth than the case of Joseph in Genesis 39. From this familiar story I find five principles that will help us in our personal struggle with the temptations of life.

Principle #1: When Things Are Going Well, Be On Guard!

The scene is the royal court of Egypt. A man named Potiphar enters the room. He is the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard, a position of great honor because it meant he was personally responsible for the Pharaoh’s safety. At his side is a young man, not an Egyptian, a fact made clear by his appearance. If you were an onlooker, you would notice the young man immediately and say, “I wonder where he came from?”

Joseph and Potiphar got along just fine </h6 class=”pullquote”>

He is tall, about 6’1” or perhaps an inch or two taller, ruddy, well-built, with medium-brown hair, piercing blue eyes, and the casual walk of a teenager with a high degree of self-confidence. As he follows Potiphar all eyes follow him. He has it all—good looks, self-confidence, poise, and a playful sense of humor. His name is Joseph.

Wherever Potiphar goes, Joseph follows. They look good together, these two. Not father and son exactly. As a matter of fact, Potiphar had purchased Joseph as a slave from the Ishmaelites. So they couldn’t be father and son, but they didn’t seem like master and slave either. There is something else at work—a kind of friendship seems to erase the culture that separates them. Potiphar, captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard, likes this young man. For his part, Joseph admires his master.

This is how Moses puts the matter in Genesis 39:2-4

The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.

Potiphar was no dummy. He knew that the Lord’s hand was upon this young man he had purchased as a slave. So he puts Joseph in charge of his house. Verses 4-5 clearly imply that he was a wealthy man with a large estate. Notice what happens when Joseph takes over:

From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field (39:5).

If you’re counting, that’s five times in four verses that Moses mentions how God blessed Joseph. There are two things we ought to learn from this. First, lost people are not stupid. They are lost in their sins, but even in their spiritual confusion, they can see the hand of God at work in a believer’s life. Sometimes we act like lost people have no perception at all. It’s true that they don’t understand our doctrine. They don’t know what it means to be premillennial, but most of us aren’t too clear on that either. They don’t get the Trinity, but we have trouble with that too. Lost people may not understand the finer points of doctrine, but I will guarantee that this much is true:

Lost people are not stupid </h6 class=”pullquote”>

Lost people can spot a phony a mile away.
And they can recognize God’s hand at work in a believer’s life.
Potiphar may have followed a pagan religion, but he understood that Joseph was different, and he respected him for it.

Second, there is no contradiction between God’s blessing and our temptations. In fact, we are more likely to be tempted when things are going well. After all, when we are enjoying God’s blessings, we often become complacent and take those blessings for granted.

That’s exactly when Satan wants to strike us.
He hits us when things are going well.

Victory and temptation generally go together.</h6 class=”pullquote”>

The lesson is clear.
When everything is going your way …
When you’ve got the world by the tail on a downhill slide …
When you just got a promotion …
When your popularity has never been higher …
When your dreams start to come true …

Watch out! Be careful! Take nothing for granted! Keep your eyes open!

Today’s victories often lead on to tomorrow’s trials.

Principle #2: When You Are Tempted, Remember Who You Are

It is exactly at this point—when Joseph seems to be sitting on top of the world—that a new character enters the story. We do not know her name, only that she is the wife of Potiphar and is connected to him in name only. To use a modern phrase, she is a “single married woman.”

She was a “single married woman” </h6 class=”pullquote”>

Verse 7 lays out the situation for us with unabashed directness: “After a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’”

The Hebrew has a wonderful way of putting it
. It literally says that she “lifted up her eyes” at Joseph. The Living Bible says she “made eyes” at him. As he crossed the room she followed him with her eyes, a smile of satisfaction crossing her face. He was a fine looking man, young and strong the way Potiphar had been when they first met, before too many court dinners had spoiled his waistline and before too many late night meetings with Pharaoh had placed permanent bags under his eyes. Yes, this Joseph looked like an excellent companion for a casual affair, a brief meeting between “a younger man and an older woman.”

She must have been persistent because when Joseph turned her down (verses 8-9) she came back again and again. Perhaps she thought he didn’t mean it when he said no. Perhaps she thought she could wear down his resistance. Perhaps she thought he wanted to but was afraid to say yes. Back she came, slinking into his life, offering him forbidden fruit, ripe and juicy, his for the taking. Still he said no.

She came back to him again and again </h6 class=”pullquote”>

At this point it’s worth pausing to ask why a red-blooded young man would say no to an available woman. Verses 8 and 9 suggest two answers:

1. He was loyal to his boss. “‘With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘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. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife’” (8-9a).

2. He was loyal to God. “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (9b).

Joseph did the right thing because he knew that adultery was wrong. He called it “a wicked thing” and a “sin against God.” These days we like to rename sin to make it sound less sinful. In the last few years we have been assaulted by the Gay Rights lobby in an attempt to redefine sin. Or perhaps I should call it an attempt to “undefine” sin. In late June the Supreme Court handed down a pair of decisions that open the door to the complete legalization of gay marriage in our country.

The Supreme Court isn’t</h6 class=”pullquote”>

Christians are now under great pressure to compromise our convictions.
Or if not to compromise, at least to keep quiet.
We need not worry that the barbarians are at the gate.
They have breached the wall and are streaming in on every hand.

How shall we respond? I suggest that we remember four simple words:

The Supreme Court isn’t.

There is a court higher than the court that sits in Washington. That court is never divided, never uncertain, and never wrong.

Go forward with tenacious, winsome courage </h6 class=”pullquote”>

We show proper respect to earthly courts even when we disagree, but we reaffirm our conviction that there is a Judge who cannot be swayed by public opinion and whose rulings will never be overturned.

We will carry on with tenacious, winsome courage, not changing our convictions about right and wrong. We say with the psalmist, “Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89).

In times like these, we need an infusion of the Joseph-spirit so that we will do what he did.
He called Bible things by Bible names.
He called it “wickedness” and a “sin against God.”

Call Bible things by Bible names </h6 class=”pullquote”>

Instead of a hard word like “adultery,” we use words like “affair,” “tryst,” “fling,” “one-night stand,” and we even call it “making love.” Call it what you like. Adultery is still sin because God says so. Renaming sin doesn’t change its character any more than calling rat poison food turns it into bread.

Despite his flat refusal, she continued to seduce him day after day (v. 10). Finally she made her move:

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!” (vv. 11-12a).

So what do you do now?
She’s grabbing him and pulling him down with her.
It’s the moment of truth.

Joseph knew he belonged to God. When a man knows that he belongs to God, it makes the decisions of life easier. If you belong to God, you can’t sleep with your boss’s wife. It’s just that simple. It doesn’t matter that she’s lonely or attractive or available or anything else. You just can’t do it. Period. End of story. No discussion needed.

If you belong to God, you can’t sleep with your boss’s wife           </h6 class=”pullquote”>

He didn’t mess around.
He didn’t flirt with trouble.
He didn’t say, “How far can I go?”
He just said no!

And he didn’t apologize for saying no, and he didn’t worry about hurting her feelings.

Principle #3: When You Are Tempted, Act Fast

Verse 12 tells us what happened next:

“But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.”

As I pondered the matter, I made of list of excuses Joseph might have given for sleeping with Potiphar’s wife:

1)     We’re all alone (true).
2)     She made me do it (also true).
3)     No one else will know (probably true).
4)     She’s in a bad marriage (very possible).
5)     I’m single and I have needs too (definitely true).
6)     I deserve this (not true).
7)     Everyone fools around (not true, but it sounds good).
8)     God will understand (definitely not true, but a popular excuse).

It was all or nothing. Either he slept with her or he faced losing his job.

It was all or nothing for Joseph </h6 class=”pullquote”>

He was first courteous.
Then cautious.
Then courageous.

Or maybe crazy, but he stayed cool and got out clean.

When she said, “Why don’t you stay for a while?” he said, “I’d love to, but I’ve got to run.” And that’s exactly what he did. Out the door, across the lawn, over the hedge, dodging camels as he went. He left her holding his coat while he ran the other way. The King James Version uses a quaint expression to describe how Joseph responded to the final seduction: “He left the garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out” (v. 12). Why does it say, “He got him out”? Because no one else could get him out so he got himself out of trouble.

There’s one other point to notice. You’ve got to make up your mind in advance what you’re going to do. It’s too late to pray about it when Potiphar’s wife is playing kissy-face with you.

It’s too late to pray when Potiphar’s wife is playing kissy-face with you </h6 class=”pullquote”>

There’s a time to talk and a time to stop talking.
There’s a time to stay and a time to go.
There’s a time to walk and a time to run away.

Or as Kenny Rogers sang,

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em,
Know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away
And know when to run.

When temptation comes, you’ve got to move fast.

God isn’t obligated to give you a second “way out” </h6 class=”pullquote”>

God isn’t obligated to give you a second chance to get out clean. He promised to make a “way out” but he isn’t obligated to give you three choices in case you don’t like the first two.

Principle #4: When You Do Right, Don’t Expect A Reward

As you can imagine, Potiphar’s wife wasn’t too happy about all this. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. While Joseph is running half-dressed across the countryside, she’s left with nothing but a handful of dirty laundry. This is not a good situation. Two things happen in short order:

1) She makes a false accusation (13-18).
In essence, she accuses Joseph of attempted rape. When she calls him “this Hebrew” (15), there is even a touch of racism in her words. Her words sound plausible because she’s got Joseph’s coat in her hand.

There is even a touch of racism in her words </h6 class=”pullquote”>

2) Joseph is unjustly imprisoned (19-20). The Bible says that when Potiphar heard this story, his anger burned. So he had Joseph thrown into jail with the common criminals. How could such a thing happen? It happened because the world cannot understand a believer with conviction. That’s why Joseph was locked up. He knew who he was and he acted on his convictions. His reward was a quick trip to jail.

The good news is, you can stand up to temptation. The bad news is, you may end up losing your popularity in the process. After all, the world crucified Jesus. Why should you and I expect to get off any easier?

Principle # 5: When You Do Right, God Will Honor You

Before we leave this story, we need to see how it ends. It’s not the way we might have expected.

The Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did (vv. 21-23).

At this moment Joseph is chained in a filthy pit (see Psalm 105:18). Because of his faithfulness to God, he lost his job, his freedom, and his reputation. He appears to be a ruined man.

Joseph appears to be a ruined man </h6 class=”pullquote”>

This story proves that God honors those who dare to say no. It may not appear that way at first. Things may not work out exactly like we think they will. But when we have the courage to say “No” to temptation, God takes care of the details. In the end, we will never be disappointed. Remember, it’s always better to do right the first time.

There are some things worse than going to jail for doing right. One of them is living in the prison of a guilty conscience. It is better to do right and sleep well than to toss and turn because you couldn’t say “No.”

There is a neat symmetry to this story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. It opens with Joseph enjoying good success because “the Lord was with him.” Although he ends up in jail, even there he prospers because “the Lord was with him.” In between he proves himself worthy of greatness because he knew how to say no.

Joseph knew who he was</h6 class=”pullquote”>

How did it happen?
The answer is not hard to find. Joseph knew who he was. That was a settled issue even though he was a teenager.

He knew he belonged to God.
That made his decision easy.

Here are Four Great Don’ts to remember when you are tempted to sin:

1) Don’t forget who you are.
2) Don’t be surprised when temptation knocks at your door.
3) Don’t be deceived by persuasive voices.
4) Don’t be confused by the immediate results.

Just Say No

If we are going to be victorious over temptation, we must do what Joseph did when Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce him: Just Say No.

When you are tempted to do wrong this week, Just Say No.

When someone says, “Come sleep with me,” take a deep breath, leave your coat behind, run the other way, and Just Say No.

Remember who you are and Just Say No </h6 class=”pullquote”>

When Satan whispers in your ear, “Go on. Everyone else is doing it.” Remember who you are and Just Say No.

When you feel like giving someone a piece of your mind, remember that you don’t have a piece to spare, so grin and bear it and Just Say No.

When your mind plays tricks on you and says, “Go ahead. No one will see you,” remember that God sees everything you do, and then Just Say No.

When it’s 5:30 p.m. and the kids are cranky and your husband isn’t home yet, and supper isn’t ready and the house is filled with dirty socks and dirty diapers, before you lose your cool, take a deep breath, look to heaven, count your blessings instead of your problems, and Just Say No.

When you find yourself down and out, up against the wall and under the pile, when nothing is going right and you are hopelessly entangled and you see no way out of the mess you are in, before you say something you shouldn’t say or do something you shouldn’t do, before you blow your top or give up the ghost, remember that God still loves you and then Just Say No.

In the end, it comes down to a simple question:

“Christian, do you know who you are?”

Tim Tebow said, “The world looks at me as a football player who’s a Christian, but I look at the world and say, ’I’m a Christian who happens to play football.’”

Christian, do you know who you are?
</h6 class=”pullquote”>

Soren Kierkegaard said it this way: “And now, with God’s help, I will become myself.”

Here is my whole sermon in one sentence: If you know you are, you can serve Christ anywhere.

Christian, do you know who you are?

So now Joseph is in prison where he’s about to get some company. You won’t believe who shows up.
Stay tuned. This story is far from over.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?