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Refusing to Sin

May 26, 2024 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: The Book of Genesis

Topic: Holy Living Passage: Genesis 39:6–23


An Exposition of Genesis 39:6b-23

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date: May 26, 2024

Series: The Book of Genesis

Note:   Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard   Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Holy Scripture says:

6b Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But 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. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

11 But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, 12 she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. 13 And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, 14 she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. 15 And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” 16 Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, 17 and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. 18 But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.” 

19 As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. 20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21 But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph's charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed. (Genesis 39:6b-23)


Do you know what God’s will is for your life? You ought to be very clearheaded about it:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God had not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8)

This clear “will of God”, this high and holy calling, must not be disregarded or ignored. If you do disregard it, you are disregarding God – you are pushing away God’s Word, and you are striving against the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The God who has called you “gives his Holy Spirit to you”. To whom does God give His Holy Spirit? To those who receive the truth of the gospel “with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6); to those who, in response to the message of the gospel, “[turn] to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10) Those who repent – who turn to God from their idols, from their false gods, from their sins – those who repent and put their trust in Christ are the ones who receive the Holy Spirit and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a holy life that is pleasing to the Lord.

I preach these things to you so that you may not sin

In Genesis 39:7-12, we learn about Joseph faithfully resisting temptation. My message this morning is not: Joseph shines brightly, but we probably don’t and can’t and won’t, so we must take refuge in the idea that Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. Of course, in a practical, everyday sense Christians are not yet perfect. Our Savior is perfect; our justification in Christ’s righteousness is perfect; our adopted status as sons and daughters in God’s family is perfect; our position in Christ is perfect. But in terms of our everyday character and conduct, we’re still a work in progress, we’re not yet perfect, and we still have more progress to make – that’s true. But the idea that Christians are “just forgiven” is wildly inaccurate. True Christians are born again, have new hearts and renewed minds, and have the Holy Spirit within them who enables them to understand, apply, and obey God’s Word. Joseph shines brightly as an example of how faithful Christians everywhere are called and empowered to shine brightly as recipients of God’s transforming grace.

So, as I preach the message this morning, I want to echo a statement from 1 John. John says to those who walk in the light, who have fellowship with God and with one another, who confess their sins and are forgiven and cleansed of their sins by the blood of Jesus (see 1 John 1:5-10) – John says to such people: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” (1 John 1:1) In like manner I say this morning: I am preaching these things to you so that you may not sin. If you are presently sinning, then I am preaching these things to you so that you may stop sinning, or at least start sinning less often – and all of it the result of God’s transforming grace. We do not preach a moralism that relies on your own wisdom and strength. We do not preach self-help. We do not preach sanctification by a thousand rules. We preach blood-bought grace, blood-bought promises, blood-bought Holy Spirit empowerment in the believer’s life.

Of course, if anyone is sinning or does sin, John does not want you to be paralyzed by your sin. This is why he writes: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation [or atoning sacrifice] for our sins” (1 John 2:1-2a, italics added)

But the goal remains “that you may not sin” – that you glorify God by so trusting Him that sin loses its appeal and charm, that you glorify the Lord Jesus who bought you with His blood (1 Corinthians 6:20) and made your body “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19), that you glorify God by “[keeping] in step with the [Holy] Spirit” (Galatians 5:25), that you glorify God by following the faithful example of Joseph and by not following the unfaithful example of Judah.


Before unpacking Joseph’s obedience, I would like to show you a comprehensive comparison of Judah’s character in Genesis 38 with Joseph’s character in Genesis 39. To show you this helpful information, I have included a side-by-side comparison as a handout in the bulletin (see Table 1 below). Let me walk through it briefly, from the top down:

  • First, at the beginning of Genesis 38, Judah is about 20 years old; and at the beginning of Genesis 39, Joseph is about 17 years old.
  • Second, in terms of their socio-economic status, Judah is a free man, but Joseph is a slave.
  • Third, each chapter begins at a critical moment in the young man’s life: in Genesis 38, Judah (in the active role of a free man) moves away from his brothers; in Genesis 39, Joseph (in the passive role of a slave) is brought down to Egypt.
  • Fourth, Judah proceeds to build his own household, getting married and having three sons; whereas Joseph becomes part of Potiphar’s household.
  • Fifth, it is evident that Judah is navigating life in his own wisdom and strength, whereas Joseph is carried along by the Lord’s gracious presence (“The LORD was with Joseph”, Genesis 39:2).
  • Sixth, we are thus in a position to say that Judah’s spiritual orientation is in his own sinful flesh, whereas Joseph’s spiritual orientation is in the Holy Spirit. Remember: “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). Where are you at?
  • Seventh, under Judah, Judah’s family suffers (two sons are dead, and the daughter-in-law is treated unfairly, not to mention the fact from Genesis 37 that Judah’s father is suffering grief because of Judah’s treachery and deceit). By contrast, under Joseph, Potiphar’s household prospers.
  • Eighth, we can detect a radically different fear orientation between Judah and Joseph. If you were to look at Genesis 38:11 and Genesis 38:23, I think you will see that Judah feared people and circumstances (this is why he had neglected to give Shelah to Tamar). By contrast, as evidenced by Joseph’s unwillingness to sin against God, Joseph feared the Lord. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) Where are you on the spiritual map?
  • Ninth, each man faces a specific sexual temptation. Judah is tempted by an apparent prostitute (who is actually his daughter-in-law in disguise), whereas Joseph is tempted by his master’s wife. Each man faces his own test.
  • Tenth, it is worth noting that Judah’s temptation happens about twenty years after the start of the chapter, so Judah is around 40 years old when the temptation takes place. As for Joseph, only a handful of years have passed for him after the start of the chapter, so he is probably in his early to mid 20s when the temptation takes place. Young people, pay attention! There is no necessary connection between age and maturity. Judah is around 40 and fails quickly! Joseph is around 24 and remains steadfast!
  • Eleventh, notice that Judah yields to the temptation immediately – as soon as he sees the woman along the roadside, he is drawn into sin with her. By contrast, Joseph faces the same temptation “day after day” (Genesis 39:10), but whenever the temptation comes, Joseph resists it. Joseph is durable; Judah is flimsy.
  • Twelfth, it is worth noting certain background factors: Judah has been carrying guilt regarding the sale of Joseph and deceitfulness toward his father for twenty years, and on top of that Judah has been unfaithful in the recent past by failing to give his son Shelah in marriage to Tamar, the woman who is disguised as a prostitute. Let’s be honest: carrying unaddressed guilt helps no one resist the next temptation! Furthermore, in recent years, Judah has had to bury two sons, Er and Onan, who were cut down at the dawn of their manhood. His wife had also died not long before, though he had found some comfort for that grief. I don’t know if Judah was having a mid-life crisis, but he surely had the ingredients for it. By contrast, despite all the pain of past betrayal, Joseph had been walking with the Lord for several years, and as a result enjoyed spiritual strength and productivity. Show me a man with God-given strength and productivity, and I’ll show you a man who is ready to stand firm against the next temptation!
  • Lastly, Judah fails the test and rushes headlong into sin, whereas Joseph remains faithful and passes the test.

Table 1: Comparing Judah and Joseph in Genesis 38-39



Judah (Gen. 38)

Joseph (Gen. 39)

age at beginning of chapter

20 years old

17 years old

socio-economic status



key moment

moved away from brothers, v. 1

brought to Egypt, v. 1


built his own household, v. 2-5

part of Potiphar's household, v. 1-2

source of strength

his own wisdom and strength

the Lord's presence, v. 2

spiritual orientation

the flesh

the Spirit

impact in sphere of influence

his own family suffers, v. 6-26

Potiphar's household prospers, v. 2-6a

fear orientation

fears people and circumstances, v. 11, 23

fears God, v. 9


tempted by apparent prostitute, v. 13-15

tempted by Potiphar's wife, v. 7-12

age at time of temptation

about 40 years old

early to mid 20s

length of temptation

a singular moment

day after day, v. 10

relevant background

guilt (2x) and grief (2x)

spiritual strength and productivity


fail: rushes headlong into sin, v. 15-18

pass: he did not yield, v. 8-12

Judah and Joseph, though brothers, are very different men. Which way do you desire to walk? The way of fleshly self-indulgence or the way of godly fear with self-control? Note well that the contrast isn’t between a wild ride and smooth sailing. Neither Judah nor Joseph have smooth sailing in terms of their earthly circumstances. We live in a fallen world. People sin. Life on this spinning globe is beset with trials and difficulties. So, both Judah and Joseph have a wild ride in terms of their earthly circumstances. But Judah has to navigate this wild ride with his own bad character and turbulent heart, whereas Joseph gets to navigate the wild ride with the Lord at his side, the fear of the Lord within him, and the steadfast love of the Lord all around him. Judah is unstable and wayward in the midst of life’s storms, whereas Joseph enjoys shalom and uprightness in the midst of life’s storms. What about you? Which way are you walking? How are you navigating the wild ride that this life is?


With all that background in mind, let’s learn from Joseph’s obedient refusal to sin. Joseph’s refusal to sin is set in the context of a specific temptation, and that temptation is set in the context of Joseph’s physical attractiveness. The middle of verse 6 says, “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.” Joseph took after his mother Rachel in this regard, of whom it was said earlier: “Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance” (Genesis 29:17). You should not respond to another person’s “form and appearance” with discontentment, envy, or illicit desire. And yet, Potiphar’s wife began to look upon Joseph with covetous eyes: “And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.”” (v. 7) Thus the highest ranking woman in the household, who was married to the master of the household, desired to have the highest ranking slave in the household, who was not only “handsome in form and appearance” but also was eminently successful in his managerial oversight of the household (as we saw in verses 2-6). Potiphar’s wife becomes a temptress to young Joseph.

Do not be surprised that temptations come: “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” (Luke 17:1) To entice another human being to sin is to cast yourself in the role of that ancient serpent, the devil, who enticed Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Animated by that venomous serpent, Potiphar’s wife begins a daily effort to seduce a good man: “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” (Proverbs 9:17) Many men have fallen into the trap.

But not Joseph. Joseph resists the temptation and refuses to sin. Verse 8 begins, “But he refused”. He didn’t get carried away with his emotions or with his physical desires. He didn’t get pressured into a corner. He didn’t let it play out the way that she wanted it to play out. He refused. I want you to notice that Joseph’s refusal to sin is the fruit of well-reasoned convictions that are rooted in the fear of the Lord.

The character that you bring to the moment of temptation is the character out of which you will respond to the temptation. If you are superficial, highly emotional, insecure, easy to persuade, a people-pleaser who is disposed to conform to the expectations of others (including tempters and temptresses), then you are ill-equipped to meet temptation on the field of battle. What you need on the field of battle is solid conviction – right and proper conviction – rooted in the fear of God.

So, let’s follow Joseph’s well-reasoned convictions in verses 8-9. At least four nuggets of wisdom can be drawn from Joseph’s reasoning – all very important.

Resolved to be faithful to his master

First, Joseph is resolved to be faithful to his earthly master, Potiphar. Look at what Joseph says to Potiphar’s wife in verse 8:

“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.” (v. 8)

Joseph has a proper sense of loyalty and responsibility to Potiphar. Of course, Joseph’s loyalty to Potiphar is not absolute, for God alone is the only one worthy of our absolute allegiance. However, within the framework of God’s design for how the world works, we are supposed to demonstrate faithfulness and loyalty in our relationships with other human beings. The ninefold “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23 includes “faithfulness”, and in context it is referring to faithfulness unto others as a way of loving your neighbor, especially your fellow believers. Potiphar isn’t a fellow believer, but he is Joseph’s neighbor and master, and Joseph is resolved to be faithful. The New Testament instructs bondservants “to be submissive to their own masters in everything” and “to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith” (Titus 2:9, 10). Joseph is resolved to show himself faithful to Potiphar.

When you have your head on straight, you understand that because others have entrusted important matters to you, you have a responsibility to return their trust with kindness. Potiphar had entrusted the management of the entire household to Joseph. The only sensible response to receiving such trust is to return that trust with “love” and “kindness” and “goodness”, which are also part of that ninefold fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). On a human level, when others entrust things to you – it could be the employer that hires you to do a job, or your clients that have committed to you the care of their financial portfolio, or your parents who have just entrusted you with greater responsibilities – when others entrust things to you, you have an obligation under God to return that trust with goodness, faithfulness, and honorable conduct. A firm resolve to love your neighbor, which Jesus identified as the second most important commandment, will go a long way in helping you resist temptation.

Resolved to honor his master’s boundaries

Second, Joseph understands the boundaries that his earthly master had set. With an eye on showing honor to his earthly master, Joseph shows a profound awareness of what had and had not been given to him. He knew that Potiphar had put every household matter into his care, with one exception. Does this remind you of Genesis 1-3?

An interesting connection between Genesis 1-3 and Genesis 39

God put every earthly thing under the dominion of Adam and Eve, and He gave every plant and every tree to Adam and Eve as food (Genesis 1:28-29), with one exception: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Genesis 2:17). The temptation presented to Eve was to take hold of the one and only thing that was off limits. Likewise in Genesis 39, Potiphar put every household matter under the dominion of Joseph, and he did not withhold anything from Joseph, with one exception: “nor has he kept back anything from me except you” (v. 9). And yet, just like the temptation in Genesis 3, here in Genesis 39 the temptation presented to Joseph is to take hold of the one and only thing that was off limits. Joseph knew the boundaries that had been set, and was resolved to honor those boundaries.

Walk in contentment and gratitude

Learn to be content with all the good things that have been given to you, and do not covet those things that have not been given to you. Learn to be thankful for all the blessings that have been poured out upon you, and do not be distracted by the things that are not yours to take.

Resolved to honor the institution of marriage

Third, Joseph is resolved to honor the institution of marriage. I assume that if Potiphar had established any arbitrary boundaries for Joseph, Joseph would have honored them. But there was nothing arbitrary about the one boundary that Potiphar did set: he has not “kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife” (v. 9, italics added). This is an objective moral boundary that expresses God’s moral design for life in this world.

As Scripture says in Genesis 2, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become on flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) After quoting Genesis 2:24, Jesus then makes this comment: “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:6) This is why adultery is such a grievous sin, because it assaults the marital bond that God made. Marriage is not an institution of human origin; marriage is not a random social arrangement; marriage is not playdough for human beings to exercise their own creativity upon. Marriage is one man and one woman, joined together by God Himself, in conjugal union. You don’t mess around with it: “you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:17). “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Hebrews 13:4) “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10)

Joseph is resolved to honor the institution of marriage, and this means very concretely that he is resolved to honor the marriage between Potiphar and Potiphar’s wife. Even though Potiphar’s wife isn’t seeking to honor her own marriage, Joseph will honor it!

Resolved to honor God

Fourth, and most importantly, Joseph is resolved to honor God. Thus far I have spoken mainly about Joseph’s commitment to demonstrate goodness and faithfulness to his earthly master, which is itself an expression of loving your neighbor. This is very important in the battle against temptation, for we have to think about the entire picture, and love for your neighbor is an important part of that picture. But it is not the most important part of the picture. Your neighbor is not ultimate. Your earthly master is not ultimate. Your relationship with your neighbor is not ultimate. Ultimately, the picture of your life and the reality of temptation must be understood in reference to the Lord – the Creator, Lawgiver, Redeemer, and Judge. After all his comments about his master and his master’s boundaries and his master’s marriage, Joseph’s capstone comment is the most important of all: “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”

God-centeredness is the key to resisting temptation

Take this to heart: being God-centered is the key to resisting temptation and refusing to sin. “The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.” (Proverbs 8:13) “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.” (Proverbs 3:7) The godly man is attentive to the Lord, the Lord’s will, the Lord’s design, the Lord’s instruction – and the godly man is resolved to walk accordingly. Proverbs 2:1-19 shows us the way for a man to be delivered from the adulteress woman: the man who hungers and thirsts for God’s words (Proverbs 2:1-4) and who comes to “understand the fear of the LORD” (Proverbs 2:5) is the man who “will be delivered from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words” (Proverbs 2:16).

Friends, we live in a God-made, God-ordered, God-ruled world. It is morally insane to seek to live life and make choices on the basis of your own independent reasoning, or on the basis of a human being’s suggestion, or on the basis of a godless society’s groupthink illusions. Groupthink illusions are all around us. Stupid people’s suggestions are all around us. Your own susceptibility to independent, fleshly, and rebellious thinking is legion. You must humble yourself under God’s almighty hand, have your ears open to His words, and have a heart that is ready to understand and obey what the Lord says. Man is fickle; God is true. The temptress, for all her outward seductions, brokers in stolen waters that lead only to death; God gives living water to those who ask. Sin is “great wickedness” (Genesis 39:9); but when you “bind [steadfast love and faithfulness] around your neck” and “write them on the tablet of your heart”, then “you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3:3-4).

Have a profound distaste for great wickedness

The Book of Genesis is designed to give you a profound distaste for great wickedness. Observe Genesis 6:5 – “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” “[The] earth [was] filled with violence” (Genesis 6:13) in those days. The final result: righteous judgment through a global flood that destroyed all flesh, save Noah and those who were with him in the ark. Observe Genesis 13:13 – “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.” The tree of pride and self-absorption produced the ugly fruit of sexual perversion (see Genesis 19:1-29, Ezekiel 16:49-50, Jude 7). The result: righteous judgment through fire and brimstone from heaven that destroyed all inhabitants, save Lot and those who were with him. Observe Genesis 38:7 – “But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD put him to death.”

Notice that in all these examples of wickedness it is clear that it is the Lord’s standard and the Lord’s assessment that matters. Who cares what men think? So what if you belittle or ignore another finite creature? Er “was wicked in the sight of the LORD”. The men of Sodom were “great sinners against the LORD.” In the days of Noah, “[the] LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great”. As Joseph was a man who feared the Lord, the thing that mattered to him most of all was the Lord’s standard and the Lord’s assessment: “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”  Who gets to define sin? God does.

Understand and honor the boundaries that God has set

You have to know the boundaries that God has set and be resolved not to violate those boundaries. Do not violate the boundary of your neighbor’s life: no murder (Exodus 20:13). Do not violate the boundary of your neighbor’s marriage: no adultery (Exodus 20:14). Do not violate the boundary of your neighbor’s property: no theft (Exodus 20:15). Do not violate the boundary of your neighbor’s reputation: no false witness, no lying, no malicious slander, no careless gossip (Exodus 20:16). Do not even desire to violate any of these things: no coveting (Exodus 20:17). Even more importantly, do not violate the boundary of worship: worship the Creator alone on His terms according to His words (Exodus 20:3-6), “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23, 24), and do not worship and serve any creature (Romans 1:18-25).

Hold the line and honor the Lord

Hold the line on the boundaries that God has established. Say with Joseph: How can I sin against God? How can I sin against the God who made me? How can I sin against the God who holds my very breath in His hand? How can I sin against the God who has faithfully been with me, and who has graciously supplied me with everything I need to do His will, and who has generously blessed the work of my hands? How can I sin against the God who has redeemed my life from the pit and set my feet upon a rock? How can I sin against the Lord who loved me and gave Himself for my sins to deliver me from the present evil age? How can I sin against the Lord who shed His blood in order to cleanse my heart, and who gave me His Spirit in order to strengthen me in the battle against sin? How can I sin against the Lord who loves righteousness and hates wickedness, who will one day welcome His righteous ones into glory but will also bring judgment upon every unrepentant sinner? “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4) This is our Christian birthright: “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God the Father who planned my salvation before the foundation of the world? How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against the Lord Jesus Christ who purchased my salvation with His blood on Calvary? How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against the Holy Spirit who applied this planned and purchased salvation to me personally when He birthed me into the family of God?

No fooling around

Brothers, we have no business fooling around with the temptress. We have no business fooling around with the perversions of this evil age.  We have no business fooling around with the unwholesome bombardments that the adversary and advertisers are throwing at us. We have no business fooling around with the crude, the lewd, or the pornographic.

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Ephesians 5:3-5)

What do you really want? Do you want to see God? “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) Do you want God’s holy presence to be your portion, joy, and strength in this life? Then you will have to walk in the same way that Joseph walked.


Joseph drew a line in the sand (v. 8-9)

Joseph drew a line in the sand. He didn’t just think to himself the words of verses 8-9, but he spoke those words to Potiphar’s wife. He made his convictions evident and clear. He didn’t beat around the bush, but got right to the point.

Joseph persevered (v. 10)

Of course, Potiphar’s wife was not persuaded, and she kept tempting Joseph “day after day” (v. 10). But as often as she tempted him, with the very same frequency “he would not listen to her” (v. 10). Joseph didn’t pay lip service to godliness; godliness was the serious and earnest commitment of his heart, and he persevered in it.

Joseph fled (v. 11-12)

On one particular day, the temptation reached a crisis point: Joseph found himself alone (v. 11) in the house with Potiphar’s wife, and she became forceful in her attempt to capture Joseph: “she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.”” (v. 12) A polite refusal was not possible in the heat of this moment, and so he fled, leaving his garment in her hand. The apostle Paul says, “Flee from sexual immorality.” (1 Corinthians 6:18) Though primarily a matter of the heart, there are times when the fleeing must be expressed through very concrete action. Joseph had to physically flee from the temptress.

The temptress flips the script (v. 13-18)

Don’t have any illusions about whether the tempters and temptresses and seducers of this world love you. They don’t love you one bit. If they did love you, they wouldn’t be seeking to allure you into sin which leads to death. But if they do not succeed at trapping you in their schemes, don’t be surprised when they flip their sweet talk script and throw you under the bus. Potiphar’s wife kept up the guise only as long as she thought it possible to capture Joseph for adultery; once that door was closed, she spun a deceitful narrative that resulted in Joseph being captured and sent to prison (v. 13-18). If the temptress couldn’t capture Joseph one way through seduction into adultery, then she would capture Joseph another way through malicious deception into prison.  

The New Testament says: “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” (1 John 3:13) The unrighteous hate the righteous; the ungodly persecute the godly; the devil’s servants malign and slander the Lord’s servants. If you have your head on straight, then you will see through the attractive exterior, and you will realize that the person who is attempting to lure you into sin is not cool, nice, or adventurous – such a person is rather a tool in the enemy’s hand to destroy you. “Be not envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them” (Proverbs 24:1).

Joseph in prison (v. 19-23)

As I conclude this message, here’s what I want you to see in the final verses of Genesis 39. What I want you to see is that Joseph was strong in the Lord before and during the temptation (v. 2-12), and he continued to be strong in the Lord after the temptation and imprisonment (v. 21-23). Yes, he was put into prison (v. 19-20). But the next verse is crucial: “But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love” (v. 21). Joseph had fought the good fight and kept the faith throughout the time of testing, and now on the other side of that particular battle, he still got to enjoy the gracious presence of the Lord, and (as verses 21-23 go on to tell us) he still got to enjoy the generous empowerment of the Lord. Better to be thrown into prison with the Lord, than to retain all the comforts and privileges of being the chief manager of Potiphar’s estate while indulging in great wickedness against the Lord. Better is the little that prison affords with righteousness, than the bounty back in the master’s house with unrighteousness.


Sin was crouching at the door of Cain, and he yielded to the temptation, and afterward he “went away from the presence of the LORD” (Genesis 4:16). Sin was crouching at the door of Sampson, and he yielded to the temptation as he fooled around with Delilah, and though a believer, his strength was diminished and his influence reduced because of his sin. Sin was crouching at the door of King Saul, and he yielded to the temptation as he disregarded the word of the Lord, and consequently the kingship was taken away from him and the Holy Spirit, who had been given to him to empower him as king, departed from him. Sin was crouching at the door of King David, and he yielded to the temptation in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite, and though a believer, the thing that he did displeased the Lord, and David brought much trouble upon his household. Sin was crouching at the door of the church in Sardis, and many yielded to temptation such that though they had a reputation for being alive, they were actually dull and unfruitful and about to die. “Remember” and “repent”, Jesus told them. (Revelation 3:3)

Whenever we discover in ourselves a loss of spiritual vitality, we should inquire about our purity, our fidelity, our integrity, and our humility. For the truth of the matter is that the Lord “gives grace to the humble” but is “[opposed to] the proud” (1 Peter 5:5). And the truth of the matter is that “steadfast love of the LORD is… on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” (Psalm 103:17-18) It is no surprise, then, that the Lord showed steadfast love to obedient Joseph in Genesis 39:21. If we get injustice from people, but steadfast love from the Lord, we’re going to be all right! However, if we get approval from people, but judgment from the Lord, then we’re in big trouble! Choose well! Fear the Lord, not people and circumstances.

Brothers and sisters, I have preached these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, or if anyone is at this very moment deeply convicted of sin, then be assured that we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One, who does not want you to sink into despair or get stuck in guilt and shame, but instead wants you to turn from your sin and be cleansed and set free at the cross.

More in The Book of Genesis

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In The House of Grace, Mercy, and Peace

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Joseph's Brothers Go to Egypt

June 9, 2024

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