Life Lived in the Sight of God
Topic: Character Passage: Genesis 39:1–39:23
Let’s turn to Genesis 39 and then let’s pray.
As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed in the 1800’s, the builder of one of the trestle bridges that spanned a large canyon wanted to test the bridge, so he loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, and left there for an entire day. Amazed at the heavy load the builder was putting on the bridge, one of the workers asked if he was trying to break the bridge. The builder replied, "No, I'm trying to prove that the bridge won't break."
When we look at Joseph’s life, it seems as though God puts more weight on his shoulders than a man could bear: as we saw last week, at the age of 17 he was betrayed and rejected by his brothers, sold as a slave to a foreign land, cut off from his father and his family and his homeland and as far as he knows he will never see any of those things again. Think about what it would be like if that happened to you – if tomorrow you were taken by force away from your family and all the things that are so familiar – that are “home” to you – and taken to a foreign country with no hope of ever returning. That’s a heavy load to bear, but what’s amazing is that Joseph doesn’t become bitter or angry over it, nor does he ever lose hope in God. Joseph’s character stands strong under the weight.
But as we’ll see in chapter 39, a lot more weight will be put on Joseph’s shoulders. This chapter is broken into 3 sections with a different test in each section and as we look at these tests we need to recognize that God isn’t allowing these difficult burdens into Joseph’s life to break Joseph, but to prove him. To prove his character. To prove his integrity won’t break under the weight of tremendous testing. God is both preparing Joseph for the great things He has for him, and proving that Joseph has the kind of character that can be trusted with great things.
God’s greatest work in our lives won’t be in our circumstances, it will be in our character. God will allow us to go through hard times, times of testing, times of adversity – and times of prosperity - to prepare and to prove our character. To refine and reveal what’s in our heart. Ultimately to conform us into the image –the character – of Jesus Christ. God’s not content to slap a veneer of Jesus on us so we talk right and act right just when we’re in church, but to work on our character – down to the deepest fibers of our being so that who we are at the deepest levels is being conformed to the image of Jesus. That’s integrity – that what and who we are, we are through and through. Even when no one else is watching. Integrity is only really proven when it’s tested, and we find the first test of Joseph’s integrity in verses 1-6.
I. The test of success (vv. 1-6)
Joseph was betrayed and abandoned by his brothers and taken away from everyone he knows and loves, but verse 2 tells us that the Lord was with Joseph. This was no doubt a lonely period for Joseph, but he wasn’t alone – the Lord was with him. The Lord never left him or abandoned him. It reminds us of the times that God appeared to Joseph’s forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and his father Jacob, and told them that He would be with them. The Lord never appears to Joseph like he did to forefathers, but He is with him. Even in this dark time. Especially in this dark time. He is with him, and that’s enough.
Let me stop there for a moment and say that when we go through really dark times there is no greater
comfort than knowing the Lord is with us. As Christians we have greater assurances of the Lord’s presence in our lives than Joseph ever had. Jesus is called Emmanuel, God with us. Among Jesus’ last words to his disciples before he ascended to heaven was his promise that he will always be with us – even to the end of the age. No matter how dark things get, no matter how lonely or discouraged or frightened we feel, the Lord is with us. That’s His promise and that’s more than enough.
The Lord was with Joseph and because the Lord was with him, everything he put his hand to succeeds. He became a successful man. When Potiphar sees that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands he puts Joseph over everything in his house (and remember he is a powerful man in the Pharaoh’s court so it’s a big and influential house. And once Potiphar puts Joseph in charge, look what happens:
From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake, the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field.
Thomas Carlyle wrote, "For every one hundred men who can stand adversity, there is only one who can stand prosperity," and Abraham Lincoln said, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
Joseph was experiencing the test of prosperity and power and he passed with flying colors. Verse 6 tells us that Potiphar had no concern with Joseph in charge. Joseph was not only competent, he was faithful. Potiphar could trust Joseph because Joseph was trustworthy. Integrity and faithfulness were woven throughout Joseph’s character.
Why the test of prosperity is so dangerous
Most of us probably think it’d be great to have to endure the test of prosperity for a while. The kind of test where you endure everything going right and making way more money than you could ever need and being on the front page of Forbes as the success story of the year? Lord, I think I could handle that. Bring it on!
The danger of prosperity is that when things are going well and we are succeeding in all we do, it’s much easier for us to think we don’t need God and to forget Him. That never happened with Joseph. He never forgot God or his need for God. Four times in this chapter it says the Lord was with Joseph, but as we read his life it is evident that Joseph was always aware that the Lord was with him and that everything he did was done in the sight of God. So success didn’t go to his head because he knew it was the Lord who was giving it to him – he didn’t deserve the credit. And he could be trusted with the smallest thing even when no one was watching because Joseph knew that Someone was always watching.
It’s a great thing when we run to the Lord when we’re facing failure – to call upon the Lord, to ask for help, to lean hard on His strength in our hardship. But, it might be an even greater thing when we run to the Lord when we are succeeding – to be careful not to steal the credit for our success, to be careful not to be puffed up with pride, to be careful not to think that our success entitles us to make exceptions for ourselves that are unethical. Here’s the wise counsel we learn from Joseph’s life:
Because the Lord is with us, we should live life as if we were living it in the sight of God
As believers the Lord is with us and the more we live our lives in the daily awareness of God’s nearness, the more we will grow in faithfulness and integrity and godliness. And not only does God promise to bless that – maybe not always with material success, but always with true success – but it also protects and guards our souls from dangers that can harm our souls and devastate God’s good plan for our lives in a moment. One of those dangers would soon appear in Joseph’s life. Let’s read together vv. 6b - 20
II. The test of sexual temptation (vv. 6b-20)
The second test Joseph faced in Egypt was a test that, sadly, has destroyed many a man and many a family. It is the test of sexual temptation. After a time Potiphar’s wife noticed that Joseph was not only a high achiever, he was also very good looking, and she began to brazenly demand he sleep with her: lie with me.
Joseph’s answer demonstrates the excellent character he had. He reminds her that his master (her husband) has trusted him with everything – and asks how could he betray that trust? How could he commit this great wickedness (Hebrew carries the idea of a HUGE wickedness) against God? Even in this private interaction between Joseph and Mrs. Potiphar, Joseph knows that God is watching – the Lord is with him and he is living his life in the sight of God. Aware of that, Joseph is faithful to Potiphar, to himself, and to God.
But Mrs. Potiphar is persistent. Look at verse 10: day after day. Even in a prolonged temptation, Joseph didn’t give her any ground. He didn’t listen to her – he didn’t spend time with her trying to talk her out of her sinful desire. He didn’t lie beside her, he wouldn’t even be with her. He gave her a wide berth and didn’t flirt with her temptation in even the smallest way. That is a great example to us – don’t flirt with temptation.
ILL: I heard about a father who told his son not to swim in a canal. The son answered “ok, Dad.” But he came home that night carrying a wet bathing suit. “Why are you wet?” the dad asked. Sheepishly the son admitted he had been swimming in the canal. “Didn’t I tell you not to swim there?” the father asked. “Yes, sir.” “Why did you swim there then?” “Dad, I had my bathing suit with me and I just couldn’t resist the temptation.” “Why’d you have your bathing suit with you?” “So I’d be prepared to swim, in case I was tempted.”
There are ways we can say “no” to sin that leave the backdoor open just crack. We decide we’re not gonna go swimming, but we bring our swim suit just in case. Sin most often doesn’t devastate lives with one big explosion but little by little drawing us in gradually. A married man flirts with a single girl at work – in the beginning he has no intention of committing adultery, but gradually that’s where it leads. A young girl makes a commitment to the Lord that she will only marry a man who is strong in his Christian faith, but decides there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a coke with that guy who likes her even though she knows he isn’t a Christian. Maybe she can witness to him…
A young man sees a link to a website he knows he shouldn’t go to, but he figures a quick look can’t hurt. Sexual sin’s great lure is to convince us that one small step towards temptation can’t hurt. But once we take that first step, the second step is easier and the third even easier and it picks up speed. The easiest time to shut down the temptation is before it hooks our hearts – don’t flirt with it, don’t talk to it, don’t take your bathing suit.
Joseph had nothing to do with her so day she arranged to have all the other workers gone for the day and caught Joseph by his coat and demanded he lie with her. It would have been easy for him to justify giving in: Potiphar needs to stop being away so much – it’s his fault. no one will know. And Joseph’s only a slave, who is he to defy her command? He’s resisted so long already – how long could God expect him to resist any longer. If he had stopped to even consider whether it could be justified he probably would have lost the fight – so instead he flees. He leaves his coat in her hands and runs for his life. This is amazing character and it is borne out of knowing God is with him.
The Bible calls every Christian to a lifelong fight against lust and sexual sin. There are serious warnings about sexual sin because few sins have the destructive power that sexual sin has. Paul tells Timothy to “flee youthful lusts” and he probably has Joseph in mind. In other words, when it comes to sexual sin, the best way to stand fast is to run fast!
Jesus was even more radical when he said that to even look on a woman lustfully is to commit adultery with her – therefore if your right eye offends you than pluck it out – it is better to enter life maimed than hell whole. Now the problem isn’t ever our right eye or our right hand, but it tells us how serious we are to take the fight against sexual sin. Paul warns in Galatians 5 that those who commit sexual immorality will not inherit the kingdom of God – these are strong warnings that the Christian needs to hear and heed. The true Christian will see the rightness and beauty in these warnings and won’t think that grace makes it possible to ignore the warnings of God’s word. It’s not that the fight ever goes away in this life, it’s not that we will ever be perfectly pure, but the Christian needs to fight for sexual purity all his or her life, and when we sin and we confess that sin to God, the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And that fight begins long before the massive moment of testing. Joseph’s preparation to resist didn’t start when she grabbed his coat. His entire life had been preparing him for this moment – he was consistently faithful in little things so when it came to a big thing faithfulness was a built in response. That’s true for us as well – we are preparing for the big moments in the little moments – are we being faithful? Are we living in integrity? Or are we flirting with sin? Are we bringing our bathing suit so that we’re prepared in case we’re tempted? We need to stop: stop going to that place, stop lingering in conversation with that person, stop messing around with those websites – whatever it takes, cut out your eyes, cut off your hands, throw out your computer, quit that job, whatever it takes.
Because the Lord is with us, we should live life as if we were living it in the sight of God
III. The test of an unjust accusation vv. 20-23
We’re gonna be real quick on this one, but Joseph paid a high price for his obedience, he was falsely accused of attacking Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison. Once again the Lord has allowed his life has taken a very bad turn. But Joseph trusts God to work out His good plan no matter how many twists and turns his life takes. And once again the Lord is with Joseph in a dark place and he is put in charge of the prison. Joseph is the same man whether he’s in power or he’s in prison. He has integrity.
Conclusion: (call band up)
Jesus lived in perfect integrity and obedience to God and then he was falsely accused and killed on the cross in order to save us from our sins. None of us have perfect integrity – we trust in the One who does and his forgiveness. If you have sins of any nature – no matter how black – that are haunting you, come to Jesus. Ask Him to forgive you and to cleanse you of those sins. His blood is able to make the foulest clean. But know that repentance means we truly turn from those sins, not make friends with them.
Jesus didn’t just come to save us in our sins, but to save us from our sins. He is with us, in us, empowering us, to say no to sin, to turn from sin, and to walk in holiness and integrity. As we close, that’s what I want us to pray for this morning. Not just forgiveness (although it is precious), but also deliverance. For an excellent spirit. For integrity to be worked through and through. For strength to pass the tests. For eyes to see that the trash this world offers as a substitute could never compare to the glory and treasure that Christ is.
For eyes to see that the Lord is with us, and therefore we should live every minute as if we were living it in the sight of God