I heard recently about a preacher who had a conversation with a woman. This lady was in her early 30s, was very attractive. She had previously been married but at this point in time, she was very much into the singles scene. But she had just become a Christian, she had just started going to church.
On this particular occasion, she heard this preacher speak to a group of high school students about the importance of being sexually pure. After he finished, she went to him and said, “I need to ask you a question.” She said, “Now what you said, that’s for teenagers, right?”
The preacher said, “Excuse me?” She said, “You know, that whole ’no sex till you’re married’ thing, that’s for teenagers, right?” And she went on to say that she’s now dating, she’s kind of out there in the world, and surely what he said about ‘no sex’, that didn’t apply to people in her stage of life, did it?”
The preacher said, “Let me ask you a question. Has sex outside of marriage made your life better or just more complicated?”
And almost immediately, she teared up and said, “More complicated.”
He said, “That’s why it’s not just for teenagers. It’s for everybody.”
You see, I’m absolutely convinced that what the Bible has to say about sex is not only true (because God said it) and it’s not only relevant to our day and time, but beyond that, it’s just good advice. Take a look at how views toward sex have changed over the years in our culture, and then ask the Dr. Phil question: “How’s that working for you?” As a society of people, are we better off with an attitude of having sex whenever you want it? Are we happier? Are more people staying together? Are marriages lasting longer?”
You don’t need a preacher to tell you that it just makes your life and your family and your soul and your relationships more complicated when you take this incredible gift of sex and you rip it out of the context that God designed it for. . . when you just put it out there and you say, “Just go with your feelings,” and “Who cares what I’m doing because I’m not hurting anybody else.” What we know when we’re being honest is that it’s not making anybody’s life better.
God makes it clear in the Bible that he intends for sex to be confined to the marriage relationship. Paul writes in I Thessalonians 4, “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor — not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways.” (I Thessalonians 4:3-5, NLT)
I know that some of you will think to yourselves that I must surely be as old as I look, because nobody thinks that way anymore. Maybe back in the 1950’s, you know, the days of I Love Lucy, when even married couples didn’t sleep in the same bed on TV, but hey, this is the 21st century and talk like that is impractical and irrelevant. And so, some of you may walk out of the door at the end of this hour and go back into our sex-saturated culture and say, “Alan just doesn’t get it. But what would you expect him to say. He’s the preacher!”
But God made us. And God knows how we are designed. He knows what’s best for us. And he wants what’s best for us. And so when God says, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” (Hebrews 13:4), it’s not because God wants to deprive us of something fun. It’s because he knows what is truly best for us.
Roy Ortlund has said, “Sex is like fire. In the fireplace it keeps us warm. Outside the fireplace it burns down the house.” And I think that’s a good analogy. Years ago, I would take our son Joshua camping. One of the first things we would do is to build a fire. We collected the wood. We built a fire. And fire is a wonderful thing.
But boys immediately want to put sticks in the fire, get those sticks on fire, and run through the woods because now they have torches. And you have to say to them, “Okay, you need to bring the fire back to the fire pit.”
“But Dad, you built the fire!” And I say, “Yes, because fire is good — right here. It’s awesome right here. But you can’t go running through the woods, like Tarzan, with a flaming stick dropping sparks everywhere in the woods, because then,” LISTEN, “this very wonderful thing becomes very destructive.” Not just a little destructive. Very destructive.
The Bible makes it clear that sex is from God, and it’s a good gift. But it is a gift that God intended for us to enjoy within the commitment of a marriage relationship. And when we take it outside that fire pit and we run all over the place with it, it becomes very destructive.
So, I want us to continue to take a look at the life of Joseph this morning as we talk about the importance of maintaining a life of sexual purity before God. It’s an important message for our young people. But it’s not just for young people. There are older singles who are faced with the temptation to give in to sexual desire. There are those who are married who may be struggling with the temptation to be unfaithful to your spouse.
And there may some of you who have already given in to sexual temptation and have committed fornication. I have something special I want to say to you toward the end of this lesson. But, first, let’s learn something from Joseph.
Genesis 39, beginning with verse 6: “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’
“But he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’”
“So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her. But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’
“But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside.” (Genesis 39:6-12)
I want you to see how this young man was able to maintain a high standard of morality in a world that was very much like ours. I want you to see how Joseph was able to face a very difficult temptation and not give in. And hopefully, in the process, we can learn something that will help us.
But first of all, let’s look at some of the factors that made Joseph’s temptation so strong. There are a lot of excuses that Joseph could have given. For example, he could have said:
1. “Everybody else is doing it!”
We’ve all heard that before, haven’t we? And the sad part is that there is a great deal of truth in that statement. Studies indicate that more and more young people are having sex at an earlier and earlier age. And while everyone isn’t doing it, there certainly are a lot of people who are.
But Joseph could have said the same thing. Joseph was the probably the only God-fearing person in all of Egypt. The Egyptians were religious, but they didn’t serve the true and living God, and they were an immoral people And even those people Joseph knew who believed in God sold him into slavery. Joseph could have said there was no point in following God when nobody else was following him. Joseph had to feel like “everyone else is doing it”.
I think our situation today may be even worse than it was in ancient Egypt. While it was the accepted morality of Joseph’s day, it is the promoted morality of our day. “Do whatever feels good to you. If it gives you pleasure, go for it. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” It’s not just that people are doing it, but if you have any sort of Christian moral beliefs, then you’re ridiculed as some sort of a weirdo or fanatic.
And what that means is that it can be very hard for us to stand up for what is right. It sometimes does feel like we’re the only ones trying to maintain our purity. I understand that.
But I also want us to understand is that we shouldn’t use that as an excuse. Joseph could have, but he didn’t. Another excuse he could have given was:
2. “The temptation was just too great. I couldn’t help it.”
Some people will say, “I have a sexual desire, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about that. You’re asking me to control something that’s impossible to control.”
And Joseph certainly could have said the same thing. When Potiphar’s wife propositioned him, Joseph was about 25 years old. He was in the prime of his manhood. His sexual desire would have been very strong. Also notice the description of Joseph — he was “handsome in form and appearance” (Genesis 39:6). In other words, he was muscular and good looking. To put it another way, Joseph was a hunk!
And so, it’s no surprise that “his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me’ [Go to bed with me, have sex with me].” (Genesis 39:7).
Notice that this wasn’t just a one-time attempt to seduce Joseph. “So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her.” (Genesis 39:10).
If it had just happened one time, then I think Joseph could have easily dealt with it. But it wasn’t just once or twice, but it was day after day after day. Time and again, she said, “Come on, Joseph, let’s go to bed together. Potiphar’s not here. He’ll never know. What could it possibly hurt?” Potiphar’s wife was determined to get what she wanted.
But Joseph refused to give in. He refused to say, “The temptation was too strong. I just couldn’t help it.” As strong as the temptation was, Joseph found the strength to resist.
Another excuse he could have given was:
3. “I’m lonely. I just need to be with someone!”
Potiphar was probably away from home much of the time, so I have no doubt that Potiphar’s wife was probably a lonely woman.
But it wasn’t just her. Joseph was also lonely. His mother had died. He was separated from his father. His brothers had rejected him. He was a slave without any friends who understood or shared his background. Any normal young man desires the companionship of a woman, but in his situation, Joseph might never be able to marry and have sex.
So here were these two lonely people: a handsome, lonely man and a beautiful, lonely woman. It’s important for us to understand that sexual temptation is never just physical. There’s always the good feeling that comes from being desired by someone else.
And many times loneliness is the major factor that leads two people to commit fornication. People give as an excuse for their sexual sin, “I needed somebody.” And, surprisingly, this is the same excuse that is often given by someone who is married who is having an affair.
Because sometimes the most painful kind of loneliness is that of a married person who is physically in the same house with a husband or wife, but is emotionally miles apart. Communication has broken down, or the wife is too busy taking care of the children, or the husband is too busy in his work, and one partner fails to meet the needs of the other. And that’s when Satan puts that temptation in front of us.
It is a great tribute to Joseph that, as lonely as he must have been, he was able to resist the temptation to have an affair.
The Factors That Held Joseph Steady
When you put all these factors together — you have a lonely man who is handsome and with strong sexual desire, you have a woman who is ready and even anxious to go to bed with him tempting him day after day, and you have a society where everybody else is doing it. From a human standpoint, every signal said to Joseph, “Go for it”.
So how did Joseph find the strength to say, “No”? Let me suggest three things.
1. Joseph made the commitment as a young man to live a life of purity
Now, maybe I’m reading between the lines a little bit here, but it seems to me that Joseph made his decision about sexual purity long before Potiphar’s wife ever approached him. I don’t think when she came to him, Joseph had to stop and say, “Oh no, what do I do now?”
It seems to me that, a long before this happened, Joseph made up his mind about lines he would not cross before the temptation came. Young people, one of the best ways to resist sexual temptation is to make the decision now that fornication is absolutely, positively out of the question for your life. To make a commitment that you intend to go into your marriage relationship with the knowledge that you have kept yourself pure.
I want you young people to have that dream. A dream of how wonderful that wedding day can be, knowing that you are able to offer your body in purity to that person you love. I want you to hold on to that dream. Those of you who are not yet married, keep that vision before you. Don’t sell that dream for a bowl of stew by compromising your standards. Let me explain what I mean by that.
In Hebrews 12:16, the Hebrew writer says that we’re to be diligent to remain faithful as Christians, “lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.”
I’ve always thought it strange that the Hebrew writer mentioned Esau when he talked about fornication because that doesn’t seem to have been one of his sins. But I think I see now the correlation between the two. Esau had something that was important to him — his birthright. That was his dream for a wonderful life in the future. But one day Esau got hungry. And he traded that birthright for a bowl of stew (Gen. 25).
Now, at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. Esau was hungry; he needed to eat. And that stew smelled so good. But, before long, he realized what he had done. Esau made a terrible mistake. He gave up something very valuable, and even though he grieved for the rest of his life, he could never get it back. In exchange of just a few moments of pleasure, Esau lost one of the most important things in his life.
And I think it’s clear how that relates to the subject of fornication. A young person has a dream. A dream of a life of sexual purity. But one night, he or she makes a mistake. A few moments of pleasure and the dream is gone. And a lifetime of tears can never bring it back. The Hebrew writer is saying here, “Don’t let that happen to you. Hold on to your dream. Make the commitment now to be faithful to God, and keep that commitment.”
2. Joseph had a sense of loyalty and responsibility to others
The first time Joseph refused Potiphar’s wife, he reminded her that his master trusted him completely and had made him responsible for everything. “He has committed all that he has to my hand….How then can I do this great wickedness?” (Genesis 39:8b,9).
There’s an important principle here that we often forget in connection with sexual behavior, and that is — we have a responsibility to other people. Now, I understand. We live in a selfish society that says, “If it feels good to you, then you do it. Don’t be concerned about others, just do what will make you happy.” But Joseph reminds us that, as the people of God, we have an obligation to consider others.
If you’re single and in a dating relationship, God has given you the responsibility of that person you’re dating. He or she has been entrusted into your care. You are responsible for helping them to maintain their relationship with God.
This principle is at the very heart of our marriage vows. To commit adultery is to break the commitment we have made and to betray the trust of the partner God has given into your care. And when that sex involves someone who is married to someone else, as was the case with Joseph, then it comes down to taking something that doesn’t belong to you.
Joseph realized that he had a responsibility to the people around him.
3. Joseph had a determination not to sin against God.
That was the main source of his strength. He said, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). Joseph realized that committing fornication was more than just a sin against Potiphar, it was something that would offend God.
David realized the same thing after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. In Psalm 51, he said, “Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight.” (Psalm 51:4). Let’s not forget that all sin hurts God. Sexual immorality is a sin against other people, and it’s a sin against the body. But, above all, it’s a sin against God.
So, three things then that helped Joseph to do what was right — he decided early on to commit his life to purity, he was concerned about his responsibility to other people, and he knew in his heart that it was a sin against God.
The Result of Purity
I don’t want to leave you this morning with the impression that making the right decision is an easy thing to do, or that if you make that right decision, everything will just go wonderfully for you. Again, the example of Joseph shows us otherwise.
In spite of every attempt to avoid her, one day Potiphar’s wife caught him by surprise and grabbed hold of his coat. When he tried to get away, his coat came off in her hands. When Potiphar returned, she showed him the coat and made up a story about how Joseph tried to rape her. So, Joseph did what was right, he resisted temptation and he maintained his sexual purity. And what did he get for all that? He was thrown into prison (Gen. 39:20).
Joseph was thrown into prison for maintaining his purity. But I would suggest to you that if Joseph had given into the temptation and had sex with Potiphar’s wife, he would have ended up in a worse prison — in the chains of lust and the bondage of a secret affair. As Jesus put it, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34). And nowhere is that any more evident than in the enslaving power of sexual sin.
What If It’s Too Late?
I’ve been talking this morning about the importance of maintaining our sexual purity. But there may be some of you here this morning who are not at all encouraged by these words. In fact, you may find them depressing because you’ve already given in to the temptation of sexual desire. And so, the question for you is, “What do I do now?” Let me share two things with you.
1. Know that God is willing to forgive you
While there is no way to restore your virginity, there is a way to restore your purity. That may be hard for you to realize. There may be such a feeling of shame in your life that you feel like God could never forgive you. But I want you to know that not only is God able to forgive you, but there’s nothing in this world that would make him any happier than to have the opportunity to forgive you.
In I Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul lists those who will not inherit the kingdom of God and that list includes fornicators and adulterers. Then, in verse 11, Paul says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”
The good news of the gospel is that you can be forgiven of your sin. I don’t care whether that sin is fornication or murder or drunkenness or whatever, God can forgive and God will forgive if you will repent and respond to him in obedience.
If you’re a Christian who has given in to temptation, remember the words of John: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). Don’t ever get the feeling that God can’t forgive you or that he won’t forgive you because he can and he will.
2. Take hold of a new dream
Ezekiel said to the people of Israel who had fallen: “Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” (Ezekiel 18:31).
Whatever you do, don’t allow failures in your life to push you into accepting lower standards. Satan wants to fill you with despair. He wants you to say, “What’s the use? I’ve already messed up. I’ve fallen from my highest standards, so I might as well throw them all away.”
Don’t do that. Begin where you are now. Take steps if you haven’t done so already to seek God’s forgiveness and to be re-clothed with the purity of God. And from this day forward, set your sight on maintaining that renewed relationship.