When we face temptation, we tend to think only of ourselves. Rarely do we consider how our actions might affect others. But temptation is an interpersonal issue that draws people into a tangled web and damages relationships. This was certainly the case for Joseph in Genesis 39. After he gained Potiphar’s trust, he faced a temptation that threatened to ruin everything for him: “After a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me’ ” (Gen 39:7).
How could a vital young man flee such temptation? It might not be that difficult to refuse an advance like this one time, but the Bible makes it clear that Potiphar’s wife was persistent. Joseph was equally persistent in his refusal: “As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her” (Gen 39:8). So how did he do it?
Joseph established boundaries and refused to cross them: his obligation to Potiphar and his obedience to God (Gen 39:8–9). He knew that yielding to temptation would affect more people than just Potiphar’s wife and himself. It would damage his relationship with God, destroy Potiphar’s respect, and cost him his position—even shatter Potiphar’s relationship with his wife. So Joseph refused to compromise his integrity, even though his decision launched him in prison when Potiphar’s wife, feeling snubbed by his rejection, accused him of pursuing her.
We find stories of temptation throughout the Bible. Adam and Eve are tempted to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:1–7). Jesus teaches the disciples to pray for protection from temptation (Matt 6:13). And Paul writes to the Corinthians that God won’t let us be tempted beyond our abilities since He is faithful (1 Cor 10:13). Those stories focus primarily on individuals’ struggles with temptation. But what we learn from Joseph’s story is that dealing with temptation has bigger ramifications: It involves other people, and it involves God Himself.
In many ways, Joseph’s response to Potiphar’s wife anticipates Matthew 22:37–40, where Jesus sums up the Law and the Prophets in two commands: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When we refuse to give in to temptation, we, like Joseph, demonstrate our love for God and our neighbors by remaining faithful to our relationships with them.
This adapted excerpt, courtesy of Logos Bible Software, is from Joseph: Understanding God’s Purpose. This eight-week self-study program on the life of Joseph comes with graphics, reflection questions and “fill in the blank” boxes where users can record and save their answers. Abraham can also be purchased as a complete church curriculum which adapts the study material for small group study and preaching. Purchase the book or the curriculum today.
Derek R. Brown is a contributing editor at Logos Bible Software. He holds a PhD in New Testament Studies and Christian Origins from the University of Edinburgh and a Masters of Christians Studies in New Testament Studies from Regent College.