Overcoming Temptation

There was a cartoon once where one character asked another, “why is it that opportunity knocks only once . . . but temptation knocks persistently? One thing is for sure . . . temptation is a subject we are all familiar with and could all use some help with.

Temptation is like a telemarketer,

  • it comes to us when it is least convenient
  • it comes back again and again
  • it keeps pushing even after you say “No”
  • it makes what it is selling sound great . . . but there is always a catch

Temptation is something we all have to deal with in our lives. So, this morning as we look at the life of Joseph, I want to show you two different temptations that Joseph had to overcome. I will show you what Joseph did and what principles we can take for our lives. And even if you don’t face the exact same temptations . . . you face something similar.

Chapter 39 begins with these words,

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt, Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. 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. (Genesis 39:1-4)


Think about Joseph’s situation. He had been his father’s favorite. He was leader over his brothers. He had bold dreams about the future and sensed God’s rich blessing on his life. Then, his own brothers attacked him and sold him as a common slave. He didn’t have the chance to say good-bye to his father or his brother Benjamin. Suddenly that sense of being specially blessed was gone. Ahead of him now was an uncertain life of servitude and humiliation. We wouldn’t be surprised to see him depressed.

You see, we know what this situation is like. At least many of us do. Life is going along and then the bottom seems to fall out.

  • we lose our job
  • a relationship crumbles
  • our health departs
  • the thrill of success gives way to feeling unknown and unappreciated
  • pressures in the workplace or home threaten to overwhelm us
  • our reputation is tarnished by untruth and innuendo

In these times it is easy to despair. It’s easy to withdraw, to get depressed and to sing over and over, “Why me, Lord.” I’ve been there . . . and you probably have to. In these times we are tempted to turn away from God. But at Joseph doesn’t turn away from God but instead he serves faithfully. In fact, he is such a good worker that he gets promoted. Potiphar sees that Joseph is blessed and that he is getting blessed because of Joseph. How did he overcome this despair?

First, Joseph made a Decision to Trust. We don’t know when Joseph made this decision, but it is obvious that he did. Joseph chose to dwell on the character of God rather than the pain of the injustice. He chose to continue to walk in faith even though it was difficult. He chose to believe that God was at work even when He didn’t see what God was doing. Joseph understood that true blessing comes from walking with God and does not have anything to do with our circumstances. Perhaps you’ve heard this story. . .

Michael was the kind of guy you love to hate. He is always in a good mood and always has something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, “If I were any better, I would be twins!I asked Michael once, “How do you do it?” Michael replied, “Each morning I wake up and say to myself, Mike you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or you can choose to be in a bad mood. I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life.“Yeah, right, it’s not that easy,” I protested. “Yes it is,” Michael said. “Life is all about choices. when you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people will affect your mood. You choose to be in a good mood or a bad mood. The bottom line is this: It’s your choice how you life your life.”Several years later Michael was involved in a serious accident, falling some 60 feet from a communications tower. After 18 hours of surgery and weeks of intensive care, Michael was released from the hospital with rods in his back. I say Michael about six months after the accident.When I ask him how he was, he replied. “If I were any better, I’d be twins. Wanna see my scars? I declined but did ask what went through his mind as the accident took place. “The first thing that went through my mind was the well-being of my soon to be born daughter.” “Then. as I lay on the ground, I remembered that I had two choices: I could choose to live or I could choose to die. I chose to live.”When they wheeled me into the ER and I saw the expressions on the faces of the doctors and nurses, I got really scared. In their eyes, I read ‘he’s a dead man.’ I knew I needed to take action.”

“What did you do?” I asked. “Well, there was a big burly nurse shouting questions at me,” said Michael. “She asked if I was allergic to anything. ‘Yes’, I replied. The Doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for my reply. I took a deep breath and yelled, “Gravity.” Over their laughter, I told them that I am choosing to live and they should operate on me as if I am alive, not dead.

We have a choice, a deliberate choice, in every circumstance whether we will trust God or something or someone else. Joseph chose to trust God. He choose to move forward living confident that God was doing something in his life . . . . even if he had no idea what.

Joseph determined to serve the best He could in whatever circumstance he was in. If Joseph was going to be a servant . . . he would be a servant to the glory of God. If he was to be a prisoner he would be the best prisoner in the jail. Joseph sought to honor God in every circumstance. This is what Paul was telling us when he said, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)

Joseph could have complained. He could have whined about the fact that he wanted to be in management rather than in labor. He could have whined that he was not being used to his fullest potential. He could have spent his life complaining that he had gotten a “bum rap”. But he didn’t. Instead he served God where he was.

You may not be where you would like to be. But are you willing to trust God where you are and serve Him to the best of your ability? Will you find some way to give your best as an offering to the Lord of life? Will you stop whining and start looking for ways to honor God right where you are? That’s what Joseph did. And that is the only way to overcome the temptation to despair over life’s circumstances.


The main temptation comes from Potipher’s wife. Let’s go back to the text,

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his masters wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused. “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. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. 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!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. (Genesis 39:6-13)

Joseph was in an extremely difficult situation. He was still rather young, lonely, and his hormones were probably assaulting him. Surely he was flattered that Mrs. Potiphar was interested in him. It made him feel good. I think this was a very real temptation for Joseph. But he overcame that temptation. And in this account Joseph does five things that will help us not only refuse the temptation to immorality . . . but to resist just about any temptation.

First, He Refused Immediately. We read that Mrs. Potiphar was very direct in her approach and Joseph refused. This is important because we have a tendency to walk as close to sin as we can get before we try to get away. It is true of immorality and it is true of every other sin. The longer we wait to say “No”, the harder it is to do so. Instead of acting decisively against sin we flirt and see how far we can go without “getting into trouble”. We stare. We imagine. We fantasize. We say “No”, but we play with “yes”. We return again and again to play “the game.” But this is foolishness. The more we play, the weaker we become. Before long we have lost perspective and developed desires that are powerful and destructive. The moment we allow ourselves to debate the merits of wrong behavior we have given the devil a foothold.

Author Jerry Bridge wrote,

One day as I was studying 1 John 2 I realized that my personal life’s objective regarding holiness was less than that of John’s. He was saying in effect, “Make it your aim not to sin.” As I thought about this, I realized that deep within my heart my real aim was not to sin very much . . .Can you imagine a soldier going into battle with the aim of “not getting hit very much”? . . . We can be sure if that is our aim, we will be hit — not with bullets, but with temptation over and over.” {The Pursuit of Holiness p. 96]

So, first we must refuse immediately.

Second, He Counted the Cost Realistically Joseph didn’t just refuse to do something “because it was wrong” (even though that should be reason enough). He had a realistic view of what was at stake.

  • it was a violation of trust . . . Potiphar trusted him. His trust was so great that he didn’t concern himself with anything while Joseph was around. To give in to Mrs. Potiphar would be to treat that trust as if it were nothing. How could he do this to someone who had been so kind? His credibility would be gone. His character would be destroyed.
  • it was a violation of marriage. “My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife.” Joseph understood that marriage settled the issue. It was not even open for debate.
  • it was a sin against God. Immorality is wrong! It is to go contrary to God’s direction. Joseph knew that disregarding God’s law is to alienate ourselves from our strength and hope.

The biggest problem in temptation is that we focus on what there is to be had and we seldom consider the cost. This is a very helpful process. Let me give you a couple of examples,

The person tempted to immorality would consider

  1. the grief they would bring to the Lord
  2. the reality that some day they will have to stand before Jesus and give an account of their decisions
  3. the people that they will be stealing from (a present spouse, a future mate)
  4. the undermining of the faithful example and hard work of other Christians in our community
  5. a loss of credibility and opportunity to serve and minister
  6. the threat of disease and pregnancy
  7. the embarrassment and disappointment to those who are my family and friends

But this can work for any situation. Consider the cost of gossiping,

  1. I will be acting contrary to love
  2. I will not be building a person up . . . but tearing them down
  3. I may inflict a wound with my words that will never heal
  4. I may have the wrong information
  5. The Bible tells me that I will have to give an account for every idle word
  6. I will be showing others that I am untrustworthy
  7. I will be compromising my witness.

If we take the time to look beyond the momentary thrill to identify the consequences of our actions . . . we would better resist temptation of many kinds. So we must beware of acting on impulse. We must confront the rationalizations that so quickly come to mind.

Third, He resisted the Pressure Persistently. Notice that Joseph resisted even though she spoke to him day after day. He refused to go to be with her “or even be with her”. Joseph had to have some contact with Mrs. Potiphar but he tried to avoid her as much as possible. He was a smart man. He was also a strong man.

The text doesn’t say it, but I suspect she may have dressed provocatively when Joseph was around. She made lots of eye contact. She took every opportunity she could to touch Joseph. And you can hear her,

  1. Potiphar is gone for the day . . . no one will ever know.
  2. Just this once!
  3. Potiphar hasn’t been a very good husband . . . I deserve some happiness too, don’t I?
  4. Just come close and hold me . . . .it won’t go any further
  5. We won’t be hurting anyone

It takes great strength to resist this persistent pressure to sin. Mark my word, whatever you are struggling with will be something that seems to bombard you everywhere you go. When Satan senses vulnerability he does not turn away quickly. We must choose to trust, say no immediately, and remind ourselves of the cost of the this sin and we must do it again, and again, and again.

Fourth, He Avoided Tempting Situations Strategically

Notice that Joseph stayed away. He didn’t go looking for trouble. Joseph was smart enough to know that no matter how strong he was . . . he could not constantly invite temptation without putting himself at risk. So . . .he avoided Mrs. Potiphar as much as possible.

If you know that something will be a situation that will tempt you . . . . stay away! If you know that there are friends who will encourage sin . . . avoid them. If you know that certain practices will stir up sinful emotions or dull your sensibilities. . . stay away. If you know that certain people are a temptation for you, stay away from them or make sure that someone is always with you when you see them. If you know that certain situations always bring out the worst in you . . . avoid those situations.

Fifth, Joseph Fled the Trap Decisively . Joseph’s job brought him into the household. He had no choice. He tried to avoid Mrs. Potiphar but it was inevitable that they run into each other. So, one day Joseph walked unknowingly into a trap. The house was empty. The servants were all gone and Mrs. Potiphar made her move. She grabbed Joseph and sought to seduce him. Joseph didn’t try to reason with her. He ran away!

Sometimes you need to simply get out of the situation that is causing the problem. Jesus tells us to take decisive action, “if your right eye offend you . . . cut it off.” Paul told us to “flee sexual immorality.” This was not a figure of speech . . . it was a battle plan. This is not the time for explanations. It is not the time to be polite. Your window of opportunity is small . . .run!

We heard about the tragic death of golfer Payne Stewart. Something happened in his plane that incapacitated everyone. The plane went wildly off course and chase planes noticed ice on the windshield. They concluded that this meant the cabin had lost it’s pressure. This meant there was no oxygen.

One of the experts explained that in a situation like this warning lights go off and oxygen masks are supposed to drop from compartments overhead. The authority said, “If these masks are not put on immediately, one will be rendered unconscious.” He said there was only a matter of seconds to take the correct action. Any hesitation could be fatal. In this case it was.

Temptation is like that. Our “window of opportunity” is small. We must act quickly or we too will be overcome.


As I hope you have seen . . . the issue of temptation is practical and pertinent. As I mentioned, we have been talking about Joseph and his despair and the temptation he faced regarding adultery. But this message is also applicable to the temptations you struggle with.

  • the temptation to get even
  • the temptation to tarnish someone’s character with your words
  • the temptation to spend what you don’t have
  • the temptation to eat more than you should
  • the temptation to cheat another
  • the temptation to manipulate a situation
  • the temptation to rain on someone else’s parade
  • the temptation to adopt the world’s philosophy rather than the Lord’s.

And it even applies to the most wicked temptation of all: the temptation to turn away from or spurn the Lord’s offer of everlasting life. Of all the things Satan wants to keep you from . . . this is number one on the list. If he can turn you away from Christ through adverse circumstances . . . he will do it. If he can turn you away by giving you lots of stuff to keep you distracted and oblivious to your need for salvation . . . he will do it. If he needs to fill your head with foolish thinking, you will be surrounded with sincere sounding fools. If he needs to make you religious . . .he will do it. Just so you don’t turn to Christ.

So, if you are one of those who has been “on the fence” regarding your Christianity, if you are one who has “done church” but has never received Christ, I hope you will apply the very same strategy,

  1. Choose to trust God and what He has done for you in Jesus
  2. Refuse the temptation to put it off to another time
  3. Count the cost of continuing to put off settling the issue of eternity . . .count the benefits as well
  4. And decisively turn to Him right now.

I don’t know what temptation you struggle with today but I hope you have found some wisdom in this morning’s message. It is true that Joseph was charged with rape and then sent to jail. Do you wonder if while Joseph sat in jail he ever wondered if it would have been better if he had just slept with her? I don’t think so. Joseph may have been in jail but he still had his integrity. He still had his character. He still walked before God as one who does not need to be ashamed. I’m sure the prison experience of Joseph was not a good one. But I’m also sure that Joseph would rather have had that prison than the prison of regret, guilt, and eternal separation from God. And, I think, when everything is seen in it’s proper light . . . you would too.

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