Serving Christ and sharing the Gospel

Joseph in Potiphar’s house (Gen 39:1-23)

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Welcome to the third instalment of our summer series in the life of Joseph! If like me, you’ve been on holiday and missed the last couple of weeks, let me recap on the story so far:

  • Joseph was a young man who lived in the land of Canaan. His father’s name was Jacob and he had eleven brothers.
  • Joseph was Jacob’s favourite son, and he gave him a beautiful coloured coat, which made his brothers jealous. They disliked Joseph even more when he started having special dreams. Special dreams that said his brothers would one day bow down to him!
  • So his brothers sold Joseph to some passing merchants, who rode off with him into the sunset. They must have thought they’d never see their annoying brother ever again!

As we resume the story this morning, Joseph has been taken to Egypt and sold as a slave. Not a slave of any old person, but the slave of Potiphar - a powerful and wealthy man - a senior official of Pharaoh, the King. What’s more, Joseph was allowed to live in his master’s luxurious house!

As we look at what happened next, we’ll encounter Joseph’s talents, his temptation, and his God.

Joseph’s talents

I don’t know what special skills or talents you may have. Perhaps you have a head for numbers, are a good sportsman, or a computer wizard? Or maybe you can play beautiful music or write poetry? We all have God-given skills or talents of some kind.

It seems God gave Joseph a talent for administration. Our passage suggests God had given Joseph great skill at organising things in Potiphar’s house. He must have been excellent at making sure that bills were paid, mouths were fed and every room kept clean. Whatever he did, Joseph was successful at all the work he did for Potiphar.

In fact, Potiphar was so impressed that he made Joseph his official attendant. He trusted Joseph enough to put him in total charge of his house. Our passage says that Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.” Potiphar was very blessed to have talented Joseph in his home!

And what’s more, we’re told in verse 3, that Potiphar “saw that the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in everything he did”. Potiphar was wise enough to see that Joseph’s skills and successes came from God - just as our own abilities are gifts from God. Wonderfully, Potiphar was pointed towards the Lord by the way Joseph worked hard and used his God-given talents.

Joseph should be a great example to us, whatever skills or talents we have - whatever type of work we do:

Like Joseph, we should work hard with the abilities God has given us. How we can express our gratitude to God for what he’s given us. When we’re given presents on our birthday or at Christmas, we unwrap them and use them, don’t we? We wouldn’t be very grateful if we left them in their box! We show we’re grateful to God by putting our talents to good use!

Joseph also blessed Potiphar by using his God-given gifts. Whenever we use our God-given talents well, we too will help, entertain or encourage other people. At the end of the day, its selfish not to use our skills to serve other people – whether that’s at home, in church, at work, school, or in our community. You may be just the person your boss, your teacher (or your vicar!) is looking for to perform an important task.

Best of all, when we work hard and use our God-given gifts, we may succeed in pointing people toward him. At work our employers will notice if we Christians are more hardworking and trustworthy that those around us. They may well want to know what makes us tick, and ask us about our faith. Hardworking Christians can create great opportunities to tell their colleagues about Jesus.

Joseph’s temptation

Potiphar must have been so pleased to have Joseph ‘on his team’ – he was his star player, his greatest asset. It seems he trusted Joseph to do anything he wanted in his house. Anything except one, that is. Joseph was not allowed to share a bed with Potiphar’s wife. This was a ‘house rule’ that even Joseph wasn’t allowed to break!

Unfortunately, this good rule got Joseph into temptation and trouble, because Potiphar’s wife tried to trick him. Potiphar’s wicked wife kept trying to get Joseph to break her husband’s rule.

We all face temptations of one kind or another, don’t we? We all face people or situations that tempt us to think, say or do something wrong. It can be very hard to behave God’s way, when we’re being pulled in the opposite direction by other people or by our own desires.

Fortunately, Joseph gives us a fantastic example of how to defeat temptation. He kept saying “no” to Potiphar’s wife, and shows us how to say ‘no’ to sin ourselves. So here are Joseph’s two top tips for avoiding sin, for resisting temptation:

Firstly, Joseph had strong beliefs and clear convictions. He knew in his head what was right and wrong. So when Potiphar’s wife spoke, he knew straight away what she’d said was wrong. Joseph was clear in his mind that God would want him to obey Potiphar, not betray him. Joseph clearly knew it was wrong to break his master’s house rule. So he was able to say a firm “no” to Mrs Potiphar’s temptations.

Like Joseph, we too should have clear convictions about what is morally right and wrong. God’s Word, the Bible, is very clear on all the important moral choices and ethical decisions we face in life. One good reason to read the Bible regularly is to develop clear convictions on what’s right and wrong. Convictions we can ‘quote to ourselves’ in the face of temptation.

Secondly, we should notice that Joseph fled from temptation. We’re told that he tried to keep away from Potiphar’s wife as much as he could. And when she did eventually get him alone, he wisely ran away as fast as he could!

In the same way, we should try and avoid those people or situations that might lead us into temptation:

  • Avoid people whose words put bad ideas in your head, or those people whose company tends to lead us astray.
  • And avoid times and places when we might be tempted to say or do something we shouldn’t.

Flee from sin, says the Bible - don’t flirt with it!

So let’s follow Joseph’s top tips, and pray that God will give us Bible-based convictions on what’s right and wrong, and give us the ability to flee temptation whenever it comes our way.

Unfortunately, just as Joseph’s colourful coat had got him into trouble with his brothers, Joseph’s cloak got him into trouble with Potiphar. Because verse 12 today says that Potiphar’s wife grabbed his cloak when Joseph ran away from her. She used to tell a lie to Potiphar about Joseph - she said he had tried to attack her.

Sadly Potiphar believed his wife’s lie, and had poor Joseph thrown into the royal prison! As Joseph was led into his cell, he must have thought his career had come to an end. He must have thought his God-given talents would now go to waste. He must have feared being very alone.

Joseph’s God

As we go through life, we all have times of happiness and sadness - time when things are going well, and times when they are going wrong. We all need someone who’ll be alongside us in good times as well as bad. Thankfully, God there was for Joseph, and can be for us as well.

Verse 20 today tells us that even while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him”. In his prison cell, Joseph was without a job, without his family and without his freedom. But the Lord was still with him, just as he had been with him in the past.

If we are Christians we are God’s children, and the Bible promises that the Lord will never leave us or forsake us either. He will stick with us wherever we are – high in the sky or under the sea, and all places in between!

What’s more, God is always working for our good. Sometimes his good purposes will be obvious, when he blesses us with things - like health and happiness.

But sometimes, God lets bad things happen to us, just as Joseph experienced when he was thrown into prison. Sometimes it’s hard to see what God’s doing, but we can trust that he is still with us and still has a good and perfect plan for our lives. Think of Jesus, who was betrayed, arrested, imprisoned and executed. Yet his suffering was all part of God’s plan to glorify his Son and save his people from their sins. And over the next few weeks we’ll see why God let Joseph end up in the king’s prison. It prepared him for great power in Egypt and put him in a position to save his whole family. But Joseph didn’t know all that at the time. He had to trust that God had good plans for his future - and so do we today.