Topical Scripture: Genesis 39:6-10
Thomas Edison said of one of his inventions, “The phonograph is not of any commercial value.” Astronomer Simon Newcomb proclaimed in 1902, “Flight by machines heavier than air is impractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible.” Thomas J. Watson, IMB chairman in 1943, announced, “I think there is a world market for about five computers.” At my house, anyway. Not such good investment advice, was it?
$1,000 invested in Coca Cola stock when it went public in 1919 would be worth more than $150 million today. The same investment in Home Depot stock when it went public in 1981 would be worth $1.2 million today. But $1,000 invested in American Motors Corporation or Eastern Airlines, good deals at the time, would be gone today.
This morning I’ll show you the wisest investment you’ll ever make. You already have the capital to do the deal. The broker’s on the line. The choice is yours.
“Joseph was well-built and handsome,” we’re told (v. 6b). The same Hebrew words used of Rachel are translated, “lovely in form and beautiful” (Genesis 29:17). Joseph has been in Egypt for 10 years, and is now 27 years of age. He is a healthy, handsome, successful young man, managing the household affairs of one of the most important officials in the country. If you were 27 and chief of staff for the Secretary of Defense, you’d be in a similar position.
It’s just then that temptation strikes: “after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!'” (v. 7). Ancient historians depict wealthy Egyptian wives as alcoholic and immoral. There’s a story about one Egyptian ruler searched for years seeking a woman he believed would be faithful to him; when he found one, he married her instantly.
This apparently had happened before: “My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife” (v. 9). Why would he need such explicit instructions? I would not need to specify such if I were hiring someone to manage our family’s affairs. This kind of thing was as common in their society as it is in ours.
This is a great opportunity for Joseph. If Potiphar’s wife likes him, there’s no telling how far he can go. On the other hand, if he rejects her he may lose everything. None of the household servants are around; no one will know. It will just be their secret. Everyone does it, after all. What’s the harm? So long as Joseph performs his public duties well, his private life is his own business. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
You’ve met Potiphar’s wife, and so have I. If you don’t commit the public sins which will disgrace you, and you don’t hurt anyone, you’ve done all that morality requires today. What you do on your time is your business. No one has the right to legislate morality anyway.
Private thoughts about coworkers; slander or gossip repeated to friends you trust; Internet sites or late night television; what you do on a date; how you report your personal taxes; whether or not I did my own work on this message; how you handle your billable hours; how you bill the patient’s insurance; how you are with your staff behind closed doors–it’s all your business. You’re in church this morning, and most of you will be in Sunday school shortly. You haven’t murdered anyone or broken any “important” laws this week.
There are two schools of ethical thought, and neither seems to speak to Mrs. Potiphar.
Duty for duty’s sake is one. Do not commit adultery, the seventh commandment orders. “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” Jesus adds (Matthew 5:28). But why? What harm will it do? No one will get hurt.
Consequentialism is the other: the end justifies the means. Do whatever leads to the results you want. Again, there seem to be no consequences here, no down side. Joseph can sleep with Potiphar’s wife and no one will know. You can slander someone to a trusted friend and believe that the person you discussed will never know. Private sins are just that–private.
Yet God’s word clearly requires more of us than external morality:
“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known” (Luke 12:2).
Indeed, “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (v. 3).
Private morality is the cost of public blessing. If you want to fulfill God’s dream for your life, you must pay the price. Joseph had to flee this woman, leaving his “cloak” in her hand (Genesis 39:12). This was his undershirt–he probably ran out naked. And paid the price–unjustly accused of attempted rape, thrown from Potiphar’s palace to his prison. Why was this a wise decision?
Choose to refuse
The “Holy” Spirit cannot use that which is impure. A surgeon must have a sterile operating room and sterile tools, or he cannot operate. God cannot use impure instruments to accomplish his pure and perfect goals.
So, why not sin and confess, sin and confess? Why not do those things which are without public consequence, then confess them to God so that he can begin to use us again? Because there is no sin without consequences.
Jesus said, You cannot serve God and money. You cannot walk in two different directions at the same time.
Every hour spent in private sin is an hour lost to God’s purpose for your life. Every wrong thought prevents the Spirit from leading you with right thoughts. Every day spent outside God’s word and will is lost forever. It is one day subtracted from his dream for us. It makes his dream one day less fulfilled. Private sin limits public blessing, now and forever.
Watch what God does with a man he can fully trust.
Joseph was sent to “the place where the king’s prisoners were confined” (v. 20). Not executed, as was the Egyptian law. Clearly his character was already known to his master, as was that of the man’s wife. The time to build a reputation for honesty is before you’re accused of wrongdoing, not after. Will Rogers told us to live so that you could sell your family parrot to the town gossip. His character saved his life.
And it led to God’s future. In that prison he met Pharaoh’s cupbearer. He would never have known the man if he had remained in Potiphar’s house. He interpreted the man’s dream, and was eventually called to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. And save the Egyptian nation, and his own family, and God’s dream for his life.
So let me ask you, who is Mrs. Potiphar in your life today? Where are you being tempted by personal, private sin, with the lie that no one will know or be hurt, that nothing will happen? Satan is a great economist. He is not tempting you without purpose. He knows what we’re learning today–that private sin limits public blessing. That every day spent outside God’s will is a day lost forever, purpose unfulfilled forever, God’s dream for our lives diminished. Every day. Choose to refuse.
How to refuse
How? What do we do when Mrs. Potiphar grabs us by the cloak? What do we do when we’re tempted to invest our lives in ways which will lead to bankruptcy and ruin?
First, change your broker. Change your situation. Don’t stay and fight. Do what Joseph did–run.
“Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
“Escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:4).
Martin Luther advises us: if your head is made of butter, don’t sit near the fire. Put a picture of your wife on your desk; travel with one you set on the television in the hotel room. Load software on your computer which blocks pornography and alerts someone if you attempt to access it. I so respect a man in our church who quit his job rather than deal with a woman who tempted him.
Invest in integrity now. It will never be easier to choose to refuse than it is today.
Attraction will only grow into addiction; this dating relationship will only lead further into trouble; slander is always made worse by repetition.
Time spent in God’s word and worship; time spent serving his Kingdom with your gifts and money; time spent honoring him with your character and witness is the path to joy and significance. The longer you wait to invest, the smaller your return when you do.
Invest for the long run. Joseph wound up in prison, but then went to the palace. You may lose your boyfriend or girlfriend; it may be hard to give up that secret habit; you may face ridicule at school or work; you may make less money when you change your business practices.
But the long term will always repay the short term loss. Before Joseph could become prime minister of Egypt, he had to pay the price. With God, the result is always worth its cost.
Who is your Mrs. Potiphar this morning? What private sin is trying to limit God’s dream for your life? How will you respond to its deception today? Will you pay the price of personal integrity? Will you make the wisest investment in all of life?
Several hundred years ago on the island of Cape Hatteras, off the shore of North Carolina, there were men called “wreckers.”
They fastened a lighted lantern to the head of an old horse, and walked up and down and back and forth on the beach. Out in the Atlantic, ships searching for a passage through the islands would mistake that bobbing light for the stern light of a ship they assumed had found safe passage. So the ship would turn inland and run aground on the shoals.
In the morning, these “wreckers” would gather timber from the wrecked ship for their houses, utensils for their kitchens, and money for their wallets. It was a lucrative business. Across the years, some 2,300 ships perished off this coast, either by accident or the treachery of the “wreckers.” Today visitors to the area are shown old houses built and furnished with material take from those ships.
Who is the “wrecker” enticing you today onto the shoals of your soul?