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Wednesday Devotional - "Loving God, Hating Sin"

Jacob's initial attraction to his wife, Rachel, was powerful. The Bible describes her stunning beauty with the same Hebrew word used to describe the handsomeness of her son, Joseph. Good looks ran in the family. The author of the following verses refers to this, beginning in Genesis 39:6.  

6 Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” 8 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. 9 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?” 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. 11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 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.

With such a handsome young man in her presence, the actions of Potiphar's wife might seem less than shocking. More shocking is the admission that this was also a strong temptation for Joseph. How so? Consider two facets of this story.  

First, there was a huge power differential in this relationship. Compared to Potiphar's wife, Joseph stood powerless. The command, “Come to bed with me!” was not the passionate seduction of a lover; it was the cruel command of an abuser. It was dehumanizing and exploitive. Literally, it reads like a barked command. Joseph is a slave; rejecting his master's wife was, in many respects, unfathomable.

Second, Joseph was emotionally vulnerable. He was alone, not only hundreds of miles away from all family and friends – but spurned by those who should have been closest and most loyal to him, members of his own family. The desire for pleasure, comfort, and companionship, even a flawed imitation of it, was no doubt strong.

It’s hard to conceive of a deck stacked more in the favor of sin. Yet, somehow, Joseph resisted. How did he do it? Consider two things.

First, Joseph was concerned about the human consequences of sin. He recognized that succumbing to temptation would form a hurtful betrayal against his trusting master, Potiphar. As one betrayed by those he trusted, Joseph empathized with his master, and simply could not inflict the dreadful pain he endured upon others.

Second, Joseph saw beyond the human to the divine. This is really spectacular, when you think about it. Joseph – forsaken, stripped of his clothes, thrown into a pit, left for dead and then sold into slavery, carried to a foreign land, and now sexually harassed – was yet still tender toward God, not hardened against him. Somehow, he saw the light of God's goodness, even through the darkness of bad circumstances. Confident of God's love, he loved God too much to sin against him in such a vile way. 

There are many legitimate reasons for obedience to God's commands. We can obey from a mere sense of duty, a desire to do good for good's sake. We can obey because we fear the consequences of disobedience. We can obey because we desire the blessings that only come through obedience, and so on. 

However, while the motivation for Joseph's obedience is multifaceted, his ultimate motivation was loving gratitude toward God. Sinning against Potiphar was repugnant to Joseph because it was also and ultimately a sin against God. 

True power for obedience and growth in holiness isn't so much about suppressing sin. As Tim Keller rightly notes, "Real self-control does not come from suppressing the desires of the heart by the will but by reordering the loves of the heart through one overarching, overmastering, supreme love that puts all the other loves in their place."

Child of God: The story of Joseph shows us a man growing captive to the love of God, and increasngly free from the snares of sin. If you would grow to hate sin, let us first grow in love for God.

You're loved. Don't forget it. 

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Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).