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“Honoring God in Our Lives”

Genesis 39:1-23
Bob DeGray
September 21, 2008

Key Sentence

When God is with you, you honor him in actions and attitudes.


I. Honoring God by our good work(Genesis 38:1-6, 20-23)
II. Honoring God by our integrity (Genesis 38:6-10, 16-20)
III. Honoring God by fleeing temptation (Genesis 38:11-15)


I want to start this morning by reminding you of one of the great promises of Scripture, perhaps the central promise of Scripture. It’s a promise of comfort, it’s a promise of hope; a promise of challenge if we take it seriously. It’s a promise that reveals God’s heart, God’s plan and God’s love. It’s a promise that motivates us, a promise that elevates us.

It’s the promise of the God of the universe: “I will be with you.” I don’t have to walk you through the countless places in Scripture that repeat and amplify this promise. I’ve done it before and many of you know these verses.

But this has already been the promise of Genesis. God said to Abraham “Walk before me and be blameless . . . I will be your God.” He said to Isaac “Stay in this land and I will be with you.” He said to Jacob “Behold, I am with you wherever you go.”

This is God’s great and precious promise. We treasure it on the lips of Jesus “I am with you always, even to the close of the age” We long for it in Revelation 21: “Now the dwelling place of God is with man and he will live with them.” And in times like these, when we’ve been Iked, the promise becomes even more precious, as in Isaiah 4 where God’s presence is a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.

This promise is woven through Scripture, so that even when we look at the life of Joseph, we cannot and need not escape the implications of this promise. In Genesis 39 the thread running through all the verses is simply ‘the Lord was with him.’ Joseph is admirable in this chapter, in his attitude and his actions, but we won’t understand them, we certainly won’t be able to imitate them, until we tie in this thread. When God is with you, you honor him in your attitude and actions. And God is always with us; thus we should honor him always in our attitudes and actions.

So when we last left Joseph in chapter 37 he had been sold to some Ishmaelite slave traders. Chapter 38 was a rather sordid interlude in Canaan, which for most of you was thoroughly Iked: I went through Judah’s story last week while most of you were away. Eventually I’ll put the message online. Chapter 39 returns to Joseph’s story.

I. Honoring God by our good work(Genesis 38:1-6, 20-23)

Verses 1 through 6: 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.

2The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.3His master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. 4So 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.

5From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6So he left in Joseph's care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.

Joseph is sold into slavery in Potiphar’s house. Think about the culture shock. He’s stepped from the life of a rural clansman in a backwards country of tiny kingdoms to the greatest culture then known, probably the greatest culture since the flood, though the Chinese might argue that. Already Egypt had passed the height of it’s pyramid building eras. The great pyramids at Giza were probably built around 2650 BC. Joseph probably arrived around 1750 BC, almost nine hundred years later.

But Egypt has not declined from its pyramid building days, only moved on to smaller but more elaborate pyramids and other kinds of temples and monuments. These undertakings required Egypt to maintain a culture of centralized government and of slave labor to provide workers for the building projects. Joseph, however, was purchased not as a field slave but as a household slave in the house of Potiphar, one of Pharoah’s high officials, captain of the guard, or possibly chief of executioners.

Now, notice verse 2: “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered.” This is the key to the chapter. Joseph had been violently and maliciously separated from the home and family and father he loved, but nothing can separate us from God. Even in Egypt, the Lord was with Joseph.

Even in Friendswood, even in Galveston, even in Ike, in our recovery from Ike, in our ministry because of Ike, the Lord is with us. Things may not go the way we want. Circumstances may be frustrating, even catastrophic but “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And when God is with you - which he is - you honor him in your attitudes and actions. The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered. Verse 3: His master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand.

The thing I see here that may not initially be obvious is that is Joseph worked. The Lord did not pour out success and effectiveness on idle hands, but caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. Joseph had a responsibility here, which he appears always to have willingly taken, to work hard and smart on behalf of his master, and later the jail warden, and later the Pharaoh. God will bless active doing on his behalf. He cannot - he cannot bless sitting. Joseph honored God by his work.

The New Testament agrees: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.” Joseph never read those verses - but he lived them.

So he’s in Potiphar’s house, he’s working hard and smart, and Potiphar notices. He begins to give him more and more responsibility and soon he puts Joseph in charge of the whole household, eventually in charge of the whole enterprise ‘in the house and in the field.’ And as Joseph continued to serve whole-heartedly, the Lord blessed Potiphar for Joseph’s sake, so much so that it says ‘with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.’ Potiphar was still the master, Joseph still the slave, but Potiphar trust him because of his good work. As Joseph honored God with his attitudes and actions, God was with him to bless.

Let me indulge in a theological rabbit trail here. A truth often emphasized by theologians is the omnipresence of God: God is present everywhere. But if God is always present everywhere anyway, what does it mean to say ‘God was with Joseph?’ Wayne Grudem, in his ‘Systematic Theology’ would say “although the Bible does speak of God being present everywhere, when the Bible says that God is present it usually means that he is ‘present to bless’”. This is what David is talking about when he says ‘in your presence there is fullness of joy’ and what the prophet is promising when God says ‘when you pass through the waters I will be with you.’

This is what we see perfectly in the life of Joseph - God was with him - ‘present to bless’. His presence was a source of comfort and peace and strength to do well in difficult circumstances. We find the same thing at the end of the chapter. Joseph has been brought low again. Lower than a slave, he’s now an inmate.

Verses 20 to 23: Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined. But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph's care, because the Lord was with Joseph and prospered him in whatever he did.

Did you see it in verse 21? “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness.” His chesed, his loving-kindness, faithful covenant love. The lower Joseph goes the closer God gets. And that has been the testimony of his people ever since. I myself felt that presence at 4:00 a.m. Saturday. While the storm was raging against our windows, while I worked to catch driven water, I had a couple hours of the peace that comes from the blessing of God’s presence.

So again, because of his own hard work and smart work, and at the same time because of God’s blessing, Joseph finds favor, in the eyes of the prison warden. Joseph is given responsibility for the whole prison. The warden didn’t have to worry about anything, because Joseph worked hard and was wise, and because the Lord prospered him in whatever he did. When God is with us, which he is, we should honor him in whatever we do, and he will bless it.

II. Honoring God by our integrity (Genesis 38:6-10, 16-20)

That doesn’t mean we won’t have rough times or reasons to question God’s blessing. It doesn’t mean we’ll never have a hurricane. Certainly Joseph had a her-icane, but he weathered her with integrity. Let’s back up to last half of verse 6: Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, "Lie with me!" 8But 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. 9No 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?" 10And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to lie with her or even be with her.

Integrity means placing the good of others and the honor of God above our own desires. Joseph is a twenty year old healthy handsome young man. There’s no human reason he should have been able to resist this temptation. The only thing that can sustain any of us in the temptations we face is integrity and the desire to honor God.

That’s what Joseph displays here. Faced with overt blatant temptation to sin, the first thing he does is refuse. When we are faced with temptation, whether it is temptation to sexual sin, temptation to anger, temptation to lie, to be lazy, to be selfish and self serving, whatever the temptation, whatever sin is our weakness, the first response we need to train into ourselves is to refuse. We will never fight temptation if we’re not aware of it until after we have sinned. Pray for sensitivity so you can refuse.

But having refused, Joseph grounds his refusal in integrity. When we refuse, temptation says ‘Oh, why not?” And Joseph has a good answer. First, it would hurt others; it would have grave consequences. I’ve made a commitment to Potiphar. He’s given me a position of responsibility. If I violate that trust I will harm him and myself.

This is great thinking when tempted. ‘Okay, self, carry this to the logical conclusion: I give in to this temptation; I get caught out in it; in the lie; in the sexual sin; in the selfishness. When I do I will gravely, maybe catastrophically disappoint someone, maybe many people who have trusted me. I will lose not only that trust, but whatever responsibility, position or privilege that trust has earned me.

We need to say “I can’t do this - I would injure my wife, my family, my church, my business, my boss, my father, my mother. They’ve trusted me: integrity says I must be trust worthy.”

Joseph’s second reason looks upward: I would not only violate the trust of others, but I would dishonor God. sin against God. One of the great disciplines of the Christian life is to get so close to God that it matters what he thinks about you. Just as what your wife or husband, your parents or children thinks makes a real difference - and it’s proven when you insist you don’t care what they think - so also your intimacy with God should be so great that what he thinks makes a real difference.

We hurt God when we sin; we hurt Jesus who suffered and died for us, bearing the wrath for each sin. We distance ourselves from the one who loves us most when we sin against his standards and his revealed will. The Gospel message is that God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die for our sins, to bridge that chasm sin had created between us and him. He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed by our iniquities and the punishment that brought us peace was upon him. And when we believe, all that suffering is applied to our debt, and we are redeemed, cleansed and freed.

Why then would we want to continue the very behavior that brought Christ such pain and that separated us from God? Joseph is asking himself “What’s more important? This sinful opportunity, or the presence of God with me in these circumstances?” And he gets the right answer. Integrity is revealed when Joseph seriously thinks of the horizontal consequences for himself and others, and of the vertical consequences between himself and God. This is good thinking.

I believe integrity is also revealed by the silence of Joseph when he is accused. Verses 16 to 20: She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17Then she told him this story: "That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house." 19When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, "This is how your slave treated me," he burned with anger. 20Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined.

After the central incident of the passage, which we’ll look at in a minute, Joseph finds himself unjustly accused. But rather than make a defense before Potiphar, Scripture records only silence. It’s my opinion that Joseph was unwilling to bring the counter accusation against Potiphar’s wife because of the harm it might cause to Potiphar and to his marriage. He didn’t want to reveal the woman’s character, though I suspect Potiphar knew what kind of wife he had. Joseph, in integrity, didn’t bring that charge, though it meant his name would be disgraced and he’d go to prison.

So we’ve seen that when God is with us, as he is today, the response of his people is to honor him in our actions: working hard and smart at what he calls us to do, in whatever position he places us. And to honor God by integrity; refusing sin by thinking of it’s consequences horizontally and vertically. But temptation is persistent, and Joseph shows us that sometimes we honor God by running away.

III. Honoring God by fleeing temptation (Genesis 38:11-15)

Verses 11 to 15 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12She caught him by his cloak and said, "Lie with me!" But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. 13When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14she called her household servants. "Look," she said to them, "this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to lie with me, but I screamed. 15When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house."

Notice, in verse 11, that Joseph is continuing to honor God by his work; attending to his duties. But temptation is persistent: Potiphar’s wife will not give up her immoral desires. So she takes hold of him. This always makes me think of 1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Joseph had borne this temptation by refusing to compromise his integrity. But now he has to find another way of escape. “She caught him by his cloak and said, "Lie with me!" But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.” Run away. There may be no better advice when in the grip of temptation. Run away. Don’t worry about what you might leave behind, or the impression you might make or the pleasure you forsake or the promotion you might lose. Run away.

If there is a place in your life that is a temptation, don’t go there. If there is a person in your life who is a temptation, sever the relationship. If there is a circumstance in your life that causes you to sin, find some way to change the circumstance. And if temptation takes hold anyway, find another way to run away. God is faithful. He will provide a way of escape: look for it; take it.

The problem is that sin makes you stupid. Or more accurately, temptation makes you stupid. That’s why you’ve got to train yourself to respond to temptation with the heart, the mind and the will. You’ve got to have Joseph’s instinct to refuse first. If you’re tempted to anger or some other sin that’s going to flare up in an instant, that instant refusal is what will save you until your mind can kick in. You’ve got to also imitate Joseph’s willingness to think through the consequences, to envision the hurt that sin will cause to the heart of God and to your relationship with him, and to envision the damage this sin will cause to your relationships with others.

But if that’s not enough, if temptation makes you too stupid to respond to those arguments, you’ve got to have trained yourself to run away. I remember when I worked for Exxon, one of the safety instructors emphasized over and over again that if you see a gas cloud, you don’t go in and try to fix it. You run away and raise the alarm and get the proper people in the right protective clothing to fix it, but you - run away.

The classic story which we’ve enjoyed several times is the one about the hole in the sidewalk. I’ll repeat for those who might be new. It’s called “It was called "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" from a book of poems by Portia Nelson.

Chapter I: I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in I am lost . . . I am helpless It isn't my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in the same place. But, it isn't my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III: I walk down the same street There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in . . . it's a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

Chapter IV: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

Chapter V: I walk down another street.

My prayer for myself and for you is that we would walk around the holes in our sidewalks, that we would not fall into temptation and sin. Because when God is with us we honor him by our actions and attitudes.

That’s what we’ve seen. Joseph does honor God. He works hard and he works wise. He responds to temptation with integrity, desiring to honor others and to honor God. And when temptation seizes him, he has the good sense to run away.

But we’ve also seen that it’s not all about Joseph and his integrity, it’s not all about us and our choices. It’s about a God who has chosen to be with us in all this. God was with Joseph. God is with us. Therefore let’s honor him with our attitudes and behaviors.