Gen 39:6 So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. Gen 39:7 And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, "Lie with me." Gen 39:8 But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. Gen 39:9 He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" Gen 39:10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.
Other than the examples our Lord set when facing temptation, perhaps the above passage is the best known for resisting temptation and especially sexual temptation. There are several ways people have tried to deal with temptation; some good and some not so good. Origen was said to have castrated himself although that is disputed. But it isn’t all that farfetched especially in a day when men would live on top of poles for years as a way to escape the defilements of this world. Living in monasteries was a similar way to deal with sin and temptation. Its problem was that it assumes sin is in those around you and not yourself. Its fundamental flaw is that the moment you walk into the monastery you bring sin in with you.
Another more biblical sounding way is to approach sin in a more legal way. God has told us what to do and so we obey his commands by doing what he wants us to do and not doing what he tells us not to do. This can be effective in producing some outward morality but it also has some fundamental problems. It often relies heavily on the strength of our resolve which is generally rather weak and it is easy to fall into self-righteous judgmentalism as we see ourselves obeying commands that others do not. It also can easily miss the mark in motivation since without love all our good works can become legalism and self-serving as Paul teaches in Co 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1Co 13:2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 1Co 13:3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
It isn’t just what I do or don’t do, it is why I obey that matters to God. Do I do it because I love him and want to honor him or do I do it to exalt myself in some way? Such a legalist can easily fall into the trap of obeying merely to get some sort of blessing from the Lord and it all can become rather self-serving. Obeying God’s law is good and proper but there must be more to it than just checking off commands. It is the love factor that I think gets to the heart of the matter which is why I quoted Genesis 39 above. After all, if love is the fulfillment of the Law than if it isn’t the heart of what motivates our resistance to temptation then we might be moral but we might not be godly. Jesus is our example of godliness not just because he kept the Law but that everything he did, he did for the right reason; to please the Father.
The case with Joseph deals with the first great commandment to love God with our entire being. Joseph understood that to succumb to temptation would be a sin against the Lord. If we approach sin as merely rules to obey or not then we can come up with any number of reasons why disobedience might be okay. If it pleases me now and there is some vague threat that someday I will pay for it, then it is easy to just live in the here and now and ignore the consequences. But Joseph loved God more than himself and realized that sin dishonored the Lord and that was his primary motivator rather than his immediate gratification.
If we put it in our Christian setting; the Lord is our God but also our Savior who loved the unlovely and died for us that we might escape his wrath and enjoy him forever. Thus, the love of Christ constrains us out of thankfulness to give our lives to the one who saved us from eternal death. It is no accident that Paul says as much in the context of taking the gospel to a fallen world, 2Co 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 2Co 5:15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
If I love God then when he commands me to do something it will be much easier to obey because I know it is for my good and to enable me to honor him that he gives me each command. This is better than just seeing God as someone who doesn’t want me to have fun which is how so many tend to view his commands.
The second great commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. While Joseph might have had this in mind, it is not stated but it is something for NT saints to consider. I think that one of the most effective ways to withstand temptation and especially sexual temptation is by considering the one we will sin with. The root of sin is putting self above all else. If we view a person for only what they can do for me then it will be much harder to resist temptation. But if we see the other person as a soul who needs Christ or one in which we want to grow in Christ’s service, it is going to be much harder to sin with them and against them because our goal is to see good happen to them. True love wants its object to flourish, first spiritually before all else.
In this way love keeps me from sinning because I refuse to see that person as an object to use or abuse but as a soul, created in God’s image that I can minister to. I think a good example of not looking at someone the right way in this matter is Amnon and Tamar.
(II Samuel 13) He was so attracted to her that he ends up raping her and then we read that he hated her as much as he supposedly loved her before. She was only an object to him and since it was all about him to begin with, she is easily discarded afterward. Had he truly loved her his conscience hopefully would have stopped him from hurting her.
It is important for Christians to keep the flames of love burning hot, first for the Lord and this will produce love for one another. When we make decisions based on this kind of love it will be easier to resist falling into such sins. It takes time to develop a mindset that considers the Lord and others before yourself; that controls our thinking and actions throughout the day, but isn’t this what Paul is getting at in Rom 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Rom 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Love transforms our minds from self-centered to God-centered. And we need a good sense of the sinful pit the Lord took us out of if we are to love him as we ought.