This morning we’re going to look at how to handle temptation. There’s not a person who has walked this earth – including Jesus Christ – who has not faced temptation. And there’s not a person on this earth – except for Jesus Christ – who has faced temptation who has not yielded to it. It’s a daily battle. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a twentieth century German martyr, compared temptation to a smoldering fire that bursts into flame without warning. Whether we’re talking about sexual desire, ambition, vanity, revenge, fame and power, or greed, we all face temptation daily.
See if you can relate to what one person has written about his struggle with temptation:
“I’m so full of myself. What I don’t understand about myself is I decide one way but end up acting another way doing the things I absolutely despise. I can’t seem to be trusted to figure out what’s best for myself and then do it. I need something more. A power within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions. I obviously need help and I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good but I really can’t do it. And when I decide not to do bad, then I do it anyway. My decisions don’t result in better actions. Something gets the better of me every time. And it happens so regularly that it’s predictable. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me?”
Can you relate to his struggle? Paul wrote in the Romans 7:
I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good. But I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things. (Romans 7:15-17)
So we’re going to look at how to handle temptation.
One of the greatest examples of how to handle temptation is the man we’re looking at. His name was Joseph. If you were here last week, you heard the first part of his story. Joseph has one of twelve sons in what you would call a very dysfunctional family. His brothers were so jealous of him that they sold him into slavery, and told their dad that Joseph was dead. When we left Joseph last week, he was on a caravan on his way to Egypt as a slave. He was in a worse situation than he could have imagined. The favorite son had been sold as a common slave.
As we pick up the story in Genesis 39, we find that Potiphar, who we learn is the “captain of the palace guard”, had purchased Joseph. Potiphar was in charge of an elite, courageous band of men on the personal staff of Pharaoh. You could think of Potiphar as the head of the secret service, or even as chief executioner of Egypt. Potiphar isn’t a man that you would want to mess with. He held the power of life and death.
Notice that two things are not mentioned. First, we don’t know how long Joseph had been in Egypt as we begin to read Genesis 39. It could have been two months; it could have been ten years. We also don’t know how Joseph adjusted to this new situation. Joseph had to adjust to a new culture and a new position. But we do learn in Genesis 39:2 that “The LORD was with Joseph and blessed him greatly as he served in the home of his Egyptian master.” It wasn’t long before Joseph was placed in charge of Potiphar’s entire household.
And it was here that Joseph faced one of the greatest temptations imaginable. What happened? He experienced sexual temptation. We notice in this passage that temptation has five characteristics:
1. TEMPTATION IS STRATEGICALLY TIMED
When does Satan tempt us? Satan looks for a time that we’re vulnerable. He waits until it’s just the right moment before he hits us with a strong one. In Joseph’s case, the timing was perfect for Satan to tempt him. He was far away from home. He was a slave. He was probably lonely. His prospects for marriage probably wouldn’t have been great. In addition, he was experiencing some success. Somebody has said, “The temptations that accompany prosperity are far greater (and more subtle) than those that accompany adversity.” Satan strategically timed the temptation for the period of greatest impact.
When will you be tempted? When you’re vulnerable. You may be away from home. You may be at a real low point. Or it may be after a period of great success. In times of prosperity, we can expect temptation. Temptation is strategically timed for those periods in which we are most vulnerable.
Verse 6 gives us the second characteristic of temptation:
2. TEMPTATION IS STRONG
Genesis 39:6 says, “Now Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man.” Now, you don’t get that type of comment in the Bible very often. In fact, the Bible only says that of four people in the Bible. But here we discover that Joseph was a normal, desirable, hot-blooded young man. Joseph was every bit as human as we are.
The passage continues, “And about this time, Potiphar’s wife began to desire him and invited him to sleep with her” (Genesis 39:7). There’s a technical term for the approach that Potiphar’s wife is taking here. It’s called the direct approach. Now, here you have a hot-blooded young man who’s been through a lot, and the wife of a powerful man offering her body to Joseph. And we learn here the first characteristic of temptation: temptation is strong.
Anyone who tells you that they don’t struggle with temptation is lying to you. We all struggle with temptation. We might struggle in different areas, but one of the reasons we all struggle is that the pull of temptation is incredibly strong. For most of us, this will include the area in which Joseph was tempted. Every day we’re tempted sexually. You can’t open a magazine or a newspaper, watch the TV, or even walk down the street without encountering temptation. You will be tempted in your thought life. You may even be tempted to action. It’s a temptation that is there for the young, and it’s a temptation that never really goes away with age.
Some of us have other struggles. Some people don’t struggle so much sexually, but they’re tempted in other ways. Let me tell you this: the devil knows your postal code. He knows where you live. He knows what works to tempt you. If one thing doesn’t work, he will find another until he finds your area of vulnerability. Temptation is strong.
We discover the third characteristic of temptation in verse 10:
3. TEMPTATION IS PERSISTENT
Verse 10 reads, “She kept putting pressure on him day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could only deal with temptation once? Wouldn’t it be great if we could body-slam temptation and score such a decisive victory that it didn’t bother us again? But that’s not reality. We can win over temptation today, but tomorrow’s coming. It’s a battle that we face daily. It’s a struggle that we’ll live with for the rest of our life.
Here’s a truth we all need to realize: temptation is not a sign of spiritual immaturity. Even Jesus was tempted, and Jesus was perfect. You and I are going to be tempted for the rest of our lives. Temptation is persistent. We have to deal with it every single day.
4. TEMPTATION IS AVAILABLE
Potiphar’s house was a rich one. Most likely, there would have been three stories. The servants would have been more or less confined to the first floor. It would have been very easy for Potiphar’s wife to summon Joseph to the upper floor where they would have been alone. No doubt, she was doing everything to make herself available to Joseph – visually and otherwise. There was plenty of opportunity for Joseph to give into the temptation.
Satan rarely tempts us without giving us an opportunity to fall into that temptation. If you’re being tempted in an area, let me guarantee you that you will have plenty of opportunity to g ive into that temptation. If you’re being tempted, you really need to watch out, because you will be given opportunity to fall into that temptation.
5. TEMPTATION IS DAMAGING
One of the things we hear today is, “As long as it involves two consenting adults, it’s nobody’s business. It’s not hurting anyone.” But the reality is that when we give into temptation, it is incredibly damaging. It damages our families. It damages us. It damages our relationship with God.
Joseph said in verse 8:
“Look,” he told her, “my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. No one here has more authority than I do! He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I ever do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.”
Giving into temptation would have being damaging to Potiphar. It would have been a betrayal of the trust that Potiphar had put in him. But even more important, Joseph said it would have been offensive to God. It would have been deeply offensive to God and his holy standards.
When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he said to God, “Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). We’re taught that extramarital sex is okay because nobody gets hurt. But people do get hurt. And most importantly, God is offended. We violate his commands for how to live. We are ultimately sinning against him.
Now, why did God set certain rules in the Bible? Did he make arbitrary decisions? Was it to spoil our fun? To make sure we didn’t start to enjoy life too much? Not at all. God’s laws were given for our benefit. They were given to protect us – to prevent us from hurting ourselves. I read this week of the benefits of following God’s laws in the area of marriage. You’re aware that the national divorce rate is 1 in 3. Did you know that couples who live together before marriage have a 50% greater chance of divorce than those who don’t? For those who were married in a Christian wedding ceremony, the divorce rate is 1 in 50. For those who were married in a Christian wedding ceremony, and who attend church weekly, read the Bible and pray together, the divorce rate is 1 in 1,105. Following God’s laws is beneficial. That’s why temptation – even what we think of as victimless temptation – is dangerous to ourselves, to those around us, and is offensive to God.
That’s temptation. It’s strategically timed and strong. It’s persistent and available. And it’s always damaging – to ourselves, and ultimately to God.
Now, we’re going to face temptation, but we don’t have to give into it. You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from making a nest in your hairdo. You can’t stop Satan bombarding your mind with ideas but you can decide to not dwell on them. You can take steps to handle temptation.
How do we do it? What is going to help us stand up to temptation when it comes? Four steps that we can take:
1. ANTICIPATE IT
Anticipate temptation. Don’t be surprised by it. Don’t be intimidated by it. Don’t be shocked by it. Instead, be prepared.
When temptation comes we usually have three common reactions:
Shock. “How in the world could I think a thought like that?”
Frustration. “Why do I keep falling in the same area over and over?”
Discouragement. “I’ll never change!”
But none of these reactions are particularly helpful. Instead of being shocked, frustrated, or discouraged, anticipate temptation. Its power will be diminished if you anticipate its arrival.
What did Joseph do? Genesis 39:10 reads, “She kept putting pressure on him day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible.” Joseph knew what to expect. He didn’t wake up one day and say, “Where did that come from?” He pretty well knew that Potiphar’s wife equaled temptation. And he wasn’t surprised when, day after day, she continued to tempt him.
Jesus said, “Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!” (Matthew 26:41). What does it mean to keep alert? It means that we see it coming. Be prepared for it. Be ready for it. Don’t be surprised. Just know where it’s coming from – “It’s just the devil again.”
The minute you give your life to Jesus Christ, Satan has a contract out on you. Twenty-four hours a day, he’s plotting your downfall. He’s looking for ways to exploit your vulnerabilities and weaknesses. He’s looking at ways to make you stumble. The Bible says, “Be careful! Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). So don’t be surprised. But don’t panic either, because the Bible says, “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Satan is a schemer. But once we resist his schemes, he goes into full retreat.
Anticipate temptation. Don’t be surprised by it.
The second step to resisting temptation is:
2. ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY
Accept responsibility for the temptations that occur in your life. Don’t blame others for it. Don’t blame God for it. Accept responsibility for it yourself.
Listen to what Joseph said to Potiphar’s wife:
“Look,” he told her, “my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. No one here has more authority than I do! He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I ever do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.” (Genesis 39:8-9)
Joseph could have shirked responsibility. He could have pulled a Flip Wilson: “The devil made me do it.” He could have blamed Potiphar’s wife. He could have said that 99 out of 100 men in his situation would give in. But he didn’t. He took responsibility before God and before his boss.
Today we live in an age of no responsibility. We have no fault insurance and no fault divorce. We tend to think of ourselves as victims – victims of our upbringing, victims of circumstance, victims of other people. But the reality is this: we bring most of our problems upon ourselves. We are our own worst enemy.
How do you take responsibility for your actions? You do it by being honest with yourself and with God. You stop fooling yourself. You say, “Who am I kidding?” You stop making excuses. The time that we spend thinking up excuses would be far better spent avoiding the need for them. Don’t make excuses. Adam sinned. He blamed Eve. Eve blamed the snake. Ever since then, we’ve been blaming others for our own sins. Stop blaming others and take responsibility yourself.
If you’re facing temptation right now, you’re facing a secret habit or hang up or hurt, you’re never going to find freedom until you stop fixing the blame and start fixing the problem. Stop blaming somebody else, even when other people have hurt you, it’s your reaction that’s causing the problem. Your reaction, your resentment, your bitterness, your guilt, your anger, your fear, whatever is causing the pain to be prolonged.
One day you’ll stand before God and your life will be an open book. On that day, you’ll have no one to fall back on. You’ll have no one else to blame. So accept responsibility for how you respond to temptation.
Step three in handling temptation:
3. AVOID IT
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I like temptation. I may not give in and sin, but it sure can be fun to get as close to that line as possible!
How did Joseph deal with temptation? Genesis 39:10 says, “She kept putting pressure on him day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible.” Joseph took steps to deal with the temptation. He avoided her. He kept out of her way. In fact, when the time came that she grabbed him by his shirt, we read, “Joseph tore himself away, but as he did, his shirt came off” (Genesis 39:12). That’s the third key to resisting temptation. Once you’ve anticipated it, take steps to avoid it.
One of the promises that we need to claim when tempted is 1 Corinthians 10:13:
But remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it.
God never allows us to be tempted without providing us with a way to avoid falling into the temptation. Temptations themselves are unavoidable, but God always provides a way out. We need to take that way out as soon as possible.
It’s common sense that if you hang around a barber shop long enough you’re eventually going to get a hair cut! If you don’t want to get stung, stay away from the bees! If you don’t want to get burned, don’t get close to the fire! If you don’t want to fall off the cliff, don’t hang off the ledge saying “Wow! It’s a long way down!” The goal is not how close to the temptation can I get and not get burned. The goal is, “How far away can I keep from it?”
Proverbs 14:16 says, “The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with great confidence.” A fool thinks that he can handle it. He thinks that he can wade right in and get close to the danger, and not be singed. Who are you kidding? You need to analyze when you’re the most tempted – when you’re the most vulnerable – and as much as possible, avoid those situations. Somebody has said, “He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot for weeds.”
Where are you most tempted? Is it in airports? On business trips? At home when you’re alone and all the kids are off to school? After school? In a parked car? During the week ends? When I’m watching television? You need to be aware of the situations that cause you to stumble and then avoid those things. Stay away from them.
By the way, this may have drastic consequences. It may mean that you have to end some friendships. It may mean that you have to switch jobs. It may mean that you have to cancel your cable or Internet, or at least get a filter. It may mean that you have to be downright rude in handling a situation. But don’t be gentle. Suffer the consequences – Joseph did. He was jailed on a false accusation. But he stood his ground and avoided the temptation.
You may lose your job. You may lose your lover. You may lose acceptance by your friends. You may be the only one who’s “not doing it.” You may be ridiculed. It doesn’t matter. Anticipate and avoid temptation. Take responsibility for it.
There’s one more step on how to handle temptation.
4. ASK FOR GOD’S HELP
The most important thing we can do is to ask for God’s help in handling temptation. You and I aren’t strong enough to handle temptations ourselves. We need help. We need God to come alongside us and give us strength.
God has a 24-hour hot line system. You can call him anytime. He is willing and waiting to help you with any temptation. He’s not blown away by it. He doesn’t say, “No kidding!” He’s not surprised. He already knows everything going on in your life. He just wants you to admit it.
Why does God want you to come to him? Because he sent His son, Jesus Christ, to earth and Jesus went through everything you went through which means he understands. You have a sympathetic God. He knows what you’re going through.
Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.” I don’t know what temptations you are facing right now, but you can come right to God’s throne. He will give you all the grace that you need to go through whatever you’re facing, right when you need it.
Think about it: Jesus went through every temptation that you’ve been through. Was he tempted to be proud? Yes. Was he tempted sexually? Absolutely. Was Jesus ever tempted to completely blow his cool? He was. He was tempted in every way that you are. There’s only one difference. He never gave into the temptation. He remained sinless.
Two applications of this:
- Jesus is sympathetic. He knows what you’re going through. He wants to help you. He knows your willpower isn’t enough. He’s available to help the minute that you call out.
- The other application is this: Jesus can take care of your sin problem. He can make you into a new creature. He can take all your sins and your failures away, and bear them himself. The Bible says, “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus can be that offering for your sins today.
How do you handle temptation? Anticipate it. Accept responsibility for it. Avoid it. And most of all, ask God for help.
What are you waiting for? Some of you have been waiting years to take this step of asking God for help. Today is the day. Today is the day to come to him and invite him to help you with your sins.
Pray this: “Jesus Christ, I want to accept your salvation today. I want to put on the helmet that will protect my mind. I ask you to come into my heart and life to save me and forgive me and help me start a brand new life. In Your name I pray, Amen.”