A long time ago, someone came up with a list of the Seven Wonders of the World, and on that list of ancient landmarks is the Great Wall of China. In ancient China, the people were fearful of an attack by the barbaric hordes to their north, so as a defense, in the 7th century BC they began the construction of a wall that eventually stretched 3,700 miles! It is so massive, it can be seen from space – the only man-made structure to be able to make that claim.
The wall was too high to climb over, too thick to break down, and too long to go around. The Chinese had provided for their complete security – or so they thought.
In fact, during the first 100 years of the wall’s existence, China was invaded three times! Was the wall a failure? Not really – for not once did the barbaric hordes climb over the wall, break it down, or go around it.
How did they get into China? The answer lies in human nature. They simply bribed a gatekeeper and then marched right in through a gate! The fatal flaw in the Chinese defense was in placing too much reliance on building a wall, and not putting enough effort into building the integrity of their gatekeepers. The integrity of the Wall (and all of China) was compromised by the lack of integrity of one soldier.
Integrity. The lack of integrity of that gatekeeper was the chink in the armor of China’s defensive strategy. And, a lack of integrity can put our lives, and our souls, and even our nation, in mortal danger, as well.
What is integrity? One source defines integrity with these words: It is “Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code; The state of being wholesome; unimpaired; The quality or condition of being complete; pure. ”
Thomas Ward, in his study on the life of Joseph, has shined the spot-light on the basic flaw in America today: “Integrity” he wrote, “is one of the main ingredients missing in the lives of 21st century Americans. Situation ethics and the lack of teaching on moral absolutes has contributed to the decadence of our day. Honesty and wholeness of character have become optional.”2
We don’t talk too much about integrity these days, probably because we see so little of it. We look at our politicians and are surprised when one appears to be a person of character and integrity, only to become depressed with they turn out to be corrupt. We look at business people or those on Wall Street, and are hard-pressed to find one who deals honestly and honorably with others. We place our trust and affection in a husband or wife, only to become the victim of their dishonesty and betrayal. We look at priests and pastors and educators, and are saddened when even they are caught having engaged in unethical behavior. Yes, integrity seems to be a vanishing concept in America today.
That’s tragic, because integrity is the foundation of character. It is also absolutely essential for the Christian life. “Gilbert Beers says, ‘A person of integrity is someone who has established a system of values against which all of life is judged.’ Thomas Macauley said, ‘The measure of a man’s character is what he would do if he would never be found out.’”2 Or as someone else has put it even more succinctly, ‘A Christian is a person who always does what is right, even when they know no one else is looking.”
That’s why the Old Testament story of Joseph is so important for us to reflect on. Under incredibly adverse circumstances, Joseph demonstrated that he was an outstanding person of integrity. He remained true to his faith and principles, even when he was the only person in the entire nation who believed in the one true God. He was a man who lived the faith he professed, no matter what the cost.
I think there are a few important lessons we can glean from our scripture this morning, lessons that might help us become people of integrity once again. But before we do that, let me catch everyone up on what’s been happening in Joseph’s life that brought him to this point.
As you’ll recall from last Sunday’s message, Joseph had gotten himself in a great deal of trouble with his ten older brothers by telling them about his dreams that predicted that Joseph would one day reign over them all. The brothers were so angry with Joseph that they sold him to slave-traders, and then led their father to believe Joseph had been killed by wild animals. Once the caravan with poor Joseph in tow reached Egypt, the traders sold the young man to a well-connected officer in the Royal Court, named Potiphar, to become a slave in his house.
But (as the Scriptures put it), “The LORD was with Joseph,” and soon Potiphar came to appreciate the outstanding administrative abilities of his slave. Quickly, Joseph won the trust of his master and was placed in charge of everything in the master’s household – everything that is, except Potiphar’s wife – a woman with a wandering eye and a lustful appetite for sex (I think in this day and age, the term we would use to describe her is “cougar!”). And that sets the stage for the drama of our story this morning.
So what can we learn from the way Joseph dealt with the temptation that was laid before him? Let me make couple of observations:
First, the obvious: A person of integrity can expect to be tested by temptation.
Satan is very persistent. He will come at you over and over, until like those barbarian hordes, he finds a chink in your armor and makes his attack.
As you may know, we have a home in Ormond Beach – a house that backs up into a nature preserve. In fact, our back deck is so close to the woods that we call it our tree house. One of the things I really enjoy about our deck is being able to sit out there and watch all the different types of birds that visit the trees. One time as I was out there, I was fascinated to watch a woodpecker pecking his strong beak into the bark looking for insects. And as I watched, I was amazed at how persistent he was. He would begin to drill a hole, and if the wood was too hard or there were no bugs, he would simply move a couple of inches to the right or left and start again. Over and over he would do this, until he finally met with success.
Satan uses temptation in much the same way. He will try one temptation on us, and then if not successful, will move over a bit and try another. And so he continues, over and over again, until he finds a soft spot in us that he can use to his advantage.
Satan thought he had found a “soft spot” through which he could attack the integrity of Joseph. Joseph was at the peak of his manhood – if he were back in his father’s tents, by now he would have taken a wife. No doubt, this virile attractive young man was just as hungry for sexual satisfaction as was his master’s wife. Potiphar’s wife was a willing, even an eager partner. The house was empty – she had made sure of that. Presumably no one would ever know.
But Joseph was a man of integrity. He knew that his witness for God would be compromised if he surrendered to the temptation to sin.
What is the “soft spot,” the chink in your armor that Satan can exploit to cause you to compromise your faith and your integrity? We all have one – chances are you are very aware – painfully aware – of what that soft spot is in your life. We need to always be on the defense – because, as scripture tells us, Satan is on the attack. St. Peter gives this good advice: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
But no matter how Satan tested him, Joseph was determined to live as a man of integrity, no matter what!
Which leads to our second observation from the story: A person of integrity can overcome temptation.
Everyone faces temptation, and is tested to see if we are people of integrity, or not. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 10:13, when he writes, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”
It’s clear that Joseph understood the dangers of surrendering to temptation. He knew instinctively that if we compromise our integrity, it would mean a loss of honor, of happiness, and of prosperity. A brief fling of pleasure would have long-lasting and irreversible consequences. Proverbs 6:32-33 seems to be address directly to Joseph’s situation: “The man who commits adultery is an utter fool, for he destroys himself. He will be wounded and disgraced. His shame will never be erased. For the woman’s jealous husband will be furious, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge. He will accept no compensation, nor be satisfied with a payoff of any size.”
Joseph was no fool. He knew the consequences if he gave in to the demands of Potiphar’s wife. He escape Satan’s trap – did you notice how? He avoided moral failure by doing three things – a strategy you and I can also use whenever we are confronted with temptation. What did Joseph do?
First, was to REFUSE. What did we read in the scripture this morning: “’Come and sleep with me,’ she demanded. But Joseph refused…”
How could he be so bold as to refuse the bidding of a woman who could have him thrown in jail or even killed? Because he was a man of loyalty and honor. Even though a slave, Joseph felt loyalty to his master who had placed so much trust in him. In fact is that Joseph was more loyal to Potiphar than Potiphar’s wife was! But more than that, he was loyal to the trust God had placed in him.
So when presented with an opportunity to betray the trust others had placed in him, Joseph refused. When we are confronted with temptation to compromise our integrity, do we refuse?
The next technique Joseph used was to RESIST. Our text says: “She kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible…”
Potiphar’s wife had set her sights on her handsome young Hebrew slave, Joseph. Day after day, she continued to harass him, trying to allure him into her bed. This woman would not take “no” for an answer. Even though Joseph had clearly refused her advance, she kept right on advancing, becoming more and more assertive and insistent.
Temptation to sin is like Potiphar’s wife’s advances. We can be resolute in standing firm on our convictions – but then, find ourselves day after day placed in situations that continue to tempt us – little by little, our defenses are weakened, and we become more and more in danger of surrendering. Joseph did his best to avoid being alone with Potiphar’s wife because he knew how easily we can be worn down.
Is there something (or someone) in your life that you need to avoid, lest you be tempted to surrender to sin? Are there things you can do to help you resist that temptation?
Joseph remained true to his faith and his God, and in doing so, gives us an important lesson in how you and I can resist the temptation to compromise our integrity.
When all that failed, Joseph did the only thing left for him to do – RUN! The Bible says: “She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, ‘Come on, sleep with me!’ Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house…”
Charles Swindoll, in his book on Joseph, comments on this scene with these words, “What a clear image! What a practical spotlight on truth from Joseph’s life. What strong biblical counsel. Whenever the New Testament lingers on the subject of sensual temptation, it give us one command; RUN! The Bible does not tell us to reason with it. It does not tell us to think about it and claim verses. It tells us to FLEE! I have discovered you cannot yield to sensuality if you’re running away from it. So? Run for your life!”3
So that’s the wise counsel we can learn from Joseph’s brush with sin. If we are to remain people of integrity, we must be strong enough in our faith to Refuse, to Resist, and to Run from all temptations to sin. Why? Because, as people of God, any sin in our life tarnishes our integrity and compromises our witness for God.
One Sunday, a pastor preached a sermon on integrity. On Monday morning he took the bus to get to his office. He paid the fare, and the bus driver gave him back too much change. During the rest of the journey, the pastor was trying to rationalize to himself how God had provided him with some extra money he needed for the week. But he just could not live with himself, and before he got off the bus, he said to the driver, “You have made a mistake. You’ve given me too much change.” And he proceeded to give the driver back the extra money. The driver smiled and said, “There was no mistake. I was at your church yesterday heard your sermon about integrity. So I decided to put you to the test this morning.”
Friends, your integrity and mine is being tested all the time. Temptation comes in big and small ways, in obvious and subtle ways. Do we pass the test? Or do we surrender to Satan’s attack?
It is so very important that we not compromise our faith when confronted with the temptation to sin. We can try Refusing, Resisting, and Running. But as Christians, there is an even better way – a sure-fire way – to deal with Satan’s attacks. We can learn this truth from the mouth of a little girl.
A very wise little girl was asked a question in Sundays School ho she deals with temptation. This was her response: “When Satan comes knocking at the door of my heart, I send Jesus to answer the door. When Satan sees Jesus, he says, ‘Oops, I’m sorry, I must have the wrong house.’”
Joseph gives us the tools we need to keep our integrity intact. When Satan comes calling, refuse, resist, and if those don’t work – then run for your lives. But Christ gives us the sureest defense. When Satan knocks on the door of your heart, just send Jesus to answer the door.
2 Thomas E. Ward, Sr. Joseph Series: Twelve Weeks of Life-Changing Character Studies on Joseph (internet c.2008).
3 Charles Swindoll. Joseph: A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness. Word Pub. 1998. Page 30