I remember this annoying friend I had in high school. She had a habit that irritated me to no end. Anytime I tried to engage her in gossip, she wouldn’t participate. It drove me nuts.
“I can’t believe so-and-so did that!” I would say at the lunch table, trying to lure her in.
Then, subject change or—gasp!—she would say something positive about the person I was trying to gossip about in a malicious manner. The nerve.
In the high school cafeteria I would just roll my eyes and turn to someone I could trust to indulge my gossiping habit. Deep down, however, I knew I greatly respected and admired this “annoying” friend for avoiding temptation and speaking kindness rather than slander. That’s why she and I are still close friends today—because I’ve always seen a lot of God in her, and I’ve always been drawn to that.
When we read the story of Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39, our knee-jerk reaction is to mark her as a villain. And rightly so. She was a seductress. A temptress. She tried “day after day” to lure in Joseph, a godly man (v.10). We girls at the lunch table would have used inappropriate and colorful language to describe her.
Yet, we girls at the lunch table are completely capable of being just like her on our worst days. We can be the temptress, the seductress, the solicitor of sin—even to our own Christian brothers and sisters.
We are also capable, on our best days, of being Joseph.
Joseph worked hard to avoid the insistent invitations from Potiphar’s wife. It would have been easy to succumb to such a proposition. After all, he had been through a lot by this point in the story: thrown into a pit by his brothers and left for dead, sold into slavery to a group called the Ishmaelites, and then sold again to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. But what does he do instead? “Leaving his garment in her hand, he escaped and ran outside” (v. 12). Escaped and ran. Those are strong verbs! Sometimes we have to physically remove ourselves from the places where we are tempted. Some days, we can’t even walk near the ice cream shop. Some days, we can’t even text that guy back. And some days, we can’t even sit at the lunch table with our gossipy friends.
Why did Joseph respond so boldly? He says his motivation in the form of a question in verse nine: “How could I do such a great evil and sin against God?”
While Potiphar’s wife seems to revel in her sinful ways, Joseph recognizes sin as rejection of the one true God. The God who was with him in the pit. The God who was with him when his brothers sold him into slavery, and the God who will be with him when he is thrown into prison as a result of the lie Potiphar’s wife tells her husband. Because Joseph loved God and knew God’s love, he was able to escape and run from evil.
We, too, can flee even the greatest temptations when we know and are transformed by the love of God. Rather than asking others to conform to our sinful desires, we can ask the Holy Spirit to conform us to the likeness of Christ.
I never did sense any self-righteousness in the way my high school friend refused to gossip. I never felt like she thought she was a better person than me because she abstained. Her motivation was her love for God and not her desire to appear holy. She behaved as the dearly loved child Paul talks about in Ephesians when he instructs us to “Be imitators of God… And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us” (Eph. 5:1-2).
Because of Christ’s love, you and I can walk boldly as God’s dear children.
It’s inevitable that some days we will be Joseph, fleeing from sin. And some days we will be Potiphar’s wife, tempting others into sin. But every day, God is God. And His love toward us today remains the same—yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8).
Let’s imitate Christ alone—His love, His holiness, His goodness. We will fall short, it’s true. But our God never will.
Andrea Lucado is a freelance writer and Texas native who now calls Nashville, Tennessee, home. When she is not conducting interviews or writing stories, you can find her laughing with friends at a coffee shop, running the hills of Nashville, or creating yet another nearly edible baking creation in her kitchen. One of these days she’ll get the recipe right.