Open Your Bible
Genesis 39:1-23, Proverbs 24:15-16, Ephesians 5:1-4, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
One of the hardest and most helpless feelings in the world is when another person deals carelessly with our reputations. Maybe it is an anonymous person online who publicly questions our motives. Maybe it is a commenter who glimpses one photo of our lives and makes assumptions about our parenting. Maybe it is a friend who is angry with us and then vents to our mutual friends. Maybe it is an ex-boyfriend, or an ex-husband, who is sharing a very different version of the break-up than the one we know to be true.
Whenever we experience slander, unfair criticism, or unfounded accusations, it can feel as though our hard-earned reputations are being dismantled brick by brick. Everything we worked for, the integrity we established over the course of years, suddenly seems fragile and vulnerable, all because of the untested words of a gossiper.
Joseph knew this helplessness well. He was a humble man of exceptional character, who spent his life climbing out of a pit, working his way up, making connections, and earning a good name, only to have it all undone by the wicked whim of a powerful woman. At least, that is how it must have seemed at the time. But that is not how Joseph’s story ended. In actuality, what determined the outcome of Joseph’s story was not power, but character.
As we now know, Joseph’s life did not end with this accusation. It seems that almost immediately, Potiphar distrusts his wife’s account. We know this because the punishment for Joseph’s supposed crime should be death, but instead, Potiphar only imprisons him. He is, in essence, not giving Joseph what he deserves. What this tells us is that Joseph’s character is influencing the outcome, and it would continue to do so for years.
In the chapters that follow, Joseph’s character opens doors for him. He gains favor with those in authority over him, until he eventually receives authority himself. Joseph is forever remembered as a noble man and a great leader; Potiphar’s wife, on the other hand, is only remembered for one of the worst decisions of her life. We don’t even know her name.
It is difficult to be on the receiving end of slander or a false accusation, but this story comforts us with this truth: your character is louder than you think. Character always reveals who you really are, and no amount of power, lies, or manipulation can hide it. This is a comfort for those of us who choose the way of holiness, but it is also a warning for when we don’t.
The sin of Potiphar’s wife was not simply lust, but the abuse of power, and none of us is immune to it. Our need for control—even when it is directed toward good and noble purposes—can lead us to compromise our integrity. “The ends justify the means,” we reason. But this is not the logic of godly character. Instead, we follow a Savior who chose to be falsely accused rather than exert His will by force.