You could call it the fear factor. It’s not really the fear of God, but the fear of parents—the fear of getting caught. Often in childhood, the fear factor keeps certain sins safely beyond our reach.
Fast forward a few years and the equation changes. Subtract watching parents, divide your time between Christians and non-Christians, multiply the peer pressure, and add a whole lot of temptation. “Hello, freedom.” Sin is there for the taking—so promisingly hanging from the tree. The branch is bending lower, almost forcing its forbidden fruit into your hands. Teens, this is life where sin would be so easy.
Joseph arrived at freedom when he landed in Egypt—ironically, as a servant. But where our story starts, Joseph is no barefoot broom-pusher or bottom-of-the-rung bellboy. His life is likely cushier now than it had ever been in Canaan. “Joseph … was a prosperous man” (Gen 39:2). Potiphar had promoted him to the top: “Overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand” (v 4). Power, prestige, and perks—thanks to God’s blessing, it was all Joseph’s.
This teen had more than a great job. God had also blessed him with good looks. “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance” (v6 ESV). Eighteen. Built. CEO and visionary at rapidly-expanding Potiphar Inc. And did you see the chariot he’s driving these days?
Someone did notice the young man—the owner’s wife. To complicate the matter, she also held the keys to his room and his plush lifestyle.
“Lie with me,” she demanded. Joseph didn’t have to look for sin—the branch stretched right across his path. To avoid it would be much harder than to walk right into it. No one would see. No parent would know. For Joseph, and many teens since, sin would suddenly be so easy.
How have you been handling the pressure? What do you tell the enemy when he has you far from the fear factor and offers you a nugget from his glittery kingdom? Here’s how one teen triumphed.
Joseph’s answer was as bold as sin’s advances. “My master has not … kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (vv 8-9 ESV). This was not the time for niceties or negotiations. A straight answer was the only right answer.
I don’t think Joseph was trying to convince Potiphar’s wife. She didn’t care about great wickedness and Joseph’s God. Joseph’s answer was about facing sin for what it is, reminding his heart of the truth. Isn’t that how the Lord Jesus faced Satan in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-10)? Each offer was exposed for its sinfulness. He spoke the truth, “It is written”—not for Satan’s sake, but for truth’s sake.
When sin talks, talk frankly. The Scriptures you read and memorize will be your sword of truth in facing temptation. Call it great wickedness. Call it sin against God. It doesn’t matter if she will understand or not; the truth on your lips guards your heart and pleases God.
Don’t be surprised when sin comes back. “She spake to Joseph day by day” (Gen 39:10). It will return, looking for your weakest moment, probing for a change in your resolve, or a loss of your confidence in God. Even in the case of our Lord Jesus, “When the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from Him for a season,” or, as the ESV puts it, “Until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Even if you never give in, sin won’t give up.
Joseph knew sin’s strategy, and he did what he could to avoid it. “And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her” (v 10).
You stood sin up the first time. Now what have you done to lessen its opportunity? What safeguards have you put in place for when sin comes knocking again? Change your room. Change your route. Change your routine. Pray for preservation, and keep far when sin is near.
The time came when talking or avoiding wasn’t enough. “And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me” (Gen 39:12). When sin has you by the collar, when you can smell its breath and feel its grip, the only thing to do is run. “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor 6:18 ESV). “Flee from idolatry” (1 Cor 10:14). “Flee also youthful lusts” (2 Tim 2:22). “He left his garment in her hand, and fled” (Gen 39:12). Don’t hesitate. Run, and run fast.
Make it My Motto
Many years later, Governor Joseph makes a curious statement to his imprisoned brothers, “This do, and live; for I fear God” (Gen 42:18). Maybe he’s explaining his apparent change in plans with them—God is merciful (compare with v 16). Maybe he’s probing to see if they now feared God—notice how their guilty consciences go into overdrive. Maybe Joseph is giving a veiled hint as to why he’s alive and well, despite their attempts to the contrary. Whatever the reason, his words ring with life-motto resonance: “I fear God!” It wasn’t Jacob, Potiphar, or Pharaoh; Joseph lived to honor God! That constant consciousness that he was living before the Lord moved Joseph to resist, to keep far, and to run.
Whom do you live to please? “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb 12:28). A teen who fears God is a teen that God can use—even when sin would be so easy.