Genesis 39

What comes to your mind when I mention the name “Magic Johnson”? A year ago you would have pictured a unique and gifted athlete, a six-foot-nine-inch point guard who could do magical things with the basketball, a man who made the 1980s the decade of the Los Angeles Lakers, perhaps the greatest player ever to play professional basketball. But that changed on Thursday, November 7, 1991. Now, the first thing that comes to mind when we mention the name Magic Johnson is AIDS, for Magic Johnson shocked the sports world with the revelation he was retiring from basketball at the age of thirty-two because he had the HIV virus, which is often referred to as pre-AIDS.

In a special article in Sports Illustrated, Magic revealed he caught the disease because of promiscuous heterosexual relationships. He said, “The problem is that I can’t pinpoint the time, the place or the woman. It’s a matter of numbers. Before I was married, I truly lived the bachelor’s life. I was never at a loss for female companionship.” (November 18, 1991, pp. 21-22.)
Magic is now going to be a spokesman to make our nation aware of this disease which is spreading wildly all over the world. I hope he will wake up America to the heinous characteristics of AIDS. I hope he will make us aware that it is not a gay disease but that 75% of those with AIDS worldwide contracted the disease through heterosexual contact. But I do not agree with Magic’s suggestion on how to solve the problem. His solution is what he calls “safe sex.” That just does not go far enough. There is another solution, a sometimes forgotten alternative for us. That’s what this message is about.
This message is a message for our teenagers. A survey by Seventeen magazine suggested that 51% of the teenagers between fourteen and twenty-one years of age had already had sex. My message is a reminder to those 51% that there is another alternative.
This message is also for adults. In their book, The Day America Told the Truth, Patterson and Kim shared the results of an extensive poll taken on America’s morals and personal habits. On the subject of sex, these pollsters wrote: “In terms of the idealized couple of the past — virgins joined in holy matrimony, faithful till death do them part — we found nothing but a shadow on the wall.” They concluded from their research that “ninety-two percent of sexually active people report having had ten or more lovers, with a lifetime average of seventeen” (p. 73). My message is a reminder to those 92% that there is another alternative.
One of the reasons for the dissolution of so many modern marriages and the dissipation of life in America today, one of the explanations for the rapid spread of the HIV virus nationwide, is not that we have not practiced safe sex but that we have simply not learned how to say “no.” That is the forgotten alternative in most of what has been written in the aftermath of Magic’s revelation.
I want us to look at a biblical story of yesterday which provides some interesting insight into the forgotten alternative.
Reality of the Crisis
Our text describes a scene that dates from nearly 4,000 years ago. The setting of this story is Egypt, in the home of a man named Potiphar. He was the captain of the squadron which served as Potiphar’s bodyguard. Joseph was Potiphar’s slave. Because of Joseph’s ability, he rose in the ranks until he became the administrative assistant to Potiphar. Everything Potiphar owned was under his direction.
In Genesis 39:6, the biblical writer introduces the crisis when he says, “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.” A modern day translation would be, “He was a good looking dude!” Then notice Genesis 39:7: “And it came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me’.”
That sounds like a scene out of “Dynasty” or from “The Days of Our Lives.” It sounds like a part of the script of most of today’s movies. A woman approaches a man or a man approaches a woman and says, “I like the way you look. Let’s go to bed.”
To listen to many today, you would think ours is the first generation to have a problem with sexual permissiveness. You would almost think we are the ones who invented sex. Yet, here in our text is a scene from 4,000 years ago and the same temptation is present, the same pressure is there. The crisis of sexual permissiveness is no modern phenomenon. It is no new problem. It has been with us for a long time.
Listen to this clipping from The New York Times: “For the past ten years, I have been a close observer of what has passed among the rising generation in this great metropolis (New York City), and I cannot suppress the humiliating conviction that even pagan Rome never witnessed more rapid and frightful declension in morals …” That is not this week’s paper. Instead, the date on that by-line was January, 1865.
Time magazine reported: “One great educator became so infuriated with what he called the licentious, outrageous, disgraceful behavior of students at his college that he quit in disgust.” That was not a story about one of the state universities in America in the 1980s. It is a story about the University of Carthage. The dismayed professor was St. Augustine. The date was A.D. 383.
We often delude ourselves by proclaiming the pressures of the present period produce promiscuity. The crisis of our day, we say, is unique to our time. I want to suggest to you that the crisis today is the same as it was when Jesus was on this earth, the same as it was when David seduced Bathsheba, the same as it was when Joseph was tempted by the wife of Potiphar.
The crisis of our day is not a crisis of circumstances. It is a crisis of commitment. In every generation and in every age, individuals have stood at the crossroads between right and wrong, between propriety and promiscuity, between God’s demand and man’s desire. For the individual today and for young Joseph 4,000 years ago, the question is the same: when the opportunity arises for sex outside the marriage, will you say “yes” or “no”?
Response to the Challenge
Notice how Joseph responded in verse 8. The Bible says, “And he refused.” That was Joseph’s answer to temptation. That was his response to the invitation to infidelity. Joseph said, “No.”
There are 490,000 words in the English language, plus 300,000 technical terms. That’s nearly 800,000 words in all. The most neglected word in the English language is the word “no.” How we need young people who will stand up in the midst of their peers and say “No, I will not abuse God’s gift of sex.” How we need Christian singles who will live in our kind of world with this commitment, “I’m going to live God’s way.” How we need young men and women who will stand up and say, “I have made an exclusive commitment to this one person. Nothing or nobody will make me betray that trust.” How we need men and women passing through the uncertain waters of the middle years to say “I will not destroy my testimony, nor will I discard my investment in my family for a temporary thrill.” How we need people today who, like Joseph, will dare to say “no” to the temptation of immorality.
When the crisis comes in our life and the opportunity for promiscuity is presented, the response of the Christian is not safe sex. The response of the Christian is to be the same as the response of Joseph. We must be willing to say “No.”
Reasons for the Choice
If we study our text closely, we will not only discover how Joseph responded, we will also discover why. Joseph said “No” to this temptation of sexual impropriety for several specific reasons. We, too, must discover a motivation for sexual morality today that goes beyond what one man called “the fear of infection, the fear of detection, and the fear of conception.” Why should we say “no” to the temptation of sex outside of marriage? Let’s see what we can learn from Joseph.
1. First, Joseph said “No” because of his responsibility to others. Joseph said in Genesis 39:8, “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge.” Joseph had been given a responsibility by his master, and he was accountable to his master for how he used that responsibility. Joseph refused to disregard that accountability, for he knew it was the glue that held life together and made it productive.
We do not live on an island. We are a part of a fabric of relationships which are sealed by trust, respect, and responsibility. When we honor those relationships through a responsible discharge of our duties, we are strengthening the foundation of the society in which we live. When, on the other hand, we participate in sex outside of marriage, we are shattering those relationships and shunning our responsibility to them.
A study, conducted by Pitirim Sorokin of Harvard University and J. D. Unwin, confirmed this. They were able to show that periods of sexual liberty were the poorest from the cultural point of view, whereas those periods when morality and social convention imposed restrictions on sexual activity were the richest in creative output.
We need to learn to say “no” to sexual permissiveness because permissiveness undermines the accountability which is essential for a creative society.
2. Second, Joseph said “No” because of his reverence for marriage. He said in Genesis 39:9, “There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife.”
“Look,” Joseph said, “you are somebody’s wife. You are married. You belong to Potiphar. How could I do this thing against marriage?” Some today declare that sex is what gives meaning to the relationship between a man and a woman. In contrast, the Bible says it is the relationship that gives meaning to sex. Marriage is a relationship of exclusiveness and commitment. Only in that context can sex be what God intended it to be. Joseph said “No” to the temptation of immorality because he realized sex and marriage are irrevocably connected.
3. Third, Joseph said “No” because of his relationship with God. He added in Genesis 39:9, “How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God?”
Joseph said, “Not only would this be an injustice to Potiphar. Not only would it be a violation of marriage. It would also be a sin against God.” When God gave the stipulations by which His relationship with His people was to be regulated, He included this unequivocal declaration: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” That is God’s word. Our freedom in Christ does not give us freedom to do any less.
For the Christian, morality is not determined by the majority of our peers or by the movement of our glands, but by the mandate of our Father. God says sex is for marriage. We must obey Him.
4. Fourth, Joseph said “No” because of his respect for himself. From the earliest days of his life, Joseph felt God had a plan for his life, a distinct design He wanted him to discover. Joseph was determined not to let anything divert him from God’s special purpose. He was going to obey God’s commands so he could be free to enjoy God’s blessings.
A young man came into a church one night in Atlanta several years ago. He was twenty-seven years old. He was six-feet-four, a good looking young man. He had come to the church that night to pray and to cry. When he came out of the sanctuary, the pastor asked him if he wanted to talk. He said “no,” but then, after he walked out the door, he came back in and said “yes.” This was his story.
He had always been ahead of other boys in his physical development. When he was twelve, a teenage girl next door introduced him to sex. When she moved, he began going with other girls. It became a game with him as he grew up. He would spot a lonely woman, and then conquer her. In the last six months, he confessed to the pastor, he had persuaded three ladies to leave their husbands and come live with him. After a few days, he had kicked each one out. His eyes still stained with the tears of his anguish, he said to the pastor, “When you talk to young people, tell them that what the Bible says is true. It is one thing to have your needs fulfilled. But when sex becomes an obsession, it will ruin your life.” The young man attended church a few times. Then one night he called the pastor and said, “It’s no use. I can’t shake it.” And he never heard from the young man again. That man was not free. He was a slave to his lusts and it ruined his life.
What the Bible says is true. Sex in marriage is one of God’s greatest gifts. Sex outside of marriage is a distortion of God’s design. It will become an obsession that will ruin our lives. The response of the Christian to sex outside marriage must not be simply safe sex. The proper response is summarized in the simple word “no.”
Learning to say “no” is not only the difference between morality and immorality, it may be the difference between life and death.

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