There is a kind of morality
That stems from a desire to have a perfect resumé,
To be spoken well of,
To be known and remembered for our great virtues.
However, if we are the centre of our own struggles with ourselves,
Where a “clean record” is the core of our reasons to not be evil,
Then we gain an outer sense of goodness
But miss the root of the actual problem: our hearts.
When we try to be good for our own sakes
We fail to escape our self-absorption.
In ancient times Joseph, the son of Jacob
Who was sold into slavery by his own brothers,
Found himself as a slave
In the house of an Egyptian government official, Potiphar.
Now, Potiphar grew to trust Joseph
And eventually let him handle the affairs of the household.
One day, Potiphar’s wife wanted to have sex with Joseph
And descend with him into the pits of adultery.
Here is the man, Joseph, a faithful slave in a foreign land
Betrayed by his own flesh and blood and dealt a nasty hand
Then somehow managed to find favor in the eyes of his master,
Now facing a temptation that would change everything.
Listen to his reply to Potiphar’s wife;
“With me in charge my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”
– Genesis 39:8-9
Joseph took stock.
He did not refuse her because he wanted to preserve his own morality,
Or self-righteously thrust her away in disgust as though the woman were dirtier than he.
But he took stock.
He considered his lot and did not find a license to sin.
He could not do this to God.
He could not spit in His Face.
In light of what God had done,
He could not.
As Christians we sometimes imagine
That we need to acquire immense moral strength to resist temptation.
And while self-control is necessary
It is not our only tool against temptation.
If we take stock of God’s goodness
And recognize our sin as a spit in His Face
We will see our sin as treachery and betrayal of One who loves us.
Our wrestles with temptation are not just a never ending war against our basest desires,
But are moments where what we actually believe about God and ourselves, are brought into focus.
Does we feel that we need to be so good that God would then “owe” us a good life?
Or maybe we feel that life has been so unfair that we do not owe God anything?
Whatever the case is, how we respond to temptation and why we respond the way we do says a lot about the state of our hearts.
Jospeh could have chosen to overlook the current goodness of God in his life
And live in the shadow of the treachery of his brothers,
Taking whatever he could, whenever he could and in so doing,
Becoming treacherous himself.
When life is cruel and unfair it is all too easy
To let these hurts become the Centre narrative of our entire lives,
Until they become justifications for us to plunge our hands into the filth of self-indulgence.
We can also take stock
To remind ourselves that
The storyline of the Christian life
Is not about how good we can be;
Seeing temptation as an opportunity to prove how much of a goody two shoes we are,
As though we can somehow prove that we are not in need of God’s grace.
No. The fact that God had to write Himself into human history and actually die to redeem us
Proves that we are far more crooked up than we dare acknowledge,
And that there is no amount of good things we can do to make ourselves whole.
We resist temptation because we have been accepted and can’t bear to give the finger to the best Lover we will ever have.
Taking stock is not erasing misfortune and injustice from our memories
But it is choosing to take into consideration God’s goodness in the midst of the turmoil of our lives.
Taking stock in a moment of temptation
Exposes our sin for what it is:
More than just a stain on our attempts to be perfect people
It is a slap in the face of a God who loves us.