Wedding rings

Recently, I learned of yet another Christian marriage that has been devastated by an affair. I pray the couple’s marriage will survive, but it is on very shaky ground right now.

The story is common: The husband got too close to one of his employees, and their illicit relationship became physical. It was just a matter of time before the adulterous affair was discovered and then all hell broke loose. Hearts are broken, families are devastated, kids are insecure, testimonies are shattered.

It’s my observation that seldom does anyone deliberately jump into hell. People just play around the edges and accidentally fall in.

Jesus warned that in the last days there would be an increase of wickedness, and the love of most would grow cold (Matthew 24:12). That’s our day. Tragically, this is an oft-repeated and very sad story. Will we ever learn that “the wages of sin is death”?

Ironically, recently as a guest preacher, I was asked to speak on “Faithful when Tempted” from the life of Joseph in Genesis 39. Joseph is one of the most admirable characters in the Old Testament because when his master’s wife begged him to “come to bed with me,” he resisted the temptation and ran from the house leaving his coat in the woman’s hand.

At the end of the study, I made these five applications which are much-needed in our era.

1. God’s standards are permanent even in Egypt.

God’s moral values didn’t change even though Joseph found himself far from home living in an environment with loose morals. The Bible tells us God is the same yesterday and forever. His standards don’t change even though our culture is increasingly permissive.

Even if your marriage isn’t totally fulfilling, even if someone finds you irresistible, even if the chemistry flows between you and your heart is temporarily gravitating toward another, you have a responsibility to “resist the evil desires that war against your soul.” Jesus insisted, “‘Heaven and earth will pass away; my word will never pass away.’”

2. Temptation is normal even for the Godly.

Potiphar’s wife approached him day after day. This had to be a volcanic temptation for Joseph. He was lonely, young and single.

Being a mature Christian does not exempt us from fleshly desires. So don’t think it can’t happen to you. It happened to the wisest man in the Bible—Solomon. It happened to the strongest man in the Bible—Samson. It happened to one of the most spiritual men in the Bible—David.

And it can happen to you. “Take heed when you think you stand lest you fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Virtue does not lie in the fact that you’re so holy you don’t find the world appealing. Virtue lies in the fact that when you’re strongly tempted you “resist the evil desires that war against your soul.”

Sin is not the desire to do wrong, but yielding to the desire. Satan tempts us to accomplish our ruin. God allows us to be tested to establish our holiness.

Your mind is kind of like a clerk at a hotel. You can’t control who walks through the door, but you can control who gets a room. You can’t control the thoughts that enter your mind, but you can control how long it’s going to lodge there.

3. Victory is possible but only for the determined.

Joseph could have rationalized, “My mother died when I was a little boy, my father was overindulgent with me, my brothers abused me, I’m a minority race, I’m single, and a slave, the morals of this culture are looser.” But he didn’t. He said, “I can’t do this wicked thing and sin against my God.”

When there was no other way out, Joseph fled. He probably planned in advance what his course of action would be. Paul told young Timothy, “Flee youthful lusts.” Don’t stand and try to fight it. Run! The flames of passion are so intense that you need to run before they are ignited.

A reporter asked an African safari guide, “Is it true that ferocious wild animals won’t bother me if I carry a torch?” The guide mused, “That depends on how fast you carry it!” Just because you carry a Bible and are a follower of Jesus Christ does not exempt you from the one who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

4. The rewards for faithfulness are enormous but not immediate.

One might expect God to reward Joseph’s valor immediately. But instead, he was falsely accused of rape and imprisoned for two years. It didn’t seem fair that an innocent man was imprisoned and the guilty temptress was lounging in freedom and luxury.

Being wrong doesn’t mean you’re going to be punished the next day. Being right doesn’t mean your marriage will suddenly be more romantic or Prince Charming comes riding in next week.

The Bible says we reap what we sow. But there’s often a long time between the sowing and the reaping. God’s people are to persevere regardless. The Bible promises, “Don’t grow weary in doing good for in due season you will reap a harvest if you don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9).

Two years later, Joseph’s life took an abrupt turn for good. He was promoted from the prison to the palace. He became prime minister of Egypt, got married and had two sons. He lived in luxury and influence the rest of his life.

Dr. Lewis Foster once said, “Evil, though done with pleasure, the pleasure soon passes, and the evil long will remain. Good, though done with toil, the toil soon passes and the good long will remain.”

5. Forgiveness is available but only to the repentant.

Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The grace of God is amazing. Regardless of our transgressions, we can be forgiven and start anew. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us of all sin. “‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow’”(Isaiah 1:18).

That forgiveness is available to those who repent and turn in humble submission to God. He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.

The repentant King David prayed, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love … wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-2). He concluded, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

Bob Russell is the retired senior minister of Southeast Christian Church and the founder of Bob Russell Ministries.