Why not? Sexual temptation in the workplace
It is noteworthy that the well-known story of Joseph’s battle with sexual temptation in Genesis 39 occurred in his place of work. He was a slave to one of Pharaoh’s officials. What can we learn from the attempted seduction in Potiphar’s house?
A place of danger
Why can the workplace be a dangerous place sexually? Aside from the fact that these days people of both genders generally go out to work, there are a number of reasons why our place of employment might present a temptation.
Joseph had been taken from the Promised Land to Egypt (Gen. 39:1). He had been taken from a place where God was known and His righteous requirements acknowledged, to a place where they were not. Sadly, it is frequently like that for many Christians as they travel from home to work. Many offices and shops know nothing of God these days. You enter an amoral environment, where pragmatism and profit are the only rules. The idea of Bible ethics in business is frequently not only despised but seen as a positive impediment to progress. An amoral atmosphere in business ethics can easily spill over into personal ethics and that can lower our defences. ‘No one cares here, so why not?’
Joseph was spending a lot of time around Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39:2). We spend around a third of our week with colleagues at work. When you take into account long hours of work, the time spent commuting, sleep and time with the children you may be more often alone with colleagues than you are with your spouse. People in similar situations, under similar pressures, spending lots of time together hopefully do develop a closeness, a team-spirit. But if that closeness is with a colleague of the opposite sex, it may get too close.
It would be no surprise if Joseph felt pretty vulnerable at this time. After all he had just been rejected by his family and had suffered the indignity of being sold as a slave. Here he was in a foreign land where no-one knew or cared about him. Confused and hurting he may well have felt the need for some affection and tenderness. Despite their controlled exterior, the workplace is a place where people often get hurt emotionally. Targets are not met and the boss gives you a hard time. You miss out on that promotion. You have a bad day and are made to look dumb by someone who is your junior. The competition and stress of the business world can leave people lonely, tired and vulnerable. And that is just the time where we might long for consolation from ‘someone who understands’. Except that someone might be a colleague rather than your spouse.
With the current awareness of sexual harassment in our culture, perhaps this is not the problem it once was. But here we find Joseph being asked for sexual favours by a superior, Potiphar’s wife. She was someone who could put in a good word for him or get him sacked (Gen. 39:7,10-11). The workplace always has a power structure that can be misused to bring sexual pressure to bear.
These factors are worth contemplation. Perhaps the relationships in your office or shop or whatever are good and right. But do not be naive.
What can we do to protect ourselves from sexual temptation at work? Some ideas present themselves from the story of Joseph.
Be an up-front Christian
Even though Joseph was a slave he witnessed to his faith in God (Gen. 39:9). That did not put off Potiphar’s wife, but it might put off some people from making advances. Why not have a Bible or New Testament on your desk at work. It could act as a reminder to you of your commitment to Christ, and act as a friendly signal to others of where you stand.
Be walking with God
The recurring theme in Genesis 39 is ‘the LORD was with Joseph,’ (Gen. 39:2,-3,5,21). It was because God was with Joseph that he had the strength and the sense to resist the seduction when it came. We need to maintain the spiritual basics of prayer, worship, Bible reading, witness, fellowship and honesty. It is worth remembering that before James tells us to ‘resist the devil’, he emphasises the need to ‘submit yourselves then, to God’ (James 4:7). If God is with us and we are with God, the devil flees.
Beware of rationalisations
Falling into immorality or adultery always involves a process. It does not just happen out of the blue. Step 1 takes place in the thoughts. Step 2 involves some positive signal from the object of desire. Step 3 involves the emotional attachment nurtured by both people. Step 4 is finding the time and place. Step 5 is the sin. At each point down that deadly path our sinful nature will find an excuse for you to go ahead to the next step. ‘It is only a thought, it can’t do any harm.’ ‘We are close, but we are doing nothing wrong.’ ‘Everyone is allowed one mistake.’ Give no room to such rationalisations. Joseph gets ‘the come on’ loud and clear, but he will not allow sin a foothold, even in his mind. ‘How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’ (Gen. 39:9).
Be ready to run
In the end, the pressure was such that Joseph had to simply take to his heels (Gen. 39:12). Perhaps someone reading this finds himself getting involved too deeply with someone in his place of work. It is better to run, to resign your job, than to wreck your spiritual life and if you have one, your family. To run may initially bring trouble, but it will eventually bring blessing, even as it did for Joseph.
Lastly, if there are married people reading this, perhaps I ought to address you as the other partner. Be aware that when your spouse goes to work he or she may enter a world with its own peculiar set of sexual temptations. Do your best to make sure that home is the best place and that the relationship with you is the source of tenderness and joy that it ought to be (Prov. 5:18,19).
John Benton is the senior pastor of Chertsey Street Baptist Church, Guildford.
The article first appeared in the July 2002 issue of Evangelicals Now and is also included as an appendix in ‘Don’t they make a lovely couple?’ by John and Ann Benton.