HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? Genesis 39:9
“Integrity”—at least as I have come to understand it—refers to the quality of a fully “integrated” moral life. Someone who lives with “integrity” doesn’t keep the different areas of his or her life partitioned-off from one another; so that they become a certain kind of person in one area, but a different kind of person in another.
People who are one kind of person in one area of life, and a different kind of person in another area of life, may rightly be said to be living a “dis-integrated” life. And such people constantly struggle to maintain that “disintegration” in such a way that what they are in one area of life isn’t exposed in another. But a fully “integrated” person doesn’t divide their life up in that way. They don’t try to be in public something different from what they are in private. They don’t try to be at church something different from what they are at work. They don’t try to be in one area of life something different from what they are in another area of life. They don’t have to keep one area of life a ‘secret’ from the people in another area of life. They are the same kind of morally upright person all the time. That’s what it means to live with “integrity”.
We live in a time in which, very sadly, “integrity” is a rare quality. We’ve all discovered recently that a high-profile celebrity—a sports icon—was living a shockingly different life in private that the image that had been manufactured before the public. We’ve seen the immoral behaviour of significant government leaders exposed in some of the most fundamental areas of life—only to hear them argue that such behaviour only had to do with their “private life” and didn’t have anything to do with their “public service”. We’ve even seen—more times than we wish to admit—the private lives of Christian leaders and famous preachers exposed in such a way as to show that they were preaching one message in public, but living a completely different message in private.
And that last point particularly leads us to why this whole matter of ‘integrity’ is so important. If we, as professing followers of Jesus Christ, don’t live with integrity—that is, if we don’t make sure that what we profess to be and to believe in public is consistently lived out in every area of life—then we hurt the cause of the gospel we proclaim. Many unbelieving people have grown to reject the gospel of Jesus Christ because they perceive many of its preachers to be hypocrites; and sadly, they’re very often right!
This makes the integrity of Joseph stand out even more. And there’s a particular event in Joseph’s life that, more than any other, not only demonstrates his outstanding moral integrity but also gives us the key to its presence in his life.
Genesis 39 tells us the story of how he was serving faithfully in the management of Potiphar’s household. His master Potiphar had entrusted every one of his material concerns into the hands of Joseph. But in verse 6, we’re told, “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance”; and it’s with those words that were introduced to how Joseph’s integrity began to be put to one of its greatest tests.
Verse 7 tells us, “And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’” I’m sure that this wasn’t an abrupt offer. I suspect that she had been casting sideways glances at him for some time, and dropping hints to him long before she came right out and said these words. Perhaps she had slipped her offer to him in a note. Or perhaps she whispered these words to him as they passed along the way.
“But”, we’re told, “he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand’” (verse 8). That was Joseph’s way of saying that his master had handed everything over to his care and that Potiphar trusted Joseph to be faithful in his stewardship. Potiphar had even trusted Joseph to be faithful when alone in the house with his wife. Furthermore, Joseph accurately expressed the greatness of that stewardship when he said, “There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’” (verse 9). For Joseph, there were no moral ambiguities to the matter. He knew exactly what his authority involved, and he also knew exactly where that authority ended.
And what is crucial to notice in this story is what he said next. He said to Potiphar’s wife, “There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? Genesis 39:9” (verse 9). Please pay very careful attention to those words. Notice that he didn’t say, “How can I do this against your husband?”; because ‘how to do so’ was exactly what she was trying to propose to him! There most certainly would have been a way to have this affair without Potiphar ever knowing about it. Given the great authority that had been entrusted to him, Joseph’s unfaithfulness could easily have been hidden from Potiphar, his stewardship protected, and his outward appearance of trustworthiness preserved. But his question wasn’t how he could do this against Potiphar. It was how he could do this to God.
That was only the beginning of troubles from Potiphar’s wife. We’re told, “So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her” (verse 10). This intense ‘testing’ of his integrity was literally a daily event. “But it happened about this time when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside” (by the arrangement of Potiphar’s wife, no doubt), “that she caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’ But he left his garment in her hand and fled outside” (verses 11-12). Joseph knew the principle that Paul later taught in the New Testament—”Flee sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
And as the story goes on, Potiphar’s frustrated wife then concocted the lie that Joseph had attempted to take her by force, and that he had fled when she cried out. She even called the other men of her house back inside and told them, “See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice” (verse 13). None of them, of course, dared to mention the fact that they never hear her shout anything! And, as a result of it all, Joseph was cast into prison, eventually to be called out, in the perfect timing of God, to serve at the right hand of Pharaoh.
Now; what I’m seeking to point out in all this is Joseph’s integrity. It’s a moral quality that I believe God wants to develop in you and me in the coming year. I believe that God would have us become men and women who refuse to embrace sin even in secret, even when we know that we can cover our steps before other people, and can commit secret sins without hurting the public perception of our Christian faith. I believe that God would have us live fully integrated lives so that we aren’t one thing in one area of life and a different thing in another area of life; but that we are the same kind of man or woman of God in all areas of life, all the time.
And I believe that the key to such integrity is shown to us in Joseph’s question in Genesis 39:9: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” Joseph had cultivated a conscious, abiding, reverential fear of God that he had allowed prevailing in every area of life. And it was that reverential fear of God in all areas of life that kept him from sin even in the secret areas of life. It was the key to his integrity.
And if that same prevailing fear of God is allowed to permeate every area of our lives, it will help us live a morally “integrated” life before God as well.