Good character is commonly praised but uncommonly practiced. Which is why when we find examples of it in Scripture, we should take notice. Joseph is one of those men.

There’s a second step in the journey to good character which the story of Joseph teaches us. We must learn to say, “No!”  After Joseph is propositioned by Potiphar’s wife the Bible tells us next, “But he refused.”  He said, “No!”

Don’t assume that Joseph wasn’t tempted and didn’t want to do this.  We’re not told how she looked, but we know from the tombs of the Egyptians that the royal women knew how to doll themselves up.  (Granted, they’re not too pretty when we find them in their tomb.) They used makeup, jewelry, face paint, perfume and braided hair, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that Potiphar’s wife was a knockout, and that Joseph felt arousal knocking at his door. Yet he said ‘No!’

The Bible says in Titus 2:11-12 – “For the grace of God…teaches us to say, ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” 

Sometimes when we’re tempted, we want to cry out, “God, take these feelings away!  Change my thoughts!”  But this isn’t how God works.  You’re not a robot.  God wants sons and daughters who will worship him freely, not machines running around saying, “Beep. I stand in awe of you. Beep.”

Now God will help you in your fight for right behavior.  In fact, the moment you are tempted, God’s help is on the way.  But God needs you to make a choice, and to take a stand. Muscles cannot grow unless they face the resistance of bar and steel, then overcomes it. Character cannot grow unless it faces the bar and steel of desires, then overcomes them.

Sometimes we think that failure make a person into a strong leader. That depends.

I succumbed to the lure of pornography early in my marriage, and it took an 18-month journey of confession, counseling and consecration to draw me out of the wasteland. Did that experience make me into a better husband and pastor, compared with a person who grabbed hold tight of Jesus’ hand and stayed clear of that swamp?

The last time I looked, Adam and Eve were to trust God about what is right and wrong, and not be sinking their teeth into the fruit that comes from the knowledge of good and evil. Must I plunge into financial ruin to be able to preach more effectively about money? Do I have to drag my wife through a divorce court so that I can counsel others more fruitfully on how to have a good marriage?

No – it’s rising above failure by God’s grace (good) and it’s avoiding failure by God’s grace (better) that creates a strong leader. C.S. Lewis said, “Only those who resist temptation know how strong it is.” Christian media expert Phil Cooke says, “Past sin does not make you a better leader.”

The miracle of God’s grace is that he can take our failures (if we’ve done our homework, been properly accountable, accepted discipline, and learned) and turn them into redemptive lessons to help others. But let’s never celebrate the failure, but the God who rescues us from it, and then teaches us to say “No” to sin. For that priceless ability is at the heart of possessing good, moral character.