Joseph is often treated like a spectator or an afterthought to the events of Christmas. But Joseph shows, in the way he handled Mary’s unexpected Christmas, some key attributes of a person that God can work with. Joseph has his own unexpected Christmas. How he handles it reveals the attributes of a man worth imitating.
Read Joseph’s story in Matthew 1:18-25.
A Righteous Heart – Joseph Cared About Righteousness
The first thing worth noticing about Joseph is that he cared about righteousness. He discovered his fiancé was pregnant. He knew this didn’t just happen. The most logical explanation is that she had been unfaithful. So he decides to take the difficult step of ending the relationship. He cared about doing the right thing.
We live in an age where we sometimes focus exclusively on God’s grace and forgiveness. It seems like the only Bible verse people know anymore is “Judge not lest you be judged.” We use this as a reason to excuse all manner of behavior. Some people treat God like some sort of heavenly uncle who is content to let everyone just go and be happy however they want. This is a false belief.
God’s forgiveness and grace mean nothing without His righteousness. Without his righteousness, there is nothing to forgive. God cares about right behavior. He does so not out of a sense of Pharisaical rule keeping, but because righteousness produces life. The wages of sin is death. Sin produces death in our lives. God desires us to have life so he desires us to be righteous.
Joseph wasn’t being cruel or mean when he decided to break off his engagement to Mary. He was being like God. He was caring about righteousness. We would do well to follow his example.
A Compassionate Heart – Joseph Cared About Mary
Joseph was righteous. He desired to live rightly. He desired others to live rightly. But in addition to this, he was compassionate. He was going to break his engagement to Mary, but he decided to do it privately, secretly so as to cause as little embarrassment and shame to Mary. He had compassion on her. He wasn’t looking to vent his anger, frustration, or humiliation at her. He wanted to do the right thing as kindly as possible.
This is a lesson we need to learn. We need to learn to balance righteousness and compassion. Some people think the two don’t go together. Some think that to be righteous, you have to be hard on people who behave unrighteous. Others think that to be compassionate means to excuse anything a person does.
We need to be like Joseph who understood that compassion and righteousness go together. We can care about right and wrong and care about people as well.
A Soft Heart – Joseph Was Able To Change
For some reason, we associate changing our minds with being wishy-washy. We use words like “resolute” and “determined” and “unwavering” to describe those who never change their mind. But maintaining our course of action isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes it can reveal an arrogant spirit or a hard heart. We think we know what is best and we are determined to keep heading in a certain direction no matter what the cost. We may make a bad decision however we fail to admit it so we never turn around. Likewise, we may often realize we are wrong in an argument but refuse to admit it to others or change our mind.[ 13 ]
But Joseph wasn’t like that. He had a soft heart. He went to bed having made a tough decision. It was righteous and compassionate. It must have been hard to come to that decision. I wonder what he was thinking as he drifted off to sleep that night. Whatever he was thinking, in the middle of the night God interrupted his plans. The angel gave him some news and asked him to change his plans and adopt an equally challenging course of action. It was a new plan that might expose him to shame and ridicule. He was being asked to love and marry a women, pregnant with a child, that wasn’t his. He was being asked to raise the Son of God.
And Joseph did it.
He woke up and went about the new plan. He was soft hearted. He was able to be molded into a new shape by God. He was able to be transformed into what God wanted him to be.
We need to learn this attribute. Many times we can be committed to saving face or maintaining the course. We may become hard heartedly devoted to our own plans, ideas, and answers. We need to be open to God calling us to something else. We need to be moldable in God’s hands. We need soft hearts.
A Trusting Heart – Joseph Believed God
Admit it. Sometimes when you hear the word “trusting,” you may think naive. It may bring up the idea of someone who is gullible or easily taken advantage of. But that just shows our own hard heartedness. Joseph received a hard message from a reliable source, and he accepted it. He believed God. He demonstrated the humility to trust God’s plan.
We need to be like Joseph. We need to trust that God is wiser than us, more powerful than us, and that he loves us. We can trust that his plan is for his glory and our good, and it’s better than what we can come up with. We must see God as Lord…not as an advisor who simply provides good advice.
An Obedient Heart – Joseph was Eager to Obey
After all that Joseph was asked to do, he woke up and did it. We aren’t told the time frame in which the story unfolds, but it must be pretty quick. Maybe just a few hours. He woke up and obeyed. We aren’t told he took time “to process” it. We don’t see Joseph dragging his feet or moping around. He woke up and did what God asked him to do. It is almost like he hit the ground running after waking up and immediately set his feet to the new course of action God had called him to.
How different would our lives and relationships be if we obeyed like Joseph? I sometimes remind my kids that obedience is not just what you do, but how and when you do it. Simply put, obedience is doing what you are told to do, when you are told to do it, with a happy heart. Joseph does exactly that.
We often ask God for direction and guidance. I wonder if God would make his will known more readily to us if we were going to do more than just take his words under advisement. How would our prayer lives and our daily lives be impacted if we stood ready, waiting on God, and eager to obey Him? Joseph did just that.
This is a necessary component to trusting. We haven’t really trusted if we aren’t willing to obey. As the old hymn says: “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus. But to Trust and obey.”