This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching a message to my church family at Fair Haven Baptist in Shelbyville, Tennessee. I chose to take a look at the Christmas narrative, focusing on Joseph. It occurred to me that we know little about this important man of faith. In the Christmas narrative, Joseph doesn’t speak a word! But he did have character that caught God’s attention.
Here are a few things we know about Joseph:
- He was from the line of King David (Matt. 1:1-16)
- He settled his family in Nazareth (Matt. 2:23)
- He showed concern/love for Jesus by fleeing to Egypt to escape King Herod’s execution of little boys (Matt. 2:13-15)
- He was a carpenter (Matt. 13:55)
- He taught carpentry skills to Jesus (Mark 6:3)
- Joseph led his family to observe Holy Days (Passover)…Luke 2:41-42
- No mention of him during Jesus’ ministry days…scholars presume he died after the events of LK 2:41-42
As I looked at the story of Joseph as presented in Matthew 1:18-25, I helped our congregation see several character traits that most likely caught God’s attention as He made a decision on who would raise His Son on earth. By extension, I believe these character traits are important for us to possess as God’s children so that others see them in us as we represent Him as His ambassadors.
As a group leader, I hope that the character traits of Joseph are found in you as well. People are watching us to see if our faith is real, and if the Savior we claim to know makes any difference in the way we live. We are all works in progress, and no one is perfect. God is changing us daily to show these character traits to our families, friends, co-workers, and strangers in an ever increasing way:
- Joseph was self-controlled. In verse 18 we learn that before Joseph and Mary came together, she was found to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit. In Jewish custom, the engagement period lasted a year and during those days, the couple was considered husband and wife, even though they lived in their parent’s homes. Joseph kept his God-given sexual needs in check during this time and was self-controlled. How do we know this? Just see the words “before they came together” – Joseph was putting no pressure on Mary to fulfill legitimate needs they both had in an illegitimate way.
- Joseph was righteous. Verse 19 simply tells us that Joseph was a righteous man. This doesn’t mean he was perfect. It does mean that he generally did the right thing and tried his best to live according to the law. The base word in the original language means “to move in a straight line” or “straight way” – God’s way.
- Joseph was merciful. We learn of Joseph’s great mercy and love for Mary in the last part of verse 19 when we read that he did not want to make a public spectacle of her; he decided to divorce her quietly. This divorce would only require two witnesses and could be done quietly and quickly. Although stoning an unfaithful spouse was a right under the law (Deut. 22), Joseph loved his wife and showed her mercy and love.
- Joseph was in control emotionally. Verse 20 records “But after he had considered this…” The word “considered” is taken from a Greek word enthymeomai. That word is a combination of two words: one means passion, anger, rage; the other means to contemplate. Joseph literally had to think through his anger and the revelation that his wife was pregnant by someone else. He did not fly off the handle, accuse her wildly, or break things. Instead, he spent time grieving, hurting, and thinking so that he could act rightly.
- Joseph was obedient. We learn that when Joseph was told by the Lord’s angel that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, he immediately did what God had instructed him to do, which was to marry his bride. He acted quickly and decisively.
- Joseph was courageous. Joseph acted courageously to marry Mary. They lived in a small town and the townspeople would have looked down upon the young couple for being pregnant before their official wedding ceremony. Joseph knew that there would be a stigma about them in the town, and that they would forever be labeled “that couple.” Even though people would not have understood Mary’s miraculous pregnancy, Joseph acted with courage and did what God told him to do. Sometimes the courageous thing to do means that we have to do it and be misunderstood by others; only God may know that we were in the right.
Which one (or ones) of these six character traits would we need to improve during 2019? As God looks at our lives the way he examined Joseph’s life, would we be seen as people of character? Would we have the kind of character that would catch God’s attention?
If not, which one of the six traits Joseph possessed would you want to work to improve this year? God is watching, and so are the people we lead as Bible study leaders. We don’t try to earn God’s approval or love as we strive to be people of good character; instead, we live as people of character as a response of gratitude to the gracious work of Christ in us.
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