By Todd Stiles
Each Christmas I find myself drawn to a contrast rooted in the life of Joseph: males versus men. And make no mistake—You have both in every situation life throws at you.
Consider 9-11. Lots of males were running away from the building, but only men ran in. Then there was the Tsunami of 2005. Lots of males were running away from the beach, but onlymen ran towards the water.
I think back to biblical times. There were lots of males God could have selected to be the earthly father of Jesus and the earthly husband of the virgin Mary. But apparently God found one man up to the task. His name was Joseph. And he left some footprints for us—footprints of courage.
To be sure, Joseph was more than male; he was a man. And a courageous man at that! For instance, Joseph had personal courage. When informed that his soon-to-be wife was pregnant, he resisted the plunge towards public vindictiveness. When he could have said, “Hey, that’s not my child. She’s not pregnant because of me,” he didn’t. He instead choose a path of dignity and obedience that was rooted in his personal walk with God, not based on polls or popular opinion.
Joseph had spiritual courage as well. Just imagine if you were Joseph. You’re having coffee Jerusalem style, and you’re telling your accountability group, “This girl I’m betrothed to, well, uhm, she’s pregnant! But, guys, I promise it’s not me.” You know what’s next, assuming they believe you in the first place? Something like this probably: “Well, Joseph, let’s lay out a plan for you, because you’ve got to protect yourself. You can’t be saddled with a kid that’s not yours this early in life.” But Joseph had the spiritual courage to hear the right voice, not necessarily the easiest voices. Joseph listened to God’s singular call upon his life.
In the movie The Nativity Story, there’s an interesting scene where Joseph and Mary are leaving town headed to Bethlehem, and all the folks they thought were their friends are sneering at them. Joseph makes a humorous observation and comments to Mary, “We have a lot of friends here, don’t we?” That would have been a tough exit. But he keeps his face towards Mary and towards God even when the townspeople think, “Man, what is wrong with you?” That kind of response and perspective took spiritual courage.
Joseph had physical courage, for he continued to abstain from sex until after the birth of Jesus. Think about it—you’re finally married and on your honeymoon night your new wife says, “Not tonight, honey.” Yeah, right. Essentially, Joseph’s whole journey was one of courage.
Have you ever asked yourself, “Where does courage come from?” Look at Matthew 1:18-19:
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
Here is the first step to becoming a man of courage: You must possess and practice personal integrity regardless of public pressure. In other words, you must be the right man to do the right things. Character always comes before courage.
For sure, he was positionally righteous. He had chosen to believe what God had said about who would come to save them. He was “justified by his faith” – by looking forward to what was coming. So in God’s eyes, Joseph was righteous in the sense that he was considered right before God.
But there’s another point to this word that we often neglect: the practical side of righteousness. The root of the word “righteousness” is “right things.” If I were to say, “You are a righteous business man,” I’d be talking to you about the practical side of your business life. You see, God takes care of the positional side of righteousness the moment I believe; I have nothing to do with that except believing in the name of his Son Jesus Christ as the only way to Heaven. It’s called justification. But, regarding practical righteousness, I cooperate with God by living out a righteous lifestyle—doing right things.
Notice the “right thing” in this text. Most likely, the right thing, at least culturally speaking, was to divorce her quietly, as verse 19 indicates. We often think the right thing for Joseph to have done was to embrace her, like the knight who comes on his horse and saves the day. And while he did do that after hearing from God, prior to his dream he was on a path to do the “right thing” even when he probably wanted to do the vindictive thing. Sure, he could have exposed her publicly, making a spectacle of her. But instead, because he was a righteous man, he was willing to do the right thing—put her away quietly. Even in his pre-God plan, he was courageous and put Mary above his own reputation.
Enter God, center stage. He gives Joseph the inside scoop, and now Joseph is beyond doing just the right thing. He is now going to do the impossible thing. God has given a new set of orders, and it is beyond simply “right.” It is now God-like. Sacrificial.
Joseph—What an inspiring example of character and courage this Christmas.
Todd Stiles is Lead Pastor of First Family Church in Ankeny.