Like many other pastors, I recently began our annual “journey toward Bethlehem” by preaching from Matthew 1:18-25. During my study I began to notice some exciting—and somewhat unexpected—landmarks in the life of Joseph, each relating to the subject of biblical manhood.
As the heading in any of our Bibles will tell us, this story is clearly about the birth of Christ, not biblical manhood. However, just because the birth of Jesus is the “main point” doesn’t mean it’s the only point. I don’t believe we should shy away from making the other points so long as we’re faithful to expound the main one.
In this article I want to share five lessons we can learn from Joseph’s life about what it means to be a godly man.
1. Godly men care about God’s Word.
Matthew tells us Joseph was a “just man” (v. 19). While we may read this phrase simply as “Joseph was a stand up guy,” the word here for “just” is describing Joseph’s posture and orientation toward the law. As a devout first-century Jew, he cared deeply about what God had to say about life. As we might put it today, Joseph was a godly man who cared deeply about the Bible and wanted to live it out.
Could the same be said of us? Are we devoted to God’s Word and living it out in daily life? If not, why not? What might need to change?
2. Godly men are more concerned with what God thinks than what others think.
This story highlights the amazing event of the virgin conception—a truth apparently not embraced by Joseph at first. At this time, for a young bride-to-be like Mary to turn up pregnant during her betrothal period was a crime potentially punishable by death (Deut. 23). Though ancient Jewish communities didn’t always enforce this law, they often did seek to publicly humiliate the adulteress. So being a “just man,” Joseph had to somehow respond to Mary’s perceived “indiscretion,” or he would have been naturally seen as guilty as well. But even in the wake of her untimely pregnancy, Joseph loved Mary and didn’t want to see her publicly shamed even if it meant he could clear his name. Instead, he was willing to endure a measure of shame.
I know what you are probably thinking: In the next verse, he decided to “divorce her quietly.” How can this be commended? Because of their betrothal Joseph was required to take some kind of action, and the law contained a provision allowing for a private “divorce” (breaking of the betrothal) in such situations. I believe Joseph’s plan was evidence of his effort to be faithful to God and the law in a way that was as kind to Mary as possible.
Could the same be said of us, husbands? Are we willing to lose face if it saves some shame from someone we love? If not, what does this reveal about the nature of our hearts and our identity?
3. Godly men step up and do the right thing even when it’s hard.
When we get to verse 20, the clouds begin to lift. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him not to fear. God is behind these happenings, so he needs to continue moving toward marriage with Mary. Simple enough. But this plan includes the caveat that Joseph must name and raise a son who will be the Savior of the world—a son not actually his.
Can you fathom this commission? All of us have struggles and challenges, but I think Joseph tops us all. Thankfully, he does the right thing. He names and raises Jesus. That’s what godly men do. They step up and do the right thing even when it is hard.
Could the same be said of us? Do we step up, by God’s grace and for his glory, when others step back? Do we inspire the same kind of courage and conviction in our sons? Do we teach our daughters to look and wait for this kind of man?
4. Godly men follow through and pursue purity.
Joseph did all God wanted him to do. While we know God is sovereign, let’s not miss the significant human responsibility. Joseph’s word was his bond. He followed through on his commitments. Joseph maintained his and Mary’s sexual purity until their wedding day. In this way, Joseph provides a particularly poignant example for single young men.
Would others describe you as someone who follows through? What about in the area of purity? Are you by God’s grace “fighting the good fight”?
5. Godly men are willing to care for children who aren’t biologically theirs.
Even from a surface reading of the story, it’s apparent Jesus both is and also isn’t Joseph’s son. In this light it’s not a stretch to think of Jesus as adopted. That Joseph was willing to step in and adopt the boy provided the needed human connection for Jesus to come through the line of David. And let’s not underestimate the lifetime of questions Joseph would have endured by seeking to care for this child. But again, that’s the kind of thing godly men do. They care for orphans and widows and seek to look out for the fatherless as a reflection of the heart of God.
Make no mistake: Christmas is about Jesus.
The story in Matthew 1 is about the birth of Christ, and we should honor it as such. But isn’t God kind to allow us to learn other truths along the way to Bethlehem? Joseph is a hero in Scripture who points us to the Hero of Scripture. May God give us the grace to follow in his steps.