When you are asked about examples of godly leaders, what names come to mind? Moses? Certainly! Joshua? Yes! The apostle Paul? Without a doubt! If I told you that Joseph was the most overlooked and godly leader of Scripture, would that grab your attention? Of course it would! I admit that claim is bold but step back and think about it for just a minute. God chose Joseph, of all the men on earth, for a simple but significant purpose - to serve as the earthly father for Jesus with the responsibility to lovingly lead the One who would bring salvation to humanity. That's a man demanding our attention and study!
Grab your Bibles and turn to Matthew. We are only going to focus on a few verses because that is all we have of this man who faithfully served God, his wife, and his children. Conversely, there is more written about Mary, the mother who carried and cared for Jesus, and we will consider her example in a future article. Specifically, look at Matthew 1:18-25 and notice the simple description offered of him - "a just man." The Greek term translated as "just" (dikaios) has two meanings: (1) innocent in judicial proceedings and (2) conformed to the standards of God's truth. These meanings are important as they firmly establish the Gospel claim that Mary's pregnancy was a supernatural event.
If you dig further into Thayer's Greek Lexicon, note this amazing statement: "one who is such as he ought to be." Does that not sound like a person - a leader - you would want to meet, learn from, and follow? Let's walk through this passage and see how he lived that statement and provides us a wonderful example of leadership.
Responded rather than reacted (verse 19)
When Joseph discovered that Mary was with child, he knew that he was innocent of any wrong doing. In Jewish culture, the betrothal was much stronger than our modern engagement. Betrothal was a binding contract that could only be severed by death or divorce. Mary being pregnant could only mean that she participated in adultery, so Joseph faced a choice in how to proceed. Her actions were too evil to overlook, too deceitful to ignore, and too obvious to hide.
Imagine the pain of betrayal he felt. Ponder the fire of jealousy rising in his heart that another man had taken May - the woman pledged to be his. Yes, he was hurt and disappointed in the one he loved because he knew he was not the father of that child. Through emotional agony, he responded with gentleness rather than malice or anger. In wanting to deal with this matter quickly and quietly, he demonstrated that leaders need to take a matter to the extent necessary - but no further. His response is one that we all should emulate daily with co-workers, friends, strangers, and our families.
Revealed a heart of mercy (verse 19)
As mentioned above, Joseph was hurt but wanted to handle the matter quietly, thereby, sparing Mary public embarrassment and punishment. He could have taken her before the city elders, exposed her predicament, gained a divorce, and had her stoned under Mosaic law (see Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Needless to say, this situation was, at best, a difficult one for a man in love. Simply reporting her to the religious rulers, and the process would have immediately started in motion.
In all of this, he chose differently, led with a heart of love, and demonstrated mercy toward her. He could have demanded satisfaction of seeing her suffer but decided mercy mattered more. Simply, he would divorce her to sever the tie legally and move on to sever the tie socially. His actions reveal a heart tempered by the mercy and forgiveness of God. He could only act in this manner because he experienced the same from God His Heavenly Father.
Do you think mercy is needed in our world today? We need people and leaders who avoid grandstanding by "putting others in their place" but choose an extension of mercy and understanding to those who need it most.
Reflected on next steps (verse 20)
Joseph had settled on what to do yet this verse opens in a rather unique way: "as he considered these things." The term consideration references an internal, deep thinking to ensure he was taking the right steps. He wanted to evaluate every step and its natural outcome. He was reflecting! This situation was not paralysis by analysis but a torn spirit between the love in his heart for a woman and the commitment in his heart for right.
What a big lesson this scene present for everyone, especially leaders. We must take time to slow down and reflect. Why do people not pause? The typical reason presented is a lack of time, yet, Joseph disregards that excuse and took the time anyway. This pause helped him process mental knowledge, emotional longing, spiritual hope, and social justice. If you do not have a regular habit of reflection, then you are losing the value of your knowledge and experience.
Required God's guidance (verses 20-21)
It was only when Joseph paused to reflect that God spoke to him, thereby, revealing the right direction. He thought he knew the right actions to take, but God revealed to Him other plans. Had Joseph moved forward in a brash and bold decision, he would have mistakenly exited the will of God. Let's be honest here, emotional reactions remove God from the equation. Why? Because pride provokes improper attitudes leading to impudent actions. He believed he knew what was right but wanted one last chance to evaluate whether his emotions were leading his decision. He was still seeking the answer. Do not lose sight of the fact that God always responds to those who search for Him.
These deliberate actions from Joseph coincide well with what is recorded in Psalm 46:10 - "Be still and know that I am God." Being still is hard in this hustle and bustle world, but the quieted mind is more apt to produce quality. Get alone without the noise and turn your thoughts towards God through His Word and watch what He will teach you.
Relinquished his life in obedience (verse 24)
The verse simply says that Joseph woke up and followed the directions of the Lord. We do not see hesitation or lack of faith - just a forthright and immediate response. His deliberate choice reveals a heart focused on obedience when "common sense" says otherwise. The simple carpenter embraced the definition of success in God's economy - neither fame nor fortune but faithfulness to the purpose God has for your life (see Matthew 24:46 and 25:21,23).
Do not gloss over this verse too quickly but slow down and ponder what it meant. Joseph, an innocent man, would spend his entire life hearing the whispers of infidelity and a tarnished reputation - a fate that Mary would share as well. Nothing he could say or do would change the minds or insults of others. In pointing back to His origins, the Jews would blatantly call Jesus illegitimate (John 8:41), and Mary would have felt that sting as well. Joseph knew what God would do through Mary was miraculous; and his place, as her husband, was to choose the hardship by keeping her and raising the Son of God. What an example of humility! How desperately our world needs humble leaders, and you can start the trend.
Joseph, in this short passage, teaches us much about humanity and leadership. While little is known of him, what we do know leaves us amazed at his strength of character, commitment to serve, and belief in his God-given purpose. Take the time, today, to reflect on his example and let God shape you into the person you ought to be.