A few years ago I was slowly blogging through the Bible with the aide of Max Lucado’s “Life Lessons Study Guide“* books. At the time, I had started the journey as part of my one word challenge that year, “Redeemed“.
Now I’m starting again with a friend. She was looking to read her Bible more, and I had recommended this study series and then thought “why not go through it all again myself?” Additionally, it seemed very fitting to get back into a disciplined habit of spending dedicated time in God’s Word and in prayer through His Word. And go figure, my one Word challenge this year is “Discipline“.
I started back with Matthew, reading over Chapters 1 and 2 slowly, intentionally, and prayerfully. And again, Joseph really stood out to me.
Joseph is referred to as a “righteous” man (HCSB). Matthew 1:19 specifically shares “So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly”.
Reading that verse reveals a lot about Joseph’s character, however, I don’t think we get the full weight without an understanding of the culture and the time. To help show the weight of this verse, I’m going to share a small piece of what my Women’s Study Bible** shares regarding this:
Although the obligations for the betrothed couple were the same as if they were married, they did not live together but remained sexually pure. Therefore, the discovery before they came together that Mary was pregnant demanded that Joseph terminate the betrothal on grounds of Mary’s apparent unfaithfulness. Jewish, Roman, and Greek law made it virtually impossible for a man to retain his honor and do anything other than divorce the betrothed wife. Not to do so raised suspicions that he had acted immorally by having slept with her himself before the wedding. (The Study Bible for Women, Holman Bible Publishers, HCSB, p.1237)
Joseph doesn’t have any other option.
The woman whom he was to marry has seemingly been unfaithful to him. To marry her now would mean disgrace upon himself, a “ding” against his character and reputation. Joseph, the righteous man, would be viewed as being unrighteous, a man without integrity, and all over something that wasn’t his fault and that he had no control over.
So while it’s understandable he made the decision to divorce her, what is remarkable is the “not wanting to disgrace her publicly” part. This is how we can rest assured that Joseph was indeed a righteous man, by his compassion. Much in the same way our heavenly Father pours out His compassion over us, even when we are in sin. Joseph was going to show compassion to this woman who was supposed to be his faithful bride, even in the face of unfaithfulness.
Compassion even in the face of being wronged.
With my family, my friends, all people. Joseph was still going to divorce her, he wasn’t going to “pretend” nothing was wrong when he fully knew there was something wrong. However, he didn’t explode. He didn’t tell everyone who would listen. He didn’t berate Mary to ensure she felt the pain or humiliation he might feel. No, he instead showed her compassion.
Then there is the second lesson the Lord spoke to me. We live in a world where with just a few simple strokes of a keyboard, we can disgrace one another publicly.
And we do.
I personally have seen status messages that make me cringe.
And hear me sweet sisters, I get it.
I get what it feels like to be disappointed.
Let down. Sinned against. Treated wrongly.
I know the sadness, frustration, anger, and fear that comes from a fight, an addiction, a secret revealed.
And I fully believe we must guard ourselves against isolation and “going it alone”.
However, we don’t want to lose our compassion in the process.
Because when we start to lose our compassion, we become hardened. Bitter. Resentful.
And when this happens, the damage to our souls becomes ten fold.
Because now we struggle with the sin against us, and with the sin within us.
As believers, let us rise up and seek to be compassionate like Joseph. Instead of making public declarations that may cause shame and disgrace to someone, let’s turn to our trusted circle of friends. Those who will hear us, speak loving truth to us, and walk with us.
Let’s not use the public arena to “shame” one another. To “call one another out”. Yes, we must be pouring light into dark places, however, we must always first and foremost check the motives of our hearts. Because a heart driven by bitterness, resentfulness, anger, or self-righteousness, is a heart that seeks to tear down, not build up.
Which really leads to the final lesson the Lord laid on my heart through Mary’s husband.
Joseph’s willingness to risk his reputation to obey his God.
His status in the community, his being known as a “righteous” man.
While our families may not have a member who is pregnant by the Holy Spirit, our families certainly do have difficult situations. Situations that require our faithfulness first and foremost to God in order to navigate them according to His Will and not our “fears” of how we may be perceived by others.
Our faithfulness to love our God so much, that we obey.
With every new command He gives, every new direction that may upset our “perfect plan”.
Instead of pausing, and wallowing, publicly shaming and protecting our own reputations, we instead obey out of our love and our faithfulness to our God.
Because we trust Him. Because we know Him.