Most Christians yearn for examples of godly people to pattern their lives after, and a pair of good candidates for the job are Mary and Joseph, the parents of Jesus. When you think about it, Mary and Joseph were the ultimate power couple. They were, after all, the man and woman chosen by God to raise the Messiah! But while women have for millennia looked to Mary as the supreme example of godly womanhood, men have found Joseph to be a much more elusive figure on which to build a picture of biblical manhood. That’s probably because there is not a lot written about Joseph in the New Testament. But when you take a deeper look into the details concerning this tall, dark and handy figure from Nazareth, you find there is a lot more to him than meets the eye. In fact, there are five outstanding traits one can observe in Joseph that any man would do well to model his life after.
1. Joseph was an ‘Average Joe’ Who Lived an Above-Average Life. Laying all the “average Joe” puns aside, Bible scholars tell us that Joseph’s profession and other details of his life indicates he was a simple peasant. Carpentry didn’t pay much in his day, so Joseph had to work hard for a living, and he didn’t have a lot to show for it. Joseph was a regular blue-collar worker, a builder who made a living with his hands (the word we translate “carpenter” in our English Bibles is simply “builder” in Greek, and may refer to woodworkers, stone-workers or other types of craftsmen). To make Joseph’s character authentic, the script writers for The Promise were careful to write dialogue and song lines for Joseph that were what you’d expect from a construction worker, not a priest or a scholar, and the voice actor for Joseph, Michael Daniel Murphy, was chosen for his earthy, less formally trained vocal style. Far from being a guy that is hard to relate to, Joseph’s earthiness makes him imminently relatable. The message is, if Joseph can be used by God, so can any man.
2. Joseph Exhibited Integrity and Grit in the Face of Adversity. Imagine being faced with all the trials Joseph went through. The seeming betrayal of Mary. Joseph came through it. A Roman census for which he had to make a difficult journey with his very pregnant wife to Bethlehem? No problem, pack the donkey. No place to stay in Bethlehem – and Mary goes into labor? We’ll just have this baby in a barn! When the going got tough, Joseph got going. Of course the real Joseph sweated through these predicaments just like any man, but the point is he powered through them with grace and endurance. He got ‘er done, and gives us a great example of what God can do through any faithful man.
3. Joseph Showed True Love. We aren’t privy to Joe and Mary’s love life, but we certainly see a powerful example of genuine love in several respects. First, we are told that Joseph remained sexually abstinent from Mary before marriage. “True love waits” is more than a slogan, it’s the truth. He honored Mary and God by waiting. And don’t imagine for a minute that it was easier to remain pure in Joseph’s day. The Bible gives repeated admonitions to remain sexually pure for one reason – the temptation to do otherwise is great! In addition, the way Joseph handled the shock of Mary’s pregnancy showed much grace. Legally, he could have had her publicly shamed or even stoned for adultery, but he decided not to be vengeful, but to “put her away quietly.” But after the angel Gabriel revealed the divine identity of the child and miraculous nature of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph wasted no time in taking her as his wife. Surely this man who raised the Messiah taught Jesus the meaning of love through his words and his life.
4. Joseph Protected His Family. Joseph was determined not to let anything happen to his family, even if it meant leaving everyone and everything he ever knew. When he learned that Herod sought to kill Jesus, he outsmarted and outran one of the most brutal kings in history as he fled to Egypt and lived there until Herod died. As a refugee in a foreign land he was away from the security of family, the assurances of the law, and normal employment. All was at stake, and everything was different and uncomfortable. But Joseph was more than willing to do this to protect his family at all costs. Every man should strive to protect his family with this warrior-like protective attitude.
5. Joseph Trusted and Obeyed God. This is probably the most clearly illustrated trait in Joseph’s life, and the key reason he was chosen to parent the Messiah. Joseph is called “a righteous man.” You have to be spiritually attuned to God to hear from him directly, and in fact Joseph believed the angel’s message from God via dreams three times: first, concerning Mary’s miracle pregnancy, second concerning Herod’s intent to kill Jesus, and third, when he got the “all-clear” to return to Israel upon Herod’s death. Joseph also showed his devotion to God by following the law to a “T.” He presented Jesus at the temple for circumcision on the eighth day and he brought his family to Jerusalem for the appointed feast days each year. And Joseph clearly taught Jesus the Scriptures well as a child, because by age 12 Jesus was confounding the teachers of the law in the temple with his learned questions (Luke 2:47, 52). This was not only a function of Jesus’ divinity, but also of his discipleship at the feet of his earthly father. Though only a “working-class guy,” Joseph knew and followed God’s Word and taught it to Jesus. All evidence points to him also teaching well his other children. Don’t forget, his son James, Jesus’ brother, later led the first congregation in history – the Jerusalem church! A man loves his family most when he helps them know God, the source of all love, and God’s Word, the source of all wisdom and salvation.
Conclusion – It’s a Matter of the Heart. As far as we know, Joseph wasn’t flashy, rich, super-educated, a great public speaker, or a snappy dresser. That God used a humble peasant like Joseph for such a significant purpose shows us that true greatness isn’t about externals, but is always about the heart. Just like his great-great-great ancestor David, the Lord chose to use Joseph because he was “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13:13-14). Christian men today can model their lives after Joseph’s, and, like him, can enjoy the benefits of friendship with God and partnership in His mission on earth.