Spiritual leadership doesn’t just happen at church or on the mission field. It also occurs in the marketplace and most importantly, in the home. I have worked with executives of major companies who earned enormous profits for investors, overcame major economic downturns, and who brilliantly administered thousands of staff, yet they grieved over the way their children were turning out. They worked miracles at work, but nothing they met constant failure at home. For many, the greatest leadership challenge they will ever face will be their own family.
It is actually surprising how difficult it is to find outstanding of effective fathers in the Bible. Adam, Noah, Isaac, Eli, Samuel, David, Solomon, Hezekiah all suffered painful failures among their children. You actually have to search carefully to discover a godly man who raised godly offspring. Of course, the most successful father of all was Joseph. Now I know what you’re thinking: Of course he was successful! He had the only perfect child, Jesus! What parent couldn’t look good if he had Jesus for his firstborn son? But take a moment to reflect on Joseph as a spiritual leader in his home.
The first time we’re introduced to Joseph, he is discovering that his virgin fiancé is pregnant (Matt. 1:18-25). The Jewish law demanded that she be stoned to death for adultery. Her pregnancy would have scandalized their small community. Gossip would have been widespread as people speculated whether Mary was an adulterer or if Joseph had been unable to restrain himself until after marriage. Yet when God’s messenger instructed Joseph to take Mary as his wife, but not to be intimate with her until after she gave birth, we are told that Joseph “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Matt. 1:24).
When the government ordered Joseph to proceed to Bethlehem to be registered for taxes, he did not leave his pregnant wife behind. He painstakingly traversed the hills of Nazareth and Judea with his very pregnant wife in tow. He may have feared to leave her unprotected in her disapproving hometown. It certainly would have been easier to travel alone, but Joseph tenderly cared for his wife, even though she was carrying someone else’s child. When they arrived in Bethlehem, there was no place to stay. Joseph had to forage for suitable accommodations in which his wife could give birth (Luke 2:1-7).
Joseph might have assumed that after successfully giving birth to Jesus, his greatest challenges were behind him. But one night an angel warned him that the tyrannical despot, King Herod, was seeking to murder Jesus. Joseph awaked his young family in the middle of the night and fled under the cover of darkness (Matt. 2:13-15). Can you imagine the grief Joseph felt when he learned that his friends and neighbors in Bethlehem had lost their babies to the swords of Herod’s henchmen? (Matt. 2:16-18). Imagine the challenges Joseph experienced as he found a place to live in the foreign land of Egypt, far from family and friends. Once Herod died, Joseph was able to return to his homeland, but he was afraid of Archelaus, who ruled over Judea (Matt. 2:19-23), so he settled in the backwater village of Nazareth. In a few short years, Joseph had to move from Nazareth, to Bethlehem, to Egypt, and back to Nazareth. Think of all he endured during the early stage of his marriage.
Three things impress me about Joseph. First, he never complains. Even though he is asked to undertake extremely difficult, dangerous, and humiliating tasks, he never grumbles. Second, he obeys immediately. To delay would have cost him and his family their lives! Third, he is kind. For a tough carpenter, he is continually thoughtful and gentle with his family.
In most discussions and depictions of the Christmas story, Jesus’ heavenly Father and his earthly mother receive the lion’s share of attention. But I suspect that if you had met Jesus as a young man and asked him what person (on earth) He had ever known that most impressed Him, I suspect He would not have hesitated to have said, “My dad.”
Sure Joseph had the only perfect Son. But he didn’t have it easy. Yet he always did what God told him. He was an ordinary, working man who did what he had to, to honor God with his home. We’re still feeling the impact to this day.