"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly." (Matthew 1:18-19 English Standard Version)
Early in the week, I was preparing a lesson on the next passage in our ongoing series of sermons from First Timothy when the above text was brought to my attention. Notice what it says about Joseph: He was a JUST man. That means he always did things in the most proper way he could manage. He didn't react to situations according to his emotions or calculate his next move with an eye to self-promotion. And in this case, it meant that he would do everything he could to protect his fiancée, Mary. Yes, he was going to break off the marriage contract because it certainly appeared to him that she had been unfaithful. But, no, he did not need to bad mouth her to his friends, and all the other things that we tend to do when we feel we have been wronged. Joseph did not need to make a big deal about being right. Everyone that knew him knew that he always LIVED right. He was a just man and it showed in his consideration for others.
That is a wonderful example for those of us that want to be right, and I trust that all of us want to be right in our own eyes as well as in the eyes of God. We can't claim that we are right simply because we are "better" than somebody else. We can't claim that we are right simply because we haven't been dragged off to jail. We can't claim that we are right simply because we have argued down all the opposition. We are right when we LIVE right. We are right when we give proper consideration to the entire needs of our current situation. Not what we can rationalize about our situation, not what gives us the greatest satisfaction, and not what other people necessarily expect, but what is right in view of ALL the circumstances. That includes the question of what is God's will and what is best for any other people involved.
This idea is in the passage that I was originally going to use as the basis of today's lesson:
1 Timothy 4:7-8--
"Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come."
Notice the admonition: "Train yourself for godliness" and the fact that Paul contrasts godliness with "irreverent, silly myths." There are two things to really dwell on here:
- The idea of training indicates a great amount of effort is being expended to reach a goal, in this case, godliness. No one who is truly training goes about it haphazardly or apathetically. You need a focused program that you work on a daily basis. That was the example of Joseph--his practice of rightness was so steady and consistent that he was known as a just man.
- The practice of irreverent, silly myths do not make one godly. Whether the myth is from society ("A real man has to fight" "You can't let her get away with that") or even a myth from religion ("Once you have done 'x' you will always be safe with God" "God loves everybody so it doesn't matter what you do"), it is no substitute for godliness. How do we know what is myth and what is truth? That is where the training comes in! We need to examine what principles we live by to see if they match the principles of God.
Let us all set godliness as our goal! That doesn't equal self-justification. If godliness is our goal, we will not shy away from choices that may be uncomfortable. We won't relate to others on the basis of what satisfies self. We won't excuse our inactivity with having followed some ritual or accepted some empty platitude. WE WILL make a concerted effort to know God's will and practice his love and goodness on a daily basis.
WHY? Because of the promises given in the above verse: "godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." Promise for the present life in that we can be truly satisfied in living rightly. We can know the great blessings that come in Christ, e.g., peace, joy, assurance. And of course, the great promise for the life to come.
If we wish to be with God, why would we not work to be godly? Let Joseph's example lead you to a life that is just.
[Highlights from the sermon presented Sunday morning, Dec. 2, 2012, at the Brentwood Church of Christ worship assembly.]