One of the most interesting things you can do this week is google the term “masculinity”. The first thing you will encounter is a definition that says, “qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of men.” That’s not very helpful. It’s a circular definition: to be a man is to be a man.
Right underneath it, you will find this quotation: “handsome, muscled, and driven, he’s a prime example of masculinity.” If this is the definition of masculinity, then I’m afraid that most of us won’t qualify!
The Bible has a different vision of masculinity that centers not on what men look like on the outside, but on who men are on the inside. Jesus is the perfect example of this. The Bible describes him as having “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2), and when we look at the inward life-defining masculinity, then there was no one more masculine than Jesus.
Where did Jesus learn this from? That may sound a little controversial since Jesus was and is the eternal, omniscient Son of God who doesn’t need to learn anything. But it’s also accurate to say that in his human nature, he had to grow up and learn new things just like the rest of us. That’s why Luke tells us that he “increased in wisdom and in stature” (Luke 2:52).
One of the sources of this wisdom must have been his earthly parents. God used the influence of Joseph and Mary to shape Jesus and prepare him for ministry. While we know a lot more about Mary than Joseph due to her prominence in the Christmas narrative, we know enough about Joseph to understand that he was a godly man.
In this article, I want to focus on three lessons about masculinity that we can learn from Joseph. They’re drawn from Matthew 1:19: “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”
“And her husband Joseph, being a just man…”
Joseph was a just man. Other translations render this as “righteous man”. It means that he was righteous according to God’s law. His life reflected God’s moral commands in Scripture. He wasn’t perfect. He was still a sinner like all of us. But overall, his life reflected a genuine desire to follow God’s law and a relatively consistent pattern in doing so.
This reminds us that a godly man is characterized first and foremost by his love of God and obeying Him. If we don’t read the Bible and obey it then we’re missing a huge part of what it means to be a man. The measure of a man is not the length of his beard or the tone of his muscles. A godly man is a man of the Word.
“…and unwilling to put her to shame…”
When Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant, he has no idea that this baby she’s carrying was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The only conclusion he could draw was that she had been unfaithful. In that culture, infidelity made divorce inevitable. The only question was how it would be pursued.
Joseph had several reasons to make this as public as possible. He would have been tempted to shame her by announcing her infidelity to the world. He would have wanted to preserve his own reputation and make sure that everyone knew that she was in the wrong, not him. Perhaps he even had a financial interest in making it public so that he could recover his dowry.
But Joseph wasn’t looking after his own interests. He was looking after hers. He was willing to face the shame of having a baby out of wedlock because he was unwilling to put her to shame. He desired to protect her, not shame her.
Do you see what this is? It’s a picture of the gospel. Joseph took Mary’s shame just as Jesus, his adopted son, would take his shame, our shame, and the shame of all who would trust in him.
This is so counter-cultural. We live in a time when we are told that true men stand up for themselves. They fight back when they’re challenged. They don’t back down. They watch their own backs because no one else will. But that’s not what Joseph did, godly men give themselves up for the good of others, even when they don’t deserve it.
“…resolved to divorce her quietly.”
The word “resolved” implies a settled decision after careful deliberation. Joseph didn’t just think about his options and ponder what he should do. He made a decision.
That’s what leaders do: they make decisions. If you enter a room full of people all doing the same thing, it’s impossible to determine who the leader is. But as soon as a decision is called for, you immediately know who the leader is by looking at who makes the decision.
The key here, however, is that Joseph submitted his decisions to God. Yes, he resolved to divorce her quietly, but when the angel appears to him and instructs him not to divorce Mary, he obeys. Later, when the angel instructs him to flee to Egypt, he obeys as well. The fact that he ran doesn’t subtract from his masculinity. It adds to it because he ran out of obedience. Obedience is never un-masculine. Obedience is part of the essence of masculinity.
Joseph saw himself as a leader who was being led. He led with the authority of a man who knows that he is under authority as well.
Brothers, this is infinitely more difficult than mere leading. Most people can make decisions. Many can make good decisions. But it is much rarer to find a man who can make decisions knowing that many of his decisions will be made for him. It is much harder to lead under authority than to lead as the only authority.
Joseph shows us the essence of true masculinity: he will never lead for his own good. He will lead for the good of those he leads, and he will lead for the glory of the one who leads him.