Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, provides a helpful model for decision-making. There are enough salient insights in the Matthew 1 account to provide a simple blueprint about how to make decisions with confidence and compassion. Further, they reveal principles about how to do so while treating people with dignity and respect, even when they’re apparently in the wrong.
Few situations in life could be more socially awkward and spiritually challenging than the one in which Joseph found himself. A carpenter in Nazareth, he had proposed to young Mary, and she had accepted. According to Jewish custom, they entered the engagement phase of their marriage.
Then a major problem surfaced: Mary was found to be pregnant, clearly one of the most calamitous events that could happen to an engaged Jewish couple. Mary explained that she was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. To complicate matters, after this announcement Mary immediately left town to visit her relative Elizabeth, who lived some 70 miles south toward Jerusalem.
Joseph was in a serious dilemma. The Bible says he was a righteous man, committed to following the law of God. In spite of his love for Mary, Joseph concluded that she had done wrong and that he must do right.
Five principles reveal Joseph’s exemplary decision-making construct.
First, contemplation (thinking thoroughly): Before deciding what to do, Joseph considered the familial, social, and spiritual dimensions of his dilemma. Though he deeply loved and believed in Mary, according to the Word of God he would not go through with the marriage and be complicit with Mary’s “sin” (see verse 19).
Second, compassion (exercise kindness): In a magnanimous show of kindness, Joseph decided to help Mary. Instead of having her stoned or publicly embarrassed (Deut. 22:23, 24), he would quietly divorce her and facilitate her departure from Nazareth. The truth would eventually get out, but it would be easier on her this way.
Third, meditation (spiritual reflection): After making his decision, Joseph entered a deep state of thought, meditation, and prayer (James 1:5, 6). No doubt he reflected on the narrative shared by Mary, the angel, and the message about the holy seed and Son of God. In spite of Mary’s sterling reputation, her story was too unbelievable to accept.
Fourth, confirmation (remain open): Joseph was now ready to act, but remained open to further insight. At this point God intervened and provided an alternate perspective (verse 20). The Bible says during this time an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. He assured Joseph that Mary had been chaste, that the Holy Spirit had planted the seed within her womb, and that he, Joseph, should go through with their marriage and cooperate in the plan of incarnation.
Fifth, completion (act decidedly): Amazingly, Joseph didn’t object. He willingly cooperated with the divine initiative, though he understood that he might be accused of immorality with Mary before their marriage was complete. Nevertheless, he reconciled with Mary, confirmed their accounts, and went through with the marriage ceremony. Mary became his lawful wife.
So there you have it. This decision model worked for Joseph, and it can work for us all.
Delbert W. Baker is vice-chancellor of the Adventist University of Africa near Nairobi, Kenya.