01 April 2013

Miriam and Yoseph

Leaders in the church, Part 5
< Leading, Matthew 1:1-17 | Index | Herod and the astrologers >

Life will throw us curveballs from time to time, it's inevitable. Let's follow the example of Yoseph (Joseph) in paying attention to what we are told and basing our leadership on obedience. We may receive some explanations as well, and they can give us great confidence as we step out to lead.

A pregnant womanThis time we're looking at Matthew 1:18-25. This little section is so human, so ordinary. It's easy to read it as a family event (which, of course it is). But it's also easy to miss what it shows us about leadership.

Before we go any further let's be clear that these verses are not about the roles of men and women in the church today. They are about a Jewish betrothal two thousand years ago. There were traditional rituals and the bride and bridegroom had to play their part and follow the customary ways.

Because Miriam (Mary) was inconveniently pregnant it seemed clear to Yoseph that something had to be done. Miriam was not permitted to ask for a divorce, Yoseph would have to do that. And if he didn't do it carefully and quietly she could be stoned to death as an adulteress.

Reading between the lines we can sense his disquiet (even horror) at the possibility of her death and his desire to ensure her safety if possible. But the harder and better choice, to marry Miriam despite the pregnancy, had escaped him or he had rejected the idea. He might have done so from perfectly worthy motives.

The Almighty's messenger (the angel in Yoseph's dream) interrupted the process he planned to put in place. When he woke up he went ahead and did what he'd been told. This is obedience.

Leadership - But what has all this to do with leadership?

We need to see that Yoseph's part was to lead in this matter. This was required by tradition, social custom and the religious expectations of family and friends. He couldn't get out of it. He had to make a decision.

Let's look in a bit more detail at what he was told to do.

  • 'As he considered these things.' - It is important that we chew things over and consider our options. We must explore all the possible avenues and alternatives. It may be that the Holy Spirit will speak to us as we do so. This state of 'not yet decided' is not one we should move on from too quickly. Yoseph had 'resolved to divorce her' but was clearly still considering. As we consider, let's also pray. And as we pray let's expect guidance.
  • 'Don't be afraid.' - When the Spirit of the Most High speaks to us he will always encourage us.
  • 'Take Miriam as your wife.' - Here is some good, specific guidance. He will give us all the detail we need. Sometimes it might not seem enough, and then we need to trust him. Perhaps he will give us more once we've taken the first step.
  • 'Call him Yahshua'. - Guidance in advance, jot this down or store it in your heart. Yoseph would need this information later.

Action, not debate - Yoseph did what he was told. Notice that the angel gave him more than this; in addition to instructions he was also provided with some explanations. Expect explanation as well as instruction but do not confuse the two. Explanation may not always come, but when it does we are greatly encouraged by it and can obey with a great sense of purpose. Papa loves to encourage.

This passage shows us clearly that if we are to lead we must do so informed by what we are shown. If I lead I must do so in obedience to what the Almighty tells me. I must be prepared to hear and obey. Anyone who leads on a basis other than the will of the Father will lead others astray and undermine Yahweh's purpose. No wonder James writes that few should teach; that is a fearful responsibility indeed. (James 3:1)

Yoseph, faced with a dilemma, needed to hear, obey, and lead on the basis of what he heard. We will do well if we follow his example.

Questions:
  • When you hear from the Spirit, how do you distinguish instruction and explanation?
  • Can you think of other examples from the Bible of people who heard and then led out of an obedient heart?
  • Are there Biblical precedents for leading without hearing and obeying?
  • Is it enough to plan to the best of our ability and then do what seems best?

See also:

< Leading, Matthew 1:1-17 | Index | Herod and the astrologers >

2 comments:

  1. Christopher DrydenApril 9, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    Just answering the last question, really, Chris. My experience has been there's a great deal of frustration with truly patiently waiting on God to instruct us. So it's not unusual for me or the group I've been in to make something up to keep us active and occupied. Problem with that has been it's meant we've actually strayed from what god eventually wanted us to do, which we would have keyed in on had we remained patient. That's also linked to a method of community where we're open to God showing us what He wants from any member of the group, not just assuming the top dog must have all the answers and until he says it's of God we remain in brake-mode.

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  2. Hi Chris, thanks for the comment.

    I've seen the same frustration with waiting many times in different groups of people over the years. I'm also very familiar with meetings where there is space and silence has stopped been a problem.

    It's mostly down to expectations, I think. With a background in institutional church people inevitably expect a meeting to be busy and filled with activity. A silence is not seen as an opportunity so much as a failure to fill the silence. Everyone feels edgy and jumpy and uncomfortable.

    The solution is for everyone to give themselves permission to accept, even enjoy, the silence. It will take time before it becomes the new normal, but the jumpiness and frustration will die away slowly.

    Then the silence starts to be pregnant, and the Spirit begins to speak into hearts during silence, and people share what they are seeing and hearing and out of it comes his sheer awesomeness :-)

    Once that begins to happen, everyone is hungry for the silence! It becomes a place of blessing and new beginning.

    You could try explaining that so that everyone feels hopeful and expectant.

    If you think it would be helpful I'd be very happy to come along some time. Not as any kind of leader (perish the thought), but I could be there as a grateful visitor to simply be part of the group on that day. Drop me a line (chris@scilla.org.uk) if you want to discuss it further.

    Grace and peace,

    Chris

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