- Fear of What Other People Think of Me
- Matthew 1:18-24
- Lyndol Loyd December 20, 2016
December 18, 2016
We are continuing this morning in our series, Fear Not, as we look at the Christmas story. We are examining different parts of the story where an angel of the Lord shows up, speaks to someone and then says, “Fear not” or “Don’t be afraid.” We’ve looked at how the angel appeared to Zachariah and told him that he and Elizabeth would become parents, even in their old age. Last week, we looked at the angel appearing to Mary and the angel revealing to her that she would become the mother of Jesus, even though she was an unwed teenage virgin. This morning, we take on the angel appearing to Joseph and more specifically the topic of “Fear of What People Will Think of Me.”
To get us started, I would ask you this, “How many of you often care about what other people think of you?” Just raise up your hand if you would. Hold them up for a minute if you would. Now look around at those who don’t have their hands up and say, “Your hand isn’t up because you care too much what I think about you.” That’s probably what is going on.
The reality is, on one level or another, all of us are concerned about what other people think of us. Do you like the car I drive? Do you like my hairstyle? Do you think I’m funny? Do you think I fit in? Do you like my selfie on Facebook or Instagram? We become so easily obsessed about what other people think about us.
In this week’s story we are going to watch Joseph battle with the opinions of people when he has to decide between what is easy and what is right? When he has to choose between what people would want him to do and what God would want him to do.
So let me give you the context and then we are going to dive in. Joseph is scheduled to be married to a young teenage virgin girl named Mary. Now, in that time in history, engagements were a lot different than they are today. Today, if things go weird during that time in the relationship, you can just simply break off the engagement. Back in that time an engagement was actually a binding agreement. You would be engaged for a year’s period of time and during that time if you wanted to break off the engagement you actually had to file for divorce.
The only way to get out of an engagement during that time would be to divorce or die. The engagement was so serious that if one of the two people died the other would be considered a widow or widower.
Keeping all of this in mind, we pick up with the story in Matthew 1:18, “18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.”
Now, you can just read this, but if you try to get into the minds of Joseph and Mary you would have to admit that it had to be a really odd conversation when Mary sits down with her fiancée and says, “Joe, honey, I’m pregnant. Now don’t jump to conclusions. The good news is that it’s by the Holy Spirit.”
If I’m Joseph, I would be thinking, “And how long did it take you to come up with this story? Don’t give me that Holy Spirit stuff. I saw the way old so-and-so was checking you out at the well a while back. That just doesn’t feel right to me.”
You have to admit, from a human perspective, Joseph has two options. If you factor out the Holy Spirit, there are really only two options for Joseph. She’s either crazy or she’s a liar – and Joseph is thinking I don’t want to marry into either one.
At some point, Joseph has to be thinking, “If I stay with this girl, what is everybody going to be thinking about us?” From Mary’s perspective, she is already marked, this is considered a sin that is punishable by being stoned to death. From his perspective he’s marked for the rest of his life. If he’s the guy who got her pregnant, or if she got pregnant by someone else, he’s going to find it hard to find a job. If he divorces her no other father is going to want to bless his daughter to be married to him. He might find it difficult to get people to do business with him. Everyone is going to know what has been going on in his life.
We don’t know for sure what was going on in Joseph’s mind, but what we do know from the scripture text is that he is bailing on the relationship. He’s done. He either doesn’t believe her or he doesn’t want to take the heat. But he feels it is best for him to move on.
vs. 19, “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” So he’s jumping out of the relationship. Now a lot of commentaries that I read said that divorcing her quietly was actually a very noble thing to do. What he’s thinking is that I’m not going to expose her to public shame. He probably actually loves her and cares about her. He doesn’t want to see her stoned to death. Maybe we can go our separate directions, move on down the road and get on with life.
He is about to learn one of the most important life lessons for those who want to honor God. Are you ready for it? Pleasing God often means disappointing people. He’s about to learn that if you want to obey God there will be many times when other people will not agree and will not understand. Pleasing God often means disappointing people.
And here is how the story goes down. “20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
At this moment, when he awakens from the dream, you have to imagine the pendulum swing of emotions within Joseph. “For centuries it has been prophesied that a Messiah would come. And now an angel has come and told me that I get to somehow be a part of that.” And at the very same time the emotions have to swing the other way, “What are people going to say about me? What is this going to cost me? On one hand I get to possibly change the world and on the other hand I have no idea how difficult this might be. Should I do what God wants? Or should I do what people want?”
I can promise you, if you are a follower of God, there will be different points in your life where you are going to face choices that you will have to decide between obeying God or doing what is easier and will please people?
Joseph is going to learn some very important principles and the first one is this:
Becoming obsessed with what people think about you is the quickest way to forget what God thinks about you.
Let that sink in. The reality is that for most of us we drift toward wanting to please people. What do you think of me? Do I measure up? Do I fit in? Am I cool enough? And suddenly without thinking about it, we surrender our lives to the opinions of people at the expense of actually living to please God.
How do we overcome that? Well, the flip side is true. Becoming obsessed with what God thinks about you is the quickest way to forget what people think about you. Living for an audience of one is perhaps the quickest way to get past living for the approval of others.
Think about it, you cannot please everyone. If you try to please everyone you are going to fail at some point. If you wear your clothes one way, you’re cool now, but another group says, “What’s up with that?” You have one political opinion you’re in, but with another group it means you’re out. You like this kind of music, you’re in, but then you’re also out. How about I stand in the middle? Then we all hate you.
The bottom line is that no matter how hard you try, you cannot please everyone. But the good news is you can please God. You can live a life where God looks at you and says, “You did good. You did the right thing. You brought glory to my name.”
But how do we overcome living for what everyone else thinks? We surrender ourselves to living for an audience of one. Because becoming obsessed with what God thinks of us is the quickest way to get set us free of worrying what people think about us. Very quickly Joseph had to get to a place in his life where he said, “I value the opinion of God more than I value the opinion of people.”
Now, how does this play out in our everyday lives? I want to give you a couple of big thoughts to take with you and apply.
1. If You Are Not Ready to Be Criticized for Your Obedience to God, You’re Not Ready to Be Used by God.
Think about all of the different ways that Joseph & Mary would be criticized. They would be publicly disgraced again and again. People would whisper about them, “You know that’s not really Joseph’s baby.” “I’m pretty sure I saw his donkey parked outside her house at 2:00 a.m.”
• There is a good chance that there will be a time when you are reading God’s word and it is going to tell you to do something that is culturally unpopular and if you obey you are going to be criticized.
• Or you may hear the voice of God leading you to do something and people will criticize you. They may look at you like a freak because you choose not to go out and booze it up with them. They may think your odd because you choose not to watch certain movies or shows. They may make fun of you.
• Maybe you choose to leave a high paying job to take a low paying job because you feel like what you would be doing would actually allow you to contribute to society and make a difference in the lives of others. Why would you do that? Life’s all about money. Right?
• Maybe you decide to live beneath your means so that you can give generously and sacrificially. People may shake their heads and say, “Why would you do that? You could do this. You could do that. And you respond with because this is what God is calling me to do.
The truth is this, if you want to do more in this world you will endure more pain than others. If you want to have criticism free life, do nothing. Stand for nothing and have nothing. One of my mentors used to tell me, “I’d rather risk doing something great for God and fail than to do nothing at all and succeed.”
When Joni and I moved to Hot Springs Village, AR, to start a new church there, I learned about all of this in a very really and vivid way. I had no idea how controversial it would be to start at new church. People started all kinds of rumors and told all kinds of lies about us because they didn’t want our church to start. I don’t have time to go into all of the stuff people flung our way and many times from other people who were supposed to be Christians. It was horrible. I don’t know that I’ve ever been through anything harder.
But you have to remember, becoming obsessed with what people think about you is the quickest way to forget what God thinks about you and likewise, becoming obsessed with what God thinks about you is the quickest way to overcome being obsessed with what people think about you.
2. Extraordinary Acts of God Often Start with Ordinary Acts of Obedience.
Think about this, the Savior of the World was born when two humble young people said yes to God in an act of obedience.
Let’s get inside the minds of Mary and Joseph for a minute. The angel told them they were going to have a son, what they were supposed to name him, he’s going to save people. That’s it. No details. “How are we going to raise him? How are we going to discipline him? Are we going to spank him or use time out? We’re dealing with the Son of God here. He’s perfect. Maybe he’ll put us in time out. It’s crazy there are no details here.”
I think there are times when we say, “God show me the details.” And he says, “You can’t handle the details.” If he told you everything, you wouldn’t take the first step.
Now, they didn’t know details. And this is what I embrace so often. We don’t have to understand completely in order to obey immediately. We don’t have to see the whole picture in order to put the first puzzle piece in place and trust God with the rest.
This is so encouraging to me. You have no idea what you might set into motion with one simple act of obedience to do what God puts on your heart.
The angel speaks to Joseph. Says, “Fear Not. Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife because what is in here was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save people from their sins.”
And he has a choice to make. Does he do what’s easy? Does he do what people would want him to do? Or, does he do what God wants him to do?
So in one little verse we see his decision. And what’s so encouraging to me about this one little verse is that God is going to prompt many of you to do something through his word or by his spirit. One sentence could summarize your response.
Here is Joseph’s response. Vs. 24, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” He did what the angel of the Lord commanded him. And through that simple act of obedience the greatest act of God in human history was brought to fulfillment. You have no idea what you set into motion with a single act of obedience to God.
So when God speaks to you, you wrestle with it. What will people think? What does God thinks? There could be one sentence that is a destiny altering sentence if you do what the Lord prompts you to do.