Resisting Societal Pressures: Overcoming Fear and Shame

The story of the birth of Jesus Christ is one that will never get old. Embedded in the events that led to the miraculous conception and birth of our Lord Jesus Christ are great mysteries and lessons that, as believers, we can apply to our lives in our walk with the Lord. In the gospel of Matthew 1:19-25, Joseph’s first encounter with the Angel of God helps to understand how as believers, we can resist societal pressures and obey the will of God for our lives.

The culture and some factors in society create specific standards, expectations, or norms on how we should live. Some of these standards are good, and others are just suffocating, which makes life unbearable. These harmful societal expectations create fear in people, and at times force people to go against their values and beliefs to conform to societal expectations. Joseph, who became the earthly father of Jesus Christ, had to battle with societal pressures to be able to step into his calling as the earthly father of Jesus Christ.

19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” 24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the Angel of the Lord, commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus. – Matthew 1:19-25

After carefully reflecting on Joseph’s reaction to receiving the news of Mary’s miraculous conception, I found that his state of worry was influenced by pressures in society. The text points out that Joseph was a  “just man”; that is, he was a man who conformed to rules and laws of society. Joseph did his very best to do what was right in the sight of God and society.

Now Joseph faced the test of time, where does his loyalty lie? Is it with culture or with God?

Joseph’s reaction manifested in two phases. First, he thought about what he could do to please the public eye and the second phase, which was being obedient to God. 

Fear and shame were two factors that weighed on Joseph’s heart after being told of Mary’s pregnancy. Joseph was afraid about what people will do to him and to Mary. His status in the society as a just or good man was at stake, if he decided to marry an already pregnant woman. He was worried about how people will view him, talk about him and even treat him. The fear of what people will do to him crippled Joseph in making a direct decision about Mary. God being all-knowing sent an Angel to Joseph,”to relieve him of his fear. Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid”. Fear makes it difficult for us to obey God. Our faith in God is weakened by fear, we become undecided because of all the adverse outcomes running through our minds. For Joseph to resist the pressure that was forcing him to be in this mold of a just man, he had to overcome fear to be able to obey God. 

Joseph was also battling with the shame that will befall him the sight of people if he married a pregnant woman. The culture at that time held a woman’s purity in high esteem. Joseph wanted to separate himself from the shame of marrying a pregnant woman. Again God knows the heart of humans had to alleviate this shame perspective from Joseph’s mind. God revealed to him that taking Mary as a wife was not going to be an act of shame but rather an act of glory. The Angel of God revealed the identity and purpose of the child in Mary’s womb to Joseph. The Angel said, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Immediately this assurance released Joseph from the grips of fear and shame. Joseph was able to overcome the fear and shame and pressed on to obey God.

 People who always want to be viewed as good people or having a certain status in society do not want to lose it as this will bring or some form of dishonor to them. These factors have led many to make wrong and bad decisions that have led to their destruction. Here I want to highlight the power that is manifested in obeying God to resist societal pressures. Obedience to God helps to overcome fear and shame that is associated with societal pressures and enables us to live a God-glorifying life.

I believe many of us had found ourselves in situations when we were battling to make decisions based on fear and shame associated with the outcome. We allowed fear and shame to cause us to disobey God. Joseph’s story teaches us that in such a state, we ought to turn to God and seek God’s will. It was God’s word that saved Joseph, and so God’s word can keep you too. Beloved in Christ, do not sit and wallow in fear, and all negativity coming from the pressures of life instead pray and meditate on God’s word to guide you in what to do. When our hearts are set on God and to bring glory to God, fear, and shame will have no power over us.

Have a wonderful Christmas celebration and always remember that God loves you so dearly for He sent His beloved Son Jesus Christ to die for your sins. Stay blessed.

Joseph pondering on what to do upon receiving news about Mary’s pregnancy.