The Dangerous Duty of Discernment

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve” (Romans 16:17-18 ESV).

Who are the Wolves?

Paul is describing two kinds of wolves here. Some wolves are teaching/theological wolves. Some are congregation-dividing wolves. False teaching wolves and divisive wolves. Both are divisive, both eat the flock up, but they do so in different ways.

Divisively Deviant

A divisive wolf isn’t necessarily teaching something that’s blatantly wrong or heretical, but they are really good at creating fissures and cracks in the relationships of the church. Unity doesn’t matter to them. This is the person for whom every molehill is a mountain. Every issue is the most important thing in the history of the church. They create disunity by personality or for the sake of their cause. They typically draw a tribe of people around them who share some sympathy with them. Sometimes this is a new idea or a new direction or a new whatever. The naïve, which is what Paul calls them, are drawn into their influence. There’s something new and exciting about it. At the center is a wolf.

The Church is People

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:1–16 ESV).

The Church Spans All Classes and Categories of Society: The Gospel is For Everyone!

There are 26 individuals listed here. Two families. At least five house churches. One set of twins, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greek names. Latin names. Roman names. Jewish names. Gentile names. Wealthy people. Slaves and freed men and women. Eight of the names are female names. There are very highly connected people in Roman society and even some from the imperial Roman house.[1]

You look at the membership list for the church at Rome and it’s a melting pot of every class, gender, race, social status, rich and poor, the famous, the never-heard-of-‘em, and everyone in between.

If all you had was the book of Romans, not only could you have a deep theology of the gospel (chapters 1-11), you get to chapter 16, and you must conclude that the gospel is for everyone and the church is for everyone! There’s arguably no category NOT mentioned here.

This is a tremendous truth that must be repeated over and over. The gospel is not a gospel merely for the rich, the poor, the powerful, the helpless, the well placed or the untouchables, it is a gospel for everyone. No matter who you are, your skin color, your story, your status, Jesus died for you. The Roman church reflects the cosmopolitan makeup of its city.

Now you know where I am going. If I have said it once, I have said it a hundred times, we can know the vitality of our church by whether it looks like our community. And since we are in this incredibly diverse community, we should celebrate the gospel’s diverse effectiveness and appeal as we see that diversity in our congregation. All are welcome to the gospel of Jesus. Paul celebrates this diversity by greeting everyone in every category! So must we.

God Sees Us Corporately and Individually

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one but a reminder of the glorious doctrine of union with Christ. This key doctrine of Romans is how God saved us. When Adam sinned, we all sinned with him. But by union with Jesus, when Jesus died and rose again, we died and rose with him. This language is corporate. We’re all in this together.

This may seem a bit impersonal, like we are just a number to God; one of the masses of people he saved. But then you get to Romans 16 and when God wrote his book, he included individuals by name. In the Old Testament, genealogies. In the New Testament, Romans 16. This echoes the parable of Jesus describing the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to find and care for the one. Each of these names represents a person. A life. Jesus loves “the church,” and he loves each person in the church. Jesus is not a rancher, he’s a shepherd. He knows and loves you by name.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2021 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] See Thomas R. Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Romans (Ada, MI: Baker Publishing House, 1998), 792, 797.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Holy Kissing and Christian Love

“Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16 ESV).

The kiss of greeting was cultural

To greet someone with a kiss was the culture of the Greco-Roman world at that time. That may seem weird to us, and if you haven’t traveled cross-culturally, you may not realize that not everybody expresses friendship the way that we do. Many today practice a cultural kiss. For instance, on a trip I once took to Egypt, our tour guide explained that there is an Upper Egypt form of friendship kissing and a Lower Egypt form of kissing. In one, you kiss three times: start on one cheek, do the other, then return to the first. But in the other region, you only do two kisses. He said it was offensive if you did the Upper Egypt kiss in Lower Egypt. For some, this kissing thing is pretty important, and culture matters and sets the rules.

To understand Romans 16:16, we have to understand the culture of the day. For example, In Jewish practice, a host was required to place his hand on any guest’s shoulder and give him the “kiss of peace.” We find this referred to in the New Testament when Jesus goes to the home of Simon the Pharisee. “You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet” (Luke 7:45). A kiss on the cheek was the socially accepted way of greeting one another and is to this day a part of the social fabric and expectation of many societies.

But there is a unique twist to the kiss of Romans 16:16. Notice the adjective, “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (emphasis mine).

The Christian Kiss Must be “Holy”

I think we all realize the affectionate kisses between husband and wife are holy; Hebrews 13:4 makes that clear. But that is not the kind of holy kiss that Paul is addressing. These are commands to the members of the church in how they relate to one another. There is nothing sensual about this kiss. My understanding was that it was not done with the opposite sex.

So, what would transform the social custom of a greeting kiss into a sanctified and holy kiss?

A holy kiss symbolizes the mutual love for Christ and for one another

One commentator pointed out that there are three parties involved in a holy kiss[1]—God, and the two that are kissing. It is a mutual love for God that generates a love for one another which expresses itself in holy affection. This is why Peter calls it “the kiss of love.” It is a kiss of mutual loves. We mutually love God and we love each other. In this way, the gospel of Jesus amplifies the cultural kiss and infuses it with meaning.

He turns the cultural kiss into a Christian kiss

It is a theological and gospel kiss. In this, Christianity does with the kiss what it does with so many “normal” aspects of life and society. A family becomes a gospel family as Jesus is enthroned in the home. Work becomes an act of worship as the gospel allows me to do my labor for God’s glory. We are new creations in Christ, and everything we do is enriched with significance as we connect it with God’s glory. That is true for the kiss of greeting. These Roman Christians probably greeted many people in their life and family with a kiss. But when they greeted a brother or sister in Christ, the kiss became holy as the kiss expressed deep Christian truth about relationship with one another.

To Whom Should I Give a “Holy Kiss”?

The Christian kiss is reserved for Christian relationships. I can kiss anyone but only with a Christian does the kiss mean, we are brothers in Christ. “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Our affectional welcome is to be with anyone Christ has also affectionately welcomed. In the spirit of Romans 16:16, kiss anyone Christ has kissed. If Christ will kiss them, I don’t need to be more holy than the holy Son of God. Kiss those whom Christ has kissed.

So along with other famous “one anothers” in the New Testament—love one another, forgive one another—we add this one: greet and be warmly affectionate for one another. If you are God’s child, you’re my brother, let me kiss you now!

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2021 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] William Hendriksen, Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981), 508.

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Prayers and Providence

“I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen” (Romans 15:30-33 ESV).

Providence Answers According to God’s Will

We ask according to our will. God’s answers according to his will. Providence is a theological word for how God works in our world; the circumstances and events of our lives. Providence is the expression of God’s will in our daily lives. Paul asked for one thing, but providence gave him something very different.

What happened? Paul takes the gift to Jerusalem. We are not told, but presumably all went well with the church. However, it didn’t go well with the Jewish unbelievers. He went to the temple to worship. A mob scene ensued. He was nearly killed. The Roman cohort saved his life. A plot to kill him was uncovered, and he went by massive armed guard to Caesarea. There he was jailed for two years. Then he appealed to Caesar and his voyage at sea was on par with Moby Dick or Robinson Crusoe. He nearly died. He was shipwrecked. Many other challenges. Finally, he makes it to Rome and spends two more years under house arrest.

Did God answer his prayer to get to Rome and be refreshed by the Christians there?

Gospel Lessons for Life’s Itinerary

“This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you”                (Romans 15:22-28 ESV).

Learning from Paul’s Itinerary

See what Gospel courage looks like

We see in this the Apostle Paul’s holy ambition and gospel courage. It’s inspiring. I’m going to Jerusalem to meet needs of the church there. I’m going to Rome. Never been there, but can’t wait. Then I’m going to Spain. Edge of the world. Let’s see what God does!

I wonder what represents Spain in your life. That challenging place or person that only for Jesus would you consider seeking to evangelize. But for Jesus you will. That’s Paul. It was a dangerous journey; an uncertain journey. How will he make a go of it so far from the support structures of Jerusalem and even Rome? That’s the life of faith that propels God’s people into the uncomfortable and the uncertain.

What or who is your “Spain”? Who or what might God be calling you to go to, to reach out to, to do the uncomfortable, even the dangerous, in Jesus’ name? David Livingstone went to Africa with the gospel. For this reason, Jim Elliot and the other four missionaries went to the Waodoni in Ecuador only to be speared to death. There’s example after example. Here in our comfortable Midwest middle class American church, let this challenge each of us to something bigger, something risky. Where’s your Spain? Who’s your Spaniard?

Paul’s ambition challenges us from getting comfortable or settling into the status quo. Church family, are we content with what we’ve done thus far? Who have we reached? Where are we at? Or do our missional eyes see farther horizons and are we ready to go where we’ve never been? God, where’s our Spain? Who’s our Spaniard?

We make our plans, God directs our steps

So, what happened to Paul? Did his trip to Rome go as planned? He made it to Jerusalem with the gift. The book of Acts tells us that after arriving there, a mob scene ensued, and Paul was arrested by the Romans for his own safety. There was a plot to kill him, so a Roman cohort of soldiers escorted him to Caesarea on the Mediterranean. There he spent two years in prison and only got out because as a Romans citizen he could appeal to Caesar. So, off he went under arrest to Rome.

Only this didn’t go well either. They were caught on the sea in a terrible storm. They had no food for days. They gave up ever surviving. But then they shipwrecked on Malta. There Paul was bitten by a poisonous viper. He didn’t die. He didn’t even get sick. Eventually, they left and finally made it to Rome. Only there he remained under arrest for two more years and that’s how the book of Acts ends. Paul told the Romans, I’m coming to see you. Did it happen the way he expected? Not at all.

Isn’t that how things go in life? We make our plans. I’m going to Rome. Our Rome may be our vision of our ideal future or some achievement or healthy family and kids and whatever. We see a straight happy line ahead. What happens? Life happens. The unexpected. The undesired. Can you relate to this?

rough-terrain

That was Paul. He writes Romans in 57 AD. He doesn’t get there for three years. Most of that time he was sitting in a prison! Did he make it to Spain? Scripture doesn’t tell us, and we don’t know for sure. One early church writer said he did. Here’s the kicker. He looks forward to going to Rome in 57 AD and as early as seven years later, he is martyred in Rome. That wasn’t on the itinerary.

Are you OCD about your plans? Your life? How everything is going to be? Then you get divorced. Then your child has a long-term health issue. Then you lose your job. Then you get cancer. Do any of us have death on our life itinerary?

We need to learn from the life itinerary of the Apostle Paul. Dream big. Make big plans for your life. Go big for God! Young people, I think many of you think too small. You think American dream: buy this, live there. But what would a God-sized vision for your life inspire you to do? I urge you, to dream big, ambitious gospel dreams.

But all of us must hold our plans with an open hand. We don’t know what lies around the corner. But we do know that all things work together for good, for those who love God. We know that he will never leave us nor forsake us. And we know Jesus is with us, even to the end of the age.

Our certainty in God’s presence and provision should propel us into the uncomfortable and the difficult. It assures us in the twists and contortions of life. How do we do it? How do we make it? By faith, knowing that our travel companion on the itinerary of life loves us, intercedes to the Father for us, and provides us with all we need on every stop along the way. His name is Jesus.

So, dream big, make your plans, pack your bags, and buckle up on this great gospel adventure of life.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2021 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Maximizing People, Minimizing Me, Magnifying Christ

“I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:14–19 ESV).

See others for what they will become

The same apostle that wrote Romans 14 also wrote Romans 8. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29 ESV).

Every Christian someday is going to be completely perfect. Amazing. Awesome. This is our final state of glorification in eternity. There we will be completely Christ-like versions of ourselves. That’s a guarantee from God. Seeing each other as not-yet-perfect versions of what we will be is helpful in dealing with the immaturity and sinfulness we often see now.

What do you think when you walk past the very green bananas in the grocery store? Throw them away? No. What do you think when you see green tomatoes on the vine? Rip ‘em up? No. Those bananas and tomatoes are going to be really good someday.

As many of you know, basketball was a big part of my younger days. My teen years were during the ascendancy of Michael Jordan. To this day, I’m a sucker for those videos that pop up on social media: The Greatest Dunks of Michael Jordan; Top Ten Moves by Michael Jordan. I’ve seen them all before, but I watch them over and over. I also watch old videos of his days as a freshman at North Carolina. He was skinny. Made rookie mistakes. But I watch in awe because I know what he will become. I’m watching the early version of the greatest to ever play the game.

This is a helpful discipline in many categories of life. Are you in the early years of marriage? Your husband is like Jordan in his freshman year. Your wife is like Simone Biles at her second gymnastics lesson. You both are going to mature into better spouses for each other. Happy Valentine’s Day. How about parenting? When your 3-year-old is throwing a hissy fit in the checkout at Walmart, what do you think? Actually, don’t answer that. All parents have to look to the future with hope that the future version will be much more mature than the present hissy one.

This life skill is called Christian charity. 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Love is patient and kind…. Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (v. 4, 7). In this life, every one of us is disappointing on one level or another. But we need to see each other like Paul saw the Romans—works in progress. Progressively sanctified. And someday we are all going to be awesome like Christ.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2021 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Global Church and the Glory of God

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:7–13 ESV).

The more racialized our world becomes, the greater the opportunity for the church

The church in Rome was missing out on an incredible opportunity to display the power of the gospel to bring people together. They were dividing within the church along the lines of race and religious tradition. They were failing to love and welcome each other. Imagine if there was social media back then. What kinds of media posts and snarky articles might each side be promoting? Each side insinuating they were right and the other group in the church was wrong. Romans 14 shows they were argumentative, condescending, and self-righteous toward each other. In other words, they were acting like everyone else in Rome. And they were missing a powerful opportunity.

Are we missing an opportunity in our day? As a church, we are trying not to. Many years ago, we set a course to be an ethnically-diverse church. We presently have a Chinese Mandarin congregation. A downtown Gary campus. We have ambitions to minister to other Northwest Indiana ethnicities. Why? Romans 15. God’s glory. Christ’s gospel. Christ’s example. Welcoming into our hearts gospelized people who see some things differently.

But this requires a culture in our church of welcoming. Welcoming people with different perspectives and traditions and language and looks and stories. Not diversity on essential doctrines. But with all these other non-essential things, can you welcome those who Christ welcomes?

  • If your politics keep you from accepting a true Christian politically different from you, your politics are an idol.
  • If your skin color keeps you from accepting a Christian ethnically different from you, your ethnicity is an idol.
  • If your preferences keep you from accepting a Christian preferentially different from you, your preferences are an idol.
  • If your _____________ keep you from accepting someone Christ accepts, your_____________ is your idol and identity.

“Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (v. 7).

The kicker is that the world doesn’t have an answer for this, we do. Let’s not blow it! This requires each of us to conduct ourselves in a welcoming manner and collectively the culture of the church looks like verse 7. The gospel is the only power in this world to bring the ethne together.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2021 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

When There Isn’t Much Gospel at Home

Win Them Without Words so You Can Win Them With the Word

“…so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1 ESV).

Win? Win to what? Win to their own personal faith in Christ. Win them to the gospel. Peter is explaining a spiritual and psychological principle. Our walk speaks louder than our talk. Peter is certainly not saying that talk is unnecessary. The gospel is good news and must be shared verbally and explained. He is not promoting a speechless gospel. Rather, the human mind is very keen on perceiving hypocrisy. When someone talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk, it calls into question all the talk. The vocal Christian at work who cheats his time or pilfers office supplies, his walk undermines his talk. At the same time, when someone walks their talk, it empowers their talk and makes people go hmmm….

Family is the ultimate up close and personal observation of talk and walk. No one knows us like our family. It’s very hard to fake it. Peter urges us to see our life with our family as a powerful missional opportunity for the people we love the most. Note the two categories of life-walk he highlights: “when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”

Respectful Conduct     Attitude

Pure Conduct              Actions

If you want to win your family members to Christ, the daily attitude you display will either enhance the gospel you profess or detract from it. Peter isn’t urging fake it to make it here.

We don’t put on false airs of spirituality. Rather, we live authentically in a way the unbeliever cannot do. Which attitudes unveil the gospel? The counterintuitive ones for humans. Servant-heartedness. Helpfulness. Care and concern for other’s needs. What does that all sound like? Normal agape Christian love! Thankfully, these are qualities that a genuine Christian is growing in naturally as the Spirit of God creates Christlikeness. That’s attitude.

The other is conduct. This is the moral trajectory of our lives. Never perfect but there should be a substantial difference in the moral life of a Christian and the other unbelievers in the family. This could and should be quite unnerving for them. They knew you in your party days but now…what’s gotten into you? Humble obedience to just the Ten Commandments should do the trick. Just those 10 will sufficiently say, Something is different in John’s life. Hmmm…. Christian conduct will definitely cause your unsaved family go, hmmm….

You may be listening today and your family is totally Christian. You might be thinking, I’m so glad my husband is already a Christian so I’m free to treat him badly. And you would be wrong. Peter isn’t urging an extraordinary Christianity here, he is encouraging a normal Christianity, flawed and imperfect, lived out by the gospelized family member.

If your family members are already Christians, ask yourself, if they weren’t a Christian, am I the kind of Christian husband/wife/sibling/child that would cause them to consider becoming a Christian? This is a call no matter what your status and we should all strive to live in our families in such a way that our walk and talk shouts the gospel.

If my spouse weren’t a Christian, would my life make him or her desire to be one?

If my brother or sister weren’t a Christian, would my life make them want to be one?

A reminder, the gospel isn’t good people living perfect lives. 1 Peter doesn’t say anything about being a perfect wife. In fact, it is in the moments of imperfection, disappointment, and disillusionment that Christianity shines the best because these highlight Christian love, covenant faithfulness, and forgiving grace. Conflict. Illness. Trials. Hurts. These are the moments when God’s gospel shines the brightest. Gospelize them and make the most of them.

A few weeks ago, a woman in our church shared with me her story. She wrote me an email, “My marriage had not been good for 29 years, but the last 3 years I gospelized my wifery….  It brought my husband to the Lord. He died 13 years ago. But I know that I’ll see him again.”

I wrote her back and asked her a follow-up question: If you could go back, what would you do different in the earlier years? I definitely would have prayed more. I would have been a more loving wife also. By loving, I mean kinder and gentler, more attune to his needs, and not so stubborn on my part. I think that the longer I was a Christian reading my Bible, the reality that he might spend eternity in hell was what made me get on my knees more. God changed me and I firmly believe that change in me is what brought my husband to the Lord. God is so good. He answered those many years of prayers.

That’s what winning unsaved family without words looks like. If you are reading this and your spouse is a Christian and you are not, you should know the deepest desire of your spouse is that you would trust in Christ as your Savior. It’s what he or she thinks about when they make a wish and blow out the birthday cake candles. It’s what they pray for when their head hits the pillow. It’s what they are quietly praying for right now. Have they been perfect or even close? No. But the gospel isn’t that God saves perfect people, it’s that God will save any sinner who repents of their sin and puts their personal trust in hope for salvation from God’s judgment in Jesus’ death for their sins.

Might the life of your Christian family member bring you even today to a point where you would trust in Jesus as your Savior today? Right now? There’s a family member whose heart is hoping you will. They love you and they want to spend eternity with you.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2021 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Gospelized Harmony in the Home

What unites a family is certainly physical DNA. But what unites a Christian family is spiritual DNA. Gospel DNA. Jesus-is-king-and-Lord-of-this-home DNA. Does this mean your kids all grow up and become missionaries or even Christians? Does this guarantee harmony? No. No more than it guarantees this in a church. Plenty of churches erupt in division. But if there is ever going to be sustainable unity, churches and families need a uniting vision and purpose.

What is the point of our family? When the gospel is the point and Jesus’ glory is the goal, the byproduct is that God provides spiritual resources and blessing in a home that is trying to serve him and glorify him. Displace God and enthrone education or your kids’ sports career as the functional god of your home and see what happens.

One tip here. Since this is so important, why not write out a purpose statement for your home? You may say, that sounds silly. Yet people do this all the time and hang banners in their home that say, Live, Laugh, Love. I would recommend you not get your vision for your family from Walmart. I got mine from Hobby Lobby. Well, then that’s different…. We are all for living, laughing, and loving. Feel free to keep that on the wall.

I’m encouraging you to aim higher. If not on the wall, certainly the wall of your heart. Joshua said it well, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15 ESV). Or you’ve probably heard, love God, love people. Or Micah 6:8, “act justly…love mercy…and walk humbly with your God” (NIV) Our church’s statement is Bethel Church exists to make disciples whose lives are all about Him.

My brother in law’s family took this seriously and painted the list right on their wall in the stairwell where it would be seen every day (see picture at left). These need to be biblical, aspirational, and they should call your family upward to a higher love, God-honoring choices, and kingdom of God priority living.

How does this help with harmony? When you have the right thing as the main uniting thing, it allows diversity in a family in the lesser priorities. Now you can discuss but you don’t have to argue. The family zone is a safe zone to disagree. Discuss. Laugh. There can be differing opinions on music and the arts and politics and a host of other perspectives, yet we love each other. The gospel provides the glue. Get the foundation right and you tend to get the others right too.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Additional Scripture quotations taken from Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

© 2021 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Gospelized Husband

The Qualities of a Gospelized Husband

Gospelized husbands aspire to love sacrificially: reenact the cross

By nature, men are utterly self-centered. And the women said? Amen. We are. Let’s admit it. A non-gospelized husband approaches marriage with the expectation of getting what he wants out of it. What do we want? We want you ladies to admire us as much as we admire us. Here is where marriage is a brick wall. Self-centeredness does not produce the wifely admiration we desire. It doesn’t produce amorous wives every night. It does the opposite, and creates many painful problems. When my core identity is me, my marriage and my wife are tools I use for sex or ego advancement or domination. If you marry a man whose character is formed around those priorities, your marriage is going to tank. Why?

“Marriage amplifies what a person is.”[1] Both good and bad. If you are a little selfish, in marriage, you’re a lot selfish. If you are a little grumpy, in marriage, you’re a lot grumpy. But it works to the positive, if when you are single, you are kind, in marriage there are a thousand opportunities every day to display kindness. If you are joyful, marriage provides many contexts for that joy to bless. Marriage amplifies what a person is. If that person is a man whose core identity is the gospel, marriage amplifies gospel qualities and puts them on display. That’s the point. Every marriage is a showcase, an amplification of who we really are.

If at the core of who we are, is a firm belief that I am a sinner saved by grace, that identity will shape my words and actions around the example of Jesus’ sacrificial love to the church.

Gospelized husbands take their leadership seriously: reenact servant leadership

Can anyone accuse Jesus of sloughing off? Being a couch potato Messiah? Of course not. His leadership of the church is without question. His leadership is not domineering or selfish. Rather, he leads by serving. He gave us the paradigm when he took up the basin and towel and washed the disciples’ feet. Spiritually, he has been washing our feet ever since.

For a gospelized husband, love and leading looks like serving. Yes, we believe the husband is the head of the wife. Says so in Ephesians 5. But that headship is a call to serve. This requires humility, something we men don’t naturally admire. This is the meekness of Jesus. Strength under control. Strength channeled toward serving the wife.

I have found this one of the greatest challenges of being a husband. It’s hard to do because my natural self wants to be served, not to serve.

Gospelized husbands are really good at forgiving: reenact justification

 If there is anything the gospel showcases it is the love of God to forgive us for our sins. Romans 5:1 (ESV) says, “Therefore…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The gospel is a message of peace and reconciliation. You would think a Christian marriage would be a perpetual peace treaty.

I have not found that to be the case. Marriage is a daily opportunity to be offended or to be offensive. These come in big and small ways. I could list my failures in this, but I don’t have time to list them all here. 😊

My point is that a gospelized husband whose core identity is the gospel of God’s forgiveness is going to be quite good at forgiving. Not perfect. Maybe not even awesome. But pretty good.

I’ve been married 8.5 years so my experience is limited, but the ability to forgive may be the single greatest skill needed for a healthy marriage. Communication is important. Having fun is important. Love and intimacy are important. But all of those require resolving conflict and forgiveness or you never enjoy marital blessings. You have to smoke the peace pipe nearly every day.

Singles desiring marriage, I don’t know what’s on your must-have list. Must love dogs. Must hate the Packers. Having been married awhile, I’d put “good at forgiving” in my top three.

Since marriage amplifies who we are and a gospelized man is a man who gets the amazing forgiveness God has bestowed to him, a gospelized husband desires to be quick to forgive and to not hold offenses against his wife. Wives, this goes both ways.

Can you see how the gospel provides the resources of character required to be a pretty good husband? I love this quote, “The gospel welcomes us to be honest because it offers divine aid for everything we would need to be honest about.” (Tripp)[2]

Christian husbands, you have in the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit in you, the very resources you need to succeed as a husband. Have you tried that? How about this week, in a fresh way, consciously think, the love of Christ? The service of Christ. The servant leadership of Christ. The forgiveness of Christ. God help me to reenact the gospel in my husbanding.

I can hear you say, but my wife, she ain’t like the church is to Jesus. Maybe I’ll start modeling Jesus when she starts doing her part. Did Jesus wait for the church to love him? Jesus loved first. It’s one more way to reflect the gospel. Love her anyway.

A word to the wives here. Your husband might be scared to death to try anything I’ve said here for fear of upsetting the status quo. He may fear your smirk or a sense that now you’ve won. If he is brave enough to try, could you be brave enough to accept his less than perfect trying? Don’t say, you didn’t say it right! Billy Graham would have said it differently. You took too long! I sensed some self-justification in your confession. To the doghouse you go!

Your husband is reenacting Jesus without being Jesus. He’s a flawed picture of our perfect Savior and you are a flawed picture of the sanctified church.

So, do your marriage a favor. Show your man some of the grace this week you want him to show you after next week’s message and you both will be blessed by a more gospelized marriage.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2021 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] Douglas Wilson, Reforming Marriage (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1995), 34.

[2] Paul David Tripp, Lead (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 124.

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