By Timothy Guess
“¿Timoteo, has golpeado tu esposa?” The question shocked me. It seemed out of the blue, but I knew something was behind it. Translation: “Timothy, have you ever hit your wife?”
It was from a dear single Christian brother with whom I had the privilege of spending 12 days on my recent trip to Nicaragua. We had talked about all kinds of things during the trip — theology, church practice and more. This question came near the end of the trip. I’m sure you are anxiously awaiting my response: I assured him I am far from perfect but had never hit my wife. As we talked more, it became clear the question came from someone who had not seen healthy, Christian marriages modeled for him. His parents’ marriage was a not a union of believers, but as a single believer, he hopes to someday marry.
There is a dearth of sound theology and practice in Nicaragua and instead a great spiritual darkness. And — no shocker here — many marriages are unhealthy. “There are no faithful men,” a Nicaraguan lady once told me.
There is a lot to ponder in those things. But what struck me about my friend’s question was the glaring void of faithful, godly, healthy examples in his life. This brother in Christ, not having been raised in a Christian home and not having the present joy of being surrounded with numerous godly examples in a local church, reminded me of the great blessing of faithful examples of godliness, whether in the specific realm of marriage or elsewhere.
We need examples
This is Biblical. In writing to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul sent his fellow believer Epaphroditus from Rome back to them with a commendation and instruction: “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life to supply your lack of service toward me” (Philippians 2:29-30, KJV). Epaphroditus had come on a mission from the Philippian church to bring its contribution to Paul and his ministry. Apparently, he got sick either on the journey or after he arrived in Rome and almost died (v. 26-27). Paul sent him back to the church and essentially said, “Honor this man for his sacrifice. This is an example to be respected and appreciated and followed.”
Can you imagine being a teenager growing up in this congregation? You hear sermons about the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross that brought salvation, and how that the life of His disciples is to follow that path of sacrifice and service. Then, this event with Epaphroditus happens. You hear a church leader stand before the congregation in Philippi and read Paul’s letter aloud, including the portion we’ve already highlighted. These words strike you as you look over and see Brother Epaphroditus a little weaker and thinner than when you saw him last. On the walk home, your parents say, “Children, that is an example to follow. The cause of our Savior Jesus is greater than our own comforts, convenience and even our safety. Whatever God has for you in your life, remember the example of this man.” Who knows all the lives God affected thru the example of Epaphroditus in Philippi and beyond, then and now.
Sometimes, we can become blind to the tremendous, godly examples the Lord has put around us. Maybe it’s a gifted preacher known for his dedication to the Lord. Or maybe it’s someone less visible like a mother who somehow carves out time to memorize scripture to keep her soul fixed on Christ and His will. It could be ladies like Joyce Garrison or Jan Franklin, members of my congregation, who have for years cared day and night for their husbands in poor health. This is true love. It may be how you observed your parents in how they handled conflict in their marriage. You heard them acknowledge their mistakes; you heard them sincerely apologize. You saw them act thoughtfully to each other. Maybe it’s the person in your church whom you just found out volunteers at a home for women rescued from the nightclub industry. What’s amazing is, they’ve been doing it for two years but they don’t go around praising themselves. It may be the man who has taught young men what practical steps he has taken to avoid pornography over the years. Or the woman you notice who declines to engage in gossip or destructive speech about others, or quickly repents when she does.
Though that list is not exhaustive, I hope the cumulative effect speaks loudly. As you realize how holy examples have blessed your life, doesn’t it motivate you to want to be one? And perhaps sober you into repentance for where you fall short? A good diagnostic question to ask yourself: “What does my example communicate about my heart’s submission to — and joy in — Jesus Christ?” That’s what it comes down to: our walk with Christ.
The ultimate goal is not to put on a show for others to show how moral or hard-working you are. The goal, the object, is to know and glorify and, therefore, to promote Christ. If faith in Christ and following Him are your ultimate goals, you will be a good example. This is a joyful and very useful byproduct of following Christ — and one of the ways God builds His kingdom and strengthens His followers.
A beautiful life
But we make an impact on the culture through big, loud events or exciting, vibrant, trendy movements, right? I am all for God using big events and visible movements. The book of Acts records several of those; let’s pray for more. But, we can also make impression on the culture through faithfully following Christ on an individual scale. It may not sound very powerful, but is is — and it’s biblical.
Consider the words God sent through the Apostle Peter: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (I Peter 2:11,12).
Live like you’re headed for glory is Peter’s instruction. This world is not your home, so don’t look to it to satisfy your soul. Hold yourself back from the sinful desires of the flesh. This is solid, familiar and essential instruction for the Christian life. But then Peter goes on to say some amazing things. Living the Christian life as he has just exhorted will, by God’s grace, influence the culture around you. Living the pilgrim life of verse 11 is “conversation” (i.e. conduct) that is “honest.” The word the KJV translates “honest” is the Greek word kalos, and conveys the idea of beauty, excellence and honor. So, the Christian life is to be a beautiful life. It is beautiful because it reflects the character and will of the Beautiful One. The life of Christ displays true beauty, which this world so often lacks. As believers, we follow Christ, finding our joy and satisfaction in knowing Him and doing His will, as reflections of his beauty and excellence — as opposed to indulging and seeking to satiate our corrupt, insatiable desires like some of our unbelieving neighbors.
Christ-like selflessness over slavery to selfish desires; eternal perspective and delayed gratification over instant, momentary pleasure; real, solid hope over a hopeless existence that just looks to the next moment’s pleasure only to be left empty again. This is kalos. This is beauty.
Peter said to live this kalos life within an unbelieving culture that speaks against you as evildoers. Sound familiar? Bible-believing Christians in 21st Century America are hardly the good guys in our popular culture. What do we do with this attitude of negativity, ridicule and contempt against our Christian faith? One thing we do is to try, by the grace of Christ, to live kalos with the hope that our testimony to Christ will cause some within the culture to glorify God “in the day of visitation,” which I take to mean the visitation of grace and salvation in the soul.
If we live faithfully despite the hostility of our surroundings, perhaps when God in His grace visits and transforms unbelievers to believers they will appreciate and worship God for the kalos life their Christian acquaintances have lived. Peter even speaks of a faithful Christian life leading some opponents to shame over their false, critical narrative (Peter 3:14-16).
So, single Christian, live a sexually pure life out of your loving devotion to Jesus. When someone suggests you are “weird” for not experimenting with sexual pleasure, you can respond, “You know, I would love to enjoy sexual intimacy some day in the way my Creator intends. But until then, and even if it never happens, I’m not hopeless, not bound to a momentary experience to fulfill me. I have an eternal hope.” Kalos!
Christian wife and mother, you are criticized by the culture for wanting to obey Jesus by honoring your husband’s leadership in the home. “You are a disgrace to our gender. You are so old-fashioned.” The sting of scorning can hurt. But you can humbly respond, “Listen, I am pro-woman and pro-man. God wisely made both. Neither me nor my husband believe women are useless doormats. We aren’t in some competition against each other. I believe I have gifts and talents, and use them. But my sense of worth and dignity doesn’t come from pushing myself forward or trying to fit some cultural mold. It’s found in the love of Jesus, who submitted to God the Father to redeem hopeless sinners.” Kalos!
For all who feel the pull to stack up as much money for ourselves as possible, or to spend and spend for the next thing that looks exciting, remember: the excellent life is not found in stuff. The excitement wears off. Money doesn’t take worry away. Having everything that we want as soon as possible can be an idol distracting us from the peace, joy and fulfillment of prioritizing God above all else.
None of this is easy; it’s impossible in our own strength and discipline. We must trust in the sufficient resources of Christ to empower us to live the only life worth living. This kalos life is an example, no matter how many people follow the path you’ve walked. You may not see the person, but someone is probably watching.
It would be great if the Lord blesses my Nicaraguan friend with a wife. And perhaps one day someone will come up to him and say, “You seem to have a great marriage. Last night I hit my wife. Can you help?”
Examples. Christ is the only perfect example, but may God use our imperfect imitations as we closely follow Him to influence church culture and the culture around us.