The most surprising thing about the Apostle Paul’s ministry

“I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore, acknowledge such men” (I Corinthians 16:17-18).

As amazing as he was and as capable in ministry, as brilliant in theology, and as bold in his witness, the Apostle Paul needed people.

Does that surprise you as much as it does me?

Paul readily admitted his need for people in his life, complimented them for ministering to him, and credited them with acts of sacrifice and generosity to him.

Paul grew lonely when no friends were nearby, appreciated good company, and was quick to pay tribute to those who went the extra mile to find him and offer their assistance in His labors.

I find that most surprisingly delightful.

We would have expected such a man–a trailblazer in ministry, a pioneer in spreading the gospel, the first international missionary, and the theologian of all theologians–to be a loner, a one-man show, needing nothing from anyone and making sure we all knew it.

Paul was anything but a loner.

Check out this sampling of his statements….

–“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but also all the churches of the Gentiles.  Likewise, greet the church that is in their house” (Romans 16:3-5).

–“That you may know my affairs and how I am doing, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make all things known to you; whom I have sent to you for this very purpose, that you may know our affairs and that he may comfort your hearts” (Ephesians 6:21-22).

–“I have no one like-minded (such as Timothy), who will sincerely care for your state.  For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel….” (Philippians 2:19-24).

–“Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me….” (Colossians 4:7).

–“Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother…. Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas…and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for the Kingdom of God who are of the circumcision; they have proved to be a comfort to me” (Colossians 4:9-11).

And one more….

Before leaving these citations in Scripture, we must not miss Paul’s final testimony to the value he placed on the presence of a few friends.  From his cell in Rome, waiting his second and final trial before Caesar, he writes….

“Be diligent to come to me quickly. For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world…. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry….. At my first defense, no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them…. Do your best to come before winter” (2 Timothy 4:9ff.)

From that, we conclude: Paul was lonely and needed friends during times of great trials; Paul felt badly when faithful friends deserted him or, much worse, when they forsook the Lord; he appreciates those who are faithful and can be counted on; he needs the help of others in his work.

Take a lesson from that, pastors who prefer to work alone.

The ministry was never meant to be a one-person job.

Where did the idea arise that the effective minister of the Lord’s people is a loner?

Whence this suspicion of their brethren so many ministers seem to wear like a badge?

We know the answer to that.

Hell is its source and the carnality is its repository.

We’ve watched enough nature shows to know that when the roaring lion begins stalking its prey, “seeking whom it may devour,” it does not take on the whole herd.  It looks for stragglers, loners, animals too sickly or elderly, young or headstrong, to stay with the herd.  Once the lion finds the loner, it has its next meal.  (See I Peter 5:8)

Pastors preach that Christians should take care of one another, join a great church and participate fully in small groups, and that we need each other.  Then, the same ministers will turn right around and cut themselves off from their peers. They will excuse this by protesting, “I’m too busy; our denomination doesn’t have any pastors in the area; the other ministers and I do not agree doctrinally; the other pastors are too busy.”

An excuse, said the inimitable Vance Havner, is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.

You need the fellowship, pastor. You need prayer partners who understand each other. You need encouragers and affirmers, buddies, and friends.

It was not for nothing that our Lord sent His disciples out in twos or even more.

Church leader, pray for your pastor.  Encourage him to build friendships with the other ministers in your area.  Crossing denominational lines is not only acceptable, it may be the best thing ever if the ministers are devout followers of Jesus. They will not get together and discuss doctrinal differences, although they may talk about sermon building and fundraising…and you.

And pastor, pray for the Lord to make you aware of your need–your desperate need!–of faithful brethren in this work.  Ask Him to lead you to one or two or ten to whom you can reach out.  You may be doing them as big a favor as they are to you.

You have so much to offer each other.

If Paul needed friends, it’s a lead-pipe cinch you and I do.

 

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