“You know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints….” (I Corinthians 16:15)
Thank God for encouragers and healers in the church, those men and women whose calling in life seems to be to find a niche and fill it, find a need and meet it, find a hurt and comfort it. As they enter a room, their focus is not on who is present, what is going on, or who’s in charge. Rather, they are drawn to anyone in pain,in need, or in trouble.
They are godsends. They are living proofs of the goodness of God. They are the ones who keep overworked pastors and their stressed-out spouses from giving up and walking away.
Here’s William Barclay on this passage: To Paul in Ephesus there had come Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, and they had brought him first-hand information which filled in the gaps in his knowledge of what was happening at Corinth. Paul’s commendation of Stephanas is very interesting. Stephanas deserved respect because he had put himself at the service of the Church.
Paul says three things about the ministry of Stephanas and his friends:
a) They are addicted to ministry to the saints.
Some addictions are legal, lovely, and lifesaving. Those rare individuals who are addicted to ministering to brothers and sisters in Christ are precious jewels in the Lord’s church.
b) They supplied what was lacking on the part of the Corinthians.
In this case, Paul was referring to information about the church in Corinth. He wanted to know more about what was going on, and this wonderful trio provided it.
c) They refreshed the spirits of everyone, Paul as well as their home church.
This is my favorite accolade. Some people–let’s admit it–wear us out, use us up, and make us want to run for recover. But there are some who refresh us, who leave us stronger and fresher than they found us. Thank God for the refreshers among us.
Barclay continues, In the early church, willing and spontaneous service was the beginning of official office. A man became a leader of the church, not so much by any man-made appointment, as because his life and work marked him out as one whom all men must respect. All those who share the work and the toil of the gospel command respect, not because they have been appointed by men to office, but because they are carrying on the work of Christ.
As one writer said,”In the Lord’s service, many work but few toil.”
We owe these people a great deal.
Here is how Paul says we should treat the Stephanases–the toilers–in our midst:
1) know who they are.
Don’t let them go unnoticed and overlooked. You and I who fancy ourselves leaders of the Lord’s church should always know who is getting the job done, who can be counted on, whom we want on our next team.
On the other hand, I have known ministers who were so self-focused that they never noticed the men and women among them who were devoting themselves to sacrificial service and whose efforts were making a world of difference. So long as the work was going forward, the ministers never noticed. Only when a worker fell by the wayside and suddenly the load shifted did they notice.
Lord help us to notice the workers among them and treasure them.
2) appreciate what they do. “Acknowledge such men.” (vs 18)
I’m reminded of an old cartoon. The family is gathered in the lawyer’s office for the reading of the will. Everyone is expectant. The attorney reads, “And to my nephew George, whom I promised to remember in my will–Hi there, George!”
The Lord expects us to do something more than just recognize the toilers among us.
The word epignosko refers to a full knowledge, and means to know someone or something thoroughly. Some translations say “recognize” such men. I think the idea is to know their true value, and thus to esteem them highly.
3) submit yourself to them
Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. It’s one thing to know who the workers are and to appreciate them, but Paul says we should back off and let them take the lead. Honor them for the true leaders they are, and support them in their work.
After Hurricane Katrina did so much devastation to my part of the world, thousands upon thousands of volunteers flooded our area. In spite of the fact that as the Baptist “director of missions” I was our designated leader for metro New Orleans, I did not have a clue how to gut a flooded house or rebuild a church. However, among us we had men and women too with that kind of knowledge. You may believe that we submitted to them. We asked them to tell us what they needed, then we lined up workers to support them and serve under their direction. As a result, hundreds of homes and scores of churches were rebuilt for the glory of God.
“How can I help you?” is the question of a servant. Our Lord asked it of Bartimaeus in Luke 18:41, and then proceeded to heal the man. We would do well to pose the same question to our peers and colleagues in the congregation who are doing a great job in service of the Lord and His people. “What can I do to make the work go better?”
4) submit yourself to others like them (“to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors”)
We should not be stingy in determining whom to recognize, honor, and highly esteem. What we do for Stephanas and his kin we also do for those lesser known co-workers who stand with him in his service.
In my home church here in metro New Orleans, we have a retired Coast Guard NCO named Guy. He and his wife have two daughters and four sons. Guy is the ultimate example of a servant heart. Whatever needs doing, count on him to be there, to work hard, and to stay until the last. When the men of our church meet for their monthly breakfast, Guy and his sons are in the kitchen all morning. If we have a cleanup day, look for them to show up with rakes and shovels. If there is a building project, they will be present. Their motto seems to be “whatever it takes.” Pastors would give anything for just a few such people.
These are the Stephanases among us. They are the jewels, the precious gems. We thank God for them.