If you would take a leadership role in the Kingdom of God, you will be needing fellow workers. You will not be able to do this alone nor will you be asked to do so.
The question will arise as to whom you can trust. You will have to decide the quality of the men and women with whom you are surrounded, particularly in determining your inner circle of leadership and responsibility.
Paul answers this for us by citing the examples of Onesiphorus, Timothy, Epaphroditus, Stephanas, and, if you will, Aquila/Priscilla. See what he said…
Five people you can depend on
1) You can count on the person who comes in when everyone else goes out. He is courageous and faithful.
The Apostle Paul had a friend named Onesiphorus: “When he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me.” Paul was in a Roman prison, in great need, and deserted by almost everyone else. He was lonely, needy, and trying very hard to be faithful in the most difficult of circumstances. He needed a friend. Onesiphorus was his friend.
He said, “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me” (II Timothy 1:15) and again, “At my first defense (before Caesar), no one supported me, but all deserted me” (II Timothy 4:16).
Only Onesiphorus came.
Clearly, the other believers were afraid to run the risk of associating with a condemned prisoner. Some were embarrassed that their leader was ending his ministry so shamefully, which is why Paul urged Timothy, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel….” (II Timothy 1:8).
I want to be on Onesiphorus’ team. I want him on my team.
When you succeed big–receive a huge award, publish a best-seller, your number comes up in the lottery, are promoted to the main office, make all the news outlets as a hero–everyone is your friend. You are everyone’s champion. “We knew you had it in you.” “I told Mama, ‘That boy’s gonna make it big some day….'”
When your reputation goes south–you are thrown in jail and suspicions abound, you declare bankruptcy and move in with your in-laws, your church fires you and you take a job selling used cars or insurance, or you become old and sickly and are forgotten–true friends are hard to come by.
When a denominational worker was rumored to be having a relationship with an employee in the same building to whom he was not married, he was suddenly terminated. The next time I planned to be in his city, I phoned, asking if we could meet for breakfast. Across the table he said, “You’re the only one. Not a single friend has called to check on me.” ( Without going into details here, let me simply say that he decided I had passed the test and could be counted on as a true friend. I was honored.)
2) You can count on the person who puts others before himself day in and day out. He is a true servant.
Paul said, “I hope to send Timothy to you shortly… For I have no one else of kindred spirit”–no one else like him!–“who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth…” (Philippians 2:19-22).
I was spending only a few hours a day in my office while dealing with radiation treatments, a result of a squamous cell carcinoma in my mouth. I felt weak, my mouth had blisters, food tasted terrible, and I suppose I was generally feeling sorry for myself. That day, I had an appointment with two members of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association who had flown into New Orleans to discuss a crusade in our city. In the course of the conversation, I told them what I was dealing with.
“We both have cancer,” one said. I was stunned.
Not past tense, either. Both of these good men were dealing with ongoing treatments for their conditions, but were getting up each morning, boarding planes and flying to distant cities to do the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. I was ashamed of myself, and more than a little impressed by these faithful brothers.
I want them on my team. I am honored to be on theirs.
3) You can count on the team member, who is always in his place, doing his job, sometimes at great inconvenience to himself. He is diligent.
Paul said, “But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need” (Philippians 2:25). That by itself is praise aplenty–brother, co-laborer, brother in the fight, your messenger, my servant!–but it gets better….
“He was longing to see you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. Indeed, he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but also on me, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (2:26-27).
Sickness did not stop this brother! He kept right on. Amazing.
“Hold men like him in high regard,” Paul says (2:29).
We do indeed, Paul.
Lord, give us more faithful workers in the kingdom like Epaphroditus! Make me that kind of disciple.
4) You can count on men like Stephanas, who lead their entire families to serve God and do it well. He is a genuine leader.
No one knows you better than your family. That’s why their commitment to Jesus Christ is a tribute to your own fidelity and example.
Paul said, “You know the household of Stephanas, that they were the firstfruits of Achaia”–that is, among the earliest converts in Greece--“and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints” (I Corinthians 16:15). How good is that!
We wish we had more information on “the household of Stephanas”–who made up the family of this good man, what each one was doing, what the inner life of their home was like. (We are sometimes frustrated by Scripture’s quick references, wishing we had more details here and there, but we take consolation that the Lord has told us exactly what we need to know and not one sentence more.)
Paul adds, “I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus, and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part, and they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore, acknowledge such men” (Philippians 16:17-18).
Clearly, the family of Stephanas was doing what they had seen him doing day in and day out, year after year. We thank God for such a faithful husband and father who shows his family the way, then leads them in it.
I want Stephanas on my team. I want to be on his team. And later, after they’re grown, we can look for his children to join us. The next generation should be even stronger than the first.
5) You can count on the friend who paid a heavy price to help you in the past. They need no letter of reference; they have proven themselves.
Paul said, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; greet the church that is in their house” (Romans 16:4-5).
Start a church in your own house in First Century Rome and you might as well draw a target on your back. Yet, this is what Aquila and his wife Priscilla did. Was this what Paul means when he said they “risked their own necks for my life” or did they do something else, something riskier, more courageous? No one knows.
But we do know this. Those who have paid such a price to support God’s ministry in you can be counted on in the future. And, those whose lives are daily on the line for the Lord Jesus Christ “will do to ride the river with,” as the old westerners used to put it.
Count on those who have earned their stripes
Paul said to Timothy, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has…counted me faithful, putting me into service” (I Timothy 1:12).
In the amazing 11th chapter of Hebrews, called the “faith chapter,” after listing the faith-deeds of one after another of the Lord’s choice Old Testament servants, the writer interrupts himself to exclaim, “Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God!” (Hebrews 11:16) And later, “men of whom the world was not worthy!” (11:38).
A reminder: This comes with a cost
In your heart of hearts, do you want to be counted worthy? Then there is something you need to know….
The early disciples rejoiced “that they had been counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).
Now, suffering shame for Jesus (whether the milder version of simple embarrassment or the deadly variety of intense persecution) is never an end in itself. When the Lord asks His children to stand up under such a barrage from the enemy, He always has something big in mind. Something, which we need to add with emphasis, He rarely tells to the faithful one suffering for His name. We will do it by faith or not at all.
Help us, Lord.
–May we be counted worthy for whatever purposes and plans which You have that include us.
–May we not take a head-count of the faithful to decide if we will be true to Thee and to Thy servants who are on the front line for Thee.
–May we not ask our families if we should hold fast and be true to Thee, but show ourselves faithful leaders and do the right thing regardless.
–May we not check our comfort level in deciding whether we will continue holding out for the Savior. Not one of the many experiences Paul lists in 2 Corinthians 11 (shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, etc) was enjoyable.
–May we be faithful unto death, knowing that from Thee and from Thee alone are we promised “a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10 and II Timothy 4:8).