SERVANT FAMILIES

“I want you to honour and look up to people like that”.

1 Cor 16:16 EHP

Most of us do look up to some people, but they are not always the one to whom we ought to be looking up. Sometimes we assess people by earthly standards, and where most of the members of a church are employees of a nearby business, we often find the church reflecting the status people enjoy in the work place, even when the “bosses” show very little of real Christian commitment.

Stephanas’ family devoted themselves to serving the people of the Christian community. Sometimes “we give leadership to those who have received one particular kind of education, who have a measure of articulacy and general ability to think and speak on their feet and are able to make speeches in meetings, thus measuring up to worldly criteria of leadership. Do we ever take with proper seriousness the perspective Paul provides on leadership as service? Jesus taught the same truth: ‘Who ever would be great among you must be your servant’ (Mt 20:26). This indicates that the authentic, solid leadership of a local church will come from people who give themselves to serving the people of God. Such leadership does not depend on education, qualifications, degrees or natural charisma. It comes from the grace of God equipping his people with gifts which enable them to be servants of others in the fellowship of believers. The whole household of Stephanas lived like that: as a family they served others – adults, teenagers, and children; master of the house and domestic servants: the elderly and the very young. … One of the most effective testimonies to the reality of the risen Christ is the servant-lifestyle of a Christian family” (D. Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians, p284).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, raise up more servant families in Christ.

STALWARTS

“Would you do me a favour, friends, and give special recognition to the family of Stephanas? You know, they were among the first converts in Greece, and they’ve put themselves out, serving Christians ever since then”.

1 Cor 16:15 EHP

There was a saying in the early church that went, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. There might also have been another one that would have said, “The faithfulness of the stalwarts is the foundation of the churches”. Here, in the closing sentences of his letter, Paul mentions Stephanas and his family. They were the stalwarts in Corinth. There were others elsewhere.

The Christian community depends on the stalwarts. They are steadfast. They work behind the scenes and seem never to grow tired. They “go labour on, spend and be spent, their joy to do the Master’s will”. When there is a need to get things moving, they “work their socks off”. They do not jib when they are asked to go the extra mile. And usually all the family work as a team, supporting one another and encouraging one another. They are not put out if someone else gets the limelight. When things go well, they give praise and glory to God. Where there is trouble they go and quietly put the fires out. When someone goes through deep waters, they act as unofficial pastors and pray the troubled people through. If they are thanked for their hard work they accept the thanks graciously. If they don’t get thanked publicly they don’t com- plain. They never think about what they will get out of any situation, as long as the work of God prospers. Thank God for them. And be one.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, raise up more stalwarts to bring honour to your name.

DO EVERYTHING IN LOVE

“Do everything in love”.

1 Cor 16:13 NIV

In the early years of the Christian faith, when Paul and others were planting churches and people were turning to Christ to discover the miracle of grace, onlookers were amazed at the deep sense of care these new believers showed to each other and often remarked, “How these Christians love one another !”.

When Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians and spoke of the impact the Holy Spirit had on people’s lives, he called it “the fruit of the Spirit” (yes, he used the singular word “fruit” not fruits), and listed love as the first effect. The Holy Spirit is the power and presence of Jesus Christ. He reproduces Christ in the lives of believers. And since love is the great hallmark of Jesus himself, Christians themselves are to be models of love. The fellowship life of the body of Christ is to be love. It is the action they perform, the method they use and the reason they have for everything that happens.

Often we talk about love. We put it into action less frequently. We assume it’s there and active because we talk about it so much. It needs to be present and evident in every activity, every act of worship, every duty large or small, every thought or preparation, every plan, every project or routine and every practise – all must be carried out in love and to convey love. Where problems occur – apply love. When disputes arise – take the medicine of love. When it appears that nothing ever happens – use a bit of love to get things going. When people are bored or tired or peeved – show love. It works miracles. Anyone can love. Everyone can.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, help me to spread, and keep on spreading, love.

BE STRONG

“Be men of courage; be strong”.

1 Cor 16:13 NIV

People who do not profess any kind of faith often assume that those who do are weak people who use their faith “as a crutch”. It is a wrong assumption. The vast majority of Christian believers derive strength from their faith and some show extraordinary strength.

“There is great strength in those who trust God. Knowing the presence of One who is utterly faithful and wise and loving gives a confidence which is undeniable. Such a spirit was displayed by Mildred Cable and Evangeline and Francesca French when they became missionaries in China. Having built up a flourishing work in Shansi province, they were made to move on and decided to continue their endeavours in the extreme north-west of the country, the ‘City of Criminals’. From there they made repeated evangelistic journeys through Central Asia, preaching and distributing Scripture. When it was time to return to England, they chose to travel overland, a long and difficult journey, deliberately going through regions where the gospel had never been heard. What was it that sustained and empowered those three brave women? They knew the secret of not relying on themselves but trusting in the Almighty. “In him they found protection, guidance and grace for every circumstance” (Soldier’s Armoury 1977, p 80).

Paul knew that with the many temptations, determined opposition and internal problems in the body of Christ, the Corinthian Christians would need to be strong indeed. Christians today have an equal need to be strong and courageous. Secular derision and contempt for faith of any kind is widespread. Moral lapses on the part of church leaders is well publicised and invites severe criticism. It destroys Christian credibility. Courage and strength are indispensable for effective witness today.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, give me strength to endure in my faith.

STAND FIRM

“Hold tight to your convictions”.

1 Cor 16:13 EHP

There are people, some of them Christians, who say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you behave yourself and keep your record clean”.

It matters very much what you believe. Know what you believe about Jesus Christ for one thing. Plenty of people have some vague sense that there is “a supreme being”. That doesn’t affect your conduct, your creed nor your character. Jesus Christ is the centre and focal point of Christianity. The Christian faith is far more than just drifting along. It states as a firm conviction that Jesus Christ is alive, that he is the Son of God and that he co-rules the world with God the Father. Christianity further claims that, as Lord of life, he will hold you to account for how you live your life here on earth. Christianity also believes that Jesus Christ is superior to all gods of other faiths. It believes that the two laws he gave are the supreme guide for all behaviour – to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself. It believes that you should live at peace with all people and seek to spread peace wherever you can. Christianity believes you should do good to as many people as you can and avoid all forms of evil. Christianity believes that you are answerable to God for the use you make of your money. You should avoid waste and frivolous expenditure and remember that you are a God-appointed steward of your money.

Keep thinking about what you believe and keep re-affirming your Christian convictions. Discuss them with other people and study all you can about them.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, make me sure of my beliefs.

KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN

“Be on your guard”.

1 Cor 15:13 NIV

There is always the need for Christian believers to be alert. For one thing, temptations may come all unexpectedly. In fact, when they do come – they are never expected. It is their surprise factor that catches people unawares and, like a wild animal tracking its prey, they strike when you least expect them to. Friends of Prince Charles of Britain were once killed on a skiing trip in Switzerland. Upon investigation it was found that these people had unwisely ventured into an area that was closed to the public because it appeared that an avalanche could occur there. Warnings had been issued. The avalanche came. Be on your guard, not only with regard to day to day accidents, but spiritual ones as well. Accidents “are waiting to happen”.

But the believers in Corinth were being hammered from a number of quarters as false teachers abounded, trying to make an income for themselves by spreading untrue belief about Christ, God and the church. They are still around, clothed in respectable and intellectual-sounding clothes waiting for the unwary and ill-informed.

Trouble in the church community is another trap waiting to divert the unsuspecting. Arguments, conflicts, relationships, sex, money, and mischief are all-too common problems. These are often tied up with the wielding of authority and sometimes can break out quickly and viciously. Be on your guard for them and do everything you can to work with others, through prayer and consultation, to eradicate these dangers.

Slackening in prayer is another failure which often crops up and causes problems with people’s faith. It is easy to “skip” a day that then tends to become more common until you have, quite unawares, stopped praying altogether. Always be alert and discipline yourself.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, keep me up to the mark all the time.

THE WISDOM OF APOLLOS

“About our friend Apollos, I’ve done my best to get him to pay you a visit, but haven’t talked him into it yet. He doesn’t think this is the right time. But there will be a ‘right time’”.

1 Cor 16:12 EHP

Wisdom is one of the signs and marks of maturity. It is often considered to come with old age. But many young people are also wise. And plenty of older ones aren’t!

Apollos is a person who floats into and out of the New testament pages. Maybe if he had written some of his messages we might have them. But we don’t. He was first mentioned in the Book of Acts where he visited Ephesus and gave teaching. He was well versed in the scriptures and an eloquent teacher. But in Corinth there formed a faction of the church that supported him against Paul although Paul does not condemn him. There were other divisions as well and Paul asked everyone to sink their differences for the sake of the unity of the church. “Apollos emerges from this passage (in 1 Corinthians 16) as a man of great wisdom. A group in Corinth was called the ‘Apollos party’. These people, quite with- out the sanction of Apollos, had attached themselves to his name. Apollos knew that, and, no doubt, he wished to stay away from Corinth, lest, if he came, that party would try to annex him. Apollos was wise enough to know that, when a church is torn with party politics, there is a time when it is wiser, and more far-sighted to stay away” (W. Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, p 184).

If you have the gift of wisdom, use it for the glory of God and the building up of the body.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, help those blessed with wisdom, to guide us all.

IT’S ALL TEAMWORK

“I am expecting (Timothy) along with the brothers”.

1 Cor 16:11 NIV

There are plenty of Christian ministers and leaders who are individualists. They work well on their own and don’t like to share the stage with anyone else. There are similar personalities in every walk of life. There are others who feel that part of their leadership role is to help other people to bring their gifts and skills into the scene as well. As they bring juniors along, they in their turn build another segment of the community and bring in something different to the “the boss”. When this happens in a Christian community it all brings glory to the Lord and multiplying strength to the church.

We do not know who “the brothers” were to whom Paul was referring. Were they in fact other ministers, teachers or pastoral helpers of some kind? And was Timothy already “coaching them? There was no college training for those who took up Christian leadership in those days. Team ministries are not easy. Egos are very sensitive. And the results are not measured by “the bottom line” as they are in the secular world. The only reward is the respect and love of the people you serve – and if two or more of you are competing for that regard, things can get strained.

If there is a team ministry in your Christian community be very sensitive. The older minister has to give way and let the newer person enjoy some prominence. If the younger one is a strong person the senior can feel very “pushed out”. They both need support and sensitivity from the supporting staff, encouragement from all office-bearers and especially senior people. And their families! All in the name of Christ.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, cement and strengthen pastoral relationships in Christ.

WARM HOSPITALITY

“Send (Timothy) on to me with your blessing”.

1 Cor 16:11 EHP

One of the great features of the Christian community is the tradition of warm hospitality. Christian disciples tend to form friendships that last a long time. They “look each other up” after gaps of many years sometimes, and usually say, “My but the years flown. But we take up right where we left off”. And sometimes those friendships sustain each party through happy days and sad, strengthening and supporting one another.

Travelling in Bible days was a long, slow and arduous exercise. Inns were few and far between. It became the Christian custom to provide hospitality to missionaries, apostles and teachers as they passed through the various places where there were communities. It would have brought joy to those extending the hospitality as they exchanged news and information about the people in different places. Illnesses, marriages, babies born and deaths that hap- pened would have been faithfully recorded. So would the progress in the various congregations that the traveller had passed through. No doubt too, future plans, especially where these promised visits from apostles, would also have featured. The Christian community was a widely spread grouping that would need encouragement in every place.

And Paul gave careful instructions to the Corinthians as to how they were to treat young Timothy, his assistant and fellow teacher. So Timothy would have been welcomed as if he were Paul himself. He would have been encouraged and supported during his stay in Corinth. And the Corinthians would have laid their hands on him, prayed over him, and blessed him. He would have been spiritually fortified and would have gone on his journey with a new heart and having been enriched by this fellowship with the wider family of the church.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, help us all to feel that we are members one of another.

HAVE A POSITIVE ATTITUDE

“Don’t let anyone disparage (Timothy)”.

1 Cor 16:11 EHP

The Christian community is very given to gossip and rumours. Because of the interchangeability of professional workers, many people get to know, or know of, people in other places. Bad news spreads fast! Despite the questionable integrity of passing on mere rumours, often unsubstantiated, many people cannot resist the temptation to share “juicy” bits of news. There’s almost a feather in the cap for those who are the first to “let someone in on the news”. Few people can seal their lips with knowledge of weakness, mistakes or failure on the part of someone else. And not many people take the trouble to verify rumours.

We cannot say that there were any suspicions about Timothy with regard to bad behaviour. He might well have been very “raw” and “green”, young and inexperienced. This would have been very evident if he had come in Paul’s stead, Paul himself being strong and immensely competent.

We might well pick up on Paul’s advice and decide to keep “mum” on rumours, suggestions of inadequacy, incompetence and inexperience on the part of Christian workers, and especially young ones. By the same token, be the mature element in any such situation and advise others to stop spreading allegations and rumours. Even when you feel there is cause for concern, say, “Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and see how things work out. God must have some way of working through his positive skills and commitment. I think we should get behind him and pray for him, that the Holy Spirit will guide and strengthen him and make something of him. We never know how he will develop in the future”.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, help me to be aware of the need to be positive.