Scripture at times gives frustratingly few details of many of the characters involved in spreading the gospel story; large gaps even left out of the life of Christ. There’s a reason for that, seeing how we have such a difficult time accepting, understanding and sharing what we “know” properly; much else would undoubtedly be a distraction and hindrance for us. However, that lack of personal information doesn’t indicate lack of worth. Rather it focuses our attention on Jesus while fostering an acceptance of our station as assistants in spreading the gospel with attention to the details we do possess.
We are shown some of the attributes of Jesus’ closest disciples, a few of whom were fishermen, one a government employee, another a counter-revolutionary, and one more a conniving thief and traitor; the others have almost nothing revealed of a personal nature. And even though we are somewhat familiar with two of the gospel chroniclers as Apostles, the other two are revealed to have been “discipled” by others – Mark at Peter’s side, Luke at Paul’s. Paul, the great theologian of Christianity, is described much more intimately; but even here, many of the particulars of his personal life are left out.
We know something of men such as Barnabas, a Christian who readily embraced Paul at his conversion; participating with him in ministry at Antioch and in missionary outreach head-quartered there. (Acts 11:22-26 & Acts 13 & 14) We know Silas accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey, spending time with him in Corinth and Thessalonica (2 Corinthians 1:19), and sharing a prison cell with him in Philippi. (Acts 15:40,41& Acts 16:19-23) And we know Timothy was looked on tenderly by Paul (1 Timothy 1:2 & 2 Timothy 1:3,4); accompanying him on some of his travels and briefly sharing Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. (Hebrews 13:23) Less is known of Titus, a Greek Christian and traveling companion of Paul, who was sent to the troubled Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 7:6; 8:6 & 23) and later served on the island of Crete.
But what about the many others who were even more briefly mentioned in scripture? Like Onesiphorus, who searched for Paul in Rome and found him imprisoned there; “refreshing” Paul with his company. (2 Timothy 1:16,17) Or Epaphroditus, a Philippian Christian who delivered a gift from the church in Philippi when Paul was under house arrest in Rome. (Philippians 4:18) And the husband and wife team of Priscilla and Aquila, serving with Paul in Rome (Romans 16:3), Corinth (Acts 18:1-4) and Ephesus (Acts 18:18-28); opening their hearts and home to those responding to Christ’s call. (1 Corinthians 16:19) And Lydia, a Philippian business woman who opened her home to Paul and his traveling companions in ministry to him and the local church that grew out of his efforts there. (Acts 16:11-15)
Many people like these formed the backbone of the church, ensuring it’s success through various unheralded contributions of service and ministry. Prompting Paul to instruct us to, “…submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it.” 1 Corinthians 16:16 Men like Stephanas who was the first convert of Achaia; and Epanetus, the first convert of Asia. And women such as Mary, Persis, Tryphena and Tryphosa, who “worked hard in the Lord.” Rufus, believed to be the son of Simon of Cyrene – who helped carry Christ’s cross to Golgotha (Mark 15:25) – is mentioned as a fellow-worker; as is his mother, whom Paul had great affection for.
Then there was Andronicis and Junias, relatives of Paul who spent time with him in prison, as well as Herodion, another relative serving the Lord and his church. Stachys, Urbanus and Apelles, dear friends and fellow workers; who were tested and approved as worthy of greeting and commendation in Christ. This list of briefly mentioned men and women can be found in Romans 16, starting with Phoebe; an intriguing servant of the church in Cenchrea; a neighboring city of Corinth. In calling her a “servant” of the church – a derivative of the word diakonos, sometimes translated as “deacon” – some look to her as an example of women deacons or deaconesses. Which is not impossible, even though every servant-oriented ministry referred to in the New Testament is derived from that same word. Whether she was in fact a “deaconess” or “merely” one of a long list of servants, it is clear that many women served with distinction in the early church and were openly commended for doing so. (An early tradition holding that Phoebe served as a courier for Paul, delivering the Roman Epistle from Corinth – where it is believed to have been written – to the believers in Rome.)
A complimentary list is found in Hebrews, high-lighting a number of Old and New Testament heroes of faith; ending with an admission that there wasn’t enough time or space to note all who had served the Lord in their various capacities. Of whom, “…the world was not worthy…” Men and women author Francine Rivers describes as, ‘Men of faith who serve in the shadow of others.’1The simple fact being that few are singled out for great acts of daring while many are called to do simple – dare I say mundane things? Such as being kind, generous, understanding and merciful. Those who, behind the scenes, uphold the church and expand it’s influence and outreach in the world. Paul advising the Thessalonians – and us – to mimic them by, “Mak(ing) it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands… so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” 1Thess. 4:11,12James bolstering this idea by admonishing us to, “…be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,…” James 1:19 (What an impact those two simple things could have if practiced faithfully.)
We must remember that whatever task or “office” we are called to, in its own way it is essential to the church. (See Romans 12:3-8 & 1 Corinthians 12:4-11) As, “…we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10 So, “Let us not become weary in doing good (or discouraged due to lack of recognition), for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:9,10
1Inscribed on the dedication page of Francine Rivers book titled Sons of Encouragement: Five stories of faithful men who changed eternity; Tyndale Publishing
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