Rev. Mahtani is pastor-elect of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church in Houston, Texas.
I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) that ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth. I Corinthians 16:15, 16.
By the amazing grace of God we have been delivered from the darkness of self-indulgence. We have put away drug addiction, drunkenness, gluttony, and all our former lusts. But we must remember that as new creatures in Christ we are to be “addicted to the ministry of the saints.” Having reminded the: Corinthians: “Let all your things be done with charity” (I Cor. 16:14), the apostle Paul gives in our text a lovely example of this unique addiction.
Before diagnosing the addiction, Paul identifies the addicts. “Ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first fruits of Achaia…” From the first chapter of this epistle (see v. 16) we know that Stephanas was one of the converts Paul had baptized. His family is beautifully identified here: “the firstfruits of Achaia.” They were the first converts in Greece. They were the precious fruit of missions. They not only heard the gospel, but believed! They were no longer dead in sins, but alive in Christ! Their lives proved it: They were addicted to the ministry of the saints!
The word “addicted” is found only once in the Bible (King James Version). However, the original Greek word is found eight times. Its basic meaning is “to appoint.” In our text it is used with a reflexive pronoun and could be translated as “they have appointed themselves.” Stephanas and his house did not perform this ministry as a task forced upon them. As the New International Version puts it, they “were devoted to the service of the saints.” They had voluntarily and cheerfully given themselves to the ministry. They lovingly reserved time, energy, and resources for this lofty work. No longer were they madly in love with the world; now their affection was in the lofty things of God’s great kingdom. In time past they wrought the will of the Gentiles, when they walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revelings, banquetings, abominable idolatries… but now they live according to God in the Spirit (see I Pet. 4:3-6). Now they were no longer drunk with wine, but they were filled with the Spirit of God! (Eph. 5:18). Surely it is not coincidental that in both these passages the apostles Peter and Paul emphasize in the verses following the blessed communion of saints. Are you walking in the will of God? Are you filled with the Spirit of God? Test yourself. Are you addicted to the ministry of the saints? What place do your fellow saints have in all your plans, activities, and ambitions?
It is true that in the body of Christ we all have different callings. Some are pastors or ministers (II Tim. 4:1-5) who preach the Word; others are elders (I Pet. 5:1-4) who are to rule by their good example and never as lords; yet others are deacons (I Tim. 3:13) who show the mercies of Christ. But we must never imagine that only those in the office are called to serve. The Scriptures call all God’s people to minister. We are most familiar withRomans 12 and I Corinthians 12, which describe the church as the body of Christ. In John 13:14 our Lord Jesus Christ taught us both by example and by precept to. “wash one another’s feet. All Christians are servants, called to minister to the body of Christ, each in his own God-given calling.
Remember, “even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Out of gratitude for His sacrificial love for us, we now walk as His servants, ministering to the needs of the saints. For example, the apostle Paul exhorts the Galatians: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1, 2). The Heidelberg Catechism in describing the “communion of saints” explains it beautifully in Lord’s Day 21: “all and every one, who believes, being members of Christ, are in common, partakers of Him, and of all His riches and gifts; (in this communion) every one must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts, for the advantage and salvation of other members” (Q & A 55).
Our text also points to a very distinctive ministry. It is true that we are called to “do good unto all men.” But remember: “especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Stephanas and his house were addicted to “the ministry of the saints.” What, were there saints in the church of Corinth? Of course there were. Although the Corinthian church was troubled with many sins and weaknesses, Paul addressed her members as “saints.” Let us remember this as we deal with the precious people of God. They are the “holy ones” of God. They have been sanctified! They have been washed in the blood of Christ! They are not perfect, but they are saints!
The fact is that these saints are also in great need. Pain, poverty, persecution, personal struggles and pressures continue to be the lot of the Christian. These special needs can be best met by fellow saints. We who know God’s comfort can comfort our brothers and sisters. We who know deliverance and forgiveness can help to give hope to each other. We who have gone through dark tunnels but now see light can encourage and direct our fellow pilgrims. But we can do this only if we by God’s grace see beyond one another’s weaknesses and sins.
Yes, love covers a multitude of sins. The personality and the character and the attitude and the color and the smell we may not like. Fair-enough. But remember, if he or she is a saint for whom Christ died, we may not speak against such a one harshly or disparagingly. If God be for our brother, how can we be against him? If the Holy God can forgive, how dare I take him cruelly by his neck? Instead we must learn to love the saints. The best way is by serving one another’s needs. In all our labors in the church, home, school, world, let us ask the question: How does this serve the welfare of the saints of God?
Our text can properly be understood to refer to the distinct calling of Scripture: “Use hospitality to one another without grudging” (I Pet. 4:9-12). “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2). It is interesting that in both passages the exhortation to show hospitality is placed in the context of love. It is out of fervent charity for each other that we use our homes, our talents, our time, and our energies to serve one another.
So important is this matter of hospitality in the church of Jesus Christ that Scripture says an elder must be “given to hospitality” (I Tim. 3:2); indeed he must be a “lover of hospitality” (Titus 1:8). Even the widows who are to be cared for by the deacons must have a record of this hospitable spirit: “Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work” (I Tim. 4:10). On the contrary Paul warns against the lazy, the “tattlers and the busybodies” (v. 13) in the church, who, instead of caring for the saints, go about destroying peace. A final passage in Hebrews has a similar tone: “For God is not unrighteous to forget your labor of love, which ye have showed toward His Name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb. 6:10; but see also the verses following, where a similar warning is given against slothfulness).
As we consider this subject of serving the saints, it is important for us to remember three things. The Scriptures teach us that we are to love God by showing love to the saints. A casual reading of I John 3:10-18, I John 4:20, 21 will make this abundantly clear. We may not even say we have faith (see James 2:14-17) if we cannot love our brethren in word and in deed. The difference between the child of the devil and the child of God is this: one is a murderer who kills his brother, either literally or by his words and actions; the other is a brother indeed, who loves and seeks to edify, nourish, or feed as the need may be.
Secondly, in loving the saints we must not forget to love Gods servants (see I Thess. 5:11-15). God’s Word exhorts us to honor the faithful in Gods kingdom. Stephanas did exactly this (see I Cor. 16:16-18. He was willing to help and labor with the apostles. He even went with his two companions to visit the apostle Paul in Ephesus, apparently bringing comfortable news about the saints in Corinth. In this way they ministered both to Paul and the Corinthians. Paul commends them highly: “For they have refreshed both my spirit and yours: therefore acknowledge ye them that are such” (I Cor. 15:18).
Finally, let us remember that we will be judged on that great day according to this ministry of the saints (seeMatt. 25:34-40). To those who in this life show love and compassion to the brethren, Christ shall say: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!” (Matt. 25:34). Jesus tells us who the blessed of the Father are. They practice “that religion which is pure and undefiled, visiting the fatherless and the widows in their affliction” (James 1:18). To the hungry brother they give bread to eat; to the sick they bring comfortable words; to the stranger they show hospitality. Indeed we shall stand in wonderment when Christ rewards us, for it will clearly be a reward of grace. In this life He gives us the grace of His Holy Spirit to perform such service, and in the life hereafter He will commend us for our labor of love. What blessed addiction to the ministry of the saints!
No wonder this addiction is so highly honored. We are called to submit to Stephanas and his house. Ex-drug addicts or recovering alcoholics need a changed influence, a new relationship, and a transformed ambition. So also all of us need to submit ourselves to this godly addiction, become busy with our newfound friends in Christ, and be more consecrated to serving the saints. Stephanas and his house addicted themselves; now we should submit ourselves by following their lovely example.
Sometimes we pass by these last chapters of the epistles, as we probably do Romans 16 and Colossians 4. Perhaps we feel these names are unimportant, as they are mentioned only once. But why try to be like a Moses or a Paul if we cannot even follow the simple example of Stephanas?
Notice too that this is a general exhortation to all the saints. “I beseech you, brethren . . . .” The younger saints may not say that this is only for the mature and experienced; for this is the example of young converts, firstfruits of Achaia. But the older saints among us must also take seriously this word. “Submit yourselves unto such…” (see v. 16) and “acknowledge ye them” (see v. 18). Let every one of us, brothers, young or old, follow this godly example.
Notice finally that this addiction is urgently sought. “I beseech you, brethren….” Surely this is because the Corinthians needed this urging. But do we not also need the same? It is good that we be addicted to this ministry of the saints lest we return to the addiction of our former lusts. Let us be like these firstfruits of Achaia, who walked in true conversion by practical Christian service. Turning from our past addiction to drugs, alcohol, gluttony, or any other sinful way, let us now be addicted to the ministry of the saints. Serving the saints we not only follow the example of Stephanas. We walk in the footsteps of Jesus.