Family Ministry
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Family Ministry

How would others describe your household? As Paul addressed the self-centered Corinthians, he pointed to the household of Stephanas as a distinguished example of Christian love. In this message, Alistair Begg takes a closer look at the qualities that made this ordinary Christian family stand out in their church and community. One of the most convincing ways we can share our faith is by openly maintaining a lifestyle of love, service, and devotion to the Lord Jesus.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 Corinthians, Volume 8

Final Exhortations and Greetings 1 Corinthians 16:1–24 Series ID: 14608

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you once again to take your Bibles and turn to the portion of Scripture that was read for us earlier. First Corinthians chapter 16; the section that is before us begins at the fifteenth verse. And before we turn our minds to it, let’s just turn our hearts again to the Lord in prayer:

O Lord our God, unless we know the enabling of your Spirit both in speaking and in hearing, we now engage in an exercise of futility. We do not believe that you’ve brought us here except for the express purpose that through your Word you would speak to our lives. So, speak, Lord, in the stillness, while we wait upon you.[1] For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.

What is your household known for? Do they know your house on the street? Do they know your house in the community? And do people say, “In that house is such and such,” or “From that house comes such and such a thing”? You may be known for your dog. You may be known for your mailbox. You may be known for the volume of your son’s or daughter’s radio in their car when they come home in the later evening. You may be known for a number of things. Houses have a look. Houses have a feel. And if I may say so graciously, houses also have a smell. An aroma is a better word. An aroma. And don’t go from here saying, “The pastor said that my house stinks.” I did not say that! I said that your house has an aroma, so much so that as a child, my mother was able to identify the houses out of which I’d come on the basis of the peculiar aromas that were part and parcel of some of the homes in our community—ethnic cooking of the good Scottish variety, involving a tremendous amount of fat. And as a result of that, there was a sort of fatty element to me when I came home that pervaded both my clothing and my hair, and she would know.

Now, it was this flavor with which we ended our study last time in verse 14. Because we said that what was the emphasis of the Holy Spirit in relationship to the matter of these things was simply this: that there should be an all-pervading element of love which was marking the relationships among the Corinthian believers—that they were to be seasoned by love and that that should be spilling over into the community; that both as a church family and then as individual families, they would be learning that one of the great evidences of the fact that Jesus Christ is alive from the dead is to be found in the loving lifestyle of Christian families. The loving lifestyle of Christian families—the way in which father and mother relate to each other; the way in which parent treats child, and child parent, and sibling sibling. There should be this Christ-exalting, Spirit-filled element which is part and parcel of these houses. It’s a quite challenging thought.

Now, “the household of Stephanas” in verse 15 is just such a household. The household of Stephanas is to be a household that’s on its guard, standing firm in the faith, courageous, and strong. In other words, Christian living is to be marked by a courage that will never retreat. But the household of Stephanas is also to be one in which they’re doing everything in love. Therefore, Christian living is to be marked by a love that will never fail. And those two things frame a large part of what it will mean for us to live out the life of Jesus at this point in time. We were to be those who are marked by a courage that does not retreat, hence verse 13; and by a love that never fails, verse 14; and now exemplified in verse 15 and following.

One of the great evidences of the fact that Jesus Christ is alive from the dead is to be found in the loving lifestyle of Christian families.

It was a word that was of vital importance to these Corinthian believers, because, you will recall from our earlier studies, they were a fairly selfish group of people. They were preoccupied with themselves and with their own peculiar concerns and, indeed, in certain cases, the teachers that they liked. One group rallied around one individual and another round someone else. At the Communion services, they were in need of rebuke, because people were showing up early just to eat all of the food. And when people arrived in the hope that they would also be able to share in the meal, what was known as a love feast had become actually a feast of selfishness. And so, it is not a matter of passing import that as Paul draws this great epistle to a conclusion, that he should give this vital instruction as to the nature of Christian love.

Now, as we think about love, then, fleshing itself out in family life, in the ministry to a family and through a family, we do well to pay attention to the household of Stephanas. And that is why he is mentioned for us here. I have five words that I’d like to use as the guiding lights, as it were, through these four verses this morning, and each word, with the exception of one, is actually in the text.


The first word is the word conversion: “You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia.” The first thing that we know about them is that they were once darkness, and now they’re light in the Lord. We’re not told that they were religious people. We’re not told that they were churchgoing people. We’re told that they were converted people. And indeed, in the ministry which Paul had exercised in the city of Corinth, says Paul, “According to my recollection, when I think of those who came to faith in Jesus Christ, Stephanas and his family were right at the front of the queue.”

Now, if you turn back to Acts chapter 18, you can see there the historical record of what took place when Paul went into Corinth to preach. We’re told that, in verse 4, on the Sabbath day, “he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” And the word is dialégomai, which you would anticipate provides for us our English word dialogue. There was a dialogue which was taking place. Paul was in the context of Judaism, and he was reasoning, he was arguing, he was discussing, disputing, emphasizing the peculiarity, particularity, and exclusivity of the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

And, of course, this is a fairly daunting challenge, insofar as he’s in a synagogue doing so. The synagogue folks were monotheistic. They believed in Jehovah God, and they regarded this Jesus of Nazareth as something less than the incarnate God. The people on the outskirts of the synagogue were living in an arena not dissimilar to contemporary Cleveland, insofar as they were living in a world of pluralism. Everyone had their own idea, everyone had their own god, everyone had their own belief system, and the one thing that was absolutely taboo was that an individual should try and unsettle others in the convictions to which they had made a severe and vast and fast hold, especially in the matter of faith.

And so Paul is very politically incorrect insofar as he gives himself, says Luke, to the matter of persuasion. He was seeking to persuade the Jews and to persuade the Greeks. He was not on a mission of “Take it or leave it.” He was doing all in his power to make clear that Jesus was the person he claimed to be, that he was the Savior, and it was a Savior that these individuals needed. He is bearing out in his actual ministry the commitment that he makes reference to in 2 Corinthians 5:11, where he says, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men and women.”[2]

I want to say to you, believer, this morning that you have been called of God to a ministry of persuasion. Can I urge you to be persuasive? To be persuasive in your approach to your children. Enough of this silly contemporary nonsense about “When they’re old enough to choose, then we’ll give them the information necessary.” The greatest deprivation of choice is to deprive them of the information they need in order to make a cogent choice. And unless you as parents take it upon yourself to be persuasive in the things of faith, then it is unlikely that there will be any others who will be able to fill the gap adequately. It is to the ministry of persuasion that we’re called amongst our friends and our neighbors. Our work colleagues, to whom we return tomorrow, are interested as to what it is that makes us tick. And with grace and with kindness, with sensitivity, with wisdom and with skill, we follow the example of Paul, whereby he seeks to persuade them.

Now, as persuasive as he was and as helped as he was, the response, we’re told, was not exactly wonderful. Indeed, in verse 6, we’re told that “the Jews opposed Paul” and they “became abusive.”[3] So here he is reasoning, dialoguing, proclaiming, arguing, persuading, and the reaction of the people is “Get out of here!” And so what we’re told is he gets out of there. Indeed, in a symbolic demonstration of his response to them, he, we’re told by Luke, “shook … his clothes.” “He shook … his clothes in protest.”[4] It’s the same picture that you have of Jesus when the disciples come back and say, “We’re not really doing too well over here”; Jesus said to them, “Just shake the dust off your sandals.”[5] In other words, “We’re out of here! Shake the dust off your clothes!” And look at what he says to them. Not exactly a user-friendly approach, would you say? “Your blood be on your own heads!”[6] In other words, “It’s your funeral! I told you, I’m not here by my own appointing. I have a message to proclaim. I didn’t create it. I’m not trying to be unkind. I’m not seeking to be abusive in any way. I’m seeking to speak to you the truth in love. Your reaction is opposition and abuse. So, hey, see you around!”

It’s really a sorry picture of the contemporary church running after people, saying, “Excuse me?” We’re such a wimpy kind of church, you know? [Imitates throat-clearing.] “Spit it out! What are you trying to say?” “Oh, sorry! I didn’t want to say too much. I didn’t want to…” They’re gone! When you finally get your eyes and your mouth open, the person’s gone!

Paul is clear: “Guys, I want you to know about Jesus. I don’t just want you to know; I want to persuade you to believe in Jesus. I want to do everything in my power. If I could do it myself, I want to make you a believer. But since you choose not to hear, I’m going next door. Now, if you want to come next door, that’s okay. But I’m going next door.” And so he goes next door. And it’s wonderful! (This is not my message this morning. This is just a mini message within the message.) But he goes next door. Okay? He does the exact same thing. It’s quite good. His landlord put him out, and he’d already built some kind of opportunity, so he just tried to get a place next door, which opened up for him perfectly. He moves into the home of Titius Justus, who is “a worshiper of God.”[7] And he’s no sooner moved next door than the ruler of the synagogue and his whole house become believers.[8] The guy who leads the group that threw him out comes next door, and God opens his heart, and he believes.

The great encouragement to preach is the fact that God has purposed and planned to save.

Now, while this was going on, we’re told that many people believed at the same time. That’s in verse 8: “And many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.” You turn back to 1 Corinthians and chapter 16—you cross-reference the thing—and he says, “You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia.” “Right at the very beginning of this ministry,” he says, “right at the front of the line, Stephanas and his family.” In keeping with the plan of God in Acts 18:9—I hope you kept your finger in it—many people believed, and the Spirit of God tells him in verse 10, “I[’m] with you … no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”

You understand this? The Spirit of God says to him, “I want you to know the greatest encouragement you could ever have: as you dialogue, reason, preach, proclaim, and persuade, I have people in this city who are going to believe because of your faithfulness to the preaching of the Word.” The great encouragement to preach is the fact that God has purposed and planned to save. You have this all the way through the Scriptures. Wonderful summary of it in 2 Thessalonians 2:13: “We [always ought] to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”

Who did the choosing? God. Who did the believing? You did. Isn’t that something about paradox, an antinomy? It absolutely is! Does it make your brain nip a little? Yes, it does! What do we know? We know that both truths sit side by side in the Bible. God is about the business of choosing, and we are about the business of believing. And it was as a result of Paul’s faithful preaching that men and women came to believe, and as a result of having come to believe, as they walked down the road of faith and they turn and they look back, they say, “Isn’t this a great marvel, that God chose me before the foundation of the world?” That, you see, is God’s plan and Paul’s purpose. In 1 Corinthians 9:19, it was summarized very clearly: “[that I might] win,” says Paul, “as many [people] as possible.” What was Paul doing? He was seeking “to win as many as possible.”

What a wonderful plan and way to spend your life! And as he sought to win as many as possible, right at the front of the line was the household of Stephanas. And that accounts for his involvement in their baptisms. If you turn back to 1:16, where he addresses the issue of baptism and the confusion that’s involved there, he says, “I[’m] thankful that I did[n’t] baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so [that] no one can say … you were baptized [in] my name.”[9] Now, I can imagine—this is my imagination, of course—but I can imagine him dictating this, and he’s speaking out loud, and his secretary’s writing it down. And the amanuensis, who was more than likely Sosthenes, who’s mentioned in verse 1—Sosthenes is writing it down, and Paul says, “Put down ‘I’m thankful that I didn’t baptize any one of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say you were baptized in my name.’” And then he said, “Pardon?” And Sosthenes said, “Are you forgetting about Stephanas’s household?” Then he says, “Oh yeah! ‘I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember.’”[10]

Do you get a picture of the way the New Testament works? Here’s a letter written to Corinth. Acts chapter 18 gives you him in Corinth. The baptism that he refers to in chapter 1 is directly related to his awareness of them. Hundreds and hundreds of people came to faith in Jesus Christ as a result of Paul’s ministry. He clearly couldn’t be involved in the baptism of them all. He obviously didn’t even remember them all, and he needed his mind to be jogged in relationship to Stephanas. But he was in no doubt about this: Stephanas and his household were converted. They were converted. They were changed.

Can I ask you this morning: Do people know of your household that it is a converted household? Have they identified the fact that they would be able to come to you for information concerning this same Jesus? Could they come to my door and say, “I think perhaps you could help me with this or with that,” because the identifying factor of our lives is that we’re new people? Oh, we’re ordinary people. We go the same places, similar places. We do the same kind of things. We dress in similar ways. But there’s been a mighty change brought about in our lives. It is to this end that we labor here, week by week and day by day—not to build a large number of people sitting in these seats, not simply to provide information, not simply to give you religious principles that you may find in other places, but we labor to this end: that we might persuade you that you need a Savior in Christ and that in trusting unreservedly in him, you may be changed, forgiven, ransomed, restored, and so on. Is your household converted?


Second word is not conversion, but it is devotion. Devotion. These individuals had clearly understood that conversion is not a terminus; it’s a starting point. Paul, we’re told in Acts 18:11, had stayed on in Corinth for eighteen months, providing them with all the information that they needed to go on with Christ. And this family had clearly understood that salvation was the pathway to blessing—that now that they had been converted, it was not an option for them to be devoted; it was only natural that they would be devoted! You get married, and you go down the front of the aisle, and you say all those things, and you go out the door—I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t looking around going, “What do you want to do now? Do you want to go out for coffee or a…? I don’t know what to do! You know what? I may go… Ah! You know, do you mind? Could you take the car? I think I’ll go see my mother.” You say, “I don’t think a marriage took place here. I don’t know what took place here. ’Cause I expect to see the people going, ‘Oh, thank you for coming. Thank you for coming. Thank you for coming. Goodbye!’” They’re gone! Why? Because they want to be hopelessly devoted to each other. Hopelessly devoted! It’s not an option. It’s an understandable obligation.

And that’s what conversion brings. Indeed, when you show me people who claim to be converted without being devoted, I wonder what it was happened to them. Let’s have none of this silly teaching about the various stages involved in a progression of a walk with Christ, as if, “You can have the conversion package, which includes heaven and no hell but nothing beyond that; or, if you would like a little more, you can have the devotion package, which involves a little more commitment on your part, but it yields special benefits; or you can have…” and so on. And so many people I talk to, they think of the Christian life just like that: “Oh no, I’m just converted; I’m not devoted. I’m converted but not devoted.” I want to say to you: if you’re not devoted, it’s questionable whether you’re converted. “Well, I was converted and devoted a long time ago, but now I’m just demoted,” or whatever else it is. Well, get back and get devoted—hopelessly devoted to one another and to Christ.

Now, the interesting thing is that their devotion reveals itself in service. They devoted themselves to something. “Oh, what’re you doing over there?” “Oh, I’m just devoting.” It doesn’t work like that. You know devotion in relationship to something. And they devoted themselves specifically “to the service of the saints.” In other words, they appointed themselves to the service of their fellow Christians. Notice that they did not assume the role of a teacher. They did not assume the role of leadership. They did not jump to the front of the line in relationship to that, but they took it upon themselves to minister to others. Phillips puts it, “They … made up their minds to devote their lives to [serving others].”[11] They imposed upon themselves a duty. Their devotion was a self-imposed duty.

Question: What is there about your Christian life and mine that speaks to the issue of self-imposed duty? Do you realize that duty and habit are not dirty words? We have made them dirty words, especially in relationship to Christian things. If anybody speaks to the issue of duty, the knee-jerk reaction is “The person is a legalist!” Well, what about the self-imposed duty of your physical life, the self-imposed duty of brushing your teeth, the self-imposed duty of showering, the self-imposed duty of eating, the self-imposed duty of speaking civilly to other people? None of those things are biological functions, ultimately. They are decisions. They are choices. You choose to brush, floss, shower, eat, and be civil. You choose not to, and it has radical implications, not only for yourself but for everyone who spends time with you. Right?

Devotion reveals itself in service.

And the same is true in Christian terms. I ask you again: What is there? What is there? I’m being very specific here. What is there in the seven-day period of your life that is there as a result of a commitment on your part, self-imposed, duty? Is there anything there? Or do you do everything just ’cause you feel like it? Or do you do everything just ’cause you’re coerced to it, manipulated from the outside?

You see, the freedom of Christian living is the freedom which the Spirit of God brings to us to enable us to enslave ourselves to duty—to self-imposed duty. I remember when I had the option in relationship to worship at church. I still do, but it has more implications if I exercise the wrong option. But I remember, when I was not here but was there, that there was many a Sunday when the reason I went to church was not as a result of some kind of divine afflatus, some great surge when I wakened up in the morning, but I awakened in the morning, and I said, “You know what? It’s Sunday. What do I do on Sundays?” I said, “I go to church on Sundays. You know what? I flat-out don’t feel like going to church today. But I’m going to go.” It’s just a self-imposed duty.

And when it came to five o’clock in the afternoon, and we’d been swimming and relaxing and reading, and I looked at the clock, and I looked at the scene, I looked at the lemonade, and I looked around, I had to say to myself, “Hey, it’s Sunday night. What do I do on Sunday nights?” I said, “I worship with God’s people on Sunday nights.” Why? ’Cause you have to? No. ’Cause it’s in the Bible? No. It’s just self-imposed duty. I just figured that if I was there, I might be able to speak a word of encouragement to someone. If I was there, I might hear a word from God that I definitely needed to hear. If I was there, I might be able to add my voice in song. But I didn’t go for points, and I didn’t go for feelings—and frankly, I still don’t. It’s a self-imposed duty.

If you only witness to people, in traveling on a plane or on a train or on a bus, when you feel like it, get ready for not witnessing to people. But if you’re prepared to “speak a word in season”[12] for Jesus Christ as a result of a self-imposed duty, you’ll have unbelievable opportunities. Just ask yourself when you’re sitting there and the person says, “You know, I’m so fed up with things! I can’t believe why the world’s in such a mess.” You say to yourself in that moment, you say, “What do I do when this happens?” And the answer is, I speak a word in season. If you asked yourself the question, “What do I feel like doing right now?” it’s probably pulling Newsweek up right around your head and ignoring the fact the person even asked the question. Self-imposed duty.

Now, notice these dear folks. They stand out in the whole of the New Testament because they were converted and they were devoted. And they were “devoted … to the service of the saints.” They were willing, they were spontaneous, and they were useful. They weren’t waiting for an assignment. Don’t you get fed up with people waiting for assignments? I mean, are you a manager, a supervisor? Do you have a factory? Do you ever get students into your factory, and you’re the supervisor, and they come in, they say, “This is Fred, George, and Bill, and they’re going to be here”? Don’t the guys drive you nuts, that you say, “Now, go over here,” and then they go over there, and then they’re just standing like they’re brain dead? And you go over and you say, “What’s wrong, George?” He says, “What am I supposed to do next?” “Well, you could do this next.” And then twenty minutes later it’s “Oh, I don’t know what to do now. I don’t know what to do.” Well, pick something up! There’s trash on the floor. Pick that up. Right? The thing needs swept. Sweep it! The tools need cleaned. You’re a landscaper, and you came home at four, and the whole thing is covered in grass and bits, you’re sitting there saying, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” Clean the jolly tools, for one thing! You don’t have to be a rocket scientist. Do you have to be told everything?

Do you know how many people in a church of this size are all standing around on corners going, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. What’re you supposed to do in this church? I don’t know what you do.” Hey, come with me! I’ll show you what to do. How many weeks are we keeping the jolly nursery thing in here? Fifty-two weeks out of a year, signing up for nursery!

See, in many cases, we’re hiding behind the idea of “I don’t have the ability.” We’re not looking for ability. Write “ability” down, and then put these letters in front of it: a-v-a-i-l. The issue is not ultimately ability; the issue is availability. Available! And Stephanas and his family got converted, and they just started doing stuff. They ministered to the saints. They said, “This is what we’re going to do. We’re just going to go at it! If somebody over here needs a blanket, we’ll run it over to them. Somebody over here needs a cup of cold water? We’ll take that to them! Somebody needs me to sit with their children? We’ll go sit with them! Somebody needs a word of encouragement? We’ll give it to them!” They weren’t waiting for an assignment. They weren’t waiting for prominence. They weren’t waiting for position. They were involved in ministry!

And the idea for them—given that it is a house church, especially—the idea that for them, ministry and Christian living would be about sitting in a lovely, big auditorium like this one hour a week and then walking out and doing very little would’ve been completely mind-blowing to them. They could never have conceived of that! They would have said, “I don’t know what that is, but it surely isn’t conversion plus devotion.” Indeed, in the King James Version, the word is not devotion; the word is addiction. If you’ve got a King James Version, it’s addiction. They were addicted to it! In an addiction, what happens? It becomes habitual activity. The more you get, the more you need, until you’re at the point where if you can’t have it, you can’t live. That’s what Christian service had become to Stephanas.

I find this phenomenally challenging, I’ve got to tell you. I don’t know about you. Have I reached anything approximating to this idea of habitual, addictive Christian activity? They were not workaholics, compelled to work for work’s sake. They were addicted to ministry for love’s sake. They started to minister, and the more they ministered, the more they needed to, until they got to the point where they couldn’t live without it.

You remember that song “I can’t live if livin’ is without you”?[13] It went away up high, you know? “I can’t live if livin’ is without you.” Now you remember it, right? You couldn’t remember it. You couldn’t remember it, so I did it. And you’re driving in a car in the ’60s—they remade it now, not as good—you’re driving in the car, and the guy’s going, “I can’t live if living is without you,” and you’re going, if you’re an average guy in love with a girl, you go, “That’s exactly how I feel! That’s exactly how I feel!” And what he’s saying here: Stephanas and his family said, “I can’t live if living is without Christian service.”

Now, you see, it doesn’t say, “I can’t live if I can’t teach. I can’t live if I can’t lead. I can’t live if I don’t have a position.” It says, “I can’t live if I can’t minister, serve.”


Conversion. Devotion. Thirdly, and fast, submission. Submission. “I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these.” “These are the kind of people to whom you need to submit,” he says. “This is servant leadership at its best.”

Instead of the Corinthians fighting for their rights and for their privileges and for their respect, they should be fighting for a chance to follow after and serve the likes of Stephanas and his family. These people were not isolators; they were cooperators. Sunergoûnti, the word that gives us synergy: there was a synergy about what they were doing. They were committed to the work. Kopiōnti: they were committed to the point of exhaustion.

The key to submission in service is to wear the garment of humility.

This was not a leadership that walks around with a clipboard. You know, you do these things like cleanup days in your neighborhood, there’s always some Charlie has a clipboard, you know? Give me that job! I like that job! Yes, I’ll do that! You know, you get pine needles in here, and you get stuff all up your fingernails; it takes a year and a half… You broke the chainsaw seven times; it’s the guy up the street. And around comes Rodney with the clipboard: “How’s it going over here? Yes, very good.” What do you have to do to get this job? This is unbelievable! Now, it makes me want to, you know, take the clipboard and, you know, put it over on the side for a little bit and say to the guy, “Get some stuff up your fingernails, would you? Stop going around with a clipboard!” We got clipboard leadership that’s killing the church—charts and diagrams and folders and systems and analysts and goodness knows what all, and we’re dying for a few folks with the stuff underneath their fingernails.

Now, when I walked out after the first service, the first person I walked into was carrying a what? A dear girl walking the halls with a clipboard. I said, “Look out!” She said, “What do you mean?” I said, “You’ll find out!” Let me tell you something: the illustration she made ten times better. The key to submission in service is to wear the garment of humility. In 1 Peter 5, the garment of humility is the egkombōma, the apron of sacrificial service.[14] And the girl with the clipboard was wearing the apron of service. So I guess it’s okay to have a clipboard, provided we’re wearing the apron. Clipboard without the apron: bit of a problem.


Fourth and second-last word: the word inspiration. Inspiration. Where does this come from? This is the one that is not there. He says, “I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it. I was [so] glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they[’ve] supplied what was lacking from you.” “They refreshed my spirits, and they’ve refreshed your spirits too.” In other words, he says, “They just inspired me. They wound my clock. They floated my boat. They rang my bell. They unfurled my flag. They just topped up my battery.” The importance of companionship.

Why, twenty years after Carole King sang the song “You’ve Got a Friend,” does a whole new generation find itself drawn to the song? Not so much for the melody line but for the sentiment it conveys:

When you’re down and troubled
And you need [a helping hand]
[When] nothing, nothing[’s] going right
Close your eyes … think of me
… soon I[’ll] be there
To brighten up even your darkest night.[15]

Yeah, this is the mighty apostle Paul, inspired by the Spirit of God to write these immense letters—and yet he is a man, and that is all he is! And he is longing for companionship. And these three fellows walk in the door, and they pick up his spirits. “You might just have a problem,” said Stephanas as he walked in, “that I understand. We all need somebody to lean on. Lean on me, Paul,” he said, “when you’re not strong. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you carry on.”[16]

Now, you just stand up if you’re so self-sufficient that you don’t need three buddies like that. Okay. You want to be a Stephanas, a Fortunatus, an Achaicus to somebody? Do it. I’m not going to assign you. We’re not going to match you up. Just walk around with your eyes open and your heart in tune with Jesus, and you’ll be falling over yourself with an opportunity to be an inspiration—the very opposite of a drain. There are people who drain other people’s batteries. Every time they see us coming, they’re going, “Oh no! Here he comes again.” And I know I can be that to people. You take that idea of ability and availability: my commitment to ability—even though I don’t have much ability—is so bad that people who want to make themselves available feel that if the ability’s not of a certain standard, they don’t want to make themselves available, because they might fail. And I need to learn what it is to see people with the privilege of failing. Otherwise, you just drain them. It’s not a nice thought, but when I look into the mirror of the Word of God, I can really drain people’s juice. I don’t know about you. And I found myself saying, “Lord, help me to be like these three guys. I’d like to recharge a few people’s batteries. I’d like to be an inspiration.”

Togetherness builds us up, heals us, restores us. Togetherness prevents us from danger, disappointment, disaster, difficulty. “Like cold water to a weary soul,” says Solomon, “is good news from a distant land.”[17] And these three men came walking in from a distant land, and Paul said, “I was glad when they arrived. They filled me up. I was lacking. My battery was low. They refreshed my spirit, and yours also.”


Last word: recognition. Folks like this deserve recognition. “You want to recognize some people?” he says. Incidentally, the individuals have no right to seek recognition, but we have no right to withhold recognition. Indeed, in the King James Version, it puts it in the imperative, accurately: “Acknowledge ye them that are such.”[18] The NIV says these people “deserve recognition.” And we can say, “Oh yes, they certainly do.” The King James Version gets it right. Acknowledge them. Recognize them. Go up to them and tell them that the simple words, the little things, that which was apparently inconsequential, has meant so much to you.

See, it’s a real disservice to God’s people when we create the idea in our church that ministry is about teaching—that the real ministers are the teachers. The real ministers are the servants. Indeed, James, the brother of Jesus, gave a warning about being a teacher, remember? “Don’t let many of you,” he says, “become teachers, because those who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”[19] But let’s become like the household of Stephanas. They were sick, and we went to them. They were in jail, and we called on them. They were hungry, and we fed them. They were thirsty, and we gave them something to drink. Nobody saw. Nobody knew. Oh, sorry! Jesus saw, and Jesus knows.[20]

You see, you may think that you’re involved in a ministry in this church that is so inconsequential because of the profile. Nobody really knows, nobody really sees. Indeed, you may be involved in a ministry to an individual, and the individual seems so downright unresponsive. You drive away from the house saying, “I don’t know why I should even go back there. It doesn’t seem that… Nothing seems to be happening at all!”

Well, do you remember the words of Jesus as he drew things in the minds of people to the thought of his return? And he said the King was going to come and separate the sheep from the goats, put one on one side, and that the King would sit on the throne, and he would draw the people together, and he would tell them that he was hungry, and they gave him something to eat, and so on. And “the righteous will answer …, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you [a] drink? When did we see you [as] a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?’”[21] “When did we see you as an overseas student, a Case Western student, totally removed from home, from family, and from friendship—when did we see you at Parkside Church and not take you home?” Jesus says, “Inasmuch as you’ve failed to do it to the least of these Case Western University students, you failed to do it to me.”[22] “Lord, when did we see you in a jail?” “Inasmuch as you went to the dear folks behind bars, you went to me.”

I want to tell you, loved ones, that the whole future of Parkside Church is right down all these lines. Whether this church has an impact in the coming years will not ultimately be directly related to many of the things which have the highest profile, but I believe it’s going to be directly related to God’s people understanding the ministry of Stephanas and his household. One of the greatest ways in which Cleveland and the environment will know that Jesus is alive is through the loving, serving, devoted lifestyle of ordinary Christian families just like yours and just like mine.

Conversion, devotion, submission, inspiration, recognition. Conclusion.

[1] Emily Crawford, “Speak, Lord, in the Stillness” (1920).

[2] 2 Corinthians 5:11 (paraphrased).

[3] Acts 18:6 (NIV 1984).

[4] Acts 18:6 (NIV 1984).

[5] Mark 6:11 (paraphrased).

[6] Acts 18:6 (NIV 1984).

[7] Acts 18:7 (NIV 1984).

[8] See Acts 18:8.

[9] 1 Corinthians 1:14–15 (NIV 1984).

[10] 1 Corinthians 1:16 (NIV 1984).

[11] 1 Corinthians 16:15 (Phillips).

[12] Isaiah 50:4 (KJV).

[13] Pete Ham and Tom Evans, “Without You” (1970).

[14] See 1 Peter 5:5.

[15] Carole King, “You’ve Got a Friend” (1971).

[16] Bill Withers, “Lean on Me” (1972). Lyrics lightly altered.

[17] Proverbs 25:25 (NIV 1984).

[18] 1 Corinthians 16:18 (KJV).

[19] James 3:1 (paraphrased).

[20] See Matthew 25:35–36.

[21] Matthew 25:37–38 (NIV 1984).

[22] Matthew 25:45 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.