Addicted to the Ministry of the Saints

July 3, 2005 / No. 3261

Dear radio friends,

     We have been considering, in the last couple of weeks, our calling to love the stranger, to love our brethren, and to love our children.

     Today, we want to look at a very interesting passage of Scripture, I Corinthians 16:15, 16, which reads:  “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.”  You will, of course, understand why I say this is a rather interesting passage, because this is the only time in all of Holy Writ that we have this word translated as addicted.  A term that is usually used to describe a negative behavior is put here in a positive and beautiful way.  Stephanas, one of the first converts in the region of Achaia, presented a godly example.  He and his house are said to have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.

     Please note with me that, as the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians and gives this godly example, he calls the saints of God to submit themselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and that laboreth.  In that context he speaks also of Fortunatus and others of his co-laborers.  And he is exhorting the saints to be thankful to God and to follow their godly example.

     True, we all have different gifts and callings, as Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 tell us.  But if you examine God’s Word, you will find that all Christians are given a duty to practice hospitality, in their own way, according to the gifts God has given to them.  We all, being delivered from death and risen through Christ, are called to give ourselves to this wonderful work of showing love to strangers, as we have been emphasizing.

     But now we want to make a little shift.  We want to show from the Word of God that we are called to show that hospitality especially to the saints.  For that is what our text is about:  Addicted to the ministry of the saints.  What a unique addiction.  “I beseech you, brethren,” Paul writes, “that ye submit yourselves unto such.”

     Let us, before we learn from this godly example, identify who it is of whom the apostle Paul is speaking.  The addicts of verse 15, if we may call them such, are the house of Stephanas.  They are further described as firstfruits of Achaia, which was part of Greece.

     Now, according to Acts 18:27, 28, the apostle Paul’s preaching was well received in that area.  Many Jews became convinced that Jesus was the Christ.  We read in that passage, and now here in I Corinthians 16, that Stephanas and his household were the firstfruits, that is, they were among the earliest converts under the apostle Paul’s preaching in Achaia.  In the very first chapter of this epistle, in verse 16, the apostle mentions Stephanas, acknowledging that he baptized his household.  He says, “I came not to baptize, but to preach.”  But then he remembers:  “Ah, but I did baptize Stephanas.”  That tells you something.  That means that Stephanas was a man of God who stood out in the mind of the apostle Paul.  No wonder.  And Paul now beseeches that the congregation (and all of us as God’s people) learn from the godly example of Stephanas, which the apostle Paul had witnessed himself.  By the amazing grace of God, all God’s people, just like Stephanas, have been delivered from the darkness of self-indulgence, of seeking their own, of being addicted to themselves.  They have put away drug addiction, drunkenness, gluttony, and all their many former lusts.  As new creatures in Christ they seek to put on the new man.

     I exhort you today, that one of those things that we must put on is this godly exercise of the hospitality of saints, to be addicted to the ministry of the saints.  If all things are to be done with charity, we must learn to give ourselves to this addiction.  If, indeed, we are to walk in love for fellow saints and even our neighbor, we must learn a little bit about this blessed addition.

     Now that we have identified the addicts, we can focus on the diagnosis of their addiction.  The apostle Paul tells us that they have addicted themselves to what?  To the ministry of the saints.  That is what they were addicted to!  That was not their problem; that was their virtue.  Literally, we read in this passage that they appointed themselves.  That is, no one really made them do this as a kind of duty.  They saw the need, they were thankful for the ability, and they simply appointed themselves, without being compelled by any outside force.  They dedicated themselves with all their heart and soul to the ministry of the saints.

     The KJV, I believe, correctly translates it as “addicted themselves.”  The NIV puts it this way:  “They were devoted to the service of the saints.”  They had voluntarily and cheerfully given themselves to this ministry.  They lovingly reserved time, energy, and resources for this lofty work and became thus addicted to it.  No longer, you see, were they madly in love with the world.  Their affection was on the lofty things of God’s kingdom.  In time past they wrought the will of the Gentiles, walking in lasciviousness, in lusts, and excess of wine, perhaps even in reveling and banqueting and abominable idolatries, as Peter describes in I Peter 4:3-6.

     Remember, now, that this was a convert under the preaching of the Word.  This was a young Christian who had just come to the saving knowledge of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But, lo and behold, by the wonderwork of God’s Spirit, he and his household, being filled with the Word and the Spirit, now manifest that by the love they had for the saints.  They addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.

     Now that we have looked at their unique addiction, we want to focus on this truth, that when Stephanas and his house were addicted, they were addicted to a very particular ministry.  The text tells us that it was a ministry of the saints.  It is true that, as God’s people, we are called to do good unto all men.  We have been looking at that in the first few messages of this series — to love the stranger, to love our neighbor.  But even in the passage of Galatians 6:10 — that we are to do good to all men — we have these words:  “especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”  Stephanas and his house were addicted to the ministry of the saints, that is, to the members of the body of Christ.  No doubt they washed the feet of the saints who passed by, as we saw in the example of the great Shunammite in the Old Testament.  They may not even have known all those people at first who came into their home.  But the point is, they were giving themselves to the ministry of the saints.

     That is a beautiful, marvelous description in Scripture of the people of God.  Remember, the church in Corinth had many weaknesses.  But the apostle addressed her members nevertheless as saints.  Shall we remember that, beloved, as we deal with the precious people of God always?  They have been sanctified by the blood of Christ.  They have been washed in His precious blood.  They are not perfect.  Nevertheless, they are saints.  Saints are not those who do some extraordinary deeds and are therefore praised by men and upheld as great men and women.  No, saints are those who have been washed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Character, color, smell — we may not like.  That is fair.  But if God is for the brother, how dare we be against the brother.  And if God has loved us while we were stinking sinners, how dare we not love the brother.  That is Scripture, is it not?  We must show our love for God by our love for one another.

     Furthermore, let us not forget this:  Stephanas and his house addicted themselves to the saints because these saints were indeed in great need.  Remember the historical context. There was pain, poverty.  There was persecution in the New Testament era.  The saints of God had needs, and Stephanas and his household came to the forefront, giving even their very home, to show that kind of charity and love to the people of God.

     Oftentimes God’s people have needs.  Our fellow saints, just as we ourselves, have needs.  We must not be blind to them.  In fact, these special needs of the people of God can often best be met by fellow saints who have similar trials and afflictions.  That is not to say that we may not need a doctor or we may not need a good therapist or we may not even need help from a financial advisor.  But let us not forget that God’s people need each other.  We who know God’s comfort are the ones who know how to comfort our brothers and sisters in a way that the world does not even begin to understand.  We must addict ourselves to the service of the saints.

     Even more specifically, we have in our text the beautiful idea of hospitality.  Remember what I have said.  What is the meaning of the word hospitality?  Love of strangers.  Stephanas and his house loved strangers.  Except that these strangers turned out, oftentimes, to be saints.  Stephanus and his house were willing to lay down their lives for their fellow saints.  Stephanas and his family gave of their time and resources to meet the needs of the precious people of God.

     Paul says in I Corinthians 16:17, “I am glad of the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus:  for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied.”  These co-laborers, these helpers, were such a refreshment to the apostle Paul.  He says that literally in verse 18:  “For they have refreshed my spirit and yours:  therefore acknowledge ye them that are such.”  These men, especially the household of Stephanas, but also these other men, these co-laborers, had given themselves to the needs of the saints and thus were a refreshment to the apostle Paul.

     The Scriptures have a lot to teach us about this whole subject of hospitality.  The calling is stated clearly in I Peter 4:9:  “Use hospitality to one another without grudging.” There is another passage of Scripture that we hope to focus on in the days ahead.  All of us are maybe familiar with the passage in Hebrews 13:  “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  I am always struck by that passage because Hebrews 13:1 begins with:  “Love the brethren.”  Then, immediately, we read, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers.”  That tells us something.  That tells us that this love for the brethren and this love of strangers do not contradict each other.  They, in fact, are two sides of the same coin.  Out of the love of God we must learn to love both the brother and the stranger.  I think I Timothy 5:10 is another very good example.  The apostle Paul there commends the widows who had lodged strangers, washed the saints’ feet, and relieved the afflicted.

     It is surprising — no, it is not surprising — that in all these passages the call to show hospitality is placed in the context of love.  Love — that is what it is all about.  Love the stranger, love the brother, love your children.  God is the fount of love.  He has loved us greatly and sent His Son into the world to die for us that we, through Him, might have eternal life.  We have been drawn into the family and covenant of God.  We, who once were strangers, have now come so close to the heart of God that we can also love one another.

     Beloved, this matter of hospitality is a very important one, a very distinctive ministry in the church of Jesus Christ.  So much is this so, that Scripture says an elder must be “given to hospitality” (I Tim. 3:2).  The others in the church must not then say, “Oh, no.  That’s the job of the elder.”  Of course not.  The elder must be given to hospitality that he might set the tone, that he might give the godly example for all to follow, so that we might be a hospitable church.

     I often think that that what the hospital is all about.  In a hospital people receive hospitality.  And they have to learn to be patient.  Have you ever been to a doctor’s office?  No wonder we are called “patients.”  We have to learn a lot of patience when we wait and wait and wait and we hope that at least the doctor will show us some hospitality and the nurse will show us some kindness.  Sad to say, sometimes the doctor does not have time or at least gives you the impression that he does not have time.  But the truth is, that is what the hospital is all about.  And that is what patients are about.

     Indeed, one who desires an office, not in the hospital of men but in the hospital of God, that is, in the church of Jesus Christ, where men, women, and children are healed under the preaching of the gospel, such a one, according to Titus 1:8, must be a “lover of hospitality.”

     What does hospitality mean?  Love of strangers.   Those who aspire to the office must be lovers of hospitality.  They must be so devoted to this exercise that they are given to it.

     Many are directed to Hebrews 6:10:  “For God is not unrighteous to forget your labor of love, which ye have shown toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.”  That is good.  We should encourage each other and remind each other, in that wonderful work, that we should not become weary.  It is tiring.  Oftentimes it is not repaid.  In fact, it is just forgotten.  It is behind the scenes.  But, beloved, God is not unrighteous to forget your labor of love, which ye show towards His name when you minister to the saints.  Let us do so with love and with sacrifice, knowing that God has called us to be addicted to the ministry of the saints.

     This is a lovely example.  No wonder this addiction is highly honored.  That is what we want to close with in this day as we conclude this message on addiction to the ministry of the saints.  The purpose of the text is to inspire us to emulation, even to instruct us to submission.

     Former drug addicts, recovering alcoholics, need a changed influence.  They need a new example to follow.  In the past they have addicted themselves.  They have appointed themselves and given themselves to that horrible way of alcohol or drugs.  And now that they have come to see their sin, as the Holy Spirit opened their eyes, and they come to repentance, what must they do?  Yes, not only must they look to God and trust in Him, but they should be wise to place themselves in the sphere where they will grow and be nurtured.

     So also we, we are told in our text, must submit ourselves to such a godly example.  To submit to Stephanas means that we are to listen to Stephanas and to follow his example.  We are told in our text to know such ones, that is, spiritually to recognize who they are and to discern them, in order that we might be influenced ourselves and become spiritually addicted.

     Do you see such a one in your church?  Perhaps it is a mother, perhaps a widow, perhaps an elder, perhaps just someone in the church who knows how to run around and help.  Perhaps you have said to such a person, “Don’t be a Martha; learn to be a Mary!  Slow down.”  Good advice.  But I will give you another piece of advice.  Go learn from that Martha a thing or two.  Go learn and be under the influence of such a one and learn something about what it means to busy yourself in the ministry of the saints.  Do not leave it to someone else.  Do not say you do not have time.  It is a wonderful blessing, people of God, to be addicted to the ministry of the saints.  For it is more blessed to give than to receive.  There is no better way to be busy than with newfound Christian friends.

     Is that not true?  Busy yourselves with God’s people.  Take the time on Sunday to have them over.  Be willing to go over to their homes.  Be willing during the week also to take the time to be with God’s people in order that thus, under the influence of these Christian friends, whom God calls saints, you yourselves might become more and more consecrated to the service of the saints.  Let us quit gossiping about all our fellow saints.  Let us show each other the charity that we are called to show in the love of Christ.

     So, as we conclude, I point out to you the urgency that is indicated in our text.  Perhaps you sense that urgency already in this message.  But I will repeat it for you.  Paul writes:  “I beseech you, brethren.”  That is a strong word.  He is saying, “I beg you!”  Why?  We cannot be sure why he used such strong language.  Perhaps there was a great need.  Perhaps there was a lack of such love.  Perhaps Paul was really so impressed and personally blessed by this lovely example.  Whatever the case, Paul thought it necessary to urge the Corinthians.  So do I.  I believe, beloved, that in this day when everyone is so busy, we need to pause and consider Stephanas and his household.

     Sometimes, you know, we read these last chapters in the epistles filled with names and we think they do not have any instruction for us.  Greetings to this one, greetings to that one….  Pause and see that in the midst of all these closing greetings we have this wonderful example of Stephanas and his household, and learn to look out for such a one also in our own midst.  Even better, that we ourselves be that Stephanas, addicted to the ministry of the saints.  Young or old, let us be spiritually addicted to the ministry of the saints.  For in this we follow Jesus Christ, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many, who literally washed the feet of the saints and who will reward all who serve the least of His brethren.

     It is good that we be addicted to the ministry of the saints, better than any other addiction.  Let us turn from the addiction of our former lusts.  Let us not return to being obsessed with our carnal desires.  Let us repent of them and cry out to God that He, by His Spirit and grace, may help us to be like these firstfruits of Achaia, who addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.  Serving the saints, we will follow the example of Christ, and we will indeed walk as the children of God.  We will show the love of God in our hearts and thus magnify the Lord our God and be a rich blessing to His precious people.

     Let us pray.

     Our God and Father, what a blessing and privilege Thou hast given to us.  Thou hast drawn us into Thy own family and now dost give to us that duty to show love to the saints whom Thou dost love.  Help us so to do through Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray, Amen.