Addicted to the Ministry of the Saints

April 24, 2005 / No. 3251

Dear radio friends,

          Addicted.  Hooked.  Can’t stop doing it.  Enslaved.  A dependency.

          Those words have been used to express the awful power of sin.  Oh, what a horror is to be found within it.  Enslaved in the chains of sin controlling our desires.

          The child of God sees there his own folly.  When we say, concerning sin:  “I can handle it.  Nothing will come of it.  Everybody else does it,” then Satan, as a snake coiling around our lives, wills, and desires, brings us down into bondage and subdues our wills and desires to his pleasures, and he destroys our health, our life, our marriage, our children.  Enslaved to lust, enslaved to sex, enslaved to drink, enslaved to drugs, enslaved to dieting, anorexia and bulimia, enslaved to smoking.  It is only the marvelous grace of God that can bring us out.

          But God has not given that word over to sin — that is, the word “addiction.”  God uses the word, too.  “Addicted.”  He uses the word to express the power of the love of God to rule over our desires and over our wills.  To be hooked.  There is an addiction that we may all have, that we all should have, that we all will have, God being gracious.

          There is a mighty power to enslave our will in that which is good and to make our will free.  It is an addiction that also grows by doing — by doing good.  It is the addiction of serving one another in the body of Jesus Christ — an addiction produced and maintained by grace.  We read in the Word of God about the household of Stephanas — an unknown man, an unknown household, but mentioned by God.  We read this of the house of Stephanas in I Corin-thians 16:15:  “I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,)….”  I would like to consider with you today that truth of being addicted to the ministry of the saints.  Paul is giving a wonderful commendation.  He is giving a notice of praise to the house of Stephanas that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of saints.

          Now, first, let us see that this exemplary life of service in the church was the product of the gospel of sovereign grace that was preached by Paul.  Or, to put it in other words, let us see that thoughtful, heartfelt, rich congregational life is the fruit of the preaching of the solid, sound, Reformed, biblical faith.  Follow me in my thoughts.

          Paul was surrounded always throughout his ministry by a group of devoted, exemplary, thoughtful, kind, sacrificial Christians.  In the epistles of the apostle Paul you have a rather long list.  You remember some:  Aquila and Priscilla; Luke; do not forget about Onesiphorus, Gaius, Crispus, Stephanas, Fortunatus, and many more.  Wherever the apostle Paul went, his life was blessed by humble, exemplary saints who ministered to him and advanced the cause of the gospel in so many ways.

          Now, what did Paul preach?  What was the gospel that produced such exemplary communion of saints and such exemplary love one for another?  Was the gospel that Paul preached one in which he came to cut off the corners of the truth to get the message to fit into the heart of man?  Did he try to present himself as a religious facilitator, as one who had come to guide them in their experience with God?  Was he one who came to incite “feel-goodism” for mankind in the hearts of men and women?  No.  It is very plain.  Read this epistle of I Corinthians.  He testified of the gospel of the grace of God.  Read Romans 9, the chapter forgotten by so many today, the chapter on the sovereign, unconditional election and just reprobation, that is, God’s decree to send others to hell.  That is the truth of that chapter.  That is what Paul preached.  He preached that the source of salvation is to be found in God and in God alone, and in the good pleasure of God.  Read the book of Galatians.  He taught that justification is by faith and not by the works of man.  Read Romans 6.  The apostle Paul taught about holy, Christian living as being the only fruit of the cross.  Read Romans 11, in which he preaches the glory of God as the end of all things.  The apostle Paul preached the solid, biblical gospel — of God, through God, to God be all things, the faith that is now expressed in the Reformed creeds.

          Now, what kind of Christian life was produced by that kind of preaching and teaching?  Was it a prickly Christian life, an arrogant Christian life, a disinterested Christian life, a Christian life, saying “Well, we got it and you don’t”?  Was it a type of Christian life whereby they said, “Don’t get in my way”? Was it self-complacency?  No, that was not the fruit of Paul’s preaching of the glorious sovereign grace of God!  Jesus said that when the Christian life is one that is characterized by prickly, self-complacent, arrogant sinners, this is the product of a mere cold, formal, external understanding of the truth.  It is the product of unmortified, unslain pride.  This is the religion of Pharisees, of the scribes and of the Levites who passed by on the other side and left the bloody Samaritan in his blood.

          The truth of the Reformed, biblical faith, the truth of God’s sovereign grace, when embraced within the heart of the sinner, produces change from a self-serving, self-loving, do-for-me and give-me-more-of-this-world attitude, to the humility of a humble, loving saint in Christ.  Do not miss that!  God’s Word is saying to us that the truth of sovereign grace, when rightly preached and impressed by God upon the heart, warms your heart, opens your hand to your fellow believers, enlightens your eyes to see their need.  The Reformed, biblical faith is the source of a life of service — in the home, in the church, in the school, in all of life.

          Who was this Stephanas?  We meet him only here and in the first chapter of I Corinthians.  His name means “crown.”  He had a household.  He was probably a family man and evidently a man of some means and influence.  We are told that he was the first convert in that region of Greece, Achaia.  That is very significant.  We are told that his household was among the few in Corinth that the apostle Paul had personally baptized (I Cor. 1:16).  And, finally, we are told that he had often refreshed the apostle’s spirit.  Perhaps it was even he who carried Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians to Corinth.

          Now the Holy Spirit does not tell us much because the focus must be on this:  they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.  And Paul says that this was a very common knowledge among the Corinthian believers, for, he says, “Ye know the house of Stephanas … that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.”  The “ministry of the saints” is not a reference here to an office in the church but to the office that every believer possesses as a priest in Christ — that office of giving our lives as a living sacrifice one to another.  It is the life of service in the behalf of our fellow Christians and of doing good as the Lord gives us opportunity unto all men.  The word refers to a wide range of good done in the name of Jesus Christ, both physical and spiritual.

          We do not have time to go through a word-study here, but it refers, for instance, to the work of benevolence (Acts 6:1); to care for those who are destitute (Rom. 15:31); to any loving deed, word, or gift done for another in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It refers to living in the circumstances that God has given to you and to me (our home, our church, our work), and then seeing the need of saints and trying to fill that need — with food, by knitting socks, by visiting them (that was very important — Paul stresses that Stephanas had come to visit him and to see him).  It refers to hospitality.  It refers to boys helping out around the kitchen with their mother and opening the door for their sister.  It refers to words of encouragement to fellow saints, to greetings.  It refers to bringing cookies to someone who has been in the hospital.

          Let us imagine it for a moment.  If you had entered into the house of Stephanas, you would see a pile of clothes over here which are going to be sent for this family or for this mission need.  Here on the counter are a bunch of baked goods — do not touch that.  That is intended for this family that just had a child.  There are books over there collected for the advance of the work of the gospel in that region where the apostle was working.  Then, on Sunday, as they came to church, you would witness the whole family coming with all of their thoughtful deeds and words of encouragement for their fellow saints.  They were addicted.  They were hooked on ministering to the saints.

          That does not mean that Stephanas was a fanatic, that he was driving his wife crazy, not taking her into consideration.  Nor does it mean that Stephanas was showy — that he wanted to do this to be seen of men.  We get the impression of total humility.  True humility is the only scent that must be left in our service of Christ.  But the point is this:  the love of God was pulling at his desires and his will.  He was addicted.  The love of God was constraining him, it got a hold of him, it was manipulating him, it was in the center of his desires and will.  The love of God in Christ, planted within, is a living, powerful, constraining force.  The love of Jesus is not a lump of dead-weight lead in the head, but it is the right understanding of biblical truth in the head and now embraced with a believing heart.

          The power of the love of God revealed in the gospel is the power that wraps itself around the will, changes the will, enlightens the will, channels the desires, gets into your wanting.

          Do not say, “Oh, yah, the love of God.”  Now we are in a group of young people and the conduct goes down to the lowest possible level and the impression that is left is of total indifference to the Lord Jesus and the bowing down to peer pressure.  No, the love of Jesus addicts us.  You have seen an addict?  He is under the power, awful power of sin.  Even though there are a thousand voices saying Stop, he will not.

          Now, positively, do you see the love of God?  The love of God in the gospel brings us under its power.  It tugs upon the heart and the desires.  This addiction is a principle addiction.  It is the grace of God in our hearts.  It is rooted in the love for Christ.  It is rooted in an understanding of what God, by grace, has done for us in Christ.  “For the love of Christ,” says the apostle (II Cor. 5:14, 15), “constraineth us; because we thus judge that if one died for all, then were all dead:  and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”

          That is why ministering to each other is self-effacing.  No, you don’t need to thank me, we say.  We do not even want others to know that we did this for them.  Why?  Because, you see, it is not from us.  It is not because of what we are, but because of what He is and what He has done for us.  It is out of the knowledge of the eternal grace of God, the unconditioned love of God for us sinners in Christ.  Out of that love we draw and draw and draw.  And, as we draw that love from Christ by grace into our hearts, we give and give and give out of His fullness.

          It is love for our fellow saints.  Stephanas was addicted to the ministry of the saints.  Saints are holy ones.  They are not self-made people.  They are terrible sinners who have been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ.  They have been called by an irresistible call of God, and now they have love for one another, a love that is not a natural love, not a love that is a party love, that is, a love for those who are like me, but a spiritual love rooted in the relationship in which we stand in Jesus Christ.

          In that love we see that the differences of personality and age and looks and income are of no importance.  We bear one supreme love to God the Father.  We are washed in the same blood of the Savior.  We are supplied by the same grace.  We are opposed by the same enemies.  We have the same heaven in view.  Therefore, we love one another with a pure heart fervently.  This is commendable in the sight of God.  This is the bar that must be raised in the house of God.  This is not the lowest common level.  It is the level of being addicted to the ministry of fellow saints.  It is the level of deeds and words that are the result of the love of God and the love for each other tugging and pulling upon our hearts and not letting go.  It is addiction to the ministry of the saints.

          This addiction must be appreciated in the church.  The apostle says, “I beseech you, brethren, … that you submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth.”  That is, that you acknowledge them that are such!

          The admonition that Paul brings in I Corinthians 16:16-18 is not so much the admonition that we must all, in like measure, be addicted and be as zealous as was Stephanas.  No, the admonition is that we must appreciate this in such people.  Yes, we must imitate it.  It must rub off on us.  We must become more aware of our calling to serve one another.  But the admonition is:  express appreciation, acknowledge God’s grace at work.  The care and help of fellow saints is to be highly thought of in the church of Jesus Christ.  Do not “pooh-pooh” it.  Do not say, “Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but I’d rather be concerned just to sit down with the apostle Paul and make sure I have his theology straight.”

          Yes, theology is a wonderful thing.  But the truth must not be a dead thing.  It must bring forth fruit.  Therefore, says the apostle, recognize this gift.  And let it be the common mentality of the church that this is something greatly appreciated.  When you enter into a group of people, you soon learn the standards, you soon discover what is appreciated by this group and what is not appreciated, what is highly thought of and what is not highly thought of.  What is highly thoughts of in your church?  What does your young people’s society or group highly think of?  What is the standard?  Paul is saying, this must be the high standard, this must be highly thought of:  that we minister in the love of God to our fellow saints.  This must be well spoken of.  Submit yourselves unto such, he says.  Place yourselves under that.  Follow their lead.  Comply with their desires.

          That means, willingly help out.  Do I hear Stephanas say, as he enters into the fellowship of the church, “Now, brethren, I have here some clothes for the saints over there in Athens.  Are any of you men going that way on your business trips this week?”  And do I hear one of them saying, “Well, um, busy.  Tight schedule.  I really can’t take much time out to do that, Stephanas.  Maybe next week?”

          Or, let me come into your house.  Do I see this?  Your mother’s saying to you young man or young woman, “It’s a busy week for me.  I need someone to help clean the bathroom.  Company is coming over.  Your Dad invited some company over.  Will you help me straighten up the rec room and clean the bathroom?  Son, will you pick up after your little brother?”  Do I hear you saying, “Yeah, Mom, later.  I’ll get it.”  And you never do.

          Submit yourself, your desires, your time, yourself.  Lend a hand.  You ask, what does this have to do with the gospel?  It has everything to do with the gospel.  We are to be addicted to the ministry of the saints.  Freely we have received, freely we must also want to express our love for the Savior.  Appreciate this spirit in the church.

          Let us instruct each other in ministering to the saints.  Stephanas was teaching these things to his family.  We read of the household of Stephanas.  Now, you get children to like something, something that is good, when they are young.  You must expose them to good things when they are young.  Love for the saints and caring for one another are good things.  Expose them to that when they are very young.  As a family you should talk about the needs of the saints and how you can help them.  Do not talk about them derogatorily.  Talk about how you can help them.  Take your little boys and girls and your teenagers with you when you go to visit the rest home with your cookies.

          You say, “I don’t have a relative in the rest home.”  So?  Do you think there might be Christians there in need of encouragement?  Go.  Teach your boys, your little boys and your young men, how to help out in the home, how to submit to their fellow saints.  Boys, I see sometimes your mother is rushing around.  The groceries are in the car.  The vacuum cleaner is going.  The dust rag and the Windex are out.  And what is going on?  What are you doing?  You are playing a video game!  And you are complaining that the vacuum is on and you cannot hear or you complain when she vacuums between you and your video game!

          Parents, our young men do not need more of the rush of adrenaline or the release of whatever it is to the brain that comes from a video game and making a “kill.”  They need to feel the presence of the love of Christ given in opening up their eyes and doing good — doing good in their own homes to their mother.

          Let us appreciate this.  Let us encourage this.  This is the standard.  This is refreshing.  Paul says that Stephanas often refreshed him.  Yes, Paul.  Paul, the rock-solid, the faithful, the indomitable Paul.  You could never imagine that he would need encouragement, could you?  Oh, yes.  The strongest in the church depend upon the love and encouragement of the other members.  This is refreshing.  I can imagine how refreshing it was for Paul, who experienced such adversities, who experienced time after time the fangs of the world and was exposed to hatred as he preached Christ.  How he was refreshed by those who ministered to the saints.  It is in ministering that His grace is ministered to us.  Stephanas was blessed by Christ in giving to his fellow believers — because it was his Lord working in him and saying, “Stephanas, you have been faithful in a few things.  Enter into the joy of thy Lord.”

          Let us pray.

          Father in heaven, we thank Thee for the Word.  Apply it to our heart.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.