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TEXT: I Corinthians 16:14-18
SUBJECT: Good Examples
What do you pray for in your daily prayers? If you're like me, you pray for yourself, your family, your church, and your friends.
How you portion out your time differs from day to day. When I've done something especially bad, I spend more time praying for myself, for pardon and the power to make things right, as far as I can, and to do better the next time. If a friend is sick, I spend less time on myself, and more time praying for him, that the Lord would heal him--if that's His will--and that He would use my friend's sickness to develop the image of Christ more fully in him. These are the needs I pray for on a daily basis. And I suppose your prayers are about the same as mine.
In light of today's text, I think we need to add an item to our daily prayer list. It's something I haven't prayed much for in the past, and maybe you haven't either. But we need to, because, other than God Himself and His Gospel, there's nothing we need more than what we have in I Corinthians 16:14-18.
What's the passage about? It's about a man named Stephanas and his family. So, are we praying for them? Of course not: they're with the Lord now, and they don't need our prayers.
But what they were then and there, very much needs to be prayed for here and now. What were they? They were Examples (with a capital E). They were the kind of people we need; the kind of people we need to become.
If you look at the passage, and the other reference to the family in 1:16, you'll see there's nothing all that special about them. Unlike Paul and Timothy, Stephanas was not an extraordinary officer in the Church. And, as far as we can tell, he was not an ordinary officer either. Maybe he was a pastor or deacon, but the Bible doesn't say so, and if he was, it's not germane to Paul's respect for him.
Moreover, it's not only the man himself Paul admires, but also his family, or what v.15 calls his household. This likely includes his wife and children, other relatives, and their servants, the maid, the gardener, the cook, and so on. In a church full of deep thinkers and eloquent speakers, Paul singles out one family for commendation--without any reference to these high falutin gifts!
What makes Stephanas and his family stand out in the church? What makes them examples we ought to admire and imitate? Only one thing. And it's something you can do if you want to, whether you've got brains or not, money or not, a lot of free time or not.
Paul tells us what this family did in the last part of v.15. They--
Devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints.
Every main word in this wonderful line is worth spending some time on. Start with devoted. The word can be used in a secular or religious way. We can say 'Harry is a devoted golfer' Or 'He's a devoted family man'.
Paul is not using the word this way here. Here it has a distinctly spiritual ring to it. Stephanas and his family are devoted to their work in the same way a priest was devoted to his, or pots and pans and linens and cedars were devoted to the Temple--that is, set aside for God in a special way.
Stephanas was not a Jew and certainly not a priest in the Old Covenant sense of the word. But, in Christ he was a priest! And the work he did was a sacrifice to Lord, and I might add--
An acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.
The second word is ministry. We usually confine this word to preaching or pastoring. If a man says he's a minister, this is what you think. The word includes my calling, but is not limited to preaching or pastoring a church. It means 'service'; it means 'helping other people'; it means 'reaching out to the needy'.
This is what Stephanas and his family were doing. He and a couple of other men visited Paul in Ephesus, and brought him an offering from the church and also spent time with him and provided comfort and encouragement.
I have a couple of friends who are this way. One is legally blind, lives on Social Security, and has had a hard life with his family. But wherever he goes, he brings with him the sunshine of God's love. A second friend is also disabled and largely bed-ridden. I see him once or twice a year, and he does a lot more for me than I do for him.
I'm sure you've known these kind of people as well. They have servant hearts; they live to bless others; and, like their Savior, they--
Don't come to be ministered unto, but to minister.
Stephanas and his family were these kind of people.
The third key word is saints. It's hard to imagine Stephanas turning anyone away, but whatever he did for others, he devoted himself to caring for God's People. What did he do for them? All we know for sure is what he did for Paul. What did Paul need? He needed money and fellowship. Stephanas and his family met these needs.
This is the secret of serving others. We don't limit ourselves to one or two things. Some people need rebuke, and some are eager to give them what they need--and then some! The problem is, that's all they do: they specialize in straightening people out.
But there are many needs in the church, many needs in each member, in fact. Servants try to meet them as best they can. No one can do everything, and we mustn't try to be God to our friends, but we can all do a few things. And, if we got servant hearts, we will.
What do people need most?
They need your time. They need your full attention. They need your sympathy. They need your understanding. They need your prayers. They need to know they matter to you! That they personally matter! You don't look at them as a 'case' or a 'problem'; you look at them as persons, made in the Image of God, fallen into sin and misery, and redeemed by Christ.
We need to pray for more people like Stephanas and his household, brethren who--
Devote themselves to the ministry of the saints.
And not just pray for them, but be them!
Paul tells us what to do with these dear people and how to become like them.
First, he tells us to know them, to get to know them well is the idea, so that you can find out 'how they do it'. To many of us, people who always have the time and heart to help others seem superhuman. They're not! They have as many things to do in a day as we do; they get tired; and 'needy' people wear them out as much as they do the rest of us. But, for all this, they somehow find the time and money and energy to help others.
How do they do it? Let me tell you a story. A friend of mine is remarkably generous. He never made that much money, but the money was always there for people in need. One day he and I were on a long flight together, and he said something I'll never forget--
I'm going to have a Coke! A Coke, that's what I'm going to drink! I'm going to order a Coke!
He said the word, 'Coke' the way you and I might say, 'The fountain of youth!' But then it hit me: the reason he had money to help others with is because he himself did without the little things most of us take for granted.
I know a family, all of whom work, take care of their house, do everything the rest of us do. But somehow they have time to visit the sick, relieve mothers by babysitting their children, and so on. How do they do it? They don't have twenty-five hours in the day. They do it by having no TV. They're not against TV; they don't tell others they can't have one, but they'd rather use their time serving others.
There is no legalism here. Nobody is saying, 'It's sinful to waste your money at Starbucks!' or 'Your time watching football games is an abomination to God!' Cokes and TV may not be the things you need to give up (or cut down on). But if you get to know people like Stephanas and his family, you'll see there are many ways of taking care of yourself and others too.
The second thing he wants us to do is submit to them. This means cooperate. Suppose you get to know an encouraging, helpful brother. And suppose, you ask him how you can be more like he is. When he tells you what to do, do it! Don't beg off! Don't say, 'Well, that's not my gift'. Don't say, 'I couldn't do that...I don't have time for that...' Making excuses is the reason you're not like that encouraging, helpful brother!
Loving, wise people have a good feel for what we can do, and what needs to be done. Submit to them, cooperate, do what they tell you to do. They don't know everything, of course, but when it comes to serving others, they know more than you do!
These people are the gifts of God to the church. Not only to the people who need their help, but to the people who don't need their help, but very much need to learn from their example. Philippians 3:17 is a similar passage. It says--
Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.
Good examples are like the Bible itself. They're given for our learning. And we're fools when let the examples come and go without learning from them.
Paul's third command is acknowledge them. This means to recognize and respect them. Recognize them as the kind of person you ought to be, and respect their work, even if the people are a little rough around the edges, even if they have habits that annoy you. Even if they voted for the wrong candidate last Tuesday!
GOOD EXAMPLES AND CHRIST
Good examples are good for the church. Without a word they expose bad examples. Back in 15:33, Paul warns against bad examples, men and women who corrupt good morals. The sad thing is, in Corinth, these bad examples, these 'corrupters' were held in high esteem and taken for model Christians. Had they thought more about Stephanas and his family, the church would have seen the hypocrites for what they really were.
Good examples 'translate' the dictates of love into practical, doable works. What does brotherly love look like? No dictionary can tell you: but good examples can!
Best of all, good examples, in a special way, bring the Presence of Christ into the Church. You see, people who set good examples, don't only 'set' them, They also follow them. Stephanas didn't 'invent' brotherly love; he learned it from Paul and Paul learned it from Christ.
Wherever good examples go, they bring the fragrance of Christ to us, the Christ whose 'love' did not stay in his heart, but came through His heart into His hands and feet and side. It is there--at the cross--where loving service reached its high point. We will never match that love, but we're to continue in it.
Let us, therefore, renounce what's so easy to be: hearers of the Word (or preachers!), and become what we're called to be--
Doers of the Word.
God help us! Praise the Lord!
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