Roles, Reminders, and Responsibilities

Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-18 to start.

4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. 12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? 18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. This is not a sermon about spiritual gifts. Not that that would not be a worthwhile topic, and probably one that we could all benefit from learning more about. I’m sure I could. Maybe some day I’ll preach a sermon about spiritual gifts. They say that the best way to learn about a topic is to teach it to someone else, and I think there is a lot of truth in that.

When we think about spiritual gifts, certain ones come to mind, some fairly common, and some that we might consider more exotic. The verses we read to start list a number of different gifts, and if you go through that list you’d probably end up with more questions than answers. Some of what we read there would definitely fall on the more dramatic end of the spectrum, such as miracles or healings. Some of it might be an interesting exercise in meaning, such as what is the difference between word of wisdom and word of knowledge?

But before I get your hopes up that we’re going to answer these questions, or maybe your fears up that I’m going to try and tackle the topic of tongues today, or for that matter healings or miracles, remember what I said a moment ago. This is not a sermon about spiritual gifts. Well, not entirely.

To get a better idea of what this sermon is actually about, I’m going to read a passage from the book of Colossians. It’s in chapter four if you want to turn there, but you’ll want to keep your finger in Corinthians, we’ll be back there later.

7 All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord: 8 Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; 9 With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here. 10 Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;) 11 And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis. 14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you. 15 Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house. 16 And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it. 18 The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen

Not long ago my wife and I were doing a study on the book of Colossians, and when looking at the last chapter, when we got to the salutations which close out the book, there was a verse that caught my attention. I know, what is going to catch anyone’s attention in there? The various greetings we find at the end of many of Paul’s epistles are not usually thought of as a theological goldmine. Quite frequently, though, when we read passages such as this one, we may just sort of skip over it as little more than a list of names, places, and commendations. We might miss out on more than we realize when we skim sections like this, when we do a cursory reading and move on., although we know, as it says in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. So there is no reason why we shouldn’t look at such less-obvious verses as the greetings and salutations for truth and insight. In any case, it was verse 17 which caught my attention. 17 And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.

It’s a pretty straightforward verse. Tell Archippus to fulfill the ministry which he had been given of God. That reads almost like an item on a to-do list. Remind Archippus to do stay on top of things. Got it. Maybe that’s why the verse caught my attention, with just how uninteresting it is at first glance. There is no obvious revelation of truth here, nothing that is readily quotable. I can feel confident in saying that you will likely never pick up a greeting card, even at a Christian bookstore, and find this verse printed inside. It’s not a verse that too many people would have memorized for Awana or Sunday School.

What sticks out for me, though, are the questions that this verse inspires. Who was Archippus? What was his ministry? And the question that really got me wondering – why did Paul single him out? Of all the believers at Colossae, and for that matter, at Laodicea, which was just down the road from Colossae, maybe 12 miles away. If we looked up the page a couple of verses, we see that Paul also salutes that church, and says that this epistle should also be read there as well. But regardless of where he was from, why did Paul single this man out for special attention, to be reminded in particular to fulfill his ministry? Why did Archippus need this reminder?

It’s one thing to remind someone to do a task. At home, we are forever reminding the children to do their chores, put away their laundry, pick up their toys and books, that sort of thing. It’s another to have a special reminder for another person to make sure they do something that needs to be done. At work I have on my computer some automated reminders, do this report on Monday for the last week, download that monthly statement, that sort of thing. I also have a few programmed reminders for other people. Once a month, my computer reminds me to remind someone else to check for software updates. That makes sure that things don’t get forgotten about. Sometimes this annoys the guy who I remind, I get a “Yeah, Marko, I know to do that, I do that every month.” But it works to make sure the task is completed.

But that all pales in comparison to sending a letter from Rome to Colossae, more than a thousand miles, and adding in a reminder, not just for Archippus himself, but for all who would read the letter, for them to remind Archippus to take heed to the ministry that he had received of God, and to fulfill it. And then having that letter added to the canon of scripture, with the reminder part and parcel of it, that’s quite the enduring reminder. Assuming he had children, and grandchildren, well, a couple of generations down the line the great-grandchildren of Archippus may have read this epistle as part of the scripture and known that this reminder was for their ancestor.

We don’t know a lot about Archippus in particular. He is only mentioned in scripture in this verse, and in a single verse in the book of Philemon, where he is called a fellow soldier. According to Roman Catholic tradition, he was the first bishop of Laodicea, and he is considered a saint, with March 20 as his feast day. A fairly minor saint, I would say, he’s not listed as the patron of anywhere or of any particular thing. He’s just not someone we know much about. Among the names given in Paul’s closing of the book of Colossians, there are some very familiar names, such as Luke and Mark, both of whom wrote gospels. There are some reasonably well known names, such as Onesimus and Aristarchus, whose stories we have at least in part elsewhere in scripture. As well there is Demas, sad Demas, mentioned only here, and in Philemon, where he is listed as a fellow labourer, and finally in 2 Timothy, where he is described as having forsaken Paul, having loved this present world. A sad way to close out one’s appearance in scripture, to be sure.

We have none of this for Archippus. All we have of him is the mention that he is a fellow soldier, and that he has a ministry that he needed to pay attention to. There is no sad epitaph, nor is there a story of triumph and achievement. He is virtually unknown to us today, as much as he was surely known to Paul and to the other believers in that area. From what we read of him, Archippus was not, as we would use the term today, a star. He was not an apostle, he was not a companion on missionary journeys, he was not a writer of scripture, nor did he, like his neighbour Philemon, have a personal letter from Paul that bears his name in the holy scriptures. He was not famous, nor was he notorious. From what little we know about him, this is nothing to suggest that Archippus was some exceptional Christian who accomplished all sorts of impressive things. He is not a household name for us today, even among those who know their New Testament inside out. Outside of the Roman province of Phrygia where he lived, he probably was not generally known outside of that region in his own day. He was not some superstar, he wasn’t Paul, or Peter, or Barnabas, or Augustine, or Martin Luther, or Charles Wesley, or Billy Graham. He was, in essence, just a guy. Not someone highly remarkable, not someone particularly memorable. He was simply a believer with a ministry to fulfill.

Remember earlier when I said that this is not a sermon about spiritual gifts? Well, this is also is not a sermon about a particular man, a particular believer from Colossae who lived in the first century. Not really. Archippus, and the mention of his ministry, and the need to take heed unto it, and fulfill it, serves as a guide to us today.

We all like to think that we are special, and that we are capable and important. And everyone here is important to someone, probably to many people. We all have some capabilities, with different strengths and weaknesses, to be sure, but we all have things we can do. And absolutely we all can and should and hopefully do serve God in some measure. But no one here is, for lack of a better term, a Christian superstar. There are precious few who would fit that description, and frankly, I don’t think that’s something I would want to achieve. Being up on a pedestal can quickly lead to pride, to self-centeredness, to unproductive criticism. I’ve preached in the past on the topic of doing so-called great things for God, and how that is a problematic goal at best. Aiming to become some sort of famous elite Christian is every bit as problematic.

We might be inspired and motivated by those who are well-known. We might look up to them, and listen eagerly to what they say, read what they teach, but no one here is Paul. We all have far more in common with Archippus.

You might be thinking that you don’t have much in common with some first century believer from Asia Minor. And while we don’t have a wealth of information on Archippus, what we do know can teach us much. He was a believer – Paul called him a fellow soldier. I trust that you can say the same of yourself this morning. If so, then you have that in common with Archippus, and indeed, with every other believer sitting here.

He had a ministry that God had given him. We don’t know the details or the scope of that ministry, but we know that he had it.  You know what? You might be thinking that you do not have any sort of ministry, and so my comparison falls down here, but each one of us who is a believer, who has decided to follow Christ, has some sort of ministry, some sort of assignment given us of God. We read as much in 1 Corinthians earlier. We might not be entirely clear on what it might be, especially the younger folks. Sometimes it takes a long while to really figure out what God has for you. It might not be one single, specific item, in fact, quite frequently we have more than one area of ministry. But every believer has some ministry, and some spiritual gift that they should be using.

Sadly, in many local churches today there is a very small and select group of people who do almost all of the ministry work. In some cases this might be as few as one individual. The common notion that a church should have a ‘minister’ does not help, because when one person is tasked with doing ministry, or maybe a handful of people, that essentially gives everyone else an excuse not to be involved. When there is someone specifically employed to do ministry, why would anyone else do it? Not only have you hired someone to do that work, but if you were to jump in, then perhaps you are stepping on the minister’s toes. And so far too many believers have very little to do with ministry, at least with the working side of it. And that is tragic, because there is far more growth that comes from doing work yourself than there is from watching someone else do it. You get a lot more out of participating then you do from merely observing. And when more people, when a wider base of believers does the work, more will be accomplished. That only makes sense.

Recently I helped some friends move into their new house. I brought Sean along to help out, not my idea, he really wanted to help. While I worked on moving some large and heavy items, such as weightlifting gear and a treadmill, which is even more heavy and awkward then you would ever believe if you haven’t had the joy of moving a treadmill, Sean worked along with a couple of other young people on bringing some firewood into their basement. When we were done with the furniture, the rest of us turned to help with the wood. It was taking four people a long while to move a couple cords of firewood. Add six more people to the equation, and that pile disappears in minutes. More people doing the work means the job gets done that much faster. That’s only common sense.

There’s one more thing that we probably all have in common with Archippus. Whatever ministry we might have, no matter how small or how large it might be, we all need some encouragement. We all need some reminders to keep at it, to see that we fulfill whatever God has tasked us with. Maybe we even need a good kick in the pants from time to time.

I can’t say for sure whether Archippus was perhaps a little unmotivated, or if he was readily distractible, or maybe if he was easily discouraged. Maybe he was scattered and unfocused, or maybe he was inconsistent, swinging wildly from hot to cold. Or maybe he was lukewarm. Colossae was, as mentioned, only a few miles down the road from Laodicea, which was home to the lukewarm church of Revelation chapter 3. That book was written not so many years after this epistle, so who knows what the state of that church was when Paul was writing?

In any case, Archippus needed to be nudged. He needed to be reminded of the ministry that he had received, that he would not fail to fulfill it. No matter the reasoning behind this extra motivational push that Paul included for him, he needed it. And, frankly, if we are being honest, so do all of us, from time to time. That short list of hang-ups and speed bumps I mentioned, how many of those apply to you and me? I’m pretty sure that I’ve known and experienced every single one of those, from lack of motivation and poor focus, to distraction and inconsistency, to discouragement, and, if you must know, outright laziness. There are any number of reasons, any number of excuses, really, that we can find for failing to fulfill the ministry that God has given us. And so each and every one of us, just like Archippus, we all need reminders. We need to be nudged forward. We need to be encouraged. Otherwise, odds are high that we will fall short, and our ministry will remain incomplete.

This is a problem on more than one level. On an individual level, if we do not do the work that God has given us, we miss out. We miss out on the blessings we would receive from doing the Lord’s work, we miss out on the fellowship that we would enjoy from participating with others, and we miss out on seeing the results that would come should the work be accomplished. Not doing what God has asked us to do is may actually lead to disappointment and discouragement.

That’s on a personal, individual level, but there is a second factor to consider. We read from I Corinthians chapter 12 at the start of the sermon. That passage talks about spiritual gifts, and makes a comparison between the body of Christ and the human body. There is a diversity of gifts, a wide selection of roles to fill within the church. As it says, reading again from verse 4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

The word administrations that we have in verse 5, the Greek word is Diakonia (dee-ak-on-ee’-ah), that is more commonly translated as ministry. In fact, it’s exactly the same word used in Colossians chapter 4, verse 17, that Archippus was to fulfill. He had a particular ministry. We all have a particular ministry. There are many different spiritual gifts that God imparts to believers through the Holy Spirit, we read a whole list of them in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, and there are other passages we could read that would provide some overlapping lists with additional gifts. This is not a sermon on gifts in particular, although that is a good topic for another day, as mentioned earlier. This is more about roles and responsibilities within the church.

The passage in Corinthians compares the church to the human body. Our bodies have hands and feet, ears and eyes, each of which do different jobs, and each of which is necessary, as described in the passage. If parts of our body decided that they wanted to do something else, that would be a big problem. My eyes are not going to be any use when it comes to hearing. And my ears can’t taste. Not at all. If my hands and feet decided they wanted to do different jobs, well, some jobs are not going to be done very well, and some may not get accomplished at all.

It’s the same way in the church. We can’t all do the same things. Some of us are better suited to certain tasks than others, some of us have particular gifts that enable us to perform certain roles more effectively. We might think that some roles within the church are more important than others, or are more prestigious than others. It is easy to think this, and it is a natural, human reaction to things, we like to categorize and sort tasks into strata, job 1 is better than job 2, but job 2 is better than job 3. Unfortunately, we often do the same thing with people. We elevate some people because they have a particular ministry, or they are especially talented at something which we value, and at the same time we might devalue others because they don’t have an obvious or attention-getting ministry. But every single one of the various ministries of the church is important, just as the different functions of your body is important. Some are more glamorous, to be sure. Some get a lot more recognition and attention. But all are needed. And all of us, if we are believers, have been given spiritual gifts and have been placed in roles by God himself. As we read earlier, at verse 18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

Every believer is important, every ministry is important. Some, however, are only noticed when the work is not done. Maybe right away, and maybe after some time has passed, but when things are not done, then they are keenly missed.

It is the same way with our bodies. Obviously if you tried to get up in the morning and your legs didn’t work anymore, that’s going to be quite the adjustment. That’s not going to somehow escape notice. You can’t go for days and weeks and months at a time without the use of your legs and not notice. On the other hand, I have diabetes. My pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin, or my body doesn’t use the insulin properly, and that’s a problem. For years I walked around not knowing I had this condition, but my blood sugar was probably all over the map, and I didn’t know why I was really lethargic at times, or why it seemed to take a long time for cuts and scratches to heal. A job was not getting done properly, but I didn’t realize it for a while.

In the church, it’s going to be pretty obvious if no one gets up front to speak on Sunday morning, or if they get up here and they don’t have anything prepared. If, however, the people who are supposed to do the cleaning don’t do that, we might not notice for a week or three. We’ll notice that eventually, though, once the garbage cans start to overflow. But let’s say that those who pray faithfully at home stop doing so. That’s a far less visible ministry than preaching. We won’t see that right away. We may not notice for a long while. We may not notice until it’s too late. But that ministry, if not carried out, will be lacking, and will in time be missed.

Just because a ministry does not get much attention does not mean it isn’t vital. And just because it may look like only a few people are doing most of the work doesn’t mean that everyone else is off the hook. Because everyone can do something. In fact, it’s vital that everyone does something, because even if it’s something small, it’s still something. Small is a lot better than nothing at all.

When I talked earlier about helping friends move, I mentioned that there were a few children along to help out. The kids were no help with moving couches and mattresses, but they were pretty good at bringing in the firewood. Sure, adults were able to move firewood even better than children, but it’s something the kids could do. They were able to participate and help, they were in fact eager and willing to do so. It’s important to cultivate and encourage younger people in so many aspects of life, and Christian ministry is one of the most important. That applies to newer or less experienced believers, regardless of age.

Maybe you don’t really know what your ministry should be, what gifts you may have been given. That’s okay, you have to start somewhere. It’s important that we encourage and equip one another to expand their efforts, to try new avenues of Christian service. That’s the only way that anyone gets better at doing anything, by trying and by putting in effort to improve. Not that everyone will succeed in everything they try, of course. That’s why you try, and why you encourage others to try. It’s cliché, but you don’t score any points on the shots you don’t take.

It’s only been a few years that I’ve been preaching. When I was younger I had no idea if I had any aptitude for it or not. After moving here, I was asked if I wanted to lead a Tuesday Bible study. When that seemed to go okay, I was asked to preach on a Sunday morning. And it must have worked out, because here we are today. I hope when I preach it is an encouragement and an exhortation to all of you. I know that when people tell me that they appreciated my sermon, that is an encouragement to me. It is so important that we encourage one another.

We all have roles to fill in the church. God has ordained it thus, He has a plan and a place for each and every believer. If we neglect our responsibilities, we miss out on opportunities to serve. What’s more, we may force others to take on more than they should. That leads to stress and overburdening of some, and laziness and complacency in others.

Looking back at Archippus, the verse we read earlier is as much about encouragement as it is about fulfilling a ministry. It says And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it. This was a reminder for Archippus, yes, but notice that the instruction here is not actually directed to him. It’s for everyone else to encourage him in his ministry. Because no matter if your ministry is front-and-center or entirely behind-the-scenes, no matter if your role is small or large, encouragement is the responsibility of every single believer.

My prayer for all of us today is that God would help us to fulfill the ministries that He has given us and that we would encourage others to do likewise.