One of the ongoing debates within Christian circles is centered on the subject of government and authority. Should Christians submit to civil authorities or simply focus on their relationship to the divine King and Ruler—Jesus Christ? In a lawful state where governing authorities are placed into office as those who lead and oversee the people—Christians have a responsibility to submit. However, the Christian is also called to submit to Christ at the same time. So, how does this balance play itself out in the ebb and flow of everyday life?
One of the most difficult things to do as an American Christian is to submit. Red blooded Americans enjoy freedom and abhor the idea of submission, therefore, as a Christian who lives within that culture, it’s often difficult to strike a balance between the freedoms that we do have and the absolute necessity to submit both to Caesar and Christ. One is for our temporal good and the other is for our eternal life. In this life, there are laws and structures of authority that must be followed, and Christians are not to live as lawless rebels while passing through this temporal world.
The Civil Government
Like marriage, the civil government is temporal, but given for a purpose and for our good. According to Romans 13, God instituted the leaders who rule over the people and their authority comes from the Lord himself. The sword (ability to exercise authority and enforce law) has been placed into the hands of the government by God himself. Until such time that the civil leaders ask us to violate God’s law, we are to submit and live in an orderly and lawful manner.
It was Mary Queen of Scots who once remarked, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.” A study of church history and the Reformation will reveal how John Knox and Mary Queen of Scots clashed, but she feared Knox because of he feared God. When the earthly leaders press the people to live in such a way that would violate God’s law—it’s time to obey God rather than man. We see a clear example fo this in the Scriptures as Peter and the apostles were arrested for preaching the gospel. They were threatened and commanded to cease their preaching. Peter spoke up by saying:
“We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:29-32).
The government is instituted by God and points to God as the ultimate Judge, Ruler, and King. Whenever an earthly judge violates his seat and power of authority—we are called to obey God rather than man. Until then, we are to live peaceably in this world as lawful followers of Jesus Christ.
Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor (1 Pet. 2:16-17).
The Divine Government
We live in this world with an eye on the finish line. We don’t live as ignorant nomads, but as servants of God who are merely passing through this temporal world that is currently ruled by God’s sovereignty and divine providence. One day, Christ will return and will make all things new by ushering in his visible Kingdom. Although all authority has already been given to Christ (Matt. 28:18-20), he will one day return visibly and all things including death, the devil, and all ruling authority (including all human beings and angelic beings) will be placed under his divine rule.
Consider the words of the Christmas carol penned by Isaac Watts which states the following:
He rules the World with Truth and Grace,
And makes the Nations prove
The Glories of his Righteousness,
And Wonders of his Love.
How many red blooded Americans will stroll through shopping malls mumbling the words to this classic hymn while believing that Jesus is a King in a storybook sort of way, but he certainly isn’t King in the way that will have an impact on their lives today. At least, that’s they way they think of Jesus (if they think of him at all). If submission is hard for the ruler that you do see, how much more difficult is it for the Ruler whom you don’t see?
This present world is filled with lawlessness and corrupt government. However, even the ruling authorities today point to an eschatological hope that we have in Christ Jesus. We must remember the promise of Isaiah which was penned seven centuries before the birth of Jesus as the prophet wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6). Because this promise is true that one day the government shall be upon his shoulder—we live on this side of the cross in the era of time between the first and second coming of Jesus. Therefore, there is a constant tension between the already and the not yet.
But, because of the promise and the hope that Christ will return and make all things new (Rev. 21), we can sing the words of Isaac Watts during this festive and celebrate with hearts of joy! This temporal world is filled with earthly thrones, but we have joy because one day Christ will bring his throne to a renewed earth and rule his people with Truth and Grace.
Joy to the World; The Lord is come;
Let Earth receive her King:
Let every Heart prepare him Room,
And Heaven and Nature sing.
Satan delights in denigrating what God created as good. It has always been God’s plan for his Church to possess a certain masculinity in leadership and that masculinity flows into the general membership as well. One of the depressing realities of our modern culture is the assault upon masculinity as if it’s somehow a bad thing. While we can all certainly agree that male dominance is not God’s plan for his Church—the plan to extract male leadership and characteristics from God’s Church is certainly not healthy—in fact it’s downright sinful.
When Paul was closing out his letter to the church in the city of Corinth, he wrote these words in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” We must recall that Paul was writing to a church that was in desperate need of theological and practical correction. The apostle took a firm stance against their sin, and then pointed them to the proper means of living out the gospel of Christ. Apparently one of their struggles was centered on love and their lack of manliness. William Robertson Nicoll observes that these exhortations are “directed respectively against the heedlessness, fickleness, childishness, and moral enervation of the” church at Corinth. 
Today, we continue to see the Church of Jesus Christ suffering from a lack of manliness. This has been the result of the radical feminist attack as well as the problem of perpetual adolescence that continues to prevent men from rising up and taking lead roles within the local church. These problems together create added friction over offices, giftedness, and the need for strong leadership. We would do well to remember Paul’s words to the church in Corinth—”act like men.”
The Feminization of the Church
The liberal agenda has masculinity in its sights and has for many years dating back to the radical women’s liberation movement. From this rank liberal ideology, they teach that God is not a male, Paul was a sexist, and Jesus was a feminist. This agenda took aim at Bible translations in an attempt to produce gender neutral texts while removing references to God’s masculine characteristics. However, the progressives of our day within evangelical circles have adopted that type of language and it has continued to soften the church. Today’s social justice agenda is moving rapidly through evangelicalism beneath the banner of liberation. They claim to work for the liberation of oppressed segments within our evangelical circles—and women are at the center of this debate.
Apparently, we have done a poor job of allowing women to flourish and use their gifts for God’s glory so we must tear down our hierarchies and develop new leadership structures to allow women to bloom. With varying degrees of opinions on this subject—including an eclectic array of interpretations on biblical texts such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15; 3:1-15; Titus 2, do we stand in need of clarification on complementarianism? Is The Danvers Statement (1987) unclear? More importantly, is the Bible silent or insufficient to answer these questions?
In her article “God’s Feminist Ideals” published in Christianity Today, Wendy Alsup writes:
Gloria Steinem famously said a feminist is “anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” Is God then a feminist by her definition? If feminism in its purest sense is the quest for justice and equal rights for women, then, yes, God was the first feminist. God created woman in his image and bestowed on her equal dignity with man. By a woman’s mere existence, God has bestowed on her dignity and privileges that transcend race, economic status, and physical ability.
At least that’s the language being used by leaders in evangelical circles today. In a recent article on SBC Voices, the question of a woman leading the SBC has once again emerged for discussion and debate. William Thornton critiques our current culture within evangelicalism by stating, “Seems we can’t celebrate women doing much of anything without inserting ‘in biblically appropriate ways.'” Apparently it’s taboo to appeal to the Scriptures and to uphold God’s original design for men and women within the local church and society as a whole.
Make no mistake, complementarity is under assault today and it’s a divisive agenda fueled by ancient errors that not only degrade masculinity—but they call into question God’s sovereign design. Does God need to revise his design for women and men and their roles to align with our modern culture? That type of thinking depicts our God as an aged grandfather in the sky who is not up with the times and apparently hasn’t been reading the latest blogs on his iPhone. In short, it’s a blasphemous assault on God and his sovereignty.
The fruit of this assault will be the feminization of the church. Patricia Aburdene and John Naisbitt, in their book Megatrends for Women wrote the following back in 1992:
Women of the late twentieth century are revolutionizing the most sexist institution in history—organized religion. Overturning millennia of tradition, they are challenging authorities, reinterpreting the Bible, creating their own services, crowding into seminaries, winning the right to ordination, purging sexist language in liturgy, reintegrating female values and assuming positions of leadership. 
The leading chatter within evangelical circles suggests we suddenly have a need to liberate women in 2018 and swing all doors open for our sisters to flourish in God’s grace. Was Paul sexist in his appeal to the church in Corinth to act like men? Certainly not since we understand that Paul is driving at spiritual maturity. Therefore, spiritually mature men and women will desire to serve God within their roles as God designed from the beginning.
Today, men are behaving as if they must apologize for being created as a man and desiring to lead in the home and in the church. Is it sexist or is it Scriptural for men to desire to act like men and desire offices of leadership in the church while humbly leading in the home as well? Another question should be asked at this juncture—is it oppressive to women for men to act like men? Today’s church doesn’t need softer hands—it needs humble men who act like men and lead with biblical conviction.
The Childishness of the Church
Notice Paul didn’t say, “Act like boys.” There is a pervasive trend among many men today who desire an extended childhood. They avoid responsibility, delay marriage, downgrade family, and elevate play-time far above the need to work. That mindset has crept into the church long ago, and in many ways that’s why we have worship services that look like extended children’s church for adults. Furthermore, that’s why we have such a disconnect among leadership roles in the church in many cases where women are taking the lead because the men want to focus on delaying adulthood and the necessary responsibilities that come along with being a man.
Paul thunders over and over through the New Testament about the need for maturity. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, he placed it as a central goal of pastoral ministry that labors to bring the church to spiritual maturity—to mature manhood (Eph. 4:13). Here in his closing words to the church at Corinth, Paul simply writes—”act like men.” We read Paul’s words today, and seek to make application to our context while the radio and television is providing another message that says growing up and becoming an adult is a really bad idea.
In many church cultures, men find no problem getting together to watch MMA fights or to have video game parties, but they find it extremely awkward to get together and talk about the doctrine of God, the meaning of the atonement, or the meaning and purpose of marriage. We have adopted delayed adulthood and created the “forty-something teenager” mentality—a perpetual adolescent who finds no value in adulthood and maturity. What an appropriate time to read and mediate on Paul’s words to the church at Corinth as he says, “act like men.” Paul had already written to them earlier in his letter providing them a warning:
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (1 Cor. 14:20).
We would do well in our day to heed this warning and to obey Paul’s words to “act like men.” One of the most loving things that a church can do is to pursue maturity and celebrate masculinity which produces true love. This is where both men and women can flourish within God’s original design. Biblical manhood is not defined by how much a man can bench press, the thickness of his beard, or how many tattoos he has about Jesus on his arm. It’s not even connected to his love and affection for cigars. Biblical manhood is rooted in the gospel and has a profound submission to Christ and a love for the roles of men and women as God has designed.
- W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament: Commentary, vol. 2 (New York: George H. Doran Company, n.d.), 949.
- Patricia Aburdene and John Naisbitt, Megatrends for Women (New York: Villard Books, 1992), 119.
Over the last two weeks, I have been writing a short series on different types of people who help and hinder the local church. Today, I want to focus on the leaders. While the local church is absolutely necessary for the journey of faith, it’s not exactly designed to be a religious social club. In fact, we see Paul writing to Timothy (1 Tim. 3:15) and discussing the way the household of God was to behave. If the Scriptures contain all that’s necessary for faith and life, we must govern the church and worship according to God’s Word—rather than man’s opinion.
Just as there are people who help and hinder the local church, the same principle is true with pastors. Today, we will focus first on the negative and then move next Tuesday to the positive. Although this is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list, today we look at three types of pastors who are a hindrance to the local church’s sanctification and growth in grace?
The entertainer is really a pragmatist at heart. Whatever the people want, they will get it under the leadership of an entertainer. This type of leader will often poll the community before planting a church to see what type of music the community enjoys as he works with his team to design the right kind of service to reach his culture. Far too many men who stand in the pulpit on Sunday are classified as entertainers. They strive to use the right phrases that please the ears of people—often spending more time on the crafting of jokes as opposed to digging into the theology of the text in preparation to preach. The entertainer labors diligently to make people feel positive, and such men avoid church discipline and the call for holiness for fear that it will not grow their church.
Today it’s not at all uncommon to have pastors dressing up in costumes to “perform” their sermon rather than preaching the text. This approach to ministry will often be very successful, but it’s not spiritually profitable. People often leave excited about the sermon, but do they really know God in a better way? The congregation often erupts in laughter, but when was the last time they wept? The church often applauds the preacher, but when was the last time they exulted in God causing their hearts to swell with joy based on their knowledge of the atonement of Jesus Christ that was presented in a sermon?
Entertainers are man pleasers—serving them exactly what they desire. The entertainer is pragmatically driven and has an insatiable desire for church growth at any cost. The entertainer could come in the form of a senior pastor who jokes around in the pulpit or the youth pastor who disciples children in games rather than God’s Word. In most cases, the entertainer is paralyzed by the need to be liked by his congregation, and sadly he places more emphasis on pleasing people rather than pleasing God. Paul warned Timothy that his people would soon leave him for such preachers who would tickle the ears of the immature causing them to wander off into myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
The Unbalanced Teacher
The unbalanced teacher is one who typically camps out in one theme and cannot seem to allow his ministry to be text driven. Such a teacher is often consumed with a specific topic such as eschatology. In such cases, the unbalanced teacher finds a way to get to eschatology from the strangest texts in the Bible—or he never leaves Daniel or Revelation in fear that he will focus on something other than end times prophecy.
However, it’s not just eschatology junkies that the church often suffers from, it could be a pastor who spends all of his time evangelizing the saints on Sunday rather than feeding the sheep. Sure, the gospel should be preached every week and made clear—for the children, the unbelieving guests, and the church as a whole as a means of building up the flock—but the church needs more than a call to repent and believe the gospel. The church needs the whole counsel of God’s Word—both the easy and more difficult passages. Remember what Paul said to his fellow elders from Ephesus as he said, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Following that exhortation, he warned them of the wolves who would enter the church following his departure.
The unbalanced teacher often camps on eschatology, the doctrines of grace, evangelism, or whatever he is passionate or knowledgeable about while there is much remaining in God’s Word that needs to be expounded. If you move to a new city, you will want to be sure that you are not joining a church where the pastor will be unbalanced in his handling of God’s Word. The pastor is called to teach and preach the Scriptures—rightly dividing the Word—in order that the church will be well fed and cared for spiritually (2 Tim. 2:15).
The Lover of this World
The pastor who loves this present world is not qualified to lead a local church—or God’s Word for that matter. Pastors should love people in the world and point them to their hope and joy in Christ, but the preacher who loves the world demonstrates that his heart is mastered by money and materialism rather than by Christ. Far too many leaders fit this category. They preach a message of health, wealth, and prosperity—demanding that people have enough faith in God and he will provide them with riches and material possessions. The lover of this world is self condemned and self deceived. The god of this world has blinded their minds so that they cannot see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). The lover of this world spends most of their time emphasizing how it’s possible to have your best life now—rather than focusing on the eternal reward (Heb. 11:10).
John the apostle warned about those who loved the world. He said, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). In like manner, Paul provided the qualifications for the office of elder (pastor or overseer) as he wrote to Timothy. According to 1 Timothy 3:3, the overseer is not to be gripped by the love of money. Once again, money itself is not evil, but as Paul would later write, it’s the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). Therefore, for a pastor to have an insatiable desire for the things of this world proves that his heart is fixed on temporal things rather than eternal. As Jesus once warned, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24). J.C. Ryle warned about the love of money as he wrote:
Let us all be on our guard against the love of money. The world is full of it in our days. The plague is abroad. Thousands who would abhor the idea of worshiping Juggernaut, are not ashamed to make an idol of gold. We are all liable to the infection, from the least to the greatest. We may love money without having it, just as we may have money without loving it. It is an evil that works very deceitfully. It carries us captives before we are aware of our chains. Once let it get the mastery, and it will harden, paralyze, scorch, freeze, blight, and wither our souls. It overthrew an apostle of Christ. Let us take heed that it does not overthrow us. One leak may sink a ship. One unmortified sin may ruin a soul. 
- J.C. Ryle, Matthew, 26.
In Acts 6:2, Jesus’ inner circles was known as “the twelve.” They were serving as the pastors for the early church as it was growing rapidly. However, when a problem arose among the church, servants were established to wait on the tables in order to free up these men to give their full attention to the Word of God and prayer.
The pattern of ministry all throughout the New Testament is clearly established upon a plurality of elders leading and a plurality of deacons serving. Although this is not a blemish-free ministry pattern, it does provide for the most healthy scenario for discipleship in the local church.
Deacons, Elders, and Discipleship
When pastors are free to give themselves to the Word of God, the church will benefit drastically. The pastors who put more priority on pragmatics and less priority upon the study of God’s Word cannot expect their church to rise above their leaders. Interestingly enough, in Acts 6, the early church became united through the deacon ministry and this allowed the pastors to immerse themselves in God’s Word. As the Word of God increased, souls were saved in the community. Consider this pattern over against today’s church growth pragmatism that typically downplays doctrine.
Behind every great group of pastors is a great group of deacons. When deacons serve to the glory of God in the local church, the pastors can spend necessary time in prayer for their people. A church that places little emphasis upon prayer is often a direct reflection of their leaders. Such a church marches on in the power of pragmatism rather than the power of the Holy Spirit. No matter how much technology increases and how efficient we become with modern ministry tools—nothing can stand in the place of the power of prayer. Pastors who pray well often lead well. Pastors who spend time praying for disciples and teaching new disciples how to pray will go forward in the power of God. Prayer is essential.
Discipleship as an Intentional Goal of Ministry
Beyond the need for pastors to work in tandem with deacons for the work of discipleship, pastors must likewise plan and work with intentionality to disciple the church. It is the goal and responsibility of pastors to equip the church for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12). Pastors are not entertainers or leaders of ministry events—pastors are shepherds who oversee and equip believers to live the Christian life faithfully.
One single pastor who tries with all of his heart and soul to equip the entire church on his own will fail. If the church is larger than a small group, help is required to faithfully shepherd and equip the saints. This is why God designed the church to be led by a plurality of elders who would share the burden, responsibility, and work together in the effort of equipping the church to stand strong, love passionately, and reach their community with the gospel. Intentionality in the area of teaching, conversations, and being an intentional example to the church is vitally important (1 Pet. 5:3).
The greatest single pastor will not be nearly as strong as the wisdom of a collective body of pastors who put their minds together and serve as a single unit to lead the church. The weaknesses of one pastor is strengthened by the strengths of another pastor who works alongside him in the life of the church. This provides the pastors the ability to make well rounded disciples who become strong and vibrant disciple makers who multiply year after year.
Why does a football team have multiple coaches? Why does a business have multiple layers of team members who work to make the company successful? Although we never build theology on logic alone, such logic stands firm upon the foundation of God’s Word that points out the pattern of a plurality of elders who serve in each local church throughout the Scriptures. A plural group of men investing their time and energy in making disciples will always lead to a more healthy and robust church. Mark Dever writes:
The Bible clearly models a plurality of elders in each local church. Though it never suggests a specific number of elders for a particular congregation, the New Testament refers to “elders” in the plural in local churches (e.g., Acts 14:23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; Titus 1:5; James 5:14). When you read through Acts and the Epistles, there is always more than one elder being talked about. 
While a plurality of elders does not serve as a bullet proof defense against all church related errors, it does create a natural culture for disciple making. Be grateful for your pastors. Often a local church has a diverse group of men who lead, and this is a healthy pattern that often compliments the elders and strengthens the entire church. How is your church doing in the area of discipleship? How could you pray for your pastors as they lead in this upcoming year?
- Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 215-216.
Ministry is not for the faint-of-heart. Occasionally I run across someone who talks about ministry as a good modern career choice and I have to explain the difference between a calling and a choice. Ministry is not something that I would have chosen, but having an burden to preach the Word of God and the privilege to do so is a joyful thing. Pastoral ministry, however, involves much more than preaching on Sunday. It involves leadership and with leadership comes criticism.
One of the lessons I’ve learned over the course of my ministry is to not take all criticism as a negative attack. Although some attacks do come and some people certainly don’t understand what pastors are called to do, that doesn’t mean that all criticism is unbiblical attacks. Consider the following points and how to respond properly to leadership critique.
Look for Truth in the Criticism
In almost all critique you can find a nugget of truth that will help you. I’ve tried to learn this lesson over time, but it’s a very difficult thing to look for the positive in what is almost always perceived as negative. If someone tells me that I’m preaching too long, that doesn’t mean that the individual doesn’t enjoy my preaching. Suppose someone approaches me and suggests that I should stand at the back door and shake hands as people leave the building each Sunday—that doesn’t mean that they don’t love me or appreciate me as a pastor. They’re simply critiquing something about me based on their own personal opinion.
The difficulty comes when the criticism is received from someone who is a perceived thorn in the flesh. At that moment, the stakes are a bit higher and it becomes more difficult to find the positive nuggets of truth in the midst of the often harsh criticism. Sometimes it may be good to just honestly evaluate the situation and ask how your actions could have somehow fueled their negativity and that may uncover some element of truth that you can use to shape you and make you better as a leader.
Think Before You Respond
Years ago, a good friend of mine had what he called his “24-hour rule.” He refused to respond to criticism—especially harsh criticism within a 24-hour period. He wanted to have time to consider the criticism—no matter how harsh it might be and formulate a good and healthy response before lashing out in the flesh. Our human flesh enjoys a quick response, but not all fast responses are helpful, healthy, nor biblical.
The Bible is full of wisdom literature that warns against prideful and haughty actions. Proverbs 29:23 says, “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” Additionally, we find these words in Proverbs 11:2, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” A response full of hateful speech with a sharp tongue is disgraceful and something that all of us as Christians should resist.
Avoid Insecure Leadership Patterns
Every leader—especially those in pastoral ministry—should be mindful of the reality of their imperfections. There is no pastor who is perfect. While the church should know this fact, so should each pastor know this about himself. It was Luther who once remarked, “I more fear what is within me than what comes from without.” Therefore, when criticism comes (not if, but when)—remember that you are capable of making mistakes. We should all strive to serve out of a heart of excellence for the glory of God, mistakes are inevitable. When someone offers criticism, the insecure leader often avoids it, denies it, and at times—looks to hammer it out with a haughty response.
Insecurity doesn’t always manifest itself in the spirit of soft and cowardly disengagement. Too often insecure leaders become loud and overboard in their pride to avoid any thought of wrongdoing or imperfections in their leadership. The loud passive aggressive leader often responds in such a manner due to his insecurity rather than his boldness. Secure leaders look into the mirror and own mistakes while exploring ways to improve. We must remember that the best home run hitters in baseball often lead in other areas like strikeouts. To be great leader, at times you need to swing for the fences. Not all swings will be home runs. Sometimes they result in a miss—a long wave of the bat—a strikeout. Charles Spurgeon once said:
Public men must expect public criticism, and as the public cannot be regarded as infallible, public men may expect to be criticized in a way which is neither fair nor pleasant. To all honest and just remarks we are bound to give due measure of heed, but to the bitter verdict of prejudice, the frivolous faultfinding of men of fashion, the stupid utterances of the ignorant, and the fierce denunciations of opponents, we may very safely turn a deaf ear. 
- C.H. Spurgeon, The Complete Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 7.
Paul loved Christ and His church, and it is obvious from his letters to the local churches that Paul’s love for God’s people was genuine. At the end of Romans, Paul dives off into a series of greetings and acknowledgements. It’s quite clear that while he wrote entire epistles to Timothy, Paul likewise remembered others who worked behind the scenes. Not everyone is called to pastor a church, and the church needs people up front and behind the scenes to run properly.
Paul remembered Mary and how hard she worked. In Romans 16:6, Paul requested that a particular Mary would be recognized for her service. Paul had remembered her diligent work for the glory of God. It apparently made an impression on him.
People Need Encouragement
Paul’s salutations were aimed at those Christians who had labored well—and in many cases well behind the scenes. Serving the Lord is never an easy task. There are always difficulties and challenges along the way. In Paul’s day the labor was often unnoticed and the environment was harsh toward Christianity. Encouragement was necessary in his day, and such encouragement was rooted in Christian love. Paul understood that his friends and fellow servants needed to be recognized.
In our present day, the landscape in America is not as harsh towards Christianity, but Christians still need to be encouraged. Like Mary who labored well in Paul’s day, we must not overlook the faithful ladies who serve in our local churches. Imagine your church without the faithful ladies who give themselves to serve you and the rest of the church. Do you notice the men who do their work quietly in the backdrop of ministry? Don’t overlook them. They are precious in the sight of the Lord.
Recognition Is Not Bad
We aren’t told who this particular Mary is, but Paul knew her. Perhaps she had served him at some place during his missionary journey and was now removed to Rome. We can’t be emphatic about her identity because we simply aren’t given enough information. What we do know is that Paul intended to recognize Mary in a letter sent to Rome. Paul’s desire was to make sure that she was recognized and appreciated for her faithful service.
While I agree that we should trim as much wasteful time and unnecessary announcements out of our worship gatherings, there are times when recognition is a good thing. Maybe a church newsletter, a special letter to the church, or in the weekly bulletin would provide a more natural platform to spotlight some of those people who serve well behind the scenes.
This week I tried to observe those who serve well behind the scenes in my local church setting, and it’s obvious that many people deserve praise and need to be encouraged in their task. Each week we are served by faithful ladies who prepare meals for our midweek meal on Wednesday evening. Without them, the meal would not happen. We are served each week by several men who work diligently to operate our lights, microphones, screens, and much of this is directly connected to our weekly worship. Often such people serve without ever being recognized, thanked, or appreciated by the church.
The next time you’re reading through the New Testament and you see Paul remembering people, let that serve as a reminder that we all should recognize and appreciate people for their work in the service of the Lord. How long would it take to send an e-mail, to hand write a letter, or to speak to them in person on the Lord’s day? Remember those who serve with diligence behind the scenes for the glory of God.