Like every flourishing city, the wealth of Corinth was dependant on its workers. But their masters, the ship owners and the merchants had little interest in their welfare. They drove hard bargains and demanded everything from their servants and slaves. But Jesus said that church leaders should operate differently (Matthew 20:25-28). The leaders should demonstrate their willingness to serve before they lead; as did the household of Stephanas.
The Lord has designed the church to be full of workers, and those who lead to work harder than all of them (1 Peter 5:2-3). That was Paul's example too (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). It was therefore right for him to urge that the church should honour such people who led by example. Service is not demeaning but ennobling. Devoting time and energy to serving the needs of God's people is precious to the Lord and mirrors the gracious nature of the Lord Jesus Himself.
Loving service was not a strong characteristic of the Corinthian church; that was why they had so many problems which demanded Paul's attention in this letter. But three men did come to Paul, including Stephanas, and showed him genuine affection caring for his needs. The Lord used their visit to refresh the apostle and encourage him in his ministry. They ministered to Paul, although many thought he did not need anybody to refresh his spirit. And yet it seems that the church in Corinth somewhat despised them. So there was a gentle rebuke; the church should recognise the spiritual quality of sacrificial service as being Christ-like love.
Ministers and missionaries are God's servants. Much of their work is unseen. Few can truly appreciate what they pour into the work of ministry, and the sacrifices they gladly bear. Yet the tale of many is that they or their families are often treated badly and criticised by believers who do not understand the issues, or the pain which they inflict. In the same way that we should honour our parents (Exodus 20:12) and governing authorities (Romans 13:1), we should equally honour those who love us and watch over us in the Lord (Hebrews 13:17). Their humble service for us, in Jesus' Name, is an example to respect and not despise. In turn, it is our privilege to support them, without patronising; and encourage without seeking personal advantage.
© Dr Paul Adams