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Published Date: August 20, 2008

Published Date: August 20, 2008

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Household of Ministry

“…you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints – be subjects to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer” (1 Cor. 16:15-16, ESV).

Here is a pearl lost in a list of greetings. Why a pearl? Because in the Greek text, we observe Paul’s opinion of his coworkers and his desired response from the church they serve. He commends a whole household that has a diakonia or ministry. This same word is used abundantly in Acts and by Paul to describe the apostolic ministry, as well as in all three major spiritual gifts lists in the broader sense of the service of the church (Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4). Archippus is also exhorted to pursue his ministry (Col. 4:17).

Their service was no pastime. They etaxan (past tense of the verb tasso) themselves. The verb tasso is a military term, meaning to order, ordain, or appoint. Its grammatical correlate is hupotasso which means submit, or submit oneself in the reflective form. The household of Stephanas had some sort of visible, collective, and ordained ministry. And Paul was exhorting the Corinthians to submit themselves to them, by virtue of their dedication to their (official) service. In addition, he exhorts the Corinthians to submit themselves to “every fellow worker and laborer.”

Who is Paul speaking about? Here again, it helps to go to the Greek, because several of these people are named in Paul’s letters. 1 Corinthians 16:16 uses the present participle form synergountes meaning “those who synergize” or “work” with Paul and others, and kopiontes (from the verb kopiao) or “those who toil and bear the weight” with him. We find a lot of synergizers (synergoi, the noun form) in Paul’s letters—Prisca and Aquila, Urbanus, Timothy (Rom. 16); Titus (2 Cor. 8); Epaphroditus (Phil. 2), Euodia, Syntyche, Clement—and others (Phil. 4); Aristarchus, Mark, Jesus Justus, Philemon, Demas, and Luke (Philem. 1). The “heavy laborers” are Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis (Rom. 16: all women). The term kopiontes is also applied to “those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you” (1 Thess. 5:12), and to “…the elders…especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). Interestingly, in all three citations of 1 Corinthians 16, 1 Thessalonians 5, and 1 Timothy 5, these laborers are commended to the respect and the submission of the churches addressed.

So this is no “second tier” role that would apply only to a bunch of “female coworkers.” This is full size ministry. And, Paul asks the churches to submit to them. The final word on Paul’s synergistic view of ministry can be found when he applies the verb kopiao to himself: “…I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor.15:10).

To God—and not us—and by his power—not ours—be the glory for his work through us, without discrimination by gender.