“And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it”, Col. 4. 17. This was the message that Paul included in his letter to the assembly at Colosse, and it was a personal word for a brother in that assembly.
It may appear, at first reading, little more than a passing comment, but on reflection there is much more than the merely casual, for a very interesting principle is involved. It does not demand the use of many words to state important truth. Like his Master, Paul was never a waster of words.
We are not told the kind of ministry which Archippus engaged in, so that the message has something in it for us all. The phrase, “the ministry”, as used frequently by Paul, usually implies preaching or teaching as, for example, the references to his own ministry as a preacher of the gospel, Col. 1. 23, or his teaching within the church, 1. 24, 25.
Assuming this to be the ministry that Archippus exercised, and was exhorted to take heed to, the word is not of a general, but of a particular nature. The Lord holds each of us responsible to Himself regarding the use of whatever gift He has given us. For an illustration of this see Matthew. 25. 14-30.
To “take heed” is to give careful attention to it; to pursue it with diligence; to put one’s soul into it. Ministry in the New Testament is not treated as following a “calling” or a profession. There were those of the house of one Stephanas, who had “addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints”. The better description of their ministry is that they had “devoted themselves to the saints for service”, J.N.D., which could take many forms, 1 Cor. 16. 15. This would mean the exercise of gift already received from the Lord, in devotion to Him and to His own. Gift is not confined to preaching or teaching, but embraces the many activities in which we may engage, even being a “help”, 12. 28.
Archippus’ ministry was received “in the Lord”, as a spiritual responsibility direct from the Head of the church, which is His body.
This brother did not “enter the ministry”, or “take holy orders”, but filled a place of usefulness by the exercise of that ability committed to his trust by the Lord Himself. No amount of study nor the application of the mind alone will fit anyone for fruitful service amongst the saints. The work is, primarily, spiritual, and requires spiritual men to do it, 1 Cor. 2. 11-16. Had Paul, or any other outstanding servants of Christ, engaged in the ministry of their own volition, how dismally would they have failed! The great pressures endured by the “apostle to the Gentiles” required very much more than “a sense of vocation”. The list of sufferings, humiliation, and persecution recorded in 2 Corinthians 11. 23-33, gives us an idea of Paul’s thorough dedication to Christ and the church. Ministry of such a character holds no glamour for the flesh. “Without were fightings, within were fears”, 7. 5; “daily, the care of all the churches”, 11. 28; “a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me”, 12. 7. We wonder how this “Great-heart” had that detachment from his own afflictions to have such a care for so many of the saints mentioned often by name in his letters. His ministry embraced both them and their spiritual and temporal welfare, disclosing an overflowing love. Paul’s “thirty-nine articles”, 11. 24, were not made up of theological dogma, but were part of those sufferings “for Christ’s sake” in which he took “pleasure”, 12. 10.
Archippus must have known something of the rigorous side of being engaged in the ministry, since he is mentioned as “our fellowsoldier”, Philem. 2, acquainted with the “hardness” that Timothy also was to endure, 2 Tim. 2. 3.
Some brother may, like his Master, be “wearied with his journey”, or like the apostles be “toiling in rowing” and feel like “giving up”. To such Paul would say, “your labour (toil) is not in vain in the Lord”, 1 Cor. 15. 58. Archippus had received his ministry “in the Lord”, and it is very blessed and fortifying when the servant is physically and spiritually fatigued, to be reminded that he serves “the Lord Christ”, Col. 3. 24. The honour and dignity of engaging in such service compels him to give his best without stint or hope of applause from others.
“That thou fulfil it.” Archippus is to put wholeheartedness into his ministry. The cost will be high in terms of preparation of heart, of communion with the Lord, and of physical demands, especially if travelling is involved but, “It is the way the Master went—should not the servant tread it still”
Here is the great difference between the servant who is serving men, or a “cause”, and the one who is serving Christ. The cheering aim of the latter is to receive “in that day” his Master’s “well done, thou good and faithful servant”, Matt. 25. 21 when each shall have his “praise from God”, 1 Cor. 4. 5 R.V. How much more blessed and precious will this be to the servants of the Lord, than a formal acknowledgement of “services rendered” from a committee or society?
We will assume that Archippus gave good heed to the apostle’s word, and that the assembly in Colosse was stirred to more intelligent and continuous prayer for the brother in their midst, thus encouraging themselves in the preaching of the gospel, and the continuous and heart-warming ministry of the Word among them.
We should remember these “local” brethren whom the Lord has set in the church. Their numbers are dwindling. They are often targets of enemy opposition in its many forms, Eph. 6. 11, 12. It is very seldom that such brethren are mentioned in our prayer meetings, yet how would many small assemblies fare but for the sustained help of such over the years Many will, after a day at work in their secular employment, be travelling, often in discomfort by public transport, to speak to a handful of the saints—another handful perhaps at home engaging in unspiritual pastimes.
Unlike Archippus, we have no personal word from an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, but the Lord takes account of our effort even if it only comes under the list of “helps”, 1 Cor. 12. 28. They used “helps” to undergird the ship in a fearsome situation described by Luke, Acts 27. 17. Whatever these “helps” were we do not quite know, but they were contributory to the fact that “two hundred three score and sixteen souls” … “escaped all safe to land”, Acts 27. 37, 44.
The local assembly will have its storms to ride out, and there are poor “sailors” at times, but so often “helps” have undergirded the ship, and although out of sight have, in the mercy of God, been His instruments in averting a major disaster among the saints. Our sisters in their prayer-life contribute much to the spiritual stability of many assemblies, and in their obedience to that “quietness” taught them in the Scriptures have influence with God for the undergirding of assembly life and witness. Their ministry, in keeping with the Word of God, is not in the public sphere but is, nonetheless, “in the Lord” and, like Archippus and all of us, is to be “fulfilled”. Paul’s parting words to the Ephesian elders included his expressed desire that he might finish his “course with joy, and the ministry, which” he had “received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God”, Acts 20. 24.
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