In 1 Corinthians 16:15 the apostle Paul made mention of “the household of Stephanas” (NIV). Stephanas was obviously the most prominent person in the group because the household was called by his name. Sometimes in the New Testament we are given more specific information about individuals than what we find in this verse. For example, at times a person was identified not only by their name but also by where they were from. Two examples of this come immediately to mind. Joseph, who came to take the body of Jesus down from the cross, was from Arimathea (Mark 15:43-45). Saul, who became an apostle, was described as being from Tarsus. In Acts 9:11 the Lord said that Saul was from Tarsus, in Acts 21:39 Saul/Paul said the same thing. At other times people were identified by their family connections. One example of this is the apostles James and John, they were identified as being “the sons of Zebedee” (Mark 10:35 NIV). In the days of the first-century church people did not seem to use the first and last name format that we typically use in the United States. Most people were called by their first names. Stephanas’ name does not have any additional information attached to it, however, he was mentioned two other times in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 1:16 Paul tells us that he baptized Stephanas and his family, and in 1 Corinthians 16:17 we learn that he was one of the people who brought supplies to Paul. From what Paul wrote it is clear that he knew this family personally.
In addition to not knowing much about Stephanus we know even less about his household. For starters we do not know how many people were in it. Neither do we know how many of them were men and how many were women. We also do not know what ages they were. We don’t know what they did for work or what kind of businesses they were involved in. So a lot of the particulars about this household are not given to us. However, these details are not the things that are important. The things that are important, the things that Paul, and God, want the church to know concerns their spiritual qualities.
Paul tells us that Stephanas and his household were the first Christians in Achaia (1 Cor. 16:15). So they were not only all part of the same physical family, they were also all part of the same spiritual family, the family of God. In the New Testament we can find other examples of families coming to the Lord. Lydia and her household came to the Lord (Acts 16:14-15) as did the Philippian jailer and his household (Acts 16:30-34). The fact that Stephanas and the other members of his household came to the Lord was good news, but the good news did not end there.
After their conversions these people began to serve the Lord. They did this by participating in ministry, they served other people. Paul does not go into any detail about this, he speaks in very general terms. However, he does tell us who they served; he tells us that they served “the Lord’s people” (1 Cor. 16:15 NIV), that is, they served the church. We are also not told if they held any official ministry positions in the church, such as being elders or deacons. But those things are not really important. What is important, and what is emphasized, is that they served. All genuine ministry is service. That being said, their service may not have taken place just during the times when the church was gathered together for worship. Paul was silent about the what and where of their ministry.
Believers can serve one another anytime, no matter what day it is, or what time it is. This is important, because needs do not always arise during the times when the church is gathered together. The household of Stephanas were servants, the contemporary church could use more servants. When I was studying for the ministry my family and I lived in a three family house. Our landlords were a Christian couple who viewed their house as a ministry. Most of the tenants that they took in were, like me, ministerial students. They did not charge high rent, they allowed us to use their washing machine, and they supplied food to us on a number of occasions. This couple truly ministered to the saints.
Paul held up the household of Stephanas as an example. They were, and are, a good model for Christians to follow; they lived out the biblical truth of servanthood. We need to imitate them. Paul told the church in Corinth to submit to people like them and to all who participate in the work of ministry. May God grant us grace to be those who are truly meeting needs. Jesus set forth servanthood as an important quality for His people to have. Let us lay hold of it and make it increasingly evident in the body of Christ. It can do much to strengthen and empower the church as each member does his or her part.
About the Author
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.