“I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,)” – 1 Corinthians 16:15
As Paul begins his closing salutations in 1 Corinthians, he commends a very godly man, Stephanas, and his family for their service and ministry to saints. However, this was not a casual or part-time service to the saints of God, but they made such a habitual commitment to serving others that Paul denotes “they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.” With such a profound description of their service to the church, we should consider how addicted are we to things of God and to serving others?
Stephanas and his household are specifically mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 1:16 as being one of the few people in the Corinth church that Paul actually baptized himself. Therefore, Stephanas and his family were among the first converts when Paul first arrived in Corinth, particularly since he baptized them himself before he later delegated that practice out to other men (as we see in the remainder of 1 Cor. 1). Being one of the first converts in Achaia (Corinth was the capital city of the province of Achaia), Stephanas is described by Paul as being “the firstfruits of Achaia”. Paul gave the same title to Epaenetus in Rom. 16:5, so he would have been among the early converts in that region as well.
Stephanas was a godly, devoted member of the church, but there was something especially commendable about his service to the church that Paul highlights here. He and his family were “addicted to the ministry of the saints”. The word “addicted” means “to apply one’s self habitually; to devote time and attention by customary or constant practice” (Webster’s 1828). This addiction is characterized by habitual devotion and attention to a specific practice. Unfortunately, substance addiction (such as drugs or alcohol) is common in our culture. A person who battles such an addiction continually engages in consuming that substance. They are so devoted and addicted to this constant habit that it almost consumes their lives. If they are not able to engage in the practice of consuming that substance, they can’t function normally. They crave that activity and substance so much that if they are prevented in some way from feeding their addiction, they are totally unproductive until they get their fix. Could the same craving and addiction be said of us towards the spiritual things of God?
The addiction of Stephanas and his family was for the “ministry of the saints”. The word for “ministry” here is a derivative of the Greek word for “deacon”, which means “to serve, to attend to the needs of others, to wait tables”. This family craved serving the saints of God in the church so much that they literally couldn’t live without engaging in that activity. Is serving and ministering to others a grievous burden to us in the church, or is it our utmost craving and desire to minister to the saints of God? If we are to love others as we are commanded to do (which Jesus established as the second greatest commandment, Matt. 22:37-39), then certainly we must love serving others, particularly the saints of God. As the word deacon implies, we wait and are attentive to the needs of others. A waiter at a restaurant does not wait for the customer to tell them when they need something, instead, they are proactively observing and assessing the needs of the customer to meet their needs, even if the customer never requests it. That is how attentive we should be to the needs of the saints of God in the church, not just to passively wait for someone to tell us how we can help them (most people never will), but proactively assessing and then meeting the need, ministering to the saints of God.
This also makes us question are we actually devoted and addicted to spiritual things instead of carnal things? Do we have the same craving for worship, singing, hearing preaching, fellowship with the saints, and reading God’s word personally, as Stephanas did for serving others? If we are deprived from attending worship, reading God’s word, or fellowshipping with the saints of God, do we feel that craving and compulsion to engage in that activity that nothing else can quell that desire? Unless we engage in that activity that has become such a habit for us (until we get our spiritual fix), are we disoriented and unable to function normally in our lives? Do our thoughts, actions, and even our schedule revolve around the devotion to our habit of engaging in these spiritual activities? If for some reason we are hindered from attending worship or reading God’s word, do we feel the desire and compulsion to immediately engage in that activity? That should be the type of craving for spiritual things that should be exhibited in our lives.
Another impressive point about Stephanas’ service in the church was that it was a family affair. Originally, “the household of Stephanas” was converted and baptized together (1 Cor. 1:16). Not only were they converted to the truth together, but they also had the same common addiction and devotion to serving the saints of God. The entire “house of Stephanas” had the same addiction. Therefore, the family (presumably father, mother, and children, maybe even the extended family too) all ministered and served the church together. We engage in unified family worship in the church, not unbiblical segregation based on gender, age, or biblical acumen. In the same manner, we should be engaged in unified family service in the church. When the father or mother goes to visit someone in the nursing home, the entire family should come and minister to that saint together. It’s a beautiful thing to see the entire family engaging in serving the church in a collective and unified manner, as Stephanas set the tone for his family to serve the church together.
It’s certainly no light matter for anyone to be addicted to a destructive substance such as drugs or alcohol. However, the power that addiction has over their lives almost consumes their every thought and action. They plan their day almost totally around how they will be engaging and fulfilling their addiction. Our addiction to the things of God, of the spiritual things of the kingdom, and particularly for serving the saints of God, should be so compulsory that it almost consumes our every thought and action. We should be so habitually engaged in these practices, that we crave these spiritual things when we cannot perform them. Addiction to carnal things can be a very dangerous vice, but addiction to the ministry of the saints should be cultivated in each of our lives.