The Work of the Lord, Part 2: Devotion

Good evening. Please join me as I turn in my bible to 1 Corinthians chapter 16. The final chapter of 1 Corinthians. We’re winding down our study of this rather extraordinary letter written by the Apostle Paul. I hope you have been as encouraged as I have along the way.

Paul’s ability to take us to the mountain peaks of theology, while also writing in a way that is immediate and practical and convicting and encouraging, all at the same time, really amazes me, makes me long to be a better teacher and preacher.

It also confirms in me that these words are not merely the words of a man. God is speaking through the words of Paul. And when God speaks, his people are fed.

That’s our prayer tonight, as is every time we open God’s word. That God would speak, and that we might be fed from it.

Let’s begin by reading our text, and then I will pray and ask the Lord to speak and feed us through his word. 1 Corinthians 16, starting in verse 5:

I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

10 When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. 11 So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.


12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

15 Now I urge you, brothers—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— 16 be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. 17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.


19 The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. 20 All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22 If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.


By way of reminder, last time we were working through Paul’s closing section of this letter. And what seems to be a list of odds and ends at the conclusion, is actually instructive for us, because the whole section reveals what Paul understands concerning the work of the Lord.

The work of the Lord, the business of the church, the employment of the people of God, that is in the forefront of Paul’s thinking in this section.

For example, Paul mentions in verse 9 that “a wide door for effective work has been opened up to me.”

Likewise, in verse 10: “When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am.”

Similar language is used in verses 15 & 16: “Now I urge you, brothers—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— 16 be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer.”

Paul is concerned with the business of the church, the work of the Lord. And by that Paul doesn’t see some sort of hard distinction between those who are apostles, and those who aren’t.

He’s speaking of the service of the saints, the business of all the church, regardless of their station or individual vocational calling.

And what did we note last time about the nature of this work? We said that the work of the Lord is to be characterized by personal flexibility. Gospel motivated flexibility should mark our labor.

Let me show you what I mean. Look at verse 5, “I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.”

Paul does not seem himself as the master of his plans. He’s not the one driving the ship. Rather, he remembers himself and his plans in light of the bigger picture. He’s flexible.

He has his preferences of where he’d like to go, who he’d like to see, when he’d like to be there, but he has all of that written in pencil, not sharpie. He knows that it is ultimately not HIS work, but the Lord’s work.

But we also noted in Paul Gospel-minded integrity.

If the first point was about humble pliability in the service of the Lord, the second point we might say is about humble rigidity, a firmness. We might use the term conviction.

Look at verse 8 when Paul says:

But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

Many adversaries. The faithful doing of the Lord’s work will generate opposition. When light begins to shine, the darkness will want to snuff it out. But take note that Paul’s gospel-flexibility, didn’t produce within him a weak spine.

Flexibility, and firmness. Pliability with gospel-principles. Both together.

Tonight I’d like to focus on another mark of the work of the lord, and it is located primarily in verse 15. Look again with me at verse 15:

15 Now I urge you, brothers—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

Devoted themselves to the service of the saints.

That phrase has been ringing in my ears all week. What does it mean to do the work of the Lord? It means to devote oneself to God, which will manifest itself in devotion to God’s people, the saints.

And that devotion to the saints will be our theme tonight. Now one caveat as we begin: tonight I will be primarily talking about the presence or absence of devotion to the saints, and not really getting into what that devotion will look like practically. Lord willing, that will be next week. But tonight, I want us to just ask of ourselves: Am I devoted to the Lord and to His people?

To do that, let’s first ask: What does devotion mean? It might be translated something like entirely dedicated, totally committed, even consecrated, or set apart for that particular task.

And we should take time to reflect on this idea. Devotion is total, involving all of who you are. If an athlete SAYS he is devoted to becoming an Olympian, and trains and exercises hard, but won’t change his diet and still pigs out on junk food, then we wouldn’t say he actually is devoted. There is an area that is still not committed, namely his nutrition.

If a husband takes his wedding vows and pledges his complete devotion to his wife, but he will not share his finances with her, or will not give her proper time and attention, then we would say that he’s not actually devoted, regardless of what he may claim.

Some part of him, some part of his time, his affection, his effort, his attention is not actually devoted to the wife, and therefore HE is not actually devoted. Devotion has to involve all of who we are.

Further, devotion necessitates a willingness. You can’t compel devotion. I can’t put a gun to your head and say be devoted to God.

You can compel people to do things by constraint and by duty. It is possible to force people to do stuff. But that’s not devotion.

Devoted sports fans joyfully and willingly follow their team, not out of duty, but out of desire. Devoted husbands love their wife well because they have chosen to, not because it is merely their duty to do so.

To be devoted is to willingly choose something.

And we should also note that devotion is something that is habitual and persistent. Devotion requires habitual, persistent, effort. Everyone can swear on New Year’s Day that they are going to lose weight this year, but if they’ve already visited Krispy Kreme 10 times by the end of January, we know they probably aren’t devoted.

Devotion is only found where the behavior is sustained over time, like a habit. In fact, if you read this verse in the old King James Version, it says that “they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,”

They have addicted themselves. It’s an older use of that word, but the point is clear, isn’t it? What is an addiction? It is where we do something so frequently that it becomes a habit. And that habit, given enough time, becomes something that we can’t live without.

That’s the level of devotion that should mark the work of the Lord. Not that we’re out of control and unable to contain ourselves. But that we’ve so dedicated ourselves to the work of the Lord that our service to the saints becomes habitual.

When we see commercials on tv for sleep aids, they always will warn us about them being potentially habit forming. Well that’s kind of what we want out of our faith. We want a habit-forming Christianity.

We want to be so faithful and so devoted to serving the saints well that it become habitual. Not saying that it becomes mindless and robotic, but that we so devote ourselves to loving God’s people well, that we can’t imagine doing life together in any other way. We’re addicted to it.

That’s a high calling. A high standard.

And if that’s what marked the household of Stephanus, whom Paul commends as worth of emulation, then we probably need to ask ourselves why we lack such devotion?

Let me give us some possible reasons, and this is a longer list, but I want you to listen to the various categories and situations, and see if any combination of these categories sounds familiar to your heart:

First, some people here listening might not be marked with devotion to the saints out of ignorance. You just didn’t know. I grant that is a possibility. Well, that possibility remains no longer. You know now, and now you can get to work.

Second, some people aren’t able to show that same level of devotion to service because of God’s providence. Perhaps you’re physically incapable of serving the saints. Perhaps you’re been hindered by circumstances outside of your control.

In such circumstances, you’re not at fault, in as much as God has ordained circumstances that prevent you from serving the saints for a season.

Third, some people aren’t devoted to the service of the saints because of laziness. Laziness. They are like the sluggard in proverbs, who is unwilling to lift a finger to do what he knows he ought to do. He’d rather spend our time indulging in our favorite hobbies, vegging out in front of the TV, apathetic to the condition of the church, doing whatever. This person is lazy, which is sin, and they need to repent.

Fourth, some people aren’t lazy, but their lack of devotion to serving the saints is more out of weariness. Weariness. They’ve grown weary of doing good. Some people, for various reasons, feel the need to wear themselves out for the Lord. They burn the candle at both ends, and they often feel that that kind of pace is a virtuous thing.

However, the Lord made you as a finite creature with limitations, and one of the reasons for that limitation is because he knows how you’re tempted to think you are superman, that you are the messiah. And if you are that kind of person who has grown weary of doing good because you’ve overdone it, you might need to repent of trying to be the savior.

You might just need to rest, remember the sabbath day and keep it holy, and walk in the strength of the Spirit, rather than the flesh. Spiritual burnout is no virtue, and so if your devotion is quenched because of exhaustion, then get some rest, in both body and soul, and let the Spirit rekindle your devotion to the saints.

Fifth, some Christians are not devoted to the service of the saints because they are just plain selfish. They are selfish. They like their free time, and they don’t want to give any of it up to other people. They are self-centered, their schedule and their money and their effort is important to them, and they want to spend all of it on themselves.

Such a disposition is clearly unchristian, and is counter to love. Unlike what every bit of modern advertising would tell you, you don’t exist to pamper yourself. You exist to glorify the Lord, and that glorification is perhaps no more Christ-like than when we lay down our lives for the good of others. If your lack of devotion to serving the saints is tied to selfishness, then be warned, God sees your heart.

Sixth, some people refuse to devote themselves to the service of the saints because of greed. They’re greedy. They crave more money, and so they won’t stop working because that would cost them money. For them, to stop making money in order to serve the saints is an unacceptable cost, and thereby they reveal who really is lord of their heart.

Jesus spoke very clearly to this, and even used terms of DEVOTION: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” If you’re greed drives you to neglect devotion to the work of the Lord, then you know who your true master is.

Seventh, some people refuse to be devoted to the service of the saints because of bitterness. Some people are bitter. They perhaps have been wronged by someone or some people in the church, and they use that REAL sin committed against them as justification for their own sinful lack of service to the saints.

I want to be sensitive here. Some people have been legitimately harmed by people claiming to be Christians. That pain is real, and so is the hurt caused by it.

However, and this is crucial in all of life, nobody else’s sin against you, makes it OK for you to sin. And if you’re refusing to serve in the work of the Lord and to serve the saints in ways that you are able, then you’re guilty before God as well, just like the people who have sinned against you.

I’ve preached on reconciliation several times in the past, so I won’t go into detail now. But I’d encourage you to seek forgiveness and reconciliation as much as you are able, and pursue devotion to the service of the saints. In doing so, you’ll imitate Christ and honor him, who was the perfect example of a peacemaker and a reconciler.

Next, number 8, some people aren’t devoted to the service of the saints because they aren’t devoted to the Lord. They aren’t devoted to the Lord. They’ve let their spiritual communion with God grow cold. This is perhaps the scariest in this list.

Perhaps they were once very active and involved in service. They used to have lots of bible reading, much more prayer, much more fellowship among the body. Maybe they once even served in a formal way, as an officer or deacon or SS teacher.

But today they’ve drifted. They’ve pulled back. They’ve let their zeal for the people of God wane. And if they’re honest, most people who pull back in such a way, have found their own private devotion to the Lord has grown cold right alongside their devotion to the saints.

Spiritual coldness is often most manifest through one’s relation to the people of God. You can fake private holiness, but it is hard to maintain public holiness, when one’s heart is not in it. Weakening communion with God’s people is often the first public evidence of a weakening communion with God.

Lastly, number 9, some people aren’t devoted to the service of the saints because they are distracted. They are distracted.

They may be distracted by either good things or bad things. Sometimes we get distracted by good things. It is good to pursue further education, or to be physically fit and want to exercise, or be really involved with my Child’s school, or to volunteer with a non-profit.

But we must remember our priorities, and not let several possible good things, distract us from how to best use our time. Consider how you spend your time each week, which is your most valuable commodity, and that time is usually an indicator of what you deem most important.

But to be honest, I see very few people who are distracted from service in the church by pursing too many GOOD things elsewhere. Rather, I see lots of people who are distracted from devotion by less than good things. They’ll claim their too busy to serve the church in particular ways, but then they’ll log 20 hours a week on social media.

They can’t find time to serve the saints, but they somehow have plenty of time for watching their favorite shows and movies.

Busyness is usually less a factor of providential circumstances, and more a factor of priorities. Being enslaved to our own calendar often reveals a spiritual condition of giving our devotion to the things we’re distracted by, rather than giving our devotion to the things of the Lord.

And Parents, we need to remember that our children are watching. Children don’t often rise higher than their parents in terms of spirituality. And so we should all reflect. Consider your devotion, your time, how you spend your money.

What does your behavior communicate to your children about what is most important? If you spend 30 hours a week on sports, or on entertainment, or whatever, and only 2 hours on Sunday for the things of God, you’re preaching a sermon there. You’re teaching your children what is most important.

Each of us falls short, in light of such a standard. The Household of Stephanus seems to have set a bar that none of us could reach. But that household isn’t the bar, is it.

God tell us that the bar is actually complete devotion, of all that we are, to Him. Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s the standard. Total love to God, and total love to our neighbors. And any failure in these areas is the result of our own sin, and therefore worthy of condemnation. God deserves our total devotion, our complete dedication, our entire heart.

But because we’re selfish, we hold part of ourselves back. We refuse to dedicate ourselves to him. We’re unwilling to serve others like we know we ought to. We choose to indulge, rather than to serve. We choose to pamper ourselves, rather than to prostrate ourselves.

And God sees it all. He knows your heart. Nothing is hidden from him. He sees every dark crevice of your soul, every selfish thought and motive, every unkind movement of your heart.

And scripture makes clear that this is true of all mankind. They refuse to be devoted to the Lord. And so they earn for themselves condemnation. In fact because they refused to be devoted to God, Isaiah 34 speaks of all nations being DEVOTED to destruction. Because they refused devotion to God, they are instead devoted to destruction. And the language is vivid:

 he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter.
Their slain shall be cast out,
and the stench of their corpses shall rise;
the mountains shall flow with their blood.

Failing to be devoted to God and the work of the Lord is not simply being a poor church member. It is sin, sin worthy of punishment and condemnation, sin worthy of hell.

But do you know what the amazing thing is? The same God was so moved by love and compassion that he chose to offer forgiveness to you. He’s so devoted to his own glory, that he sent his Son to redeem a sinful, selfish people who refused to be devoted to Him.

And that Son, Jesus Christ, was perfectly devoted to service to the God’s people. From an early age his devotion was evident. Remember what he said as a young man when his parents couldn’t find him? He said: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Even as a child he was devoted to being among God’s people, serving in the place of God’s special presence.

His devotion wasn’t only seen in wanting to be among God’s people. He also modeled sacrificial devotion for all of us.

He didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and to lay down his life as a ransom for many people. He came to die, in order that through such service, through such devotion, many would be saved.

And he did this willingly, which we already said is necessary for devotion. His devotion is seen in that he CHOSE to lay down his life. In John chapter 10 Jesus says something amazing about his life: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”

Jesus wasn’t killed on the cross because he was unable to stop it. He didn’t die because he was outmatched or overpowered by the Roman army. He died on the cross because he CHOSE to lay down his life.

You see the magnitude of his devotion in that. His willingness to become a servant, a slave, a sacrifice, a substitute, in order to serve the saints: that’s the depth of his dedication. That’s the

Size of his commitment.

What a magnificent savior we have, that he would be so committed to love a people who are so un-committed to him. Such devotion on behalf a bride who is so often indifferent, or selfish, or apathetic and cold toward him.

Doesn’t such love stir your heart? That kind of love is compelling. Don’t you want to follow in the steps of such a savior? He willingly laid down his life so that you might have life in him. And If he could stoop down so far for you, won’t you be willing to stoop down for others?

That’s the step. We must first embrace his good news, and trust in him. And when we’ve trusted in Christ, once we’re devoted to HIM by faith, then we can grow in our devotion to others. You even see that in our text: the household of Stephanus were the first CONVERTS in “Achaia,”

They had to be converted first, by faith. And only then could they be devoted to serving the saints.

If you’re not trusting in Christ, then I urge you to devote yourself to him. Trust in him and his good news, lest you remain in condemnation and be devoted to destruction.

And once you trust in Christ, I urge you to grow in your devotion to the Lord by growing in your devotion to the service of the saints. Follow in the example of the house of Stephanus. Do the work of the Lord, be a good Churchman and good churchwoman.

And in order to inspire us towards this devotion to the service of the saints, I’d like to close with a list of encouragements. A list of encouraging reasons why we ought to be devoted to the service of the saints. Some of these are my own, and some come from a sermon by a puritan named William Bridge.[1]

First encouragement in our service to the saints:

It is a great privilege to be a servant in the Lord’s work.[2] It is a great privilege for us to serve the saints. For example, the work of comforting and supporting other saints is so great a work, that even the angels are employed in such work.

Scripture teaches us that angels are ministering spirits sent to serve the saints, and when we are faithful in our work of serving one another, we’re privileged to join in angelic, heavenly work of serving our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Second encouragement for us to be devoted to the service of the saints: without your devotion, the body suffers. Without your devotion, the body suffers. Read again chapter 12 of this letter. Paul describes the church like a body, with many parts.

One part is no more important than another. Eyes can’t say to the feet that they don’t need you, nor the hand say to the mouth you are not important. We need all our parts in order for the body to function as it was designed to. And when any of us are not devoted to service in the body, the entire body suffers. Each of us is needed, if the body is to operate optimally.

Third, serving the church is investing in something eternal. Serving the saints is investing in the eternal. Many of us could fill our days doing all sorts of things. We could devote ourselves to building a huge business, we could devote ourselves to padding our resume, or lowering our golf handicap, or devote ourselves to a limitless number of other things.

But I’d ask you this: will the thing you are devoted to matter in a thousand years? Will it even exist in 100 years? Sometimes we devote ourselves to building sandcastles in this age, rather than building up the temple of God, which will last forever.

Indeed, Paul makes an explicit promise at the end of the last chapter. He says in 15:58 that we should be always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. That’s a promise: in the Lord, your labor will not be in vain.

What worldly pursuit can promise that? No. If I devote myself to building my brand and promoting my worldly success, it will all be in vain at the end of eternity. It will be washed away like a sandcastle below the tidal wave of Christ’s judgment.

But my work done in the Lord, and my work done in devotion to the saints, they will not be in vain. They will be eternal, and will not be forgotten. Don’t devote yourself to something that will be washed away. Serve in ways that will have eternal significance.

Fourth, and related to the previous point: devotion to service comes with eternal rewards. Devotion to the service of the saints will come with eternal rewards. God promises that on the last day he will send the Son to come and to judge. The wicked will receive their due, and the righteous will receive their eternal rewards.

Such rewards are certain, for all the good deeds we do in the body. But not everything we do in this life is promised heavenly rewards. Be mindful of what you do, and ask yourself, is what I’m doing honoring the Lord and garnering eternal fruit? Or will this just be washed away, receiving no praise from my Father.

Our goal ought to be to hear God say to us on that last day, “well done, my good and faithful servant,” and not to hear him say, “well, you’re done, my busy servant, you barely made it.” Be devoted to the Lord and to the service of his people, assured that your faithful labor will be rewarded.

Fifth, a fifth encouragement to devotion in our service to the saints is that diligence in service can help keep us from temptation. Diligence in service can help keep us from temptation. We all have heard that idle hands are the devil’s playground, which is often true: Idleness and laziness breeds temptation.

But the converse can also be true: diligence in service can keep us from unnecessary temptations. William Bridge says, “When we are least at work for God, then Satan is most at work about us.”[3]Let’s not tempt the devil to tempt us because we were not faithful in our diligence to serve.

Sixth, be encouraged in your service knowing that diligence garners you honor. Diligent service garners you honor. This isn’t hard, because we know that Jesus said the last will be first and the first will be last. If you make yourself a lowly servant among the saints, Christ will bestow upon you honor in due time.

Lower yourself, and make yourself a devoted slave in service to the saints, and God will reward you with special honor and privilege at the right time.

Seventh, devotion to serving the saints tends toward your protection. Devotion to serving the saints tends toward your protection. I’m not simply trying to appeal to your personal sense of self-preservation, but the logic is not hard to follow.

Normally, if you’re devoted to serving the saints, you will make friends. If you’re loving toward others, they will love you back. And the book of Proverbs makes clear that having good friends is a protection.

Faithful friends speak the truth to you, and don’t deceive you with flattery. Friends help you in the day of trouble, and stick closer than a brother. Friends give you wise counsel and protect you from foolishness. You get the point. If you are diligent to serve the body, you will tend to make friends, and good friends are a blessed protection to you.

Lastly, and I’ll close with this. Devotion to service tends toward your holiness and your happiness.Devotion to service of the saints tends toward your holiness and happiness.

If you’re committed to serving God’s people out of love to God, then you’ll begin to see things differently. You’ll be less focused on material gain, or on your own personal satisfaction and happiness. You’ll become increasingly focused on the good of others.

You’re more concerned with their well-being, their success, their growth. In short, you’ll be less selfish and self-concerned. And the more we forget ourselves in the service of the Lord, the more we’ll see the hand of the Lord at work. We’ll have our hearts set less on the things of this world, and more on the things of the next.

And when we see our affections set on eternal things and on heavenly priorities, we’ll see that our joy is more stable. When our heart is set on heavenly things, no trial or storm in this life can shake our hope. Our heart remains fixed, and our joy in the Lord grows.

Our holiness and our happiness are both focused on God and his Glory, and both seem to grow as we devote ourselves to serving Him and serving His saints.

That’s the way to really be happy. Not to become a king and have people serve us. But to become a servant of others, all working in service to the King of Kings.

May that be true of us.

Let’s pray.

[1] William Bridge, “A Lifting Up for the Downcast,” vol. 2, The Works of William Bridge (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2022), 206–28.

[2] Bridge, 208.

[3] Bridge, 209.


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