During this pandemic, the oft-used term “non-essential worker” has given me pause to think. Part of it is personal: I’m a pastor and hence deemed non-essential. Perhaps you’re sidelined on Patmos right now, as well. I am aware that for many, work has ceased completely. As awful as that is, from a safety/security/flatten the curve view, I fully “get it.” It doesn’t take away the sting, however.
In my praying, I find myself thanking the Lord for the many who are continuing on as “essential workers,” providing goods and services for all of us during this time. It doesn’t take a lot of talent to encourage one another, does it? I’ve made a conscious effort to thank the ones I encounter when out on my brief errands of necessity. These individuals are key to the many of us coming through this. You cannot lift up and appreciate the “essential ones” enough, for most of these are experiencing right now much more than they ever signed up for. None of us could have imagined the complexity of days like this. I am sure that this rekindled gratefulness for those who serve us will continue long after this storm has passed.
That said, I want to get into the Bible now. When it comes to reading the Word of God, I would suppose that you have your habits. One might be the habit of reading casually–skimming–over portions of scripture where multiple names are listed. You know: tribal allocations, nations and rulers, travel acquaintances, census details, or genealogy reviews. For those of us who remember the day, it’s somewhat akin to using our old phone book. You hurried through the pages to get to the listing you wanted–there was no reason to ponder every entry. You skimmed through, and got to what you were after. I want to share a chapter of scripture probably given short shrift by many of us. Then, I want to talk about a lesson I’ve learned, or re-learned, from it. I ask for your patience with my pronunciations.
1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;
2 that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.
3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus,
4 who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles;
5 also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia.
6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.
7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.
9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.
10 Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus.
11 Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord.
12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord.
13 Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.
14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them.
15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.
16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.
18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.
19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.
20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
21 Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.
22 I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord.
23 Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother.
24 [The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.]
25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past,
26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith;
27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.
So, these people Paul enumerates– how much do we know of them? Right–very little– and perhaps in Scripture, only by name once, in this chapter, here. Even their very names are unfamiliar, and odd to pronounce; so fleeting is our connection to them.
It is common for many of us to know the “big names” of the Bible. We’re often able to rehearse their stories, recalling either their virtues or flaws with some grasp of the details. After all, the Lord preserved for us many of the specifics. We might see it as these being the real “essential workers” in God’s story of revealing His Glory to us. By name, we can get lost in their stories: Adam, Eve, Lucifer, Noah, Abram, Sarai, Moses, Pharaoh, Ruth, David, Isaiah, John the Baptizer, Gabriel, Mary, “The Twelve,” the Herods, Luke, Paul, Timothy, Barnabas, the Beast…
I wonder if we realize that God knows the story and the faithfulness of each of these Romans 16 saints. That their service -minus a spotlight- was just as essential as the “big names” that God used. That the reward for these “non-essentials” is no less than the reward of those who by God’s design were thrust into more prominent roles. That we have no room to “retreat” from serving the Lord under a self-quarantine that excuses with, “Whew… thank God my role in the body is non-essential.” That there are no “greater” or “lesser” members of God’s family; that by His design, we are essential workers, all.
If you might hold to a greater than/less than Christian worker system, I commend the words of the Baptizer, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). I would also ask you to mediate at length over the content of Hebrews, Chapter 11. Interspersed with the “stars” of faith are numberless heroes; nameless saints to us, who gave their lifeblood rather than deny their Lord Jesus Christ. What do we give, and do we shelter in place when the sifting comes? Would we only stand to let our name be known, or do we stand to make His Name known? Guess which has the real reward…
In the fight with coronavirus in this world, there is great justification to designate the “Essentials” and “Non-essentials.” To all who serve, in your varied capacities and roles, may God protect and propel you in your calling. Unknown, in unseen acts of service; heroes all.
In the fight to take the Gospel to the world, may the Lord’s people see our essential roles. There is no furlough, quarantine order, or deferred service.
Each one, to our essential work.
Each one, known to our Lord.
Each one, a hero of the faith.