On Appreciation



Have you ever felt underappreciated?  Or worse, unappreciated?  It happens to the best of us.  We work hard at something, but nobody says anything.  Of course, because we’re good people, we tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter if nobody acknowledges our hard work and effort.  But still, the silence stings.  Face it, we all want to be appreciated for one reason or another.   E.W. Howe once observed:

The greatest humiliation in life, is to work hard on something from which you expect great appreciation, and then fail to get it.

The fault goes both ways.  In truth, we shouldn’t be looking for “the praise of man.”  But it’s human nature to want it; and maybe even need it sometimes.  On the other hand, too many of us fail to take notice of and acknowledge the efforts of others.  We get busy, looking at other things; we’re concerned about so many important things.  Shame on us for being so self-centered.

The Bible is full of people who worked hard for the Kingdom of God but got very little, if any, appreciation.  But there were a handful of people that did get mentioned.  Let’s look at a few of them.  Maybe we can learn a thing or two about appreciation; how to earn it, and how to express it.

The anonymous brother, 2 Corinthians 8:18

And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.  (TNIV)

Just who was this “brother” who impressed “all the churches” so much?  That’s a question that has been asked since the days of the early church.  There has been a lot of speculation over the years.  This anonymous brother could have been Luke, Barbabas, Timothy, Silas, or even Mark.  He could have been Apollos or Aristarchus.  Or he could have been somebody else.  Any one of these men could have fit the bill, although, after all is said and done, I think it was Dr Luke.  But that’s just me.

This man, who traveled with Titus, had a double qualification.  He was well-known and highly praised in all the churches for “his service to the gospel.”  Some have interpreted that phrase as doing the work of a preacher or evangelist.  That’s possible, but “service to the gospel” could include any work done for the Kingdom.  Perhaps this man was a very able adminstrator who used his skills and gifts in church work.

We don’t know what it was he did, only that the churches appreciated his efforts, Paul appreciated his efforts, and, most importantly, God noticed his efforts.  By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this man was included in the text of Scripture for a reason.  We know next to nothing about him or what he did, only that it made a difference to God and God’s people.

Nothing is in the Bible by accident.  We’re supposed to take note of every word; to think about every phrase and incident we read.  This anonymous brother who was so well-thought of teaches us an important lesson.  Nothing we do for the Kingdom of God ever goes unnoticed, either by the Church or by God Himself.  That’s important to keep in mind.  Whether or not your efforts bring about acclaim or accolades, doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that you consistently put forth the effort to do what you can for the Kingdom.  If you work with the kids in church, do your best for God.  If you keep the books, do your best for God.  If you visit the shut-ins, do it for God.  If you are witnessing machine, share Jesus for the glory of God.  If you can’t do more than pray for the needs of others, do it with all your might for the glory of God.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  (1 Corinthians 10:31  TNIV)

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  (Colossians 3:17  TNIV)

Make no mistake.  When you are doing what can in “service to the gospel,” you will be noticed whether you hear directly from people or not.  And the God who sees all sees what you are doing.

Epaphras, Colossians 4:12

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.  (Colossians 4:12  TNIV)

And speaking of prayer, here is a man we know practically nothing about save this:  he was the pastor from Colossae and he was a man of prayer.  No, he was more than that.  He was a man who was known be “always wrestling in prayer.”  That’s not an insignficant estimate of Epaphras’ prayer life.  To “wrestle in prayer” means to exert an effort as you pray.  Sometimes prayer takes work, especially if you don’t feel like doing it!  Or if you have a lot of burdens to pray for.  This prayer warrior was a pastor, and that automatically puts him on a different level.  All believers ought to pray, but prayer is something the shepherd of a congregation takes very seriously.  Part of his calling is to pray for the souls under his care.  Epaphras’ prayer for his people was that they should continue to grow in the faith; to grow deeper as a truly sanctified person of God.  Interestingly enough, we get a tiny glimpse into what Paul thought was the most essential component of pastoral ministry.  It wasn’t how many people got visited or how many sermons Epaphras preached last year or even how big his church was.  Paul mentioned the man’s prayer life.  He wrestled in prayer.  Wrestling in prayer is agonizing prayer.  It’s prayer that sometimes breaks the heart.

And the thing about prayer is this:  If you’re doing it right, nobody knows you’re doing it all.  This goes for the pastor’s prayer life and yours.  Nobody on earth knows you’re praying.  But don’t ever stop.  Nothing happens anywhere to anybody unless somebody somewhere is praying.

And God knows who’s praying and who isn’t.

Epaphroditus, Philippians 2:25, 26

But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.  For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.  (TNIV)

Here is another fellow that’s pretty much unknown to us, although the apostle Paul considered him to be virtually indispensible to his ministry:  Epaphroditus.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians has been described as one the deepest pieces of writing in the Bible.  It was written to encourage the faith of the believers in Philippi, which is extraordinary considering Paul wrote this letter from a prison cell.  Think about that!  A man in prison writing to encourage people not in prison.  You’d think it would be the other way around.

In these verses, Paul mentions his spiritual brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier, Epaphroditus.  He is mentioned only here in the New Testament and for a very important reason:  he brought to Paul a gift of money from the Philippian congregation.  Paul calls him a “messenger,” but you shouldn’t think that word means what you think it means.  It doesn’t.  It’s a translation of the Greek word, apostolos.  This word originally meant “one sent on an errand,” but when it became commonly used among the churches of the day, it came to refer to those closest to Christ.  This was Paul’s estimation of Ephaphroditus:  one closest to Christ.  A man who brought him a few dollars.  The phrase “take care of my needs” is translated “minister” in the KJV and itself comes a Greek word, leitourgos, which was a word that referred to the greatest philanthropists in ancient Greece who gave out of their resources what was necessary to take care of various civic responsibilities.  That’s how Paul viewed what Epaphroditus did.  It was giving of himself.  Sure, he brought Paul money from other people, but he also stuck around to help the apostle, and Paul viewed what this man did as an act of personal sacrifice.

We don’t know what else he did, but he was dearly loved by the Philippians.  So much so, Paul had to send Epaphroditus back just prove to them he was still alive!

But then he gives this piece of advice:

Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.  (Philippians 2:29, 30  TNIV)

We have no idea exactly what Paul was talking about, but the Philippians would have known, Paul knew, and God knew.  People like Epaphroditus, who do things out of the goodness of their hearts, sometimes at great risk to their health, deserve to be honored by the church.  They deserve to be appreciated by their fellows.

Onesimus, Colossians 4:9

He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.  (TNIV)

As part of Paul’s farewells in his letter to the Colossians, he mentioned his messengers, fellow Jews who were with him, and even some Gentiles.  Colossians was another letter written from prison, and Paul’s personal mailman was a man with the improbable name Tychicus.  He would carry this letter back to Colossae, and also give a verbal report of Paul’s condition and ministry.  He’s actually mentioned five times in the New Testament and was considered to be man vital to Paul’s ministry.  But it’s not Tychicus that I want to focus on, it’s this other fellow, Onesimus.

Who was this man whom Paul referred to as “one of you?”  To get the full picture of Onesimus, we need to turn to Paul’s shortest and most personal letter, one he wrote to Philemon.

I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.  (Philemon, verses 10, 11  TNIV)

Onesimus was Paul’s spiritual son; somebody the apostle led to Christ during his ministry while in prison.  We’ll find out that Onesimus was a slave; he was Philemon’s slave.  His name, onesimus, means “useful,” so Paul’s deft play on words was cute:  the useful man had become a useless man, but after he found Christ, the useless man became useful once again; useful to Paul and to Philemon.  He became useless because he was a fugitive; he was on the lam.  He had stolen some of Philemon’s personal property and Paul met him in prison, and wrote a letter hoping to restore their relationship.

If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.  I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.  (Philemon, verses 18, 19  TNIV)

Now, those two verses are of great theological import, but that’s a discussion for another time.  But notice Paul’s heart here.  Of course Onesimus owed Philemon something!  He stole something!  But Paul was willing to make restitution himself; he was willing to settle any debt Onesimus’ theft might have left.  But he’s counting on Philemon’s spirit of forgiveness – one brother forgiving another of a great wrong.

Why would Philemon do that?  What was in it for him?  Didn’t this runaway slave deserve to be punished for what he’d done?   Maybe so.  But in this case, Onesimus had become important to the Kingdom of God.  It’s not that Paul wanted him to just get off with the theft; he was willing to make good any loss Philemon might have incurred at the skullduggery of Onesimus.

Key in understanding Paul’s reasoning in the letter of Philemon is a phrase found in Colossians 4:9.  This one-time slave had now become “one of you,” a member of the Body of Christ, and as such, he deserved consideration.  Paul had vouched for Onesimus’ salvation experience to both Philemon and the Colossian church.  It was his desire that Onesimus should be whole heartedly included in Body of Christ, along with Tychicus.  Both of these men, so helpful to Paul, were men of God.  Even though he was a slave, Onesimus had become a new man in Christ.  He was important to the Kingdom of God because now he had a story to tell and a report to be made known.

We, who claim to love God so much, should learn to show that kind of consideration – appreciation – to fellow believers who have experienced the forgiveness and new life of Christ.  In truth, we all come into God’s family carrying a lot of baggage.  Let’s learn to appreciate each other for, yes, the things we’ve done and do for the Kingdom.  But also for the fact that we are all one in Christ and we’re all trying to live the righteous life, one day at a time.






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