Defining what is service to God can be difficult, especially when we’re not in a quintessential Christian position or relatively unknown, so what counts in God’s eyes?
The deacon Philip was what we might consider a very, very “good” Christian. He preached in Samaria, exorcised evil spirits, then evangelized to the Ethiopian eunuch and was teleported off by the Holy Spirit.
Being able to say that you were so busy as a missionary that the Spirit decided to give you fast-travel capabilities must have been quite something. “Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea” (Acts 8:40 ESV).
The next chapter goes on to Saul becoming Paul and all of his ministry, so what happened to Philip? If he had been martyred, the Bible would’ve said so. Did he quit witnessing or do anything noteworthy for the church once he hit Caesarea? The Bible is silent on this matter, at least until 13 chapters and approximately 28 years later.
“On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:8-9 NKJV).
He all but fell out of the biblical narrative because he got married and had kids. Maybe he should’ve kept up with the exorcisms and left the child-rearing to other people.
When “Spiritual Service” Doesn’t Pan Out
Surely converting hundreds of the unwashed masses is more godly than patiently tending a teething toddler or choosing to not engage in the verbal joisting of bloated egos during this week’s executive meeting. I mean, everybody more or less gets a chance to do the latter. The former is rarified with a kind of sanctified glamour.
The problem with this mentality is that its uncomfortably close to cultural pressures to have public validation of your worth.
That pressure is nothing new, either. Jesus warned his disciples, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1 ESV). He didn’t tell them not to live righteously in public; he just told them to be wary of their inborn impulse to “be seen” by other people.
Too often, we rush to whatever post seems most spiritual. We want to lead a Bible study, and we want to be a well-known Christian author/songwriter/musician/speaker, and and we mean well. After all, the Bible says a tree is known by its fruit (Luke 6:44).
When we pursue these goals, though, things frequently don’t work out. Deals fall through; the ministry doesn’t grow; few people pay attention to our work.
Why isn’t God blessing our very spiritual service?
It’s entirely possible God is training us to persevere through difficulties. He often does that, but there’s also another possibility we should entertain.
“He [God] showed me that I had too narrow a definition of pride,” David Wilkerson shared in a newsletter. “Yes, there is a wicked, boastful, arrogant pride...but there is also a pride that is spiritual in nature. It is committed by those who have walked closely with God and it can be seen in the holiest among us….
“It is acting without a clear mandate from God. It is taking things into our own hands when it appears that God is not working fast enough.”
Has our desire to serve God become a way for us to prove that we’re worth it and he chose well when he saved us? Have we scorned the little moments of service as not enough for our talents? Did we leap into a ministry without a clear call from God?
The Work, Both Big and Small
Perhaps, as Christians, we need to redefine what makes a life extraordinary. What if living with integrity when you vacuum the house, tip your waiter or talk to a cashier is every bit as significant to God as being the pastor of a megachurch?
In his book Go Small, Craig Gross points out, “Your life has great value just because you’re you. While God will sometimes give you big assignments to do, he is most concerned with who you are rather than what you do. Your main service to God is growing to become the kind of person he wants you to become—someone with the character traits that Jesus Christ modeled on Earth—during the small, ordinary moments of life.”
Even for those who are called into some kind of ministry, very few find themselves on a stage in front of a crowd of thousands.
The anonymous nature of many ministers’, ministry workers’ and volunteers’ jobs doesn’t somehow make them any less important in the grand scope of God’s work on earth.
Daniel Stegeman, pastor of a church in the tiny town of Snow Shoe, Pennsylvania (population 765), echoed this sentiment. “I’ve come to realize that ministry is ministry, no matter where you go…. If the Lord calls you to pastor a small-town church, expect to be blessed. Expect to be blessed in surprising ways, and don’t see it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.”
One of the best souls I’ve had the pleasure of knowing was an elderly Italian man who worked as a janitor at my church. He took his work seriously too. It didn’t matter what day of the week the church had events; the bathrooms were spotless, classrooms sanitized, sanctuary spotless. Every Sunday, he spruced himself up and greeted all who entered. He knew everyone. He prayed with anyone who needed it. Between people, he sang snippets of hymns with a kind of spiritual bon vivant that you couldn’t help but grin when you got out of your car and heard him.
He would notice if you missed church. Miss more than a week, and he’d shout, “There you are! Where did you go? Vacation to England? I didn’t see you. Where did you go?”
He was never a pastor or a preacher or even a deacon, but more people probably talked to him and were prayed for by him than ever were by the church’s entire staff combined.
He wasn’t just great. He was grand.
The Inglorious Projects and Quiet Places
Philip is called “the evangelist” in that final verse where we find him. He was known for this in the city where he lived and by the early church.
Obviously, Philip had continued sharing the gospel, but just as obviously, his attentions were on his town and his home. Unlike Paul, he didn’t continue traveling. He settled down and focused on his family; and eventually Paul sought his household as a place to rest in between his travels.
In the two sentences we’re given about Philip’s life, one is dedicated to describing his daughters as godly, spiritually gifted women.
Raising children into God-fearing adults doesn’t just happen, and these daughters are a testament to who Philip was as a father, a leader in his home and a follower of Christ in his private life where no one but his family could see him.
That they’re unnamed is also significant, though not for the reasons some might assume.
The book All the Women of the Bible points out, “Reticence as to their identity we accept as one of the wise silences of the Bible. Their names are inscribed upon the roll of the redeemed in heaven. Not every flower that blooms on earth, and not every star that moves in Heaven has a name in human syllables; but all the same they smile and shine; and Philip’s four anonymous daughters represent countless numbers of the faithful, serving a generation who knows them not.”
Their lives and their father’s life are perhaps the best homage to the importance of all the believers who toil away for God’s kingdom without fanfare or fame.