And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”
Colossians 4:17 (ESV)
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:5 (ESV)
Archippus and Timothy were both admonished by Paul to fulfill the ministry they received. Paul uses two, different Greek words when addressing Archippus and Timothy. Both are similar in meaning (hence their translation to English as fulfill). But there is some implication that Archippus was close to finishing his ministry or service, whereas Timothy was closer to getting started. The message is the same though: do what you’re supposed to do.
To Paul it was important these two individuals understood they each had a unique function in God’s plan—something only Archippus could do, something only Timothy could do. To a broader extent the Bible is communicating to us that there is a unique function for each individual—something only I can do, something only you can do.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:4-5 (ESV)
I’ve previously mentioned that Peter is talking to the church as a whole, but he’s not diminishing the role of each, individual person within it. And even more, he’s establishing a principle that many people struggle with: God does have a place—or rather, function—for each, individual person. Peter is telling the church that each person contributes to the overall support of the building. Like any structure, a missing brick here or there, while unsightly and certainly deficient, probably wouldn’t cause the building to collapse. But remove enough and a point will come in which the building will simply not be able to stand and serve its purpose.
There are no substitutes. God has a unique function for every, individual person. The challenge is that sometimes it’s just not easy to recognize.
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 16:15-18 (ESV)
There are a lot of (mis)interpretations of this passage. In fact, Jesus is telling Simon he is now Peter—petros in the original language, meaning stone. Jesus then goes on to say that on this rock—petra in the original language—He would build His church. The church isn’t built upon Peter, it’s built upon all the “Peters” that will follow. All the individual stones (persons) that recognize Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. But what’s interesting is that the Greek word petra literally means bedrock. Bedrock is a specific type of large, immovable rock; it is made of small rocks that have been pressed together to essentially become a single unit. This is how Jesus describes the church. And it helps us understand why in 1 Peter 2:4-5 the apostle Peter uses a similar description.
In the Bible the church isn’t a building. It’s a structure that is made of individual pieces, each piece serving its unique function to the whole. With everything in its proper place, the structure is complete and able to serve its purpose. Again, God does have a place—or rather, function—for each, individual person. Jesus introduced this concept and Peter later reiterated it.
The challenge, of course, is what a person should do when he or she simply doesn’t know his or her function. I previously mentioned that every follower of Christ shares a common purpose: to facilitate the restoration of creation to God’s original, intended design. There is a distinction between purpose and function. While every follower of Christ shares a common purpose, each has a unique function—something only I can do, something only you can do.
In the opening verses Paul used the word ministry. These days the word ministry is used colloquially to describe people working in a church. And while that may be a valid use, it can distort the message of the Bible. This is especially the case when reading passages like those in Colossians and 2 Timothy. The word service probably better communicates the intent behind Paul’s message as well as what the Bible is saying to us.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV)
Jesus focused on serving. Jesus also knew His function from the beginning1. Nevertheless, whether an individual knows his or her function changes nothing. When a person does not know, his or her focus needs to be on fulfilling the common purpose all followers of Christ share: facilitating the restoration of creation to God’s original, intended design. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways but is summed up nicely by simply mirroring the behaviours of Jesus.
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 4:17-21 (ESV)
Discovering your function happens in God’s time, not yours nor anyone else’s. Sometimes it’s difficult and frustrating when faced with a constant uncertainty. It’s challenging to know where you fit in; where you should contribute your time, talents, and treasures; or even the types of people with whom you should associate. But all of these (and more) are the opportunities that develop character and prepare you for your God-destined function. I’m fully convinced that without this character development no one would be equipped to fulfil their role.
Luke 2:41-50 ↩