2 Corinthians 8:22
And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found eager in many matters, but who is now more eager than ever because of his great confidence in you.
Meet “Mr. Nameless.”
Tucked away in the New Testament are two fascinating, anonymous persons.
Paul, functioning with the carefulness of a certified public accountant, wants to be certain that the collection he has taken for the believers in Jerusalem would make it there with full accountability. He does not want himself to run the risk of being accused of having sticky fingers. Nor does he want anyone else to be tempted to use any part of the money for his own purposes.
So he collects and sends the offering in the care of three people. One is Titus. We know who he is.
The other two remain anonymous.
Scholars have speculated that the first of these anonymous persons may very well have been Luke, the man we know to be the author of The Gospel According to Luke and the Book of Acts. The reason for this identification is Paul declares that, in addition to Titus, he is ” . . . sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his proclaiming the good news; and not only that, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us while we are administering this generous undertaking for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our goodwill” (
There is a second anonymous character around whom I weave thoughts of this morning’s message. Paul refers to him with the following words, “And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found eager in many matters, but who is now more eager than ever because of his great confidence in you” (
Here is a person whose lifestyle was commendable. Apparently he gained a reputation for his faithfulness to Jesus Christ. He has not received the biblical prominence that has marked the lives of other Christian leaders. This nameless servant of God is a fascinating illustration that there is a commendable anonymity that can mark your Christian service. This man was an important person to Paul. He enlisted his help in collecting the offering to help brother Christians in time of need. These three men, including Titus, were sent to Corinth as Paul’s representatives. Two remain anonymous. Their service was essential. Their willingness to serve without great publicity presents a beautiful example to you and me.
How often have your best efforts gone unnoticed? How frequently has someone else received the credit for a task you carried out? Do you get discouraged when you see someone else’s name in lights on the marquee? Do you wish yours could be there instead? That’s natural. You would be more than human if at times you did not crave recognition. We all want to make a name for ourselves. There is nothing wrong with this. Thank God, though, there is a commendable anonymity that can mark our lifestyle as believers.
You and I dare not judge a Christian’s usefulness in terms of how well known we are.
I. Having a big name is not the chief end of humankind.
Getting credit is not your Christian calling. You can receive your reward here on earth.
This past weekend, over the Fourth of July, Anne and I were in Montreat, North Carolina. I was the speaker at the Christian Life Conference at the Montreat Conference Center, speaking three nights in a row, as well as preaching on Sunday morning.
Since the 1940s, Billy and Ruth Graham have lived in Montreat, the Presbyterian Conference Center located in the mountains just east of Asheville. He invited Anne and me to come up to their home last Monday afternoon. There he was, confined to his bed, as he has been for many weeks, as he recovers first from a broken hip and, more recently, from a broken pelvis. Each day, he is going through therapy to maintain his upper body strength, and Monday was the first day they moved him into the pool for lower body therapy. We had a most special time, reminiscing about the past, talking about the present and anticipating the future. In particular, we talked about the postponed crusade at the Rose Bowl, which was first scheduled for the end of this month but is now scheduled for November. Then we had prayer for God’s healing touch upon this man who has meant so much to so many of us.
Anne and I then spent a bit more time with his wife, Ruth, who herself is pretty much confined to her bed or a wheelchair.
As we were driving down the narrow mountain road from their log cabin home, I remembered how Billy Graham has often mused about the day of judgment, when believers will receive their rewards from Jesus Christ. Often he has painted a graphic picture of how it may very well be in that day. He notes that it is a fearful thought for him. You and I know that for these five decades, he has been listed among the ten most popular and well-known personalities in the United States. He has received enormous publicity. He’s been the subject of numerous biographies. Entire newspaper supplements have recorded and detailed the various aspects of his life. He has been pictured with presidents, with prime ministers, with kings and queens, as well as prominent persons from the world of entertainment and sports. He has been blessed materially. It is thought provoking to hear him describe that final day of judgment when Jesus Christ hands out the awards to His followers.
Dr. Graham has noted how God’s perspective is so different from ours. He stands unimpressed by glamour, good looks, persuasive speech and human charisma. Many a humble missionary pastor or person whose work for Christ on earth is entirely unsung may very well stand at the head of the line. Graham relates that his role, prominent here on earth, may not entitle him to the highest rewards in heaven. One can yield to temptation, taking one’s reward here on earth and minimizing God’s blessing in that final day of judgment.
Commendable anonymity is what it is all about.
This point was driven home to me in 1975 when I received a honorary doctorate. The chairman of the board of that college read a beautiful citation. It listed various human accomplishments that were the basis for awarding this degree. Suddenly I became all choked up. I looked around that gymnasium, jampacked with graduating seniors, faculty, trustees, families of graduates and friends of the college. I saw a retired minister, the father of one of my best friends. For many decades, he had served with dignity, nobility and Christian grace in modest, small churches. Supported by a godly wife, he had done his best to faithfully carry out his responsibilities to God, his family and his various churches. Few were the public honors that had come his way. There were the satisfactions of a job well done and children raised to know Jesus Christ as Savior. I was overwhelmed with the fact that he should have been standing where I was standing. By some strange fate, my list of credits had melded into just the right composite to warrant some fleeting human praise. But, Oh God, this is not the ultimate reward!
In those same fleeting seconds, I saw a single woman. Almost 30 years before, she had left the potential security of marriage and a comfortable existence here in the United States to serve Jesus Christ on the mission field in Cuba. She had stayed long beyond the Castro takeover, until finally she was forced to leave the land to which she was called and which she had served. How proud she was that morning as she saw one of her mission boys receive his diploma. How thoroughly she had given her life to others. The only recognition she was receiving came from her inner satisfaction when she snapped the picture of this young Cuban collegian, whose cause she had championed. Again, my throat choked.
Tears flooded my eyes as that impressive doctoral hood was lowered over my head. And I thought to myself, “Is this your reward? They should be here, for they served longer, harder, more faithfully and with less compensation and no notoriety. Oh God, take this all away if this becomes a substitute which disqualifies me from standing beside these more worthy in that day when you will single some out and say, ‘Well done thou good and faithful servant!'”
Many who have tried hard to achieve a name in history may have it temporarily but, ultimately, lose out.
In fact, their very efforts have brought momentary notoriety, only to disqualify them from permanent recognition. Wherein you and I orient our lives toward fame, popularity, recognition, worldly rewards, we defy the exhilarating principle articulated by Jesus, who said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first. The servant shall be leader. The leader shall be servant.” A little child is better qualified to provide leadership than the most distinguished statesman. How laughable these thoughts seem at first. Yet, how authentically are these truths borne out.
There’s King Saul, doing his level best to hold onto his power. It finally drives him into melancholy, then to suicidal madness. When making a name for yourself becomes your top priority, the good things in life dwindle in importance. There’s room for only one at the top. When you are there, it is lonely – if you ever get there.
Poor, poor Nebuchadnezzar. He walked along the roof of his royal palace in Babylon. Pride filled his heart as he observed his magnificent palace, which historians would one day call one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. “‘Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty'” (
You don’t have to go back to the Bible to find illustrations at this point. Men and women with great ability, in their lust for power or fame or recognition or place in history, destroy the very place that could have been theirs if they had been willing to lead lives of commendable anonymity. Stop for a moment. Think about it. What is there in us that wants to make a name for ourselves?
Let me ask you another question: When was the last time a “big name” personality helped you?
I love prominence just as much as anyone else. Yet, when I stop to think about it, it does get in the way of service. It is somewhat like a treadmill – the more prominence, the greater recognition, the less intimacy there is with other persons. Certainly there is a place for leadership. The leader ends up being prominent. If you are called to leadership, it must not become a neurotic drive that says, “I must receive attention at all costs.”
Graceful leadership is that in which what prominence evolves does not become an end in itself. That which is most authentic comes in losing one’s self .
The higher you go in business, the less apt you are to be at home with the person serving at an hourly wage. The more successful you are in your profession, the less apt you are to have time for persons. I know. Because I am caught in this same struggle with the superficiality of success. Each move I made earlier in my ministry into larger churches caused me to be one move less intimate with people. How I yearn for the more simple life in which I was able to call every member of that 280 member, Key Biscayne Presbyterian congregation by their first name. Frankly, the most significant contribution one makes in the service of Jesus Christ is apt to be that which you will never read about. It happens on the one-to-one level. It is this unsung level – this anonymous action which the world never sees – that authenticates your and my right to be heard in the broader public arena.
Check back over your life. Certainly you have been challenged by inspirational speakers. You’ve admired great leaders. God has used their charisma to touch your life. But tell me, what was the contact that really counted? It was the availability of key people, anonymous people as far as the world was concerned. These people were not known by that many.
Perhaps you had a “Miss Moran,” like I did. She taught me in sixth grade. She’s not known outside the Arlington, Massachusetts, school district, where she served those many years. I will never forget her contribution to my life. She was one of the few people who had the courage to combine both praise and discipline in a way that made a lasting impact on my life.
Then there was Tom Askew – fresh out of college, working on his doctorate, paid far too little for the size of his job. He not only taught history and political science to us at my high school in Wheaton, Illinois, he was also the class sponsor and drove the bus for our weekend socials. In his commendable anonymity, he whetted our appetites for current affairs and challenged us to make a contribution in this world. I will be forever indebted to him.
And then there is Ross Martin. Perhaps you have had someone like him in your life. He made a name for himself in business in Elkhart, Indiana. But that is not why he is remembered as a man who loved people. Ross was a man who bet on young people. He was a man who saw promise in a teenager working on the assembly line in his Northern Indiana Brass Company. He got to know that young person, helping him move along, interested in his career. Uneducated himself, he read through Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization. Then he shared intimately with others some of his exciting discoveries from history. When he saw a spark of interest ignite, he would encourage that one to seek higher education. Many a scholarship was provided at just the point it was needed to free that young person to learn. Ross Martin received many an award for his business accomplishments. As important as those rewards are, they are not the ones that really counted. His greatest contributions were in the quiet, commendable anonymity of encouraging a score or so of young people at pivotal points in their lives. That’s true leadership!
There’s the unsung heroism of a faithful mother, a generous father – willing to take time for their children, to examine the exciting potentials of life, the willingness to lose themselves in the life of another and find the multiplication of all they ever thought they might be, realized in someone else.
II. God’s hero is the one who faithfully does his or her job with commendable anonymity.
This one is often unknown, as was this nameless person of whom Paul writes. Let’s look at the qualities that mark his life.
This person is referred to as “brother.”
Catch this? There is a family relationship among followers of Jesus. You and I are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. It is no accident that this term, “brother,” is used. It is unfortunate that we have lost it. Some of the smaller denominations still refer to each other as “Brother James” or “Sister Mary.” We may not want to use that somewhat archaic language, but let us never forget that we are brothers and sisters in the family of God.
Doug Coe, for over 40 years, has been involved in a quiet, behind the scenes ministry with men and women in public leadership throughout the world. Each week he meets with a number of United States senators in the Wednesday morning Senate prayer breakfast. He travels throughout the world, encouraging men and women in prominent leadership positions to follow Jesus Christ and grow in faithful discipleship.
Doug observes that there are many good people in public life. He also notes that we have a leadership crisis today. His theory is that it is not for a lack of leadership. He says we have the leadership crisis because so many of our finest potential leaders are “loners.” They are not linked together in a brotherhood and sisterhood. Individual egos, individual careers, individual successes mark the orientation of many people in public life. He has observed that the genius of the Kennedys, whether you liked them or not, was the fact that there were three brothers committed to each other, and who were determined to help each other succeed.
You can’t go it alone in this world. It is impossible. You and I are called to be brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. We are called to enable each other in our spiritual and personal growth. There are those intimate sharings which are the true measure of successful leadership.
There is a significant phrase in
“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (
Did you catch that phrase? “Brother Saul.” There is a brotherhood/sisterhood that binds us together in Jesus Christ that is more important than any individual accomplishment that you and I make. That’s why I am not at all impressed when people talk about worshiping God at their weekend cabin alone, beside the quiet lake. Christianity is not an individualistic religion. God meets individuals personally and then binds them together in a family relationship. A mark of commendable anonymity is the brother/sister relationship. A mutuality of responsibility. That’s what triggered Paul’s sending Titus and these two anonymous persons to Corinth. There was some give and take. Macedonian Christians had made provisions for others in need. Now there was a need for those in southern Greece to make provision for those in Jerusalem.
A flashback to Doug Coe. He says, “When one man has shared intimately with another man and becomes a true brother with another, he then can be a true brother to all men.”
There’s a lot of truth in that. The mark of commendable anonymity is your willingness to become intimately involved in a brother-to-brother, brother-to-sister, sister-to-sister Christian family intimacy in which you can make a more lasting contribution than might be recorded in a history book.
Then there is the mark of what the King James version refers to as “praise in the Gospel.”
It isn’t that these anonymous brothers were totally unknown. One of them was apparently well known for his faithfulness to Jesus Christ “. . . for his proclaiming the good news . . . ” (
The church in the first century had its divisions just as we have them now. This person was willing to serve faithfully, not getting sucked into the major divisions of his day. It was his faithful service and the proclamation of the good news that commended him as one on whom Paul could rely.
It is in this area that I very much need your prayers, as I try to be faithful to my calling as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And your leadership at St. Andrew’s also needs your prayers.
Right now we are in a period of swirling controversy, both within the denomination and within the national political arena. For over 30 years, many of us have tried in our denomination to be faithful to the biblical teaching on human sexuality. During that time, there have been those who have done everything they possibly can to try to change the foundational biblical truths that have been historically ours as a denomination. They have tried to say that what the Bible calls sin is no longer sin. Once again, at the most recent General Assembly, by both strong-arm tactics and even deceptive language, they worked to manipulate the commissioners into getting their way. And they came within four votes of doing it. At the same time, the same persons, along with many others, are trying to redefine, in the secular area, the nature of marriage, trying to change its definition from that of a man and woman to various kinds of same sex relationships. Unfortunately, we are having to work overtime in our denomination maintaining the historic understanding of biblical truth. We are also having to work overtime in the body politic to preserve the integrity of marriage which is so under attack by the frequency of divorce, and now the added pressure to include same sex relationships under that title.
I, as a pastor, and we, as a church, ought to lend our energies to upholding God’s moral law, both in our denomination and within the laws of our country. If it takes an amendment to the constitution, I support that and encourage you to support it. But I must emphatically declare my ministry and the ministry of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church must not be known primarily for stands that people call political within our denomination and within the larger community of the state. We must be known primarily as a church that preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ, calling men, women and children to a personal, saving faith in Him, and a church that is known to embrace all repentant sinners, not primarily for the political stands we take as an organization. For some of you, I have already said too much this morning on these topics that I am convinced are quite clear in Scripture. For others of you, I have not said enough. Some of you would like, each week, to mobilize the congregation politically for the constitutional amendment and to even give the church mailing list to political organizations active in the various political campaigns. You must do what God calls you to do in each of these areas, and many others that you confront in your daily life. I, as a pastor, we, as a church, dare not get seduced into the political arena in any way that eclipses the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The late Dr. Francis Schaeffer used to lament what so often happens to us who are faithful to the historic Christian faith as revealed in the Scriptures. We begin to squabble over minor theological points and over methodologies as to how we will uphold the biblical teaching. We let these kind of matters divide us. Let it not be so among those of us who genuinely love Jesus Christ and believe in the total authority of Scripture. We are called to realize the chasms between those who deny the atoning work of Jesus Christ, who deny the authority of Scripture, and realize those of us who affirm these great historical truths have a oneness in the Gospel, despite some of our petty differences along the way. Our faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a commendable trait. It marks you and me as God’s persons, whether our service is prominent or somewhat behind the scenes. God calls us in our own individual lives to flesh out, in varying methodologies, how we are going to uphold our faithfulness to the truth once delivered to the saints, both within the denomination in which we are called to serve and in the body politic of which we are a part. When all is said and done, whatever our differences in the fine points of doctrine and the intricate nuances of political methodology, we must uphold the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, calling all men and women to repentance and personal trust in Him.
Another mark of commendable anonymity is that you are a trusted person.
Paul wanted three signatures on the checks to prove his own financial fidelity. That’s why he sent Titus and these two anonymous characters. He refers to the second brother as one who has been “often tested” (
I thank God that throughout the years of ministry there have been brothers and sisters I can trust to handle local and world mission moneys in the churches I have served. I thank God for elders and trustees who, in comparative anonymity, have been careful stewards of the Lord’s resources. I thank God for treasurers who have given faithful, year-in, year-out service, making sure the Lord’s funds are used for the purposes for which they are given and to which the elders have assigned them. I thank God for the staff persons who assist them in the keeping of careful records so that, in the 26 years I have been here at St. Andrew’s, there has been no hint of financial scandal as we have seen our local and world mission funds grow to over seven million dollars a year, plus the additional funds that have been given to support two major building programs.
And I thank God that all of us are called to be trusted persons in ministry. There is no room for mavericks. There is no room for the “Lone Rangers” in ministry – dogmatic, overbearing persons who refuse to entrust themselves and their reputations to the quiet, commendable anonymity of trusted persons who give wise counsel, support, encouragement and authenticity. You and I are called to accountability, to be persons of trusted Christian integrity, serving the Lord faithfully.
I urge you to ask God to lay on your heart various persons and positions of Christian leadership for whom you will pray daily, write little notes of encouragement and be, even in your anonymity, a source of spiritual strength. Paul was not alone. Through the years, I have not been alone. He had these trusted brothers whom he could send, who were his colleagues and who, along with others, maintained the integrity of what they were all about.
Finally, these two brothers of commendable anonymity, whose praise was in the Gospel as trusted persons, had a good name. Do you have a good name?
Periodically, through the Scriptures, we find words of commendation for those who served with commendable anonymity. When the early church chose the first seven deacons, we read their qualifications in
“Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
With the exception of Philip and Stephen, who received a bit more recognition for their future services, these were persons of commendable anonymity. In fact, you may be hearing five of these names for the first time. They were no less significant, carrying out faithful ministries for Jesus Christ, than the other two.
The Word of God never calls you and me to be famous. The Scriptures never promise you and me popularity. They do call for an integrity of lifestyle in which one who follows your life closely will give good report of your basic motivations, attitudes and lifestyle.
Your life may be unsung as far as popular applause. Remember, as I have so often declared, “God’s payday is not always Friday!” The ultimate power is not that of the leader but that of the average person. It is God who putteth up kings and taketh down kings. As quiet and unassuming or as prominent as may be your place in life, let your service be of commendable anonymity. Whether recognized or forgotten, you will someday receive that word, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!”
John A. Huffman, Jr. is the Senior Minister at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA. He is a Senior Contributing Editor to Preaching