Suppose you’re playing Jeopardy!, and you see this clue in the People in the Bible category:
Bartholomew, James the son of Alphaeus,
Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot
Would you know the right question?
“Who are some of Jesus’ disciples?”
If I were the host, I’d count that correct. But, more precisely, you could ask, “Who are the lesser-known disciples of Jesus?”
The names are a little different in the various lists of disciples (people often went by more than one name then.) But these usually appear near the bottom of the lists, right before Judas Iscariot. We don’t know much about them besides their names. We don’t have their words or actions recorded in the Bible other than in what the disciples did as a group.
Several years ago, our pastor at that time shared a series of messages about the disciples. Peter, as you can imagine, was the subject of more than one sermon. I think Judas may have gotten two; John, Phillip, and some of the others may have had one message devoted to each of them.
Our pastor grouped these last virtual unkowns all together. What can we possibly learn from them?
My pastor suggested the main thing they teach us is faithfulness in obscurity.
The lack of detail about them doesn’t mean they were inactive or lesser disciples. For His own reasons, God chose to emphasize certain aspects of other disciples in the Bible.
They heard the same messages as the others and ministered alongside them. There were people they preached to and helped and healed. I’m sure they made a difference in the lives they encountered. God probably used them in ways He could not have used Peter and John.
When they give an account before God, they’re not going to get a participation ribbon or an “I was one of twelve” tee shirt. If they served God faithfully, they’ll hear His “Well done.”
So will you. You may be a busy mom of little ones, a secretary stationed at her desk, a cashier at a counter, a caregiver tucked away in a lonely room, or in any number of occupations where you feel unnoticed. Don’t be concerned if you don’t get as much attention or response as other people. Don’t fret over whether your work seems “important.” Faithfully do what God has called you to do, for His honor and glory.
Sometimes obscurity is just for a time. Jesus was on earth a little over 33 years, with only the last three spent in active ministry. What was He doing those first thirty years? The Bible doesn’t tell us much except that after Mary and Joseph thought they’d lost Him and then found Him in a discussion in the temple, “he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:51-52). We can assume He learned carpentry alongside his stepfather and did all the things a normal Jewish family would do in those times. He probably engaged in acts of kindness and quiet ministry to others.
If we were arranging things, we might have Him manifest Himself as the Son of God much sooner. But that was not God’s way. Yet that quiet time in the background, walking righteously in everyday life, was just as much a part of His life as the rest. Just before His death, Jesus prayed, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4).
That can be our purpose as well, whatever work we’re called to.
God may call people to the spotlight for a short time or for much of their lives. But many of us will live as 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says: “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you.” We can serve Him in ordinary, everyday ways, hardly noticed by the rest of the world. Yet doing that ordinary service in love as unto Him, filled with His Spirit, makes all the difference.
(I often link up with some of these bloggers)
Almost everything I ever write or teach now has its roots back in the days of nothing but laundry and food prep. I am grateful even for today’s obscurity. God is in control of our platforms and our reach. Happy Mother’s Day to you!
That’s a good thought–that what we’re learning and the character we’re developing in obscurity will probably manifest itself in the future. We can’t always judge our ministry or reach or effectiveness by what’s going on right now.
I had a lovely Mother’s Day. I hope you did as well!
So thankful for this truth you share, Barbara: “Yet doing that ordinary service in love as unto Him, filled with His Spirit, makes all the difference.” I’m glad God doesn’t count “popularity” as a virtue.
I’m glad, too. He doesn’t measure things the way the world does, thankfully.
It’s the little things that can make the biggest impact
They truly can–something I need to remember when life seems to be made up of a number of little things.
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Won’t it be interesting to meet these faithful ones and so many others in heaven and hear the rest of their story? How wonderful that God’s “Well done” will be for all who are faithful, not just those who are famous. Thanks for sharing this truth.
I saw an exchange one day where someone mentioned the most important or influential Christians of our times, and someone replied, “We probably wouldn’t know who they are”–meaning they’re probably not the household names, but rather people faithfully serving God behind the scenes.
I love this! I did so much accomplishing and achieving in my youth, and especially lately, I feel sort of like I’m not really doing much now of note. It’s so good to know that faithfulness “counts” to God. Thanks for encouraging me with this piece today.
I’ve often wished we knew moe about the lesser known disciples, Barbara. So I really love what your pastor said. The faithfully served in obscurity. And that’s really all we need to know. Faithfulness, obedience – those are the most important things! Thanks for sharing this!
This is balm to my soul! Especially after Mother’s Day! I’m a mom of sons only – there’s a lot of obscurity in that. No ballyhooing from them on Mother’s Day – or even birthdays. You write: “The lack of detail about them doesn’t mean they were inactive or lesser disciples.” It doesn’t mean that I am less active or lesser than if I had been a girl mom – but that, like you said. It’s a different life – and the spotlight rests differently. The deeds are recorded differently – but the value is just as immeasurably worthy! This might not have been where you meant to go – but this is what my heart needed today!
Amen! I’m so glad that He sees our obscurity & walks alongside us in it Barbara!
Barbara, I am so grateful you shared the less of faithfulness in obscurity. This morning I needed to read these words >> “doing that ordinary service in love as unto Him, filled with His Spirit, makes all the difference.” Since much of what I do these days is obscure and ordinary, I am believing God that it will make a difference. Thank you for this encouraging word!
Wonderful post, Barbara! I’ve often thought that my “mission field” was where I worked as a nurse. When I retired, I didn’t know where God could use me. Who knows what God was doing in my life and character while I was working as a nurse that may prepare me for what He has for me in the future.
Thank you, Barbara for this encouragement! So often we look to popularity or visibility to give credibility to our ministries or platforms. Doing our work faithfully as unto the Lord will always be rewarded.
Such encouragement: “Faithfully do what God has called you to do, for His honor and glory.” We often live in obscurity, and yet we will not know the many small ways we touch those around us until the next life. I liked the part about most of Jesus’ life was lived in obscurity, going about and doing the small things of life. We are in good company.
1 Thess 4:11 has been a favorite to meditate on. Thank you for this lovely post! Encouraging.
Such a good, timely post, Barbara. This really struck me about the lesser-known disciples, that “God probably used them in ways He could not have used Peter and John.” The same is true for us, I think. Thank you for this encouragement to quietly go about the business God has given us to tend to.
In my book, John 17 – The Real Lord’s Prayer, I write about each of the 12. This is what I had to say about the obscure:
They were “chosen”
They were with Jesus 3 years
They witnessed miracles and healings
They were “sent out”
They were in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost
They were prayed for and sanctified by Truth
I like the lesson your pastor derived from the more obscure disciples. Most of the followers of Jesus (me included) are faithful in obscurity, but our faith is true and heartfelt. All glory goes to God, not to us. Thank you for the encouragement. We obscure disciples need it sometimes!
So many things behind the scenes accomplishes much. There are times we do forget the obscure disciples, but thankful God doesn’t.
Thanks so much for thus encouraging post, Barbara! Exactly what I needed to hear today.
Barbara, Thank you so much for this excellent teaching and encouragement today. It’s just what my heart needed to hear. It’s not that I’m looking for glory. It’s just that sometimes we need to be reminded that all the little tasks that make up our lives really do matter when they’re done for His glory!
Thanks for this post, Barbara. I’ve taught about the disciples in my 4th-6th grade Sunday School class. All of them, except John were martyred for their faith. This is a huge sacrifice that I know God will award with crowns. But we who live in modern America can still be faithful till death, even if it’s in the comfort of our own beds.
I wish you had the option of “re-Posting” your stories. I’d love to put this one on my Morning Meditatons, Beginning the Day in God’s Word blog.
Keep writing! You encourage us.
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