Faithful in Obscurity

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.

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