The Helper (Romans 16.3,9)
The word which is translated "helper" in Romans 16, referring to Priscilla and Aquila and Urbane, is also used of Timothy (workfellow - Rom 16.21), of Titus (fellowhelper - 2 Cor 8.23), of Epaphroditus (companion in labour - Phil 2.25), and of Philemon (fellowlabourer - Philem v.1). Euodias and Syntyche are included with Clement and others in the group who were fellowlabourers of Paul in Philippi (Phil 4.3) as are Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, and Lucas in Colosse (Philem v.24).
Paul, who assessed spiritually the character and work of the saints with whom he had enjoyed fellowship, marked out as being his helpers those who laboured together with him in the work of the Lord. These were men and women, who gave of their substance, their time, and their energy for the furtherance of the gospel and for the building up of their fellow saints. We know the work of some of them, but that of others is not recorded. Nevertheless, they all impressed Paul with their devotion. In assembly life it is common to find that there are saints who attend meetings but make little positive contribution, but there are also those who are the backbone of the work, without whom assemblies could not exist. What, therefore, characterises the helpers?
First, they are willing to participate. Where some task has to be done they volunteer willingly. If they are free they will help, and if they are not free they will try to adjust their workload to make themselves available. It is a pleasure to work alongside such servants.
Second, they do not wait to be told what to do; they see what is necessary and do it. It is strange to meet believers who see and yet do not recognise such need. It is almost as if the assembly was a semi-detached part of their life, something which they attend, rather than that of which they form a part.
Third, they have no wish to advertise themselves. The work to which they turn their hands is not carried out with a view to self promotion, nor is it completed with a view to others being told that it has been done. It is for Him alone!
Fourth, they have learned to work as part of a larger "team". They know the "body" truth of 1 Corinthians that diversity of gift is vital, and that all have their role. If I decide not to be a worker, but merely an "attender", I am denying the assembly the value of what I could contribute.
Above all, helpers value the Lord and the assembly and put that before their personal feelings and needs. It has priority over other interests, and if they are absent from the meetings it is so rare that it is noticed. They become so closely associated with the work of the Lord that it is almost impossible to think of the assembly without thinking of them. Name the area, and their names come immediately to our minds as Pauls fellow workers did to his.
The challenge to each of the readers is clear. At the end of our years of service will we be remembered as a helper amongst the saints? If we were taken home to be with the Lord, would we be missed? What area of assembly work would be the poorer for our passing, or would it continue, little affected by our departure? It is true of many helpers that the extent of their work is not known until they are called home. The writer knows of saints who suddenly realise the loss of the prayerful intercession of brethren and sisters on their behalf; of assemblies that have splintered and divided when a godly brothers guidance and influence has been lost. Links with a local community have been severed when the quiet unsung work of a sister is no more.
May we seek to serve Him, not with a complaining, critical spirit, but with the desire to fulfil the high calling of being a helper, no matter how humble or unrecognised the work may be. The cry of those in need, "Lord, be thou my helper" (Ps 30.10), does not go unanswered. If our God is prepared to be a helper, it is a privilege and honour, not an unwelcome burden, for us to do likewise, knowing that the only recognition and reward that is of value is that which comes from the Lord.