What a rich minefield of truth is to be found in the lists of names found in Scripture. One such list is in Romans 16 where Paul sends greetings to his many friends who would read the letter or have it read to them. What a human chapter this is and what an interest Paul had in individuals. He remembered their names and he remembered how they had served the Lord.
There are husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, a mother and her son, and masters and slaves. Some were nameless. Paul knew that there were believers in the households of Aristobulus and of Narcissus, he may not have known their names, but even if that was so they were not forgotten. There was a man who probably had been brought up in the city (Urbane means "city bred"), and there was a man whose family may have had a country background (Stachys means "an ear of corn"). This diverse group was serving the Lord well. Is it not a lesson to us that he mentions twenty-six believers by name and yet there is not one unfavourable statement about any of them?
In such a chapter it is difficult to select one individual, but Apelles is amongst those who stand out. Apart from this mention we know nothing more of him. He is said to be "approved in Christ" (v.10). The word "approved" means to have been tested and tried and to have come through the test and shown how true he was. It was a word used of the testing and trying of metals to see that they were what they were claimed to be. So this man Apelles had been tested. We do not know the nature of the test. We do not know when the test or tests took place. We do not know where these testing conditions had been encountered. It is clear that he had not become "approved" by facing a simple test of short duration. It may have been that he had faced a series of differing situations over a period of time. No matter what the background, he had proved consistently that his conduct was approved by the Lord. What we do know is that he had come through with flying colours and had proved the reality of his profession; he was what he claimed to be. What a grand commendation!
We still come across them in assemblies, dear saints who have been put to the test, having come through difficult circumstances, and yet having shown by their conduct that they too are "approved". It may be that these lines are being read by some who are presently going through such times and deep in their hearts wondering why it should be and what is the purpose of it all. There may be days such as the disciples experienced when "it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them" (Jn 6.17). Perhaps the test is one of health difficulties, it may centre round family issues, or the shadow of sorrow may have darkened the days. Problems in the realm of employment may have been experienced, or the burden of maintaining the light of assembly testimony over the years when numbers are very small, for some with the added difficulty of living in a remote area. For others the problems of seeking to maintain the truth of Scripture while some try to undermine it may have caused deep anxiety and physical exhaustion.
It has been the privilege of the writer to meet such dear "approved" servants of the Lord on many occasions over the years. They have added spiritual richness to their assemblies. To get to know them has been a source of real encouragement, and to look on as they moved about their daily lives has been to see true godliness at work. It has also, for many who knew them, been an incentive to seek the approval of the Lord in their own lives.
In a day of much that is shallow in testimony does the thought that our lives could be "approved" by the Lord not grip our souls? Are we not spurred on to gain His approval and not only that of those around us? With this before us, let us seek to live every day with such a high objective in view. It is not impossible! Apelles did it. Others have. May we do likewise.