“Recognize Men of That Sort”
ALL WAS not well in the Corinthian congregation. There had been a shocking case of immorality, and factions existed among the brothers. Some faced serious personal problems or had questions that needed to be answered. Some brothers were taking one another to court; others were even denying the resurrection.
Serious questions arose too. Ought those in religiously divided households stay with their unbelieving mates, or should they separate? What was the role of sisters in the congregation? Was it appropriate to partake of meat sacrificed to idols? How should the meetings—including the Lord’s Evening Meal—be conducted?—1 Corinthians 1:12; 5:1; 6:1; 7:1-3, 12, 13; 8:1; 11:18, 23-26; 14:26-35.
No doubt worried about the welfare of their brothers in such a troubled spiritual climate, Achaicus, Fortunatus, and Stephanas undertook a journey to visit the apostle Paul in Ephesus. In addition to such disturbing news, it is possible that they were carrying to Paul a letter from the congregation containing questions on these issues. (1 Corinthians 7:1; 16:17) Evidently, these three brothers were not the only ones who were concerned about the situation. Paul, in fact, had already received news from “those of the house of Chloe” that dissensions existed among congregation members. (1 Corinthians 1:11) Doubtless, the report of the messengers helped Paul to obtain a clearer understanding of the situation, to decide what counsel to offer, and how to answer the questions raised. It would appear that the letter we now know as First Corinthians is Paul’s reply, which was guided by God’s holy spirit. Achaicus, Fortunatus, and Stephanas may have been the ones who delivered the letter.
Who were Achaicus, Fortunatus, and Stephanas? What can we learn by studying what the Scriptures say about them?
The Household of Stephanas
The household of Stephanas was the “firstfruits” of Paul’s ministry in the Roman province of Achaia, Southern Greece, in about the year 50 C.E., and they were baptized by Paul himself. Apparently, Paul considered them a point of reference, a mature stabilizing influence for the Corinthians. He warmly praised them because of their activity in behalf of the congregation: “Now I exhort you, brothers: You know that the household of Stephanas is the firstfruits of Achaia and that they set themselves to minister to the holy ones. May you also keep submitting yourselves to persons of that kind and to everyone cooperating and laboring.” (1 Corinthians 1:16; 16:15, 16) Exactly who made up Stephanas’ “household” is not stated. The expression could simply mean family members but could also include slaves or employees. Since Achaicus was a Latin name typical of a slave, and Fortunatus typical of a freedman, some commentators surmise that the two could perhaps have been members of that same household.
Whatever the case, Paul considered Stephanas’ household exemplary. Its members had “set themselves to minister to the holy ones.” Stephanas’ family must have recognized that there was work to be done for the good of the congregation and voluntarily accepted this service as a personal responsibility. Their desire to render such service to the holy ones was undoubtedly deserving of moral support and recognition.
“They Have Refreshed My Spirit and Yours”
Though Paul was worried about the situation in Corinth, the arrival of the three messengers served to uplift him. Paul says: “I rejoice over the presence of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your not being here. For they have refreshed my spirit and yours.” (1 Corinthians 16:17, 18) Given the circumstances, physical separation from the Corinthians had probably been a source of anxiety for Paul, but now the presence of their envoys compensated for the absence of the whole congregation. Their report likely served to complete Paul’s picture of the situation and dispel at least some of his fears. Perhaps things were not as bad as he had imagined after all.
According to Paul, the mission of the three not only refreshed his spirit but also served to lift the spirit of the Corinthian congregation. No doubt it was a relief for them to know that their envoys had clearly explained every aspect of the situation to Paul and would return with his advice.
So Stephanas and his two companions were warmly recommended for their labors in behalf of the Corinthians. Paul’s appreciation for these men was such that upon their return they should provide leadership in the divided Corinthian congregation. The apostle urges the brothers: “Keep submitting yourselves to persons of that kind and to everyone cooperating and laboring. . . . Recognize men of that sort.” (1 Corinthians 16:16, 18) Such strong recommendations clearly indicate the complete loyalty of these men despite tensions within the congregation. Men of that sort should be held dear.—Philippians 2:29.
Faithful Cooperation Produces Fine Results
There is no doubt about it, close cooperation with Jehovah’s organization and its representatives produces fine results. When Paul wrote the letter now known as Second Corinthians, shortly after the first letter, things were already going better in the congregation. The continued patient activity of brothers like Achaicus, Fortunatus, and Stephanas, as well as the visit of Titus, had produced a good effect.—2 Corinthians 7:8-15; compare Acts 16:4, 5.
Members of modern-day congregations of Jehovah’s people can benefit by meditating on the brief mention of these faithful men in the Scriptures. For example, suppose an ongoing situation within the local congregation cannot be resolved promptly for some reason and is causing the brothers concern. What ought to be done? Imitate Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, who did not shrink back from their responsibility to advise Paul of the situation and then confidently leave matters in Jehovah’s hands. In no way did zeal for righteousness cause them to take action independently or to become “enraged against Jehovah.”—Proverbs 19:3.
The congregations belong to Jesus Christ, and in his own good time, just as in Corinth, he will act to resolve any difficulties that may pose a threat to their spiritual welfare and peace. (Ephesians 1:22; Revelation 1:12, 13, 20; 2:1-4) In the meantime, if we follow the fine example set by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus and continue to labor in the service of our brothers, we too will be loyally supporting the congregation arrangement, building up our brothers, and ‘inciting them to love and fine works.’—Hebrews 10:24, 25.