Martha’s Vineyard

I Corinthians 12:28; Romans 12:7

April 29, 1990 | Ray Pritchard

I first met Bill Petch twelve years ago this summer. I was fresh out of seminary and starting my first pastorate. It happened that my church was like most churches pastored by men right out of seminary—small and struggling. When I arrived on the scene, there were about 50 people left in a church built for 300. Bill Petch was there to greet me when we moved into the parsonage.

Bill was a truck driver. He made his living picking up new cars that arrived at the Long Beach harbor and delivering them to dealers all over the west coast. He wore bib overalls and loved to chew tobacco. He’d dip into his Red Man and say, “Preacher, why don’t you try some of this? It’s better than ice cream.” I was never man enough to take him up on it.

In a small church, you get to know people pretty well. I soon found out that Bill came from a hard background. He didn’t know much Bible, he couldn’t teach, and it was probably not a good idea to ask him to lead in prayer. He had a lot of rough edges in his life.

But I found one thing out soon enough: Bill Petch loved to help people. If we needed help around the church, Bill would drive up in his pickup truck, get out his toolbox, and go to work. If someone needed a place to stay, he and his wife Karen would take them in. In fact, most of the time I knew Bill, somebody was staying with them. We didn’t have many men in that church, so Bill ended up on the church board—as the Missions Chairman, I think. He did it because he wanted to help out. Eventually he and Karen moved to Houston. But when the time came for us to to move from Los Angeles to Dallas, Bill took a week off work, flew to Los Angeles, and drove the Ryder truck with all our belongings from Los Angeles to Dallas. He stayed long enough to make sure we got moved in okay. Then he went back to Houston, smiling all the way.

Bill Petch was a diamond in the rough—a little bit of diamond and a whole lot of rough.

In every church there are men like Bill Petch. They are spiritually gifted in a very unique way. They have what the Bible calls the gift of helps or service. They will never preach a sermon, they don’t like the limelight, they get nervous when they have to speak in public, but the church could not function without them. They serve the Lord just as much as the ones who lead the parade. Without gifted helpers and servers there would be no parade to lead.

One Gift Or Two?

This morning we are either looking at one gift or we are looking at two. I say that because both statements are true. It may be that there is a spiritual gift of helps and a separate gift of service, or it may be that there is one gift called either service or helps. If the latter is true, then service and helps are like two sides of one coin.

There is some uncertainty on this point because these gifts are only mentioned twice in the New Testament. I Corinthians 12:28 mentions “those able to help others.” Romans 12:7 says, “If it (a person’s gift) is serving, let him serve.” The Greek word in I Corinthians is antilepsis. It comes from a preposition meaning “in exchange for” and a verb which mean “to take hold of.” It has the idea of taking hold of another person’s burden. To “help” someone in this sense is to lift a load off that person’s shoulders. In Romans 12, the word translated “service” is very familiar. It is the Greek word diakonia. We get the English word “deacon” from it. Originally it meant “one who waits on tables.” It later came to mean “any service you render to another person.” It particularly has the idea of meeting physical needs.

Needed: A Helps Movement

As far as the Christian public is concerned, these gifts are not very much in demand. It seems like we have a bull market today for the spectacular and the controversial. We have the tongues movement, modern-day prophets, and something called “power healing.” We even have people who claim to be twentieth-century apostles. That’s where all the attention goes. And that’s one reason we have so many problems. What the church really needs today is a “helps movement” and a book about “power serving.”

There is one other point I should make. These are the “quiet” gifts. They are unsung, unnoticed and overlooked. But they are not unrewarded or unimportant. I agree with Peter Wagner when he says that these are “high percentage” gifts, meaning that a large number of people in any congregation are likely to have them. If I haven’t gotten you yet with mercy or teaching, I’ll probably get you today.

What Helpers Do

Let’s begin with a very simple definition: Helpers enable others to use their spiritual gifts. That is, the gift of helps is the gift of enabling others to use their spiritual gifts. Helpers are those Christians who render timely assistance to other Christians in a variety of practical ways. The key phrase is “timely assistance.” That’s a key mark of this gift: Almost anyone will help if you ask them; the helpers don’t have to be asked. They just jump right in.

The people with this gift are usually not up-front types. Generally they get their fulfillment by enabling others to use their gifts effectively. It truly doesn’t matter to them whose name is up on the marquee. So someone else may get the credit, but behind the scenes are the helpers who made it all happen.

In The Gardens

We had a wonderful example of how this works two weeks ago when the choir and drama team performed the Easter musical “In the Gardens.” It was one of the greatest things this church has ever done. Nearly 1300 people attended the two performances. And literally hundreds of good comments have come back to us. But what an intricate affair it was. For weeks ahead of time dozens of people worked untold hours to make it happen. For instance, when the time came to build the set, it didn’t look like it would get done in time. And then along came Glen Carley to help out. And Jim Karas came by. And Dan Drake and Bryce Becker helped paint the caves. Paul Knudson took time out from choir practice to tramp around on the roof with George Ahlenius, trying to find a way to cover up the skylight. Debbie King spent hours setting up the nursery workers for both performances. Gary Rhebergen came by in the morning before he went to work in order to set up the sound system and the lights. Melinda Favero volunteered her time to do the makeup for the actors. Some of you noticed that Terry Strandt had a headset on. Who was he talking to? He was talking to Joy Trieglaff who spent both performances up in the balcony setting the cues for the lights and sound. And why did those disciples in the Last Supper scene look so realistic? It’s because they were coached ahead of time by Kent Berg and Jolene Carlson-Berg.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There were dozens of others who worked behind the scenes on the sound board, on the lights, on publicity, and still others who volunteered to sew the costumes. And what about the choir members who spent months practicing the same music over and over again?

It’s easy to think that a program like “In the Gardens” happens because we have great soloists and great actors and actresses. That helps, but that’s not the real secret. The up-front people wouldn’t have anything to do if it weren’t for the army of behind-the-scenes helpers who make it happen.

As a matter of fact, it’s been my experience that most up-front people don’t have this gift. Not that they don’t help—they can and they do—but most speakers and singers and performer types are a little bit temperamental. For instance, I think most of the leaders of the Bible did not have this gift. I’m not sure that Moses did, or David, or Daniel, or Peter, or Paul. They were all mighty men who accomplished great things for God. They were leaders who could move the masses. But by and large they were not helpers. They depended on other people to help them get the job done. And without that vast army of loyal helpers, those leaders would never have accomplished what they did for the glory of God.


Let me give you a prime example from the life of Paul. Tucked away in the 16th chapter of Romans is a word about one of the great helpers of the New Testament. Her name is Phoebe. This is what Paul says about her:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people. (Romans 16:1-2)

Have you ever wondered how Paul’s epistles were delivered to the churches to which he was writing? After all, they didn’t have Federal Express back then and most of the churches didn’t have fax machines. I’ll tell you how he did it. Paul ran his own personal delivery service. He would write a letter and then ask a trusted friend to deliver it for him. That’s what Phoebe is doing here. She traveled from Corinth to Rome with the Epistle to the Romans rolled up in her purse.

She didn’t write it—Paul did. But Paul didn’t deliver it—Phoebe did. Without Paul, there would be no letter. But without Phoebe, the church would never read it.

Think of it. Here’s a woman we know nothing else about. She’s only mentioned here in the New Testament. But we know this much. She helped Paul in Corinth by making the long and dangerous journey to Rome to deliver his letter to the church in Rome. Paul was the leader, but he needed helpers like Phoebe to get his work done.

That’s the whole point of the gift of helps. Helpers enable others to use their spiritual gifts. Without them, the rest of us would soon lose heart.

What Servers Do

With that, we turn to the other side of the coin—the gift of service. If helpers specialize in providing “timely assistance,” what do servers do? Servers focus on meeting physical needs. There is a slight distinction here. Helpers pitch in behind the scenes to get a job done. Servers see the physical needs of others and move to meet those needs. In our definition, the helper is more task-oriented, while the server is more person-to-person oriented.

The obvious biblical example is the one in Acts 6 where the apostles chose seven men to oversee the daily distribution of food to the Grecian widows in Jerusalem. In that case, serving comes very close to the original meaning of the word—”one who waits on tables.”

I’d like to suggest that one of the chief ways to use this gift is by practicing hospitality. That idea comes from I Peter 4:9-10, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has to serve others.” Now there is something in the Greek which is obscured in the NIV translation. In verse 10, Peter uses the Greek word kathos which means “just as.” It ties what he has just said in verse 9 with what he is saying in verse 10. A literal translation would be, “Offer hospitality … just as each one should use whatever gift he has.” Peter seems to be suggesting that hospitality is an excellent means of using our gift to serve other believers.

I’m sure you know that in the ancient world there were no safe places for travelers to rest. They didn’t have Holiday Inns or a Sheraton in every city. That meant that when Christians journeyed from city to city they were forced to depend on the open homes of other Christians. And for the first two centuries, there were no church buildings as we know them today. Most churches met in individual homes. It is no exaggeration to say that hospitality was a major key to the explosive growth of the early Christian church.

In our day we’ve gotten away from it somewhat—and that to our detriment. I often hear it said that people don’t feel close to each other in church. That’s because we only see each other once a week in a very structured environment. We don’t have time to really get close on Sunday morning. That’s not what this time is for. We barely have time to say hi and bye.

But it’s a different story when you visit someone’s home. You see how they live, you have time to sit and talk, you have a cup of coffee, you eat a piece of pie, you really get to know each other, and you begin to feel like friends.

Martha, The Harried Homemaker

There are many good examples of hospitality in the Bible, but perhaps none so interesting as the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10. You remember that Jesus was coming to Bethany with his disciples. When Martha heard about it, she “opened her home to him.” (Luke 10:38) Naturally she wanted everything to be just right so she spent her time bustling around cooking, cleaning, checking the silverware and sweeping the floor. Meanwhile her sister Mary was just sitting there—crosslegged on the floor, no doubt—listening to Jesus talk.

Martha didn’t like it. And the more she thought about it, the angrier she got. Finally she interrupted Jesus with a complaint every woman can understand. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40)

Jesus’ answer has often been construed as a rebuke to Martha, but it wasn’t that at all. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:42) Martha’s problem was not that she was bustling around getting things done. No, without Martha the meal would never be served. Jesus and his disciples would starve to death if they had to depend on dreamy-eyed Mary. Martha’s problem was that she forgot why she was doing all the work in the first place. She was “distracted” and “worried” when she should have been glad that Jesus had come to visit.

That’s why Peter says to show hospitality “without grumbling.” Most of us will open our homes if we have to, but we’ll mutter under our breath about the inconvenience. But if you grumble, you lose the blessing.

So, we thank God for those dedicated servers who focus on meeting physical needs, especially those who spontaneously and gladly open their homes to others. Who is ready to host a visiting missionary? Who will open their home for a Sunday School class social? Who is glad for the teenagers to come over? Who would make available a spare bedroom for an unwed mother waiting to have her baby? Who is ready to provide a meal on a moment’s notice. Maybe the question is not who. Maybe the question is, should it be you?

God Bless The Helpers And Servers

Let me wrap it all up with a simple application: Helpers and servers keep the church going. Without them, we would close down tomorrow. They are the mighty army of workers who give without any thought of return, who labor for hours behind the scenes, who invest untold hours that the Lord’s work might go forward.

Their great contribution is this: They release others for maximum ministry. Without the helpers and servers, the evangelists couldn’t evangelize, the teachers could teach, the leaders couldn’t lead, and the pastors couldn’t pastor. They stuff the bulletins, they answer the phones, they serve the cookies and juice, they stack the chairs on Sunday nights, they wash the linens in the nursery, they unlock the doors, they cut out Bible pictures to use in Sunday School, they come early to make coffee, they bring meals to new mothers, and they count the money on Sunday morning. God bless them a thousand times over. We couldn’t do anything without them.

In this church we have a lot of people like Phoebe, who go out of their way to make sure the ministry goes forward. And we have a lot of people like Martha, ready to use their own resources to meet the needs of others. It’s good to know that in the vineyard of the Lord, there’s a place for Phoebe and for Martha, too.

Martha’s Poem

A while back I ran across a poem entitled “A Martha.” It was written by an unknown 19 year old girl in 1928. I dedicate it to all the servers and helpers who labor behind the scenes (From 19 Gifts of the Spirit, Leslie Flynn, pp. 106-107):

Lord of all pots and pans and things;

Since I’ve no time to be

A saint by doing lovely things

Or watching late with Thee,

Or dreaming in the dawnlight,

Or storming heaven’s gates,

Make me a saint by getting meals,

And washing up the plates.

Although I must have Martha’s hands,

I have a Mary mind;

And when I black the boots and shoes,

Thy sandals, Lord, I find.

I think of how they trod the earth,

What time I scrub the floor;

Accept this meditation, Lord,

I haven’t time for more.

Warm all the kitchen with Thy love,

And light it with Thy peace;

Forgive me all my worrying,

And make all grumbling cease.

Thou who didst love to give men food,

In room, or by the sea,

Accept this service that I do—

I do it unto Thee.

The Most Christlike Person At Calvary

I’d like to ask a question: Who is the most Christlike person at Calvary Memorial Church? Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant … For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43,45) Who is the most Christlike person? You’ll likely find the answer among the servers and helpers. They model Christ before us. They show us Jesus without saying a word.

If you are a helper or server this morning, there is no particular thing I want you to do. You spend your life doing for others. But on behalf of all the rest of us, I want to say thank you. You are giving your life every day. You have been like Jesus to us and we are richer because you are in our midst. As your pastor, I salute you. As a fellow-Christian, I am inspired by your example.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?