" . . . and the rest of my fellow-laborers, whose names are in the book of life." Philippians 4:3
In one of his letters from his Roman prison, Paul has a kindly reference to certain people, old friends, whose names he seems to have forgotten. So he mentions them only as having been his fellow-laborers. But he adds for compensation for their namelessness in his letter, that their names were in the book of life. The "book of life" is the register book of those whose citizenship is in Heaven. It is supposed that the allusion is to the ancient custom of free cities having a roll book which contained the names of all who had a right to citizenship.
Heaven in called a city, and the book of life contains the names of all who have a right to its privileges of citizenship. Every one who belongs to the family of God, is written down as a citizen of Heaven. There is no danger, therefore, that any true believer in Christ shall ever be forgotten. No hand can blot out his name from the book of life.
There ought to be a great deal of rich comfort in this truth for every true Christian disciple who now has but little recognition. Most of us live and work in this world obscurely. Here and there is one who gets public recognition, who works in the glare of human eyes and receives human praise—one whose name is known on earth. But for the great multitudes, there is no earthly distinction. No one praises them. No one writes their names in any list of honor. They receive but little human encouragement. But of all such it is true as Paul wrote here of the rest of the fellow-laborers, that "Their names are in the book of life." They are well-known in Heaven, and their work is appreciated and recorded there, and not the smallest part of it shall go unrewarded. Surely there ought to be inspiration in this fact for all that multitude of lowly disciples who in Christ's name are struggling to do the little they can do to advance his cause.
There are many excellent people who do not seem to themselves to be doing anything for Christ that is worthy of acceptance by him. They read of great deeds that are heralded far and near—heroisms, brilliant services, conspicuous things, large gifts, great sacrifices—and in comparison with these, they turn to their own plain, commonplace lives, with no opportunities to any but commonplace acts, and it seems to them that they can do nothing that will be of any avail in Christ's kingdom.
If we were living and working for men's eyes, it might be so, for men measure the quality of deeds and lives by the noise and the show they make in the world. But we are working for the eye of Christ, and with him nothing counts but heart and motive. We have only to stand beside him in the temple on that last day of his public teaching, and hear his judgment on those who dropped their gifts into the treasury—to learn how the commonplace acts of commonplace lives weigh with him. The rich came with show and pomp, cast in large gifts and moved on with haughty air, disdainful of the poor who were pressing up to the gift-box. Then a poor widow came and threw in two mites, and hid herself away in her lowly self-abasement in the throng. But you know whose gift that day counted most as the angels weighed the coins. I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others."
Is it not better to have such praise from the lips of Christ, though men sneer—than to have the applause of men, with Jesus unpleased? It is not largeness, nor brilliance that Christ commends—but heart and motive. The lowliest thing done in love for him—counts for more than the greatest heroisms or the largest gifts or the grandest deeds, done only for applause or reward.
There is need always for a few great men and for a few conspicuous deeds; but there is also need for countless lowly workers, and for the doing of countless little things. A few great men are enough for a nation, but we need all of our millions of ordinary toilers to till our fields, to work in mines, run our factories and mills, navigate our waters, handle our commerce, make our homes, rear and teach our children, and do all the ten thousand tasks needed in our country. And who will say that in God's sight the humblest man who does his daily task devoutly and faithfully—is less noble than he who rules and governs? Who will say that in God's sight, the plainest woman in the land, who nurses her baby with sweet love and prayer, and makes her little home as beautiful and happy as she can with her limited means, and strives to be womanly and true and sweet-spirited—has any less honor than "the first lady of the land"?
Famed or unfamed among men, it is all one with God. It is faithfulness that he wants. And may it not be that the faithfulness in obscure walks, in little duties, in the lowly ways, where no one watches, where no one praises—is, if possible, more pleasing to God than equal faithfulness in conspicuous walks, in large duties, in the way where the light of earthly glory shines?
We all know the hunger there is in human hearts for recognition, for a brilliant name, for popular applause. We also know that nothing in the world is less satisfying than these very honors and distinctions when they have once been achieved. They are only husks which cannot nourish human heart-hunger.
Many a man who has risen from obscurity to fame, has left behind him, in his lowly cottage—the sweet peace and the quiet happiness which he has never found again amid all the brilliance of earthly splendor.
There are women who grow restless at times in their common task-work, as they look out at other women who are reigning in circles of fame or of fashion—and they sigh for spheres like theirs. But let them not think that they would find sweeter peace than they now have, if they are living faithfully in their appointed place. It ought to be a gospel of inspiration to them, to know that their names, though written on no scroll of earthly fame, are yet written in the book of life.
Obscure? Can anyone be obscure, who is a citizen of Heaven? Angels see your name on the white roll inside the gates of glory. Can it matter much whether we are known or unknown on earth, if we are known in Heaven?