The point of interest in this text is Paul’s injunction to the Corinthians to submit to the leadership of the household of Stephanas. The basis of this leadership is their devotion to ministering to the believers at
The specifics of this service cannot be ascertained due to the versatility of the word “diakonia”. It may be that Stephanas’ house served as one of the places of meeting, in a way making him one of the “patrons” of the church. Whatever the service was, they were not appointed by Paul. The church did not appoint them either. They appointed themselves, not in a spirit of self-assertion but one of service and humility. In a way, they were appointed by God, who showed them the opportunity of service and equipped them to fulfill it. Now the church was to recognize this ministry, as Paul does. As C. K. Barrett says, “It is in the recognition of willingness to serve, and of spiritual equipment that the origins of the Christian ministry lie.”
The verb expressing subjection is used only here in the NT to refer to the relationship of a Christian community to those who labor among them. Although this could possibly mean to be in submission to them in some form of obedience, both the context and the similar passage in 1 Thess. 5:12-13 suggests rather that it means “submission in the sense of voluntary yielding in love.” As Stephanas and his household submitted to God, the Corinthians were to do their part and submit to leaders who have submitted themselves.
Although Stephanas may be a patron, or even an overseer of sorts, his position is not the basis of his respect; it is the example of servanthood exhibited by him and his household. Authentic leadership and service entails “hard work”, which in turn deserves respect and honor.