Roman Road 16
Roman Road 16
“Love’s Many Contacts”
As we come to the close of Romans, we see that Paul was a man with many friends. His great heart embraced all the people of God, and his love for them provoked him to take a keen interest in them. Every contact was a potential friend and Paul made many contacts.
This final chapter reveals the humanity of Paul like no other. This master theologian, whose spiritual understanding and brilliant mind went where none other beside Christ Himself has ever gone, loved people, had great friendships, hurt like we hurt, felt rejection as we have, and cared very much about maintaining the relationships God had given him.
In a day and age with no phones, computers, or other techno-gadgetry, Paul was able to keep in contact with the church universal. He knew many of the Christian leaders by name. They were all down in his prayer book, and now he checks them off one by one as he draws his letter to a close. Twenty-six people are mentioned.
It is very instructive to take note of the brief descriptions given by Paul of his friends, for they reveal valuable character strengths we can all learn from. First, a woman named Phoebe is mentioned:
16:1 “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. 2I 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, including me.”
It was a wise custom in the early church, and one still practiced in some circles today, to furnish believers leaving one locality for another with letters of commendation to the church in the new vicinity.
Paul alludes to this practice when writing the Corinthians:
2 Cor. 3: 1 “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?”
This practice assured for the traveler a friendly reception in the strange city and helped the church there in its reception believers from other places.
The Greek word Paul uses to describe Phoebe’s ministry means “a patroness, protectress.” Phoebe had been a valuable assistant, even a protector to many. She had served as a deaconess in the church at Cenchrea.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this series, while at Corinth, Paul heard that a woman named Phoebe, an active member of the church at nearby Cenchrea, was planning a visit to the city of Rome. “I’ll write you a letter of commendation to the saints at Rome, Phoebe, he said.”
And he did. The Christian skeptic Renan is credited with saying that when Phoebe sailed away from Corinth she “carried beneath the folds of her robe the whole future of Christian Theology.” He was right. Thank God for Phoebe!
Next in Paul’s list are Priscilla and Aquila:
Vs. 3-5 “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. 4They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 5Greet also the church that meets at their house.”
Priscilla and Aquila modeled loyalty, to the point of losing their own lives. Their love was felt by all the churches of the Gentiles.
Next, Paul mentions Epenetus:
Still Vs. 5 “Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.”
That Epenetus was Paul’s first convert in Asia would make him especially dear to the apostle. Paul had seen a great revival in Asia, particularly at Ephesus. The fires had spread to Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Colossae, Hierapolis and other cities. But he never forgot his first convert.
Epenetus is followed by Mary:
Vs. 6 “Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.”
There are a half dozen Marys in the N.T.—the mother of the Lord, Magdalene, the sister of Lazarus, the wife of Clopas, the mother of John Mark, and this unknown saint at Rome. There are also two forms of the word “Mary” in the N.T., one being Miriam (the Jewish name), and the other Maria, a Gentile name.
Whoever this Mary was, she had worn herself out for the Christians in that city. The word for “labor” is the same as that used for the Lord when “wearied with his journey” sat down by the well in John 4:6. It is the same word used of the disciples when after a fruitless night’s fishing they told the Lord that they had “toiled all night” (Luke 5:5).
Mary of Rome, then, joins the ranks of the multitudes who for the cause of Christ and on behalf of His people have worked their fingers to the bone and not grown weary in well-doing.
Next, Paul addresses some relatives of his:
Vs. 7 “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”
Saved before Paul, we can picture this couple moving in the highest of church circles, greatly concerned about the fanaticism and blood lust of young Saul, urgently longing for his conversion, and laying hold of God in the place of prayer for his soul. We can also imagine their great joy at his conversion, and the subsequent spectacular results of his preaching, pioneering and writing. Andronicus and Junias teach us to never give up in praying for the conversion of family.
Next, we see that to be loved by Paul, to be counted as one of his helpers, were great distinctions. He says:
Vs. 8-9 “Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord. 9Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.”
These unknown, never again mentioned saints flash for a moment in the reflected light of Paul’s greatness. Yet even the humblest of Paul’s beloved helpers is praised and remembered.
Vs. 10 “Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ.”
The word “approved” refers to someone who passes through a tough time, even a severe ordeal, and emerges with faith intact. Hence, they are genuine. Here was a saint who had earned his spurs. He had in some way been put to the test and had won the approval of his brethren.
Vs. 10-11 “Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my relative. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.”
One commentator suggests that Aristobulus was a grandson of Herod the Great. And once again, Paul says hello to a relative. As to Narcissus, the thing of interest is that Paul was keenly aware that some in his household were saved and others not.
Next, Paul again notes the hard labor of love on the part of some women:
Vs. 12 “Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.”
Tryphena and Tryphosa were most likely sisters. Persis is assumed to have been a more elderly sister in Christ because her labor is referred to in the past tense. It is worth noting that Paul was very careful to shun all appearance of evil. When speaking of those he loved in the Lord who were brothers he called them “my beloved” (see v. 9); but when speaking of sisters in Christ, he would use the more formal expression “the beloved.”
Next, in verse 13:
“Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.”
This Rufus may have been the son of Simon the Cyrenian, the man who carried the cross for Christ (Mark 15:21). Mark, who wrote his gospel for the Romans, describes Simon as the father of Alexander and Rufus, the likelihood being that this man was the Rufus known in the Roman church.
The reference Paul makes to Rufus’ mother possibly refers to Paul’s days in Antioch when perhaps he was a guest in their home.
Next, Paul refers to a house church:
Vs. 14 “Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them.”
One group of saints met in the house of Priscilla and Aquila. Here is a second group meeting in a home.
And finally, a last home group is mentioned:
Vs. 15 “Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.”
This is the third assembly of believers in Rome mentioned in this chapter. With this group Paul brings his salutations of the Roman Christians to a close.
Vs. 16 “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.”
The instruction to greet one another with a holy kiss is repeated five times in the N.T. In the East, a kiss was and is a sign of respect and affection. It was the traditional Oriental greeting. A hearty handshake would give the same idea in our culture.
Next, Paul addresses what would be one of his lifelong concerns—false teachers:
Vs. 17-18 “I urge you, brothers, to mark those who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine you have learned; and avoid them. 18For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”
Mark them! From skopos; to take aim at, to watch closely.
Beware of them! Avoid them!
“Divisions” is the same word as “discord” and is translated “seditions” in Gal. 5:20, where it is listed as one of the works of the flesh and where it keeps close company with in the text with “heresies.”
The word “Offences” comes from the word skandalon meaning “trapstick.” A trapstick was a crooked stick on which a bait was fastened, which, being struck by the animal, springs the trap. Hence, anything which one strikes or stumbles against, a stumblingblock, a cause of stumbling. It well describes the activity of the cultist.
The believer is to be on guard against teachers who come to divide and destroy the local church. Heresy will make little progress in a church that is rooted in the “Apostle’s doctrine” mentioned in Acts 2:42.
Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cultic teachings find their most fruitful field for recruits in the ranks of those who have some smattering of “religion” but who are largely ignorant of the broad, basic tenets of the Christian faith.
Vs. 19 “Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”
There is no need to give ear to the evil teachings of the cultist. Instead, be wise in the good doctrine of the Christian faith.
Next, a promise for the obedient:
Vs. 20 “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”
The devil, “the father of lies,” lurks behind all the systems of deception that plague mankind. He is the author of all the various religious delusions with which fallen men clothe the nakedness of their souls.
Yet, God has Satan on a leash. He may be the instigator of strife and division, but God is “the God of peace.” Paul assures the obedient that “the God of peace will shortly bruise Satan under your feet.”
We wait with anticipation for the ultimate crushing of Satan’s head at the return of Christ in fulfillment of Genesis 3: 15. But in the meantime, obedience to God’s word brings a defeat to the activity of the devil in our lives (James 4:7).
Finally, Paul, along with other notable N.T. saints, salute some members of the Corinthian church:
Vs. 21-23 “Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives. I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.”
There is evidence that Paul was afflicted with an Oriental eye disease, ophthalmia, which brought an almost complete blindness. Because of this, he found it necessary to dictate his letters to a secretary. Hence, Tertius.
“Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city's director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.”
So then, Paul conveys these greetings from the saints of God linking the family of faith together with the bonds of Christian love.
Finally, Paul’s benediction:
Vs. 25-27 “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him— 27to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”