Grace For The Journey
How much do you like to hear you name? I guess that depends on why it is being used. None of us like to hear our name called if the one using it is mad at us or suspects us of doing something wrong. But what about when you hear your name called by someone you know loves you? Or how about when it is being said in order to recognize you in some special way either because of a good relationship you have or because of something good you have done? We like to hear our names then.
The same is true when it comes to seeing our names in print. We don’t like to see our names written at the top of a policeman’s ticket, but we do like to see them written on a gift check. We don’t want to see our names or those we love printed on an arrest report. But we do like to see our names and those we love printed in the paper in any favorable circumstance.
What would it be like to have your name actually recorded in Scripture in a favorable manner? Admittedly, it can be a struggle to read through all those names in passages such as Numbers 26 or 1 Chronicles 6, 7, and 8, or Ezra 2. Most people cannot even pronounce them much less recognize any significance to them. But what if they were names that you did recognize as your own ancestors or the ancestors of people that were close to you? You would suddenly have a new appreciation for those long lists of names, and they would not be so boring. They would have more personal significance to you.
Consider the fact that each of the names listed in such passages is a real person. They may have lived and died a long time ago, but they were people like you and me. They had dreams just as we do. They had families, friends and relationships with others just as we do. Every name listed in the Bible reveals the mind-boggling fact that the omnipotent, Holy Creator of this universe does not just love the world, He cares about each individual human in it by name. Those who dismiss God’s love for the world as too general should contemplate the multitude of individual names mentioned in Scripture and then reflect that entrance to heaven is dependent upon their name being written in the lambs book of life (Revelation 21). God’s love for mankind is not just universal in providing the means of redemption through faith in Jesus Christ, it is also individually personal as the Holy Spirit regenerates a person to believe and walk in an
intimate relationship with their Creator.
This morning we are going to be looking the long list of names recorded in Romans 16. Paul’s letter to the Romans was not just some general epistle to explain the Gospel message. It was also a personal communication to each one that would read the letter. If Paul were alive today and personally knew you, this is a letter he would have written to you. You can receive it as personal communication from the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul to you that you might understand God and His will better as well as walk closer to Him in holiness. Paul’s greetings to so many demonstrate how important personal relationships were to him. No wonder he expected to be refreshed by them when he got to Rome, because he already has so many friends there as well as expecting to make new friends once he arrived.
Paul begins his personal greetings with a commendation of the woman that was coming from Paul to Rome. It may even be possible that she was the one who was carrying Paul’s letter to the Romans, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.” Paul often addressed the Christians he is was writing to as “brethren.” Here, Paul addresses Phoebe as “our sister.” This is wonderful way in which Christians can address each other because we have been adopted into the family of God.
The name “Phoebe” means “bright” or “radiant.” It was also the name the Greeks used for the moon. She was a Greek woman who was from Cenchrea, which was about 5 miles east of Corinth at the eastern terminus of the canal that cut across the isthmus that separated Achaia from the rest of Greece.
Paul’s commendation of her is a letter of reference from him to the saints at Rome. This is one of the reasons that it is thought that she was carrying the letter to Rome for Paul. At the very least, she was with whoever was carrying the letter. Because it is mentioned that she is from Cenchrea, it is thought that Paul may have written this letter from that location.
Paul remarks that Phoebe had distinguished herself and so was worthy of his commendation. The key characteristic is that she was a “servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.” The word servant here is often also translated as “deacon.” There is some debate about whether this was in some official capacity as a deaconess, but before we get into that debate, take note that whether she held a particular church office or not, she was recognized as someone who was very helpful to others by her service to them.
In verse 2 Paul says that she had been a helper of many, and of himself as well. The word “helper” here, is defined by as a “female guardian, protectress, patroness, caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources.” Phoebe was not only a woman who would personally involve herself in helping other people with her own hands, as being a “diakonon” implies, but being characterized as a “prostatis,” she may also have had the wealth to help financially. She had been a helper of this type to Paul.
If indeed Phoebe did carry Paul’s epistle to Rome, it demonstrates even more so the trust that he placed in her and why he commended her to the Romans. Paul wanted the Roman believers to welcome Phoebe into their fellowship ‘in a manner worthy of the saints.” He was placing his personal stamp of approval upon her as a genuine and committed believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. They could accept and trust her because Paul was vouching for her character.
Even in our own times we can understand the importance of having such a letter of recommendation. When you go to a new place where people do not know you, they should have a certain amount of caution toward you. While they may accept you based on your personal testimony and profession of faith, they should be hesitant to trust you until after you have had opportunity to prove your profession and demonstrate your faithfulness. A letter of recommendation from someone they already know and could trust would allow them to be able to place such trust in that new person too. While not very many people who have moved from here have asked me for such a letter to give to their new church home, it is always a privilege to do so in order that someone who had
served the Lord so faithfully alongside us can quickly be able to be involved in ministry in their new home. I appreciate such a letter when new people move into our area. Paul’s commendation enabled the Roman believers to quickly accept Phoebe into their fellowship and trust her to minister among them.
This trust factor was even more important to Phoebe because Paul also asked the Romans to help her in whatever matter she may have need of them. Paul’s commendation of her would instill confidence that they could do this and not fear that they were being taken advantage of by a con artist.
This principle is still important. We get a lot of requests by people who would either like us to support them in some ministry or they would like to come and do some ministry among us. I have learned over the years that unless I can get some letter of reference it is not wise to have such people come. When I get a recommendation from someone I can trust about having a particular ministry come here or supporting a particular ministry someplace else, I can have a lot more confidence that what is being requested is legitimate and worthy of our attention and support.
Phoebe had demonstrated to Paul that she had a godly character and was worthy of his commendation. As mentioned earlier, one of the ways in which she had demonstrated her character was being a “servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.” There is a question as to whether this is a general reference to her serving others or a specific reference to her holding the office of a deaconess.
In general, those who reject that there is an office of deaconess object to this being a reference to Phoebe holding that office, and those who believe that there is an office of deaconess understand this to be a reference to that office.
Is there an office of deaconess in the church? It is an historical fact that deaconesses were a recognized office within the early church, but was this because the Scriptures set such an office up or was that just a structural development created by man in order to avoid any impropriety in caring for the women in the church? Even in our morally loose society we understand that there are a lot of ministries to women that are best done by another woman. That would be much more true in that ancient oriental society in which women lived lives in which they were often secluded from men.
1 Timothy 3:11is the only other passage that makes reference to what could be deaconesses. After addressing the qualifications for overseers or elders and getting half-way through the qualifications for deacons, Paul says, “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.” The passage then continues on with the qualifications for deacons.
There are many conservative Christians that insist that this is referring to the wives of deacons since the King James translates this as “Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.” The Greek word used here can be translated as either “women” or as “wives” depending on the context. I believe this is a reference to the office of the wives of deacons for the following reasons.
1) There is no Greek feminine form of “deacon” (“diakonon”) which Paul could have used to specifically identify these women as female deacons. Paul could have distinguished other women from the wives by using an article or a possessive pronoun – i.e. “The wives” or “their wives” or even “the wives of deacons.”
2) The verb from verse 2 (“must be”) also governs verses 8 and 11 which are parallels of qualification. These are also the grammatical construction that Paul uses for transitions to new groups (see also 2:9 and Titus 2:3,6).
3) It would be inconsistent for Paul to require the deacons to have wives that meet certain moral qualifications and not have any parallel for the pastor to have wives that meet such qualifications.
4) Historically, this was a recognized office in the early church.
5) Some object because they have made “deacons” an office of authority and do not want a parallel office of women with such authority. That is understandable, but both of these are offices of service, not power. The authority belongs to the pastor under whom the deacons and wives serve. We have structured the leadership of First Bible Church accordingly.
Each of the wives serves much as Phoebe did because they have demonstrated a proven godly character and a heart to serve God’s church and His people in various capacities.
Starting in verse 3, Paul begins to greet people that he already knows that had moved to Rome. He greets 24 people by name and five groups of people by their association.
Prisca And Aquila.
Verses 3 through 5 state, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also [greet] the church that is in their house.” Aquila was a Jew from Pontus, what is now Northeast Turkey. He and his wife Prisca, also called Priscilla, had lived in Rome until all the Jews were expelled in 52 A.D. by Emperor Claudias. They moved to Corinth where they met Paul (Acts 18:1-2) while he was on his second missionary journey. Paul stayed with them and also worked with them since they all had the same trade of tent-making. Remember that Paul often worked in this trade in order to pay for his own expenses instead of placing a financial burden on the fledgling churches he was starting. They then traveled with Paul to Ephesus (Acts 18:18). Paul continued on, but Aquila and Priscilla stayed. Soon after they met and became the mentors of Apollos (Acts 18:26). They also hosted a church in their home (1 Corinthians 16:19).
When Paul writes his first letter to the Corinthians (c. 55 A.D.) he includes greetings from them to that church. A year or so later, we find them back in Rome after Emperor Claudius died and the restriction against Jews was lifted. That is why Paul includes a greeting to them here in his letter to the Romans. Ten years or so later we find that they have moved back to Ephesus because Paul includes a greeting to them in 2 Timothy 4:19.
We do not know the details of what Paul mentions here in Romans 16:4, but it clearly gives the reason why Paul would greet them first. They had not only been co-workers with Paul both in trade and for the cause of Christ, but they had “risked their own necks” for Him. We still use that same expression to describe risking our lives for someone else. Paul was very grateful for them, for such an act is a supreme demonstration of
love even as Jesus said in John 15:13 that, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” The churches of the Gentiles were also thankful. They had faithfully ministered to the followers of Christ wherever they went. We find at the beginning of verse 5 that they were already hosting another church in their home, just as they had done at Ephesus. That is a wonderful example for any of us to follow.
Paul next greets “Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia.” The term for “first convert” means “first fruit” or “first portion.” Acts 13:14 records that Paul first landed in Asia at Perga and then went to Pisidian Antioch on the Mediterranean coast of central Turkey. The first record of people being converted to Christ through Paul’s preaching occurs at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13). This would be a reason for Epaenetus being beloved to Paul.
Next, verse 6 says, “Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.” There is nothing known of Mary except what is said here. Paul knew of her hard work. The word here for “hard work” carries the idea of “laboring to the point of growing tired, weary, or exhaustion.” Her work was done on behalf of the Roman believers. Another good example for any of us to follow.
Andronicus and Junias.
In verse seven Paul writes, “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” Junias could be a feminine name in which case this would be a husband and wife or a brother and sister team. Whatever their relationship, Paul marks them out as “kinsman.“ Paul used this term to refer to all his fellow Jews in Romans 9:3, but here Paul is distinguishing individuals, so it is more likely that they, along with three others mentioned in this list, were relatives of some sort to Paul.
Paul remarks that they were his “fellow prisoners.” In 2 Corinthians 6:5 Paul says that he had been in “imprisonments.” The early church father, Clement of Rome, remarks that Paul had been imprisoned 7 times. These two had the same experience of being imprisoned for their witness of Jesus Christ. Possibly they could have been imprisoned with Paul, but we have no proof of this either way.
Paul also remarks that they are “outstanding among the apostles.” This does not mean that they were apostles, but rather that they were well known and recognized by the apostles as distinguished servants of Christ. Remember that Jews had only recently been allowed back into Rome, so they may well have labored among the apostles in Jerusalem at a prior time. This idea is strengthened by the fact that they “were in Christ” before Paul and therefore would have been saved prior to Paul’s conversion which occurred during the persecution that was dispersing the church from Jerusalem throughout Judea and Samaria (see Acts 8).
In Verse 8 Paul adds, “Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.” There is no other Biblical reference to this man, but Paul’s possessive greeting indicates a great emotional attachment to him. Paul refers to him as “my beloved in the Lord” and not just “beloved in the Lord.”
Ampliatus was a common name among Roman slaves, and possibly this man was still a slave. Slaves were not allowed to bear the name of a free man, so those slaves that were freed would commonly distinguish themselves from their former position by taking a new name of a free man.
There is a highly ornamented chamber in the Christian catacombs of Domitila that bears the name Ampliatus. It is a chamber that is dated to the end of the first century or beginning of the second. It is pure speculation that there is any connection between this man and that chamber, but perhaps there could be. This man was respected by Paul and therefore may have made a substantial impact on both his own family and on other people so that they would have honored him with elaborate decorations on his tomb.
Urbanus & Stachys.
In verse 9 Paul greets, “Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.” Urbanus was a common Roman name. We know nothing more of him other than that he was a fellow worker in Christ. Stachys is a Greek name meaning “wheat ear.” We know nothing more of him except that he was beloved to Paul.
It is worth noting here that many of these
People are not leaders in the church.
Most are just common people
That were important to Paul.
You don’t have to have great skills
Or be especially distinguished in some way
In order to make an impact
In the lives of others.
All it really takes is simply to care
About other people and be faithful
In using whatever spiritual gifts
You have in serving Christ.
Next is Paul’s greeting in verse 10 to, “Apelles, the approved in Christ.” This is another man we know nothing about except what is said here. He is a man who is “approved in Christ.” The word here is used to describe the testing of precious metals for purity. This man had been tried and passed the test.
Those of Aristobulus.
In verse 10, Paul also greets, “Those who are of the household of Aristobulus.” This greeting is not to Aristobulus himself, which indicates that he was not a believer, but to those that belonged to Aristobulus. This would include his family members and possibly any servants too. There is some speculation that this may have been the family of the brother of King Herod Agrippa I, in which case they would have been part of the imperial household, and therefore part of “Caesar’s household” mentioned in Philippians 4:22.
Next, in verse 11, Paul greets, “Herodion, my kinsman.” Herodian is another relative of Paul. His name suggests that there may have been some tie to Herod’s family as well, but that is speculation.
Paul next greets, “Those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord.” These would be the family members and possibly servants too that belonged to Narcissus, who was not a believer. Some speculated that this may have been Emperor Claudius’ secretary. Paul’s greeting indicates that only a portion of this family was saved.
Tryphaena, Tryphosa And Persis.
In verse 12 Paul greets three women, “Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord.” The first two may have been sisters, possibly twins. Their names mean “delicate” and “dainty” respectively. They are marked out by Paul for their present work for the Lord. Persis, whose name is derived from Persia, possibly her native land, is marked out by Paul as both “the beloved,” and someone who has worked hard in the Lord. By using the past tense, Paul would be indicating that she was probably an older woman who had lived out her most productive years. Years that had endeared her to all so that she is not “a beloved,” but “the beloved.”
In verse 13 Paul greets. “Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.” There is speculation that Rufus may have been the one of the sons of Simone of Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross. This is because Mark 15;21 specifically mentions his two sons, Alexander and Rufus. The Gospel of Mark was written to impact Romans with the Gospel. Whether this is the same Rufus or not, Paul marks him out as a “choice man in the Lord.” The sense here is that he was a man of extraordinary character in his following and serving Christ.
Paul also mentions Rufus’ mother with great endearment in calling her his own mother. This is not a suggestion that he and Rufus are brothers, but indication of the great ministry this woman must have had to Paul some place at sometime.
Asyncritus And Others.
In verse 14 Paul greets five more men plus those with them, “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brethren with them.” Paul does not make any distinguishing comments about them as individuals other than personally naming them. The fact that Paul then refers to other believers that were with them would indicate that these would have been leaders in one of the Christian assemblies that were in Rome.
Philologus And Others.
In a similar manner, Paul greets one couple, and a brother and sister and one other man along with the other Christians with them, “Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.” These would probably be leaders of another local assembly of saints in Rome.
I appreciated Robert Haldane’s comments as he wrapped up his discussion on these various people that Paul greeted: “The Lord’s people are not equally distinguished, but they are all brethren equally related to Him who is the Elder Brother of His people. Some of them are eminent, and others are without peculiar distinction. They are all, however, worthy of love. A church is not to consist of the most eminent believers, but of believers, through some be of the lowest attainments. A church of Christ is a school in which their education is to be perfected.”
Paul’s inclusion in this epistle of Scripture of his personal greetings to individual Christians is reflective of the value that each of us has individually before God, except that God’s valuation of us is infinitely more than Paul’s. God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
Paul concludes his personal greetings in verse 16 with instruction to those in Rome to follow in practice what he was striving to do in writing, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” A greeting is simply an expression made or a gesture given when you meet someone. Paul always uses the term in the sense of giving a courtesy to someone as an expression of respect or affection. That was the purpose of his greeting so many individuals in Rome in this letter. It was also why he extended a greeting from “all the churches of Christ” to the church in Rome. Now he wanted those in Rome to also physically demonstrate such respect and affection among themselves whenever they met.
It was a common custom at that time for people who were relatives or friends to greet each other with a kiss, usually on the cheek or forehead. That is still common in many cultures today, including some subcultures here in America. Paul’s instruction here was for them to use this common greeting as a way of expressing what should be their mutual love and respect for each other because of their common bond as the body of
Christ. They were all adopted into the family of God through the work of the Holy Spirit, therefore they should greet each other as family. Paul adds the adjective “holy” to distinguish the nature of this kiss of greeting from both sensual kisses and feigned kisses. Christians are to be devoted to one another in brotherly love (Romans 12:10), and this would be a means of showing that love when they met. People usually know when it is faked, and God always knows.
This did become the practice of the church for several centuries. It then declined for several reasons and then was mutated into the “liturgical kiss” practiced by some denominations. In many places societal practices frown on such intimate displays of affection. We must admit that here in the U.S. most people are more comfortable with a “holy handshake” than a kiss. Yet, when this is practiced with sensible discretion, a holy kiss and hug that reflect a genuine affection and respect among believers is a wonderful demonstration of the relationship we have with one another in Christ.
I agree with Robert Haldane’s conclusion that, “Every attention that expresses and promotes love ought to be exhibited among Christians, who should employ the forms and courtesies of social life that manifest respect, in order to show their esteem and affection for one another.”
Your name is a wonderful thing to hear. I hope this passage will encourage each of us that God is involved in the lives of each of us as individuals. I also pray that each of us will follow Paul’s example in showing personal respect and affection towards one another because of our mutual love for Jesus Christ.
Ministry at First Baptist Church is not about programs, but people, because that reflects God’s individual involvement with each of us, and if follows the examples of His servants, such as Paul, that have gone before us.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”