Contributor: Isekhua Evborokhai
We have finally come to the last chapter and study of the book of Romans. A study that was filled with deep revelations and exciting truth! From last week’s study, we learnt some biblical concepts of Christian ministry modelled by the apostle Paul. And in today’s study of the concluding chapter of the letter to the Romans, we learn some more in Paul’s final greeting and a not so obvious (hidden) message. When you come to a section of Scripture like Romans 16 with its long list of names, it’s good to keep in mind Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” So let's read the entire chapter
Romans 16:1-27 (NKJV)
"I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, 2 that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who labored much for us. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you. 17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. 19 For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. 20 And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. 21 Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you. 22 I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord. 23 Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother. 24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. 25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began 26 but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith— 27 to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen."
So, what can we learn from these verses of scripture?
1. A Pastor/Shepherd Must Pay Close Attention to the Members of His Flock.
We observe this from this closing chapter of Paul’s letter. Paul obviously knew many of the saints in Rome by name and some of them closely, even though he had not yet visited Rome. These would have been people he had known somewhere else in the Roman Empire. In these first 23 verses Paul mentioned over 30 names. 8 of these people were with Paul (vs 21-23). The others were in Rome; a mix of men and women. There were two households mentioned, and two unnamed women (the mother of Rufus and the sister of Nereus). as well as some unnamed brethren. The chapter brims with personal relationships that reflect Paul’s love for people. This is what Proverbs 27:23 (TPT) says: “A shepherd should pay close attention to the faces of his flock and hold close to his heart the condition of those he cares for.”
2. The Church is Made Up of Ordinary and Diverse People Who Are “In the Lord.”
(a) The Diversity
Sister Phoebe (vs 1) “a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea”. Most scholars think that she was the one who carried the letter to Rome. She was a “helper” or “patroness” or “benefactor” of many, including Paul. A majority of the names in this list are Gentile names, indicating the Gentile majority in the church. And the majority of the names are those of either slaves or freed slaves. Some in the list may have been a part of Caesar’s household (see Phil. 4:22, written from Rome). Aristobulus (vs10) was a grandson of Herod the Great and was a close friend of the Emperor Claudius; but was not a believer. However, his slaves were. The household of Narcissus (vs 11) also probably referred to the slaves belonging to a wealthy, wicked freed slave who was also friends with the Emperor Claudius. Tertius, Paul’s secretary in Corinth (vs 22), and Quartus, whom Paul simply calls “the brother” (vs 23), were probably slaves. Tertius had the very important task of accurately recording Paul’s dictated words. Quartus is no longer just the fourth nameless slave, but is “the brother,” a noble designation. Paul also mentions Erastus, the city treasurer, an important public position. Prisca and Aquila (vs 3) were fellow tentmakers and fellow Jews with Paul, as were the others in this chapter whom he called “my kinsmen” (vs 7, 11, 21).
So the church in Rome was made up of these ordinary but diverse people; men and women. Some were slaves, others were blue collar workers, and still others were wealthy.
(b) The Common Bond
What drew them together and united them? We find the answer in a phrase that Paul repeats eleven times in these verses: “in the Lord” or “in Christ.” He asks the Romans to receive Phoebe “in the Lord” (vs 2). He commends Prisca and Aquila as his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (vs 3). He says that Andronicus and Junias “were in Christ before me” (vs 7). He calls Ampliatus “my beloved in the Lord” (vs 8). Urbanus is “our fellow worker in Christ” (vs 9). Apelles is “the approved in Christ” (vs 10). Perhaps he had endured some difficult trial in a commendable way. Paul sends greetings to those of the household of Narcissus, “who are in the Lord” (vs 11). Tryphaena and Tryphosa are “workers in the
Lord” (vs 12). Persis the beloved “has worked hard in the Lord” (vs 12). Rufus is “chosen in the Lord” (vs 13). And Tertius, Paul’s secretary, sends his greetings “in the Lord” (vs 22).
As we’ve seen in Romans, being “in Christ” through faith is the most important designation that can be true of anyone.
3. The Church Is Made Up of Ordinary People Growing to Know the Lord Through Sound Doctrine.
It’s significant that although Romans is the most doctrinally deep letter in the New Testament, it was written to help common people, many of them slaves, to know Christ and grow in their walk with Him. It was a letter to ordinary people like you and I; not just for theologians or scholars.
4. The Church Is Made Up of Diverse People Who Are Deepening Their Relationships with One Another in The Lord.
There are over 30 names in these verses and it’s likely that Paul knew most of them personally. He mentions four of them as being especially close (“my beloved” or “the beloved”; vs 5, 8, 9, 12), including Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia. He calls Phoebe “our sister” (vs 1) and Quartus “the brother” (vs 23). He mentions Rufus’ mother as being his own mother (vs 13). Apparently she had ministered to Paul as a mother would, perhaps when he was ill. Prisca and Aquila had risked their lives for Paul. He also directs the believers in Rome to greet one another with a holy kiss (vs16), a common custom in that culture (1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14). All of these personal, warm greetings reflect the love between Paul and these believers and between all believers. It’s amazing that he could remember all of these names! Clearly, he took a personal interest in people, and so should we. We are not called to be Christians in isolation, but rather in relationship with one another.
5. The Church Is Made Up of People Who Are Family and Thus Are Hospitable and Helpful Toward One Another.
Paul urges the church to extend hospitality to Phoebe, whom he calls “our sister.” She was family. Quartus was “the brother.” Prisca and Aquila opened their home to host the gatherings of the church (vs 5), which they also did in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19). Probably the two groups mentioned in 16:14 & 15 represented other house churches, which could perhaps hold as many as 70 or 80 people. In Corinth, Gaius apparently hosted a church in his house (vs 23). For at least the first two centuries, churches had to meet in homes due to persecution.
6. The Church Is Made Up of People Who Work Hard Together for The Lord.
Paul repeatedly mentions how these people were involved in serving the Lord. Phoebe was “a servant of the church in Cenchrea,” a port city near Corinth (vs 1). She may have held an official position as a deaconess (1 Tim. 3:11). She was devoted to serving the church. Paul calls Prisca and Aquila “my fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (16:3). Paul had met them in Corinth, where they worked together as tentmakers after they had been forced to leave Rome when Claudius expelled the Jews (Acts 18:1-3). By the way, Paul always calls her Prisca, the more formal name. Luke uses Priscilla, which was the diminutive nickname (like Liz for Elizabeth). They later accompanied Paul to Ephesus, where after Paul left they helped Apollos get straightened out in his doctrine (Acts 18:24-26). Now they had moved back to Rome. Still later, they would move back to Ephesus again (2 Tim. 4:19). Wherever they went, their hearts were for building up the church. Husbands and wives can find great joy in working together for the Lord. Husbands, if you and your wife host a home fellowship, help her with the work! Paul also mentions Mary, “who has worked hard for you” (vs 6). He calls Urbanus “our fellow worker in Christ” (vs 9). Tryphaena and Tryphosa (probably sisters, whose names mean Delicate and Dainty) were not fragile—they were “workers in the Lord” (vs 12)! Persis (another woman) “has worked hard in the Lord” (vs 12). And he calls Timothy “my fellow worker” (vs 21). As we saw in chapter 12, every believer has been given at least one spiritual gift that he or she is to use in serving the Lord. There should be no benchwarmers in the body of Christ. (See 1Peter 4:10-11)
Whatever your gifts and calling, the most important thing is that you know that Christ has saved you from eternal judgment because you have put your trust in Him as Saviour and Lord. Then look for ways that you can serve the Lord, as these people did. Read through the descriptions again and ask yourself, “How would Paul have described me if he had known me?”
7. The Church Is Made Up of Both Men and Women Who Serve the Lord, But in Different Roles and Capacities.
In the male-dominated culture of that day, it is significant that Paul mentions four women who worked hard in the Lord (vs 6, 12), plus Prisca who along with her husband Aquila were “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (vs 3). Paul entrusted probably the only copy of this precious letter to a woman, Phoebe, for safe delivery to Rome. In all, Paul mentions seven women by name, plus Rufus’ mother (vs 13) and Nereus’ sister (vs 15). Obviously Paul believed that women have an important role to play in serving the Lord. Second, although scholars for centuries have been divided over whether Junias (vs 7) the wife of Andronicus. “Outstanding among the apostles” could mean that the apostles regarded this couple as outstanding, or more likely it means that among those who were apostles, this couple stood out.
8. The Church Is Made Up of Whole Families That Have Come to Faith in Christ Through the Gospel.
Paul mentions two households (vs 10, 11), which referred to both the biological family members and the servants, plus Rufus’ mother and Nereus’ sister (16:13, 15). In the Book of Acts, we see whole households coming to faith (2:39, “you and your children”; 10:1-48, Cornelius; 16:15, Lydia; 16:31-34, the Philippian jailer).
Conclusion (Final Warning & Praise)
These verses of today’s study, along with other lists of genealogies in the Bible, are inspired by God for our spiritual profit to equip us for every good work. It is the Holy Spirit that inspired Paul to write these greetings to teach us. What we have learnt today about the church in Rome that teaches us much about what our church ought to be. And the individuals greeted here can motivate and encourage each of us to be all that God wants us to be. Paul’s closing admonishment to the Church in Rome to watch out for those who cause divisions and offenses among them strongly applies to us today. He points out that such people are not truly serving the Lord, but are being driven by their own desires for a following. Also very relevant is his admonishment of the Church to become scholars of all that is good and beautiful, and stay pure and innocent when it comes to evil.
He then prays a prayer in verse 20 we must covet today:
“That the God of peace will swiftly pound Satan to a pulp under our feet! And the wonderful favour of our Lord Jesus will surround us." (TPT)
And finally an offering of praise and glory to the only Source of wisdom, the One who has more than enough power to make us strong and keep us steadfast through the promises found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ! And to that we say “Amen!” Just as the Romans would have said and walked away enriched by the revelations in this letter, so we must! Shalom!
Parts of this study was culled from: https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-106-snapshot-church-romans-161-16-21-23