16 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. 2 I 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's passages like these that make me so thankful that we've been doing this Bible blog together. This is one of those passage that I would've totally skimmed over in my regular Bible reading, and according to MacArthur (and I'm sure, from your own experience!), I am not alone....
As we begin this chapter, I just kind of draw your attention to the fact that it is very likely a chapter that you have never studied. It may be a chapter that you can't even remember reading because as soon as you started it and saw all those names, you just skipped them over. It's not one of those most favorite chapters of those who preach and teach the Word of God and yet in many ways it ought to be. It is sad that it's neglected by many, in fact by most Christian teachers, because it is by far the most extensive, the most intimate and the most specific of all the words of personal loving greeting ever to come from the inspired heart and mind of the Apostle Paul. It's a rich and thrilling chapter. And it appears almost as an addendum to such a tome of theology that it gets overlooked.
We're not going to overlook it today!
In the last half of Chapter 15, Paul revealed a bit of his heart in regards to his ministry, and now he focuses on his relationships with people - his love, mutual accountability and dependence on fellow believers.
The names are often incidental. Often we don't know who these people are at all. But what the passage shows us is how the network of love between believers makes ministry possible.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. 2 I 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.
Apparently it's widely accepted that Phoebe was the one who delivered this letter from Paul in Corinth (now Greece) to Rome (in Italy) - that's quite a journey and quite a privilege and responsibility to carry the one and only copy of this letter, the very Word of God such a long way. It was common for believers to carry letters of commendation with them while they travelled so that they would be warmly received with hospitality and grace by their fellow believers in the towns they visited (hotels of that day were generally not safe places to stay).
She was commended as a sister - in other words, she was a fellow believer and therefore a part of the family of God and should be received as such.
She was also commended as a servant of the church in Cenchrea, which was likely a daughter church of the church in Corinth nearby. She was likely a deaconess and may have ministered in ways such as caring for the sick, the poor, strangers, believers who had been imprisoned, widows, etc. She was a faithful servant of God.
She was also commended for being a helper to many, including Paul. This likely means that she was a lady of means and was a wealthy support of the church and perhaps Paul himself.
And for these reasons Paul asked the believers in Rome to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints - to receive her the way a believer ought to receive another believer. And to help her in any way that she needed - and in this case she had likely come to Rome to deal with some sort of business transaction. We are not only to be concerned with each other's spiritual needs, but with whatever needs we can help with, even if it's simply practical and has nothing specifically to do with the Kingdom.
And then Paul goes on to greet numerous believers. One main point of that is that Paul did not think so much of himself that he forgot all the people that supported or helped him, or considered them inconsequential or inferior to him. Not at all! He remembered them by name and their names are preserve for all time in the Word of God.
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 5 Greet also the church that meets at their house.
Priscilla and Aquila were tent makers, like Paul and they met at a synagogue where Paul and Aquila likely sat together (women on one side, men on another and often grouped by profession). And they used their profession to support the proclamation of the gospel. They instructed the apostle Apollos, they had a church in their home when they lived in both Rome and Ephesus. And here Paul tells us that at some point they risked their very lives for Paul - and God mercifully spared both Paul and this loyal couple. We don't know the details of this event, but we know they were willing to die for Paul. Paul was thankful and so were all the Gentile churches because if Paul had died, there would have been no Gentile churches. Amazing couple.
Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.
Epenetus was Paul's first convert, the first of those he offered up to Christ (remember Chapter 15?). He was originally in Asia Minor (now Turkey) but had now moved to Rome, and Paul knew that. As the first convert, he likely had a special place in Paul's heart. And Paul kept track of his dear friend and knew where he was.
6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.
We don't know exactly which Mary this was, but likely this was a Mary that was known to Priscilla and Aquila in Rome (and they likely told Paul about her faithful and hard work) who had laboured long and hard for the church in Rome.
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.
Andronicus was a male and Junias was either male or female we don't know for sure, and they appear to have been relatives of Paul. And not only that, they had been in prison together with him due to their faith. That would likely create a strong bond with someone pretty quickly I'd say! They had become believers before Paul and were notable among the apostles and the first believers in Jerusalem.
8 Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord.
Paul did not shy away from declarations of brotherly love. And here he bestows that love on a slave. We don't know who Ampliatus was but apparently it was a slave name, and Paul's reference to him hear confirms the fact that in Christ Jesus there is neither slave nor free - the Lord does not show favouritism or prejudice and we shouldn't either.
9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.
Urbanus was a common Roman name so he was likely a native Roman Gentile. Stachys is an unusual Greek name that means "ear of corn" or "cob". And we know Urbanus helped Paul and he greets both men - sending his love once again.
10 Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ.
Apelles was tested and approved. To be proven trustworthy, what a wonderful thing to have said of you.
Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.
Note that Paul does not greet Aristobulus himself which likely indicates that he was not a believer but members of his household were. An example of the Word of God dividing a family as the Bible says it will. There is some evidence that Aristobulus may have been the brother of Herod Agrippa I and the grandson of Herod the Great.
11 Greet Herodion, my relative.
And here we see that Paul had a Jewish relative who had some relationship with the family of Herod. Christians among the Herodians!
Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.
Again, Narcissus was not likely a believer, but members of his household were. There is evidence that Narcissus was secretary to the Emperor Claudius which means people paid him large bribes to make sure their letters got delivered to the Emperor. When Claudius was murdered and replaced by Nero, Narcissus survived for awhile and was then forced to commit suicide and his household of slaves was absorbed by Nero. So, again, likely there were believers in the highest circles of the Empire.
Tryphena and Tryphosa mean delicate and dainty but they were working hard for the Lord. Notice the slight difference in wording with Persis. Perhaps Tryphena and Tryphosa were younger and are in the process of working hard in the Lord, while Persis has worked very hard in the Lord, which may indicate that she was older already. And there will be some who are commended for working hard, and there will be some who are commended for working very hard.
13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.
We know from Mark 15:21 that Rufus' father was Simon the Cyrene who carried the cross of Jesus. And Rufus was a believer, chosen in the Lord - which may refer to his salvation or may refer to some sort of service he was chosen for, we don't know. And his mother was obviously the wife of Simon the Cyrene. These are real people. Can you imagine the stories Rufus was asked to tell about how his dad was chosen to carry the cross? Amazing. And Rufus' mother obviously held a special place in Paul's heart as well. We don't know anything about Paul's biological mother but we know that this woman was like a mother to him.
14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them.
We don't know anything about these five men, but with the wording it is likely that they were leaders in the church at Rome.
15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them.
Obviously, this was a kiss of tradition, respect, honour, affection and love - this was not a romantic kiss, it was a holy kiss. A visible, physical and tangible expression of love.
may I suggest to you that you're probably feeling in your heart what I felt that all of a sudden that early church has come to life and it lives and breathes just like our church does....We could as well describe ourselves here. Some of us who are laboring in the Lord, others labored much in the Lord, those who have endured hardship, those who are willing to give their lives, those who are beloved and well beloved, those who have been used by God to reach others for Christ, these are just people and Paul knows them and he loves them and if he could he would kiss them. I mean, we've all gotten letters from mom through the years with X's and O's on the bottom. We've gotten letters that say kiss everybody in your family for me. This is Paul, this is family, this is intimacy. This man knew what it was to stand for the truth but he also knew what it was to love his people. And that's the mark of the uniqueness of his wonderful character.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Romans 16:17-19