I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. 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.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.
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
Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ.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. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them.Greet one another with a holy kiss.All the churches of Christ send greetings.
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. 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. (Romans 16:1-16, 21-23)
Another list of names you can’t pronounce! What is it with these guys? Don’t they realize how easily we get bored? Don’t bother us with names of people we don’t know and don’t care about.
But wait a minute. Do you know how, when you are traveling and go to church somewhere else and start talking with folks, you almost always figure out you know someone they know? In fact, it’s not surprising to find out you’re related to someone they’re related to.
Now, I know we’re almost 2000 years separated, but if you could go back and find your ancestors all the way back, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone here this morning was related to someone that Paul mentions in this list.
When Paul starts listing greetings and commendations of people in a church he’s never visited, you get the feeling it’s going to be an old fashioned homecoming when he arrives. These aren’t just names out of a church directory, these are living, breathing, flesh and blood brothers and sisters in Christ who are making a difference in the Lord and in his church. They are people he wants us to care about.
I want you to notice several interesting things about his list:
Did you notice how many women are listed? Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Junias, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother, and Julia.
The idea that the early church was male-domineering, women-subjugating just doesn’t hold water. These women weren’t just passive bystanders, they were actively involved, hard working servants.
• Phoebe is called a deaconess,
• Junias was outstanding among the apostles,
• Priscilla risked her life for Paul.
• These are women of courage and faith; they are a vital part of the ministry in Rome, not passive pew-sitters.
The second thing that jumps out at me is how much Paul values servant-hearts. Notice how many times Paul mentions that someone works hard for the Lord:
• Phoebe, is a great help to many;
• Priscilla is a fellow worker in Christ Jesus;
• Mary worked very hard for you;
• Urbanus is a fellow worker;
• Tryphena and Tryphosa work hard in the Lord;
• Persis has worked very hard in the Lord.
What a commendation! To be called a hard worker in the Lord. If Paul were writing a letter to the Glenwood church and started mentioning names, what would he say about you?
The third thing that seems significant about these final words of Romans is the people with whom Paul surrounded himself – Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Tertius, Gaius, Erastus, Quartus - men of faith, men who were willing to share the work of the gospel.
• Paul wasn’t a lone ranger, he needed others.
• He needed the companionship of godly men.
• He needed the encouragement, the accountability, the example of men who shared his passion for the gospel.
I wonder how we think we’re too strong, too independent, too self-reliant to need that. Paul serves as a powerful reminder of that need God created in us to be people who live and serve and worship in a community of believers, not dangling out there by ourselves and proud of it.
Tucked in between all these greetings to and from, is a final, but urgent admonition from Paul – a warning to stay away from certain people who will do nothing but destroy your faith and tear apart the church.
It’s the same message we found in Romans 14-15: “Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (16:17).
I hope you have really been impressed with Paul’s (and God’s) hatred for division. If we can’t get along with each other in the church and overcome our differences with love and forgiveness and forbearance, then we have no message of reconciliation for the world.
Paul has a word to say about those who would cause division, who would try to distort and legalize the pure gospel of Christ – “For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (16:18).
They are self-centered and ego-hungry. They may claim to be doing God’s work, but they are not serving Christ. They are in it for themselves – the pride, the power, the position.
They will be smooth talkers and flatterers. They will sound convincing and gather a group of followers who are swayed by their eloquence and sophistication. They have their own agenda, but they pass it off as God’s will – as so important that it justifies the controversy, the bitterness and the division it creates.
And it hasn’t changed – the church still struggles with people who take it upon themselves to be the church grapevine. They spread gossip and criticism and rumors. They love for people to think of them as in-the-know and influential. They will second-guess and question and contradict the church leaders, and do it out of a concern for “keeping the church sound.” But their motivation is anything but pure. And it feeds their ego, and the result is disunity and disharmony.
But, like Paul, I have confidence in you. In vs. 19, he wrote, “Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you.”
You know the truth, you have a long history of faithfulness and obedience. You are a strong church – but don’t let down your guard and think that nobody could ever take you in and split you apart. Here’s Paul’s caution: “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (vs. 19b).
That’s some pretty potent advice. I’m always a little suspect of those who plunge into every controversy and think everyone has to take sides on every issue and want to draw lines of fellowship over things that are insignificant.
Paul wrote a letter to Timothy and talked about those kinds of folks – “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work - which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1 Tim. 1:3-7).
You don’t need to be ignorant about what’s going on and what people are thinking and teaching, but don’t invest yourself in them. Be innocent, be unaffected, and uncontaminated by them.
Instead, make it your goal to be wise about what is good. You spend your time studying and learning about God’s true will, immerse yourself in his Word, major in the truth. Then you won’t be prey for those kinds of teachers.
That’s what we need to major in. Don’t spend your time dwelling on what others are doing wrong and setting up walls of division. Study and teach and preach the truth – that’s God’s best inoculation against false teaching.
Paul concludes this letter with a doxology (that’s a fancy word for “a declaration of praise”). It’s surprising how often and under what circumstances Paul breaks into a doxology. He’s done it three times in Romans already. You’ll find 15 doxologies woven into his 13 letters contained in the NT. Paul is a man who never gets very far away from praising God.
And it doesn’t matter whether he is riding high on the wave of some victory, or embroiled in some doctrinal debate, or sitting in a cold, lonely prison cell. He’ll suddenly break into praise for God – Listen to some of my favorites:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21)
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim. 1:17)
God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen. (1 Tim. 6:15-16)
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Rom. 11:36)
Paul’s Christianity isn’t some cold, rigid theological viewpoint – it is a living breathing relationship with the God who by his grace saved him from his sin and called him to serve him.
That’s why it’s significant here in Romans 16 that Paul brings us back to the heart of the gospel and ties it to the power and wisdom and grace of God:
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, but 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 - to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27).
Wouldn’t that be a marvelous example to imitate? Consciously, purposely take praise with you wherever you go. There is never an inappropriate time or place to praise God and remind others of his goodness.
• Whether you are standing at the side of the baptistery watching your daughter being baptized into Christ…
• or standing at the side of a grave watching your beloved Christian husband being lowered into the ground.
• Whether you are in the waiting room anticipating the birth of your first grandchild…
• or sitting with your friend as his wife goes into surgery for a malignancy.
God is there – through the good and the bad – he is there and he is in control. And whether we are glowing in the warmth of God’s blessings or holding his hand through the valley of the shadow of death – we can praise him – we can praise his wonder and majesty – his greatness and power – his mercy and his grace – we can praise him.
And with Paul, we can proclaim, “to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen!”
That ends our study of Romans – but it is yet to be finished – because the message still demands to be lived out in our lives. It is a message of good news that touches our lives day in and day out – that impacts our families, our jobs, our relationships, our church.