Scripture Text: Romans 16:1-16
During the last couple of weeks, as we have read through the last portion of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we have focused on the concept of doing the work of God. We read last week that though Paul had laid a foundation for the Christian faith in certain areas and had planted many churches, there was still much work to be done. Others would pick up the mantle and water the seed Paul had planted. Others would need to continue the work Paul had started, discipling believers and reaching people for Jesus Christ. From that, I suggested that we, too, should work together with each other, and with other Christians throughout the world, in order to continue God’s work today. We need to work together in order to spread the good news of Jesus Christ with this community and with the whole world. This work includes most importantly prayer — praying for our church here, praying for the work God has called us to do, and praying for our sister churches and the work they are called to do. Let us work together in serving, in giving, in praying and in fellowship, so that we can be a blessing of God to others. As we work together, we have the promise that the God of hope and peace will be with us (Matthew 28:20).
We are now in the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans and in this passage, Paul acknowledged a multitude of people who had labored with him in the ministry. Let us think about what it means for us to be a community of faith — for God to bring us together into fellowship with one another. Are we working together in the ministry, to do what God has called us to do? The church exists not to please ourselves, not to provide for our desires, but to work together so that we all grow in the faith and we reach those who are outside of the faith. This passage shows us that one person in a church cannot do it all. God calls and gifts each believer to work together in order to accomplish His work. The list of people in this passage includes a combination of Jewish and Gentile names that attests to the unity of the gospel and the unity the church ought to have in working together for Christ. The list confirms that the gospel transcends all barriers of gender, nationality, social status, and location. This passage shows us a mutual trust that existed between believers and a shared ministry they were all called to do. Praise God for those who accept the call to serve the Lord and who work together to accomplish His work. Let us look, then, at Paul’s co-workers in the ministry.
Commend Workers for God’s Work
One of the things Jesus told His disciples to do was to pray for more workers because the work is great (Luke 10:2). That was true in Paul’s time and it is true for us today. We need more workers to do God’s work here. And the workers we need are not just pastors, teachers and missionaries. We need all sorts of workers to accomplish what God has called the church to do. In this passage, Paul warmly greeted those he knew, or knew about, who were in Rome and who were involved in the ministry. Paul mentioned the first person in this list for her support and he commended her to the church in Rome. Look at the first two verses of this passage.
Romans 16:1–2 1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.
Paul presented Phoebe to the church in Rome as someone he was confident would serve the church well. Some believe Phoebe was the person who carried Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. If so, that may have indicated a high level of trust that Paul had in her. Paul described Phoebe in two ways. First, he called her “our sister”, meaning she was a female member of the family of God. The reference to members in the church as brothers and sisters is the most appropriate title we can have for each other. Paul also called Phoebe “a servant of the church”. This, too, is an accurate designation of our relationship to God and to His church. If we have been called by God into fellowship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ, then we are servants of Him and servants of His Church. We are here to serve, not to be served. Scholars debate whether Phoebe was a servant in a general sense, or whether she served as a deacon, or deaconess, in the church. The Greek word diakonos can mean either “servant” or “deacon”.
Either way, Paul commended Phoebe for her service to the church and asked the Roman church to welcome her in a manner worthy of God’s people. It is uncertain whether Paul meant that this worthiness was because she was simply a sister in the household of God, meaning she had a worthiness we all have by being saved and adopted into God’s family, or whether the church should welcome her in a manner that is consistent with followers of Jesus Christ, meaning to welcome her in an honorable way. Perhaps both are appropriate. Paul asked the church in Rome to provide her with whatever help she needed from them because she had been such a dedicated friend and supporter of many, including Paul himself. She was a patron, one who supported the ministry and provided assistance. Because of her service and support, Paul called upon the church to assist her in whatever way she needed. Paul could have just said that they owed it to her, like he said the Gentile believers owed it to the Jewish people.
Be Thankful for God’s Work
In verses three through sixteen, Paul used one word more than anything else. You may have noticed it. Paul gave greetings to a lot of people. In fact, nowhere else in Paul’s writings do we find such a lengthy list of personal greetings. When you work on such a great work as Paul did — preaching the gospel, planting churches, and raising support — you make a lot of connections. The first two people he told the church to greet were ones to whom he was thankful. Not only was Paul thankful for these two, but he said that all of the Gentile churches were thankful for them as well. When you are given work to do, are you thankful for it? Do you thank your boss for the work he or she gives you to do? When people work for you, or do a service for you, or help you in a particular way, do you thank them? Being thankful in general is an essential Christian trait, for God tells us to give thanks in all circumstances (Ephesians 5:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:18). For these two people, Paul wrote that they had literally “risked their necks” for his life, which is something for which one ought to be thankful. Look at the following verses.
Romans 16:3–5 3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia.
These two people Paul mentioned were Prisca, sometimes called Priscilla, and her husband Aquila, a couple he met in Corinth. Prisca and Aquila were tentmakers who traveled with Paul to Ephesus. After hearing Apollos speaking boldly in a synagogue, they pulled him aside and explained some things to him. Even preachers and teachers need to be corrected at times. Paul called Prisca and Aquila his “fellow workers”. He was thankful for their work and so were the churches of the Gentiles. If Prisca and Aquila had not helped Paul, Paul might not have come to those Gentiles. If Paul had not visited them, how would they have heard the good news of Jesus Christ? Had Paul not gone to these places and preached the good news of Jesus, people like Epaenetus, the first convert in Asia, might not have heard about His Savior and responded in faith. He was no doubt thankful for the work of Paul and others that led to his hearing the gospel.
Are we thankful for those who share the good news of Jesus Christ with others? Are we thankful for what God has done for us through Jesus Christ our Lord? We should be! Paul was not only thankful for Prisca and Aquila, he asked the church in Rome to welcome them and the “church in their house”. Interestingly, Prisca and Aquila had a church in their home, which Paul also mentioned in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 16:19). Now, this was not a nice building with a steeple on top and pews inside, because a church is the people God has called into fellowship with Him and each other. Churches that met in people’s homes was common throughout the New Testament. Where a church meets is not as important as the fact that a church does meet. We could meet in someone’s home, in a school, under a tree, in a field, or wherever we desire, and still be the church. Are we thankful for just the fellowship and the work we have regardless of where that is? We should be!
Work Hard to do God’s Work
Paul’s greetings in this passage show that these respected coworkers in Rome were co-laborers in the same gospel that Paul proclaimed. It shows that these people worked hard alongside Paul in the ministry. This reminds me of marriage. Marriage is hard work. Both the husband and the wife have to work hard at it. Unfortunately, some newlyweds think it is a honeymoon forever, but, they are mistaken! Marriage is a partnership of a man and a woman who have to work hard together through good and bad times. The bad times are not an excuse to stop working on it. They are a reminder that you need to work harder. Marriage is also about sacrifice. You have to be willing to put aside your wants and desires for the person God has given you. In this passage, Paul mentioned many people who worked hard with him in the ministry. Look at the next few verses.
Romans 16:6–12 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord.
A couple of times Paul not only mentioned who worked, but those who worked hard. Both men and women are mentioned in this passage. Andronicus and Junia were probably a husband-and-wife ministry team. Paul tells us that they were Jewish, had been imprisoned, and had become Christians before Paul. Apelles is identified as one who had been tried and found to be trustworthy. It is interesting that Paul mentioned a couple of women who “worked hard” for the church and for the Lord. As one scholar put it, “The exhausting work is restricted to women.” Really? Well, maybe our sisters in the church already know that, particularly those wives who have to work harder in the home. The point Paul was making, I believe, is that many worked hard for the church. A lady named Mary was one. Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis were others.
What can we learn from these people? Do not give up. Do not get lazy. Keep pushing forward. Keep working for the Lord. One seminary professor once told me that he did not believe in retirement. The only retirement for him was when he retired to his home in heaven. Do we have that same attitude? I confess that I often do not. I am tempted to slack off, and then I remember Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis from this list. I also remember the writer of Hebrews who said the following.
Hebrews 12:1–2 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…”
When you feel like quitting, giving up or slacking off from the work God has given you, remember the heroes of our faith. May we be faithful and run the race with endurance. May God give us the strength to continue the work He has called us to do, looking to Jesus Christ when we feel like quitting. Work hard for the Lord, for the retirement benefits are out of this world!
Work Affectionately with One Another
The last point to this passage is the most affectionate one, or to some of you, the most awkward one. Paul greets a few more people and then tells them to…kiss one another. Seriously! Look at verses thirteen through sixteen.
Romans 16:13–16 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
Some scholars think the Rufus Paul mentioned here may be the same one whose father helped Jesus carry His cross to calvary (Mark 15:21). We do not know for sure, but whoever Rufus was, his mother was also a mother to Paul. This sounds similar to Jesus telling John that Mary was his mother. For Paul, it sounds as though he was referring to Rufus’ mother caring for him in a motherly way. Their relationship was close and supportive. He was affectionate toward her, and vice versa. Paul then mentioned nine individuals by name in verses fourteen through sixteen. Again, Paul has a lot of fellow workers in his ministry. No doubt, Paul was thankful for each one of them.
The last verse in this passage has an interesting statement. Paul closed his greetings with the instruction, “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (v. 16). That may sound strange to us now, but it was fairly common in Paul’s day. This ancient practice was a regular part of the worship service in the early church, such as during the Lord’s Supper. It was also a regular form of greeting. Christians would greet one another with a holy kiss to signify their warm affection for one another. It was a sign of love for each another. I am sure many of us today are glad that this tradition is not practiced today. While we may not greet one another with a “holy kiss”, I do think we can learn something from this. When we gather for worship or for the Lord’s work, we ought to welcome one another in a loving and familial way. We ought to welcome one another in a way that shows our true fellowship with each another and with our Lord. After all, Jesus said that is by our love for one another that the world will know we are His disciples (John 13:34-35).
In closing, this passage demonstrates to us that the church’s work for the Lord is a group effort. As was certainly true for Paul, the gospel most frequently goes forth not by individual effort alone but through the shared labor, hard work, and sacrifice of many people. The work of the Church cannot rest solely on the missionaries, the pastors, the deacons, the Sunday school teachers or other leaders in the church. The work of the church is for the whole church. The work of the church is also a unifying work. The list of individuals Paul mentioned in his greeting represents people from both genders, different ethnicities, different social classes, and varying locations. This greeting is also a description of the church that works together so that the world may hear and believe in Jesus Christ. It shows the glaring contrast of the true workers in the church versus those mentioned in the next section who cause divisions and create obstacles to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a beautiful picture of the church that Paul expressed in chapter twelve.
Romans 12:5 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
We are one Body with many members. God gives and God calls each member of the church to work together to accomplish His work. What is God calling you to do? What has He gifted you to do? Whatever it is, get to it. Let us work together to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ for the glory of Jesus Christ until we have no more work to do. This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.