The Priority of Loving Relationships – Romans 16:1-16
Pastor Mark Hardy March 9, 2014
The Natural Bridge of Virginia is a beautiful National Historic Landmark located between Lexington and Roanoke. It is a geological formation in which Cedar Creek, a small tributary of the James River, carved through the mountainous limestone terrain and created a natural arch that is 215 feet high and 90 feet wide.
If you go there today you will see hundreds of names scratched into the rock to gain a kind of immortality. And if you look 23 feet up on one wall of the bridge you will find the name of George Washington, the “Father of our country.” He was eighteen-years-old when he did this in 1750, while hired to survey the Natural Bridge site for Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, who became his mentor and friend.
A person’s name is extremely important because it represents him or her as a unique individual with a one of a kind story. Names are people made in the image of God, and like fingerprints or snowflakes no two people are exactly alike. Certainly the apostle Paul knew this. In the passage we will be looking at this morning he gives the longest list of names in all his letters.
As we come to Romans 16, the final chapter of this epistle, Paul lists in verses 1-16: 27 individual people, twenty five of whom he names, two (perhaps three) couples, and five unnamed groups of people. As we will see, he knew many of these people in the Roman church well, although he had never been there, which has caused critics to say this passage doesn’t belong to Romans but should go with his letter to the Ephesians, where he stayed three years and knew everyone. This is simply not true, for he met many of these people throughout his missionary journeys and they have ended up living in Rome.
Now someone might say about a list of names like this in Scripture, “Let’s just move on past this and get to the important stuff!” But remember it was the Holy Spirit who moved Paul to inscripturate even this passage, so we need try to glean the truths God wants us to learn.
In Romans 16:1-16 we see three facets of Paul’s greetings to the Roman church that reveal his priority of loving relationships, which is a model that every believer should follow.
The first facet is this:
I. The Commendation of Phoebe to the Romans
A. Look at vv. 1-2: I commend to you our sister Phoe-be, who is a servant of the church which is at Cench-rea; 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.
1. Phoebe was apparently a wealthy businesswoman preparing for a business trip to Rome, and Paul seized the opportunity to have her be the bearer of this letter to the church at Rome. Since they didn’t know Phoebe, here Paul “commends” (eunistemi), meaning introduces or recommends, her to the Romans.
2. Letters of commendation were common in the ancient world since those traveling were often unknown and needed lodging, food, and the like to carry on their ministry (Acts 18:27; 2 Cor. 3:1; 4:2; 5:12; 10:12; 12:11; 3 Jn. 9-10).
3. Notice the two ways in which Paul describes Phoebe to the Roman church: First, Paul calls her “our sister (adelphen),” which is a warm and intimate way to say that she is a fellow believer, a part of the one family of God (1 Cor. 7:15; 9:5; Phile. 2; 1 Tim. 5:1-2; Jam. 2:15).
4. Second, Paul says she is “…a servant of the church which is at Cench-rea.” The church at Cench-rea was undoubtedly a daughter church of the Corinthian church, for Cench-rea was a port city for Corinth on the Sar-on-ic Gulf about 7 miles from Corinth where Paul is now staying as he writes this letter.
5. Phoebe was highly regarded in the church for her service and assistance to other. Since the word “servant” (diakonon) is the same term for “deacon,” some say that this shows that she was an official “deaconess” in the church.
6. However, the Greek word is neuter and is used as a general term for servant. John Murray accurately states, “Though the word for ‘servant’ is the same as is used for deacon in the instances cited, yet the word is also used to denote the person performing any type of ministry. If Phoebe ministered to the saints, as is evident from verse 2, then she would be a servant of the church and there is neither need nor warrant to suppose that she occupied or exercised what amounted to an ecclesiastical office comparable to that of the diaconate.” (pg. 226)
7. So Phoebe was a dedicated Christian woman who was actively and faithfully serving others with her spiritual gifts and financial resources in the church at Cench-rea.
B. Paul then states the two-fold purpose he commends Phoebe to the Roman believers.
1. First, he says, “…that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints.” For the Roman believers to “receive her in the Lord” meant to welcome and accept Phoebe as one united to them in the love and fellowship of Christ.
2. And to do so “in a manner worthy of the saints,” speaks of the loving acceptance that true Christians show one another.
3. Second, he states, “…and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you.” The word “help” (parastete) means to stand by and provide assistance for.
4. And the word “matter” (pragmati) was often used of business transactions as is indicated by the King James rendering of “whatever business” she has need of you. In other words, assist her in whatever way she needs while on her business trip to Rome.
5. Paul then adds another reason for helping her, “…for she herself has also been a helper (prostatis—patron or benefactor) of many, and of myself as well.” In other words, since Phoebe has served as a helper to many others in encouraging and financially supported them, even Paul himself, she is worthy of help by the Roman church.
6. John MacArthur observed, “…although God inspired no woman to write a part of Scripture, he used Phoebe to transport the first copy of this marvelous letter, which is one of the bedrocks of New Testament theology. This woman was emblematic of those countless women of God whom He has used and honored with great distinction within the framework of His divine plan.” (pg. 362)
7. The second facet of Paul’s greetings is this:
II. The Greetings to Specific people in Rome
A. In vv. 3-15 Paul indirectly greets specific people in the Roman church by commanding the church to greet them for him. There are many people Paul knows and some he only heard about, but in most cases he states something special about them. Let’s see each one of these greetings:
1. Look at vv. 3-5a: 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. (Stop there)
2. The word “Greet” (Aspasasthe), used 18 times in vv. 1-16 (NASB) is an imperative or command and given in rapid-fire succession throughout this passage.
3. Here Paul wants the Roman church to greet Prisca, also known as Priscilla, and Aquila for him. He was especially close to them.
4. Now like himself, Prisca and Aquila were tent makers. This Christian couple had fled Rome when all Jews were expelled by the Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2), and they traveled to Corinth, where they met Paul on his first visit to Corinth.
5. They invited Paul to stay with them while he began his ministry in Corinth (18:3-4). When Paul left Corinth to go to Ephesus, they went with him (Acts 18:18).
6. However, when Paul left Ephesus, they stayed there and were instrumental in instructing Apollos more accurately about the gospel (Acts 18:25-26). By the time Romans was written they had returned to Rome, but they would later return to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:19).
7. It is interesting that in four of the six references to this couple, Priscilla’s name is given first (Acts 18:18, 26; Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19/Aquila first—Acts 18:2; 1 Cor. 16:19). Whereas some say this is because she had a more dominant personality or a higher social standing or was more gifted or knowledgeable than Aquila, this is all speculation and no one knows for sure.
8. What we do know is that together they were vitally involved in Christian ministry. The one Greek word translated “fellow workers” (sunergous) means co-workers in the gospel ministry of Jesus Christ. This term is also used in v. 9.
9. However, they were much more to Paul than co-workers, for he goes on to say “…who for my life risked their own necks.” They were so committed to Paul and the gospel that they put their own lives in jeopardy to save his.
10. No one knows when they did this since Paul was often in danger, possibly at Corinth or Ephesus (Acts 19:23-20:1; 1 Cor. 15:32; 2 Cor. 1:8-11). But Paul declares, “…to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.”
11. Even the Gentile churches were grateful to them because they not only helped preserve Paul’s life, and thus, the Gentile mission, but also because of their own ministry of significant benefit to the Gentiles over the years.
12. And notice how their ministry is continuing in Rome, as Paul says in v. 5 “also greet the church that is in their house.” The early church predominantly met in house churches (1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phile. 2), and it wasn’t until the 3rd century that church buildings were constructed.
13. In this passage we will see where Paul greets five house churches (vv. 5, 10, 11, 14, 15), which shows the Christians in Rome met in smaller groups rather than one large assembly.
B. Paul goes on to say at the end of v. 5: Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia.
1. Paul calls him “my beloved” (agapeton), for he was very dear to him. Paul says this about three other people in this passage (vv. 8, 9, 12).
2. The one Greek word translated “first convert” (aparche) means that this man, now in the Roman church, was one of the first people converted to Jesus Christ during Paul’s ministry in Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey (Acts 19:10; 1 Cor. 16:15).
C. Verse 6: Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.
1. Mary was one of six bearers of that name in the New Testament. Paul says that she “worked hard” (ekopiasen), which refers to laboring in ministry to the point of weariness and exhaustion.
2. Paul often used this same term to describe his own ministry to others (1 Cor. 15:10; Gal. 4:11; Phil. 2:16; Col. 1:29; 1 Tim. 4:10). Mary poured out her heart and soul in ministry to the Roman believers, and Paul will state the same thing about the three women in v. 12.
D. Verse 7: Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
1. Since the name “Junias” can be used for either a man or a woman, this couple might be a husband and wife. Paul says three things about them:
2. First, he calls them “my kinsmen” (suggeneis) which means that they were Jewish, fellow Israelites. This term is used again in v. 11.
3. Second, he calls them “my fellow prisoners” (sunaichmalotous), which could mean they were in jail together with him during one of his many imprisonments (2 Cor. 6:5; 11:23) or they merely experienced imprisonment as he did.
4. Third, he says that they were “outstanding among the apostles.” Obviously they were not part of the 13 apostles commissioned by Jesus Christ—the Twelve (Matthias having replaced Judas) and Paul.
5. Since the word “apostles” (apostolois) simply means “sent ones or messengers,” this refers to them as being sent out by the church as itinerant evangelists or missionaries (Acts 14:1-4, 14; 1 Cor. 9:5-7; 2 Cor. 8:23; Gal. 1:19; Phil. 2:25; 1 Thess. 2:6). They were “outstanding” (episemoi—or distinguished) among apostles,” in that their service was distinguished among Christ’s apostles in Jerusalem or among the other messengers of the churches.
6. Fourth, both of them had become Christians before Paul. Since his conversion was within a year or two of the crucifixion, they were probably Christian Jews from Palestine.
E. Look at v. 8: Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.
1. This was a common name among the emperor’s household slaves, and may have been one of those Christians “of Caesar’s household,” Paul referred to in Philippians 4:22. There were at least 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire.
2. He too is called “my beloved” by Paul.
F. Verse 9: Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.
1. Ur-ban-us was a common Roman name. Paul calls him “our fellow worker in Christ,” referring to his gospel ministry with Paul and other co-workers on another occasion or with Paul in general and the Roman church there.
2. Stachys was an uncommon Greek name and he too is called “my beloved” by Paul.
G. Verse 10: Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ.
1. The word “approved” (dokimon) means that he had gone through some sort of fiery trial where he was tried and tested. And yet, he came out approved, in that, he was a shining example of trust in Christ and manifested strength of character.
H. Look at the end of v. 10: Greet those who are of the household of Ar-is-tob-ul-us.
1. Since Aristobulus is not greeted, it seems certain he was not a Christian and was possibly dead, but those of his household,” whose names and number we don’t know, were Christians.
2. Theologian J.B. Lightfoot believes that Aristobulus was the grandson of Herod the Great (who killed the baby boys in Bethlehem—Matt. 2:1-17), and the brother of Herod Agrippa I. If correct, he would have been a close ally of the Emperor Claudius, so that when he died his household would have become the property of the emperor, though still called the “household of Aristobulus.”
3. Therefore, these believers may also have been part of “Caesar’s household” (Phil. 4:22).
I. Verse 11: Greet Herodion, my kinsman.
1. Paul calls him “my kinsman,” meaning that he was a Jewish Christian. As the name indicates, he was related to Herod’s family in some way, and was possibly associated with the household of Aristobulus.
J. Look at the end of v. 11: Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord.
1. Like Aristobulus, Narcissus was also probably not a Christian, but Paul directs his greeting to “those” in his household “who are in the Lord,” meaning who are Christians.
2. J.B. Lightfoot believes that Narcissus was a wealthy freedman—a slave who had been given his freedom, who served Emperor Claudius as his secretary. He was forced to commit suicide by Nero’s mother, Agrippina, shortly after her son’s accession to the throne (A.D. 54).
4. Upon his death his household became the property of the emperor, but still was called the “household of Nar-ciss-us.” If correct, then his household was also among the saints “of Caesar’s household” mentioned by Paul in Philippians 4:22.
K. Verse 12: Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord.
1. These women were probably sisters and possibly twins, for it was a common practice to name twins by using the same root word for both names. Notice that Paul says both women were faithful Christian workers.
L. Look at the end of v. 12: Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord.
1. Not only is Persis called “the beloved,” suggesting that she was a very loving person and loved by everyone, but she also had “worked hard,” to the point of weariness and exhaustion, in her Christian ministry.
M. Verse 13: Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.
1. Most scholars believe Rufus was one of the sons of Simon of Cyrene who carried Christ’s cross to Calvary (Mk. 15:21). Therefore, Rufus was well-known in the Roman church.
2. Notice that he is called “a choice man in the Lord.” The word “choice” (eklekton) here does not mean chosen or elected to salvation since that is true of every believer (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4), but rather that Rufus is a distinguished or extraordinary Christian man.
3. Paul then greets Simon’s wife, Rufus’ mother, saying, “also his mother and mine.” Obviously, she was not Paul’s literal mother but one of his many spiritual mothers (Mk. 10:28-30), since somewhere during Paul’s journeys she provided motherly love and care for him.
N. Verse 14: Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Her-mas and the brethren with them.
1. Here Paul greets five men and “the brethren with them.” The word “brethren” (adelphous) here probably refers to the men and women of another house church in Rome in which these five men may have been leaders.
O. Look at v. 15: Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.
1. This is probably another house church in Rome. Philologus and Julia were possibly husband and wife, but there is no indication that “Nereus and his sister” were their children as some suggest.
2. The only other member of the group that Paul knows by name is “Olympas.” He greets the other members generally saying, “…and all the saints who are with them.”
3. The third facet of Paul’s greetings is this:
III. Mutual Greetings and Greetings from the Churches
A. As we come to v. 16 Paul now gives a catch-all greeting, which can be divided into two parts: First, Paul exhorts the Roman believers saying: Greet one another with a holy kiss.
1. The “holy kiss” (philemati agio) was a common greeting in the early church (1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26). Peter describes the same thing in 1 Peter 5:14 as a “kiss of love.”
2. Not only was this a cultural thing, but the early church adapted and elevated it to show genuine, heartfelt love to one another. The fact that it was called a “holy” kiss showed the intention to guard it against inappropriate use.
B. Second, Paul concludes by saying at the end of v. 16: All the churches of Christ greet you.
1. This would particularly include all the churches Paul had founded over his three missionary journeys “from Jerusalem to Illyricum” (15:19).
2. Since Paul is about to leave Corinth to take the contribution to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem (15:25-26), the delegates appointed by the contributing churches who are presently with him and will accompany him to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4) send their greetings to the Roman church as well. And this beautifully conveys the universality of the gospel and the unity of the body of Christ.
C. Now having looked at this passage, there are at least three truths that we can learn from Paul’s list of names and his greetings to them:
1. First, favoritism in the church is wrong!
• We have seen Greek, Latin, Jewish, and Roman names that represent people of prominence, regular citizens, slaves and freedmen. All were in the church at Rome, which demonstrates that the gospel of Jesus Christ crosses all cultural, social, and economic lines.
• They bore out the truth of Galatians 3:28 in that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
2. Second, women’s role in the church is vital!
• Paul was no male chauvinist, as many suggest today.
• He named at least eight women in his greetings and another two are unnamed. Most of which he says of them that they were active and faithful in their ministry.
3. Third, the priority of loving relationships is essential!
• It is amazing that Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, was not only the greatest theologian, preacher, missionary, and church planter who ever lived after the Lord Jesus Himself, he was also a loving “people person” who took time to know and care for others.
• Paul’s priority of loving relationships, as illustrated in this list of names and greetings, is a model that every believer should follow! This is because the very core of the gospel is love for God and love for others (Matt. 22:37-40; Jn. 13:34-35; Rom. 13:8-10).
• As Christians, it doesn’t matters how much biblical knowledge we may have or how steeped in Christian ministry we may be, we are told in 1 Corinthians 13:2 that without love we are “nothing.”
In closing, let me ask each one of us: Do we have the priority of loving relationships in our lives? If not, we need to or we are not putting first things first. People, as represented by their names, are the ministry!
May Paul’s example, which he patterned after Christ, be a model that motivate us to step out of our comfort zones to reach out to people we don’t know, to learn their names, and to know and care for them, so that the Christlike “agape” love will be clearly seen in our lives to the glory of God.