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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
(2 Timothy 2:15)
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4
We begin our study of Romans 16 with this lesson; the final chapter of Paul’s letter to these Believers in Rome. Before we get started with that I want to take the time to thank you for “hanging tough” throughout this course of study which began more than three years ago and for being here for this occasion. It’s an achievement worthy of acknowledgment, which is why I’m putting it first on the agenda.
Many people choose to skip Romans 16. I guess the only thing they see here is a list of dead people’s names, so they move on. #1: I believe everything in this book is profitable and worthy of our attention, and I pray I can help you recognize this. #2: These people Paul listed in this chapter aren’t “dead and gone.” These eternal souls are alive and with the Lord in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23). They will be reunited with their “changed” resurrected body at the rapture of the church (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
When I was in the 5th grade I remember the city had roped off the sidewalk in front of our home because it was unsafe to walk on. City employees started working on it one day and before long they had removed the damaged areas and prepped the site. Then one morning a cement truck came and wet cement was poured into these areas. As soon as they packed up their gear and left my brothers and I ran outside to write our names in the fresh cement before it dried. Our scribbling can still be seen today. I can’t describe the emotion. What I can say is something inside me wanted to ensure my name would be preserved well beyond my years and I think this is true for all of us.
Let’s forget for the moment what my brother’s and I did that day concerning the fresh cement could be considered an act of “vandalism,” and choose to focus instead on “preserving” one’s name for all time. Every true Believer should know that their names were “preserved” for eternity the very moment they believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ in what I refer to as “God’s Family Album.” Scripture calls this the Book of Life.
The Book of Life is a record containing the names of those who have overcome sin through accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. In other words, the Book of Life contains the names of God’s adopted children, the redeemed, those who will live with God forever in heaven. (Revelation 3:5, 17:8, 20:11-15, 21:27; Philippians 4:3). If this doesn’t make you smile, I not sure what will : )
Here in Romans 16 our Apostle Paul gives us a list of 33 friends and relatives. These folks never could have imagined that their names would be recorded in the Scriptures and then made forever noteworthy. Nine of the people were with Paul – eight men and one woman. Then there are 24 names mentioned in Rome – 17 men and 7 women. Paul mentions two households and two unnamed women – the mother of Rufus and the sister of Nereus, as well as some unnamed brethren. Since he had never visited Rome, I’m thinking this is an impressive list of names. Obviously, aside from the relatives, these are people he met and befriended somewhere else in the Roman Empire then they decided to move to Rome at some point.
Please open your Bible at Romans 16:1.
Greetings and love Expressed
1: I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant (deacon) of the church which is at Cenchrea; (see New Revised Standard w/Apocrypha Translation).
2: 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.
It was common back then, as it is now, for an individual arriving amongst strangers to bear a letter of introduction, commending that person favorably to those to whom the letter was addressed (Acts 18:27). In verse 1 Paul introduces Phoebe to the church in Rome via this letter and gives her a warm recommendation. Phoebe was a “deacon” of the church at Cenchrea, the port for Corinth, Greece, located 9 miles east of the city - on the eastern side of the isthmus. The King James Bible has translated Phoebe’s role in this church as a “deaconess.” This is a sexist term. The title and duties of a deacon is the same for a male or a female.
In comparison, Paul wrote a similar letter recommending his protégé Timothy to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:10-11). In the same tone, Paul asks these Believers in Rome to: receive her in the Lord in a manner (in high regard) worthy of the saints.
The word receive in the Greek language is Prosdechomai (pronounced: pros-dekh’-om-ahee) meaning to receive and is commonly employed in diplomatic correspondence for receiving a messenger. We find the same verb occurring in Philippians 2:29: Receive him (Epaphroditus) then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard.
Please take note of the number of women Paul mentions in this chapter - many more than any other literature of that time and for good reason. You see, women occupy a prominent place in the New Testament Church. As we see with Phoebe, they handled important tasks within their church each according to the gifts they had received from God. Therefore, there is nothing in Romans 16:1-2 which indicates or suggests that Phoebe’s role in the church was any less significant, less important, or less official than that of Timothy or Epaphroditus, or any of Paul’s co-workers for that matter!
However, let’s remember that God has ordained and assigned the duties and responsibilities within His church (1 Corinthians 12:28). Although deacons both male and female, served in the early church only an elder could “feed the church;” i.e. teach the people God’s Truths, or spiritually guide them. Elders or overseers are ministers of God’s Word simply said and these were always men (1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:9-11; Hebrews 13:17).
The term elder as a title for a church leader only occurs 3 times in Paul’s writings. This indicates it was not a subject of great importance to him. In fact, he didn’t even start using the term in his work until near the end of his life when he wrote his pastoral letters. So, where did the usage begin? Please turn to Acts chapter 14.
In Acts 14:21-22 Paul begins to head back to Antioch, retracing the steps of his 1st missionary journey. He decided to re-visit the churches he previously founded to “strengthen the souls of the disciples and he exhorted them to continue in the faith.” It’s the Apostle Luke who tells us in Acts 14:23 that Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders for them in every church” having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
Scripture doesn’t say Paul called them elders. This is an assumption people adopt. Luke wrote the book of Acts so this is probably his work. Luke drew from his “Jewish roots,” if you’ll permit, to give these people a title - a word for a N.T. church leader to which Paul may have given no name at all except perhaps for “the ruling ones” (1 Thessalonians 5:12) or “the overseers” (Acts 20:28). Let’s not forget Paul was also a Jew who says he was: advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions (Galatians 2:14).
From Luke’s viewpoint: it is clear from these biblical passage I’ve provided below and others that Jewish elders held a place of leadership from an early period. Over time, the position of elder progressed from an informal position of leadership to a specific calling of God especially during the return of the Jews to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah. (Genesis 10:21, Genesis 50:7; Exodus 3:16, Exodus 12:21, Exodus 24; Numbers 11)
…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. Phoebe, according to Paul helped him and many others as a faithful servant of the church in Cenchrea. The Bible offers no more information than this. Since Paul chose to omit these “helpful” facts in his letter, we can only speculate as to what he meant to say or apply opinion here, and I shy away from doing either. However, every faithful servant of their church such as Phoebe are not only worthy of our notice but of our prayers and respect for their service to the Lord and to others.
3: Greet Prisca (Latin name of which Priscilla is the diminutive) and Aquila (her husband), my fellow workers in Christ Jesus,
After Paul left Athens, during his 2nd missionary journey, he arrived in Corinth, Greece. There he found a Jew name Aquila, having recently came from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. These three stood on common ground being Jews and of the same trade (tent makers), so they agreed to work together. Paul moved in with them eventually (Acts 18:1-3).
Scripture says, And he (Paul) settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. (Acts 18:11) Can you imagine 18 months of intense Bible study with the Apostle Paul and one-on-one at that? Both Aquila and Priscilla matured in their faith in short order under Paul’s guidance.
I don’t believe in coincidence – I believe in God. Paul didn’t bump into Aquila and Priscilla accidentally nor was the time he spent with them in Corinth wasted. This was proven to be true when Paul left there for Ephesus, they accompanied him, and he left them there for his home church in Antioch (Acts 18:18-22). While Paul was away, a Jew named Apollos, and eloquent man, came to Ephesus. He was mighty in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the “way” of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus Christ, being acquainted (or having knowledge) ONLY with the baptism of John the Baptist or the Gospel of the Kingdom (Acts 18:24-26). The same gospel message as the twelve in Truth i.e. “believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Acts 8:25-38).
Aquila and Priscilla went to hear him speak and they were impressed by his sincerity, his love for God, and his knowledge of the Old Testament. But his message was deficient (incomplete). All Apollos knew, beyond the O.T. was the message preached by John the Baptist, which merely looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:26).
This means, they lovingly explained the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, His sacrificial and substitionary death on the cross for the sins of every sinner both Jew and Gentile, His victorious resurrection from the garden tomb and glorious ascension into heaven, the necessity for personal salvation from sin by faith (alone) in Jesus Christ’s finished work of the cross, the birth of the Body of Christ and God’s church, and the applicable Grace Age doctrines.
Now armed with the Truth or the complete message Apollos immediately began preaching Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected, according to the Scriptures and all that this means. He traveled through Achaia eventually winding up in Corinth, where he “watered” where Paul had “sown,” building on another man’s foundation. (Acts 19:1; 1 Corinthians 3:6, 15:1-4)
4: (Aquila and Priscilla) who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles;
The Bible does not say how Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives for Paul or when it happened, but somehow, somewhere, at sometime they endangered their lives to save Paul’s life and for that we all need to give thanks.
5: also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ in Asia.
6: Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.
7: Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsman and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
…also greet the church (ecclesia in the Greek language meaning “a called out assembly”) that is in their house. People didn’t “go” to church in Paul’s day. For one thing the people were too poor to own land or to build structures to meet in. Ancient history is a bit cloudy when looking as far back as the 1st century AD, but some historians claim the earliest building devoted exclusively to Christian worship was at Dura Europos on the Euphrates River in eastern Roman Syria. It was a house that came into Christian possession and was remodeled in the year 240 AD for that purpose. But this didn’t last long as the Sassanian Persians destroyed it in the year 256 AD.
More importantly keeping a “low-profile” (not attracting unnecessary attention) in Paul’s day would have been a wise decision in view of the persecution coming from the Roman government and from Jewish opposition. Therefore, small groups met in homes primarily for their safety and for the convenience. We know of at least three house churches in Rome, but there could have been many more.
In verse 5 Paul remarks on the length of time his friend Epaenetus was in Christ Jesus. His conversion took place at the beginning of Paul’s mission into Asia (western Turkey).
Then in verse 7 he mentions Andronicus and Junias his relatives (kinsmen) who were converted to Christ while he was still a zealous persecutor of the Jewish saints in and about Jerusalem, well before his conversion. It’s hard to tell if this is a husband and wife or two brothers. It all depends on the name “Junias.” If it is “Junias” with an “s,” as the translators have it here, it is a male. If it is “Junia,” as the KJV Bible translation has it, it is female. Whoever they were they were Jews, relatives of Paul, who became Believers in Christ Jesus’ shed blood for their sins.
Let’s read verse 8 thru 16 together.
8: Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.
9: Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.
10: Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are the household of Aristobulus.
11: Greet Herodion, my kinsmen (relative). Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord.
12: Greet Typhaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord.
13: Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.
14: Greet Asyncritus, Phiegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren 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. All the churches of Christ (in the vicinity, particularly in Achaia) greet you.
You can scan your Bible in search of all these names Paul has given us, but I’ll save you some time. You’re not going to find them anywhere else but here in Romans 16. Other Bible commentator’s offer opinions as to who these people may be, but you see in the end that’s all you end up with - opinions. Instead of following suit, as it were, I think it’s best that we work with what we know from the Scriptures vs relying on speculation and uncertainty. To do this we must remember what we’ve learned so far.
Why did Paul Write This Letter to the Church in Rome
Paul wrote this letter for a number of purposes. First and foremost among them was an explanation of God’s Grace and a straightforward presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul also wanted to address mounting tensions between Jewish and Gentile Believers in the church. These “anxious feelings” within the church community were bringing about division amongst the Jewish and Gentile Believers in Rome.
Early Believers had to deal with some important questions about their faith such as what was Christianity’s relationship with the Jewish faith. Was it necessary for Believers to observe Jewish laws? Was it wrong for Jewish Believers to adhere to Jewish traditions? Uncertainty on these issues and others caused friction between the factions.
Many of the Jewish Believers still practiced the teachings of the Jewish Law such as observance of the Sabbath, feast days, and dietary rules. The Gentile Believers, however, considered these practices to be strange and unnecessary. The Law-observant Jews would not eat with the Gentiles who did not share their dietary laws, and the Gentiles saw no need to sacrifice their freedom in Christ Jesus for the sake of unnecessary customs. Instead of loving one another with the Love of Jesus Christ, bitterness and contention arose between the two groups to such a degree that neither group saw the need to associate or fellowship with members of the other group. The Christian Believers in Rome had become divided into Jewish churches and Gentile churches, each group viewing itself as superior to the other group.
Remember, Paul wanted to go to Spain. This was to be his next mission. It would take money and resources to accomplish this goal. To launch his mission into Spain, Paul needed the support of Believers and the closest Believers to Spain were in Rome. Fortunately, he had this list of contacts in Rome. These people could testify about his character and his other missionary journeys to others, helping him toward this goal.
If Paul was going to garner the support of the Roman Believers for his mission trip to Spain, he would have to put right this division within the church. He would have to “unite” these two factions into one functional spiritual body. Paul was aware that a major obstacle to this task was that the Christian Believers never gathered together in one church. He knew of at least three churches in Rome that met in homes of Believers. These groups met in small apartment type dwellings in the poorer parts of the city. Little, if any, interaction occurred among these isolated pockets of Believers, who had become segregated into Jewish and Gentile churches. If Paul could persuade them to meet together, to get to know one another, to pray and worship together, and to share a meal together in the Lord’s name, perhaps the barriers which existed between these two factions would break up and they would become one church united in accord, love, and service to the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we see in Paul’s letter, his message again and again to both factions is a plea for unity in Christ Jesus. This mandate is essential on the part of every Believer in order to fulfill the prayer of Jesus Christ for unity so that the world may believe: accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)
Since Jesus Christ accepted us with our imperfections (Romans 5:8), then Paul challenged everyone in the Roman church to show grace, love, and tolerance to fellow Believers in Christ Jesus, who for reasons of conscience, followed different rules about diet, holidays, and other religious practices, reminding them not to judge others (Romans 14,15).
16: Greet one another with a holy kiss.
The word kiss in the Greek language is Philema and means a sacred kiss; physically pure and morally blameless. It was a common custom in most nations for people to kiss each other at meeting or parting to display their love, sincere affection, and friendship for each other. The kiss is called holy to distinguish it from a sexual one, from a hypocritical one, or one such as Judas gave to Jesus Christ on the night of His betrayal.
For Believers, a holy kiss, expressed brotherly love and unity. Furthermore, a holy kiss from a Jewish Believer to a Christian Believer was evidence that the Gentiles were accepted fully into their fellowship.
(To be continued)
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GJ Heitzman’s Ministry
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