Sermon Title: Greeting the church in Rome
Sermon Text: Romans 16:1-16
Key verse: Romans 16:16
This manuscript is provided as a courtesy. It is not always followed word for word during the message. This document is not developed for publication; there may be grammatical errors throughout. Unfortunately, there is not always time to proof read. I choose to use my available time for studying, finding ways to explain the truths of Scripture while keeping a balance of time for visiting and discipling people in the church. Thanks for understanding.
The closing greetings of the Roman epistle is unique when compared to Paul’s other letters to the churches. In his other epistles, he has a general greeting to the church and sends greetings from people he is with, sometimes mentioning those that he is with by name. Only on one occasion does Paul send a specific word to a named individual, Archippus, in the closing of his epistle to the Colossians (Co. 4:17). In his pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, only once does he greet someone by name, and that is Prisca and Aquila (2 Ti. 4:19).
In the letter to the Romans, Paul greets twenty-six people, twenty-four by name. Perhaps Paul does this because he has not been to Rome personally, and he wants to show his awareness of what is going on in the church; thereby enhancing his apostolic authority.
The individuals mentioned in the closing of the book of Romans provide us with a “who’s who” listing of a first century church. It also gives insight into the far-reaching ministry of Paul, how he impacted people, and the vast network of believers he knew. It also proves to us Paul is not a lone ranger, but had many people helping him along the way.
The names are a goldmine and very revealing. From the names we can learn a great deal about the church. God’s word is profitable; even when looking at a list of 26 people.
MAIN IDEA: Paul’s greetings to the Romans reveals seven characteristics about the Roman church that our church may imitate.
We will not be looking at individual in detail, even though Rick suggested I do a biography on each individual. There are many sources, if you are interested, you may turn to and learn what they have to say about these individuals. Instead we will make observations based on what Paul says about the people who are named for the purpose of application.
1-They are hospitable
Paul commends to the Roman church, Phoebe. She is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea, which is around eight miles from Corinth. It is a seaport and important to Corinth’s commerce as a city. Because he commends her to the church, she is “possibly the deliverer” of the letter.
She “served as a deaconess” at the church in Cenchrea.
As a deaconess, Phoebe has a proven character and is a person who is trusted by Paul and the church in Corinth. She has dignity and integrity and proven herself to be even-tempered and not a gossip. Phoebe is likely an important person, perhaps wealthy, and it is believed she had business to conduct in Rome which the Romans would be able to help her with.
It is obvious Paul cares for Phoebe because she has helped many people, including Paul. Paul says she is a helper, but in the Greek, the word is a bit stronger than just assisting. She leads in her assistance of other such as a benefactor might.
The point we want to focus on is that Paul trusts the Romans to care for her. When he asks them to receive her he is trusting them to take good care and provide housing, food, and whatever needs she may have. There were few places to lodge in the ancient world, it is not like what we have today, so Paul trusted the Roman Christians to look out for her as Phoebe has looked out for others. He wants her to be received in a manner worthy of the Saints. Receive her as you would receive Christ.
In addition to hosting Phoebe, they were already hosting one another. Paul mentions three households who are hosting a church in their home. There is a church in Prisca and Aquila’s house (v.3); those in the household of Aristobulus; and those in the house of Narcissus. He mentions people by groups (such as in verse 15) which shows people are getting together and are associating with one another.
Being hospitable is a character trait God desires of His people. When we are hospitable we are looking out for the needs of others. I have no doubt if Paul were to send Phoebe to our church, we are able to name a number of households she could stay and know she would be welcomed warmly and would be made to feel very comfortable. We have many hospitable families in our church. You know who they are as you have likely been to their home.
Being hospitable is more than just providing a place to eat or sleep. In addition to accommodations, there are a number of people in our church who are gifted in many ways and I know if Phoebe came here she would be helped with any business needs as well. I can’t imagine any task that we would be unable to help her with. If she needed help with government matter, legal advice, education, medical aid, marketing, transportation, engineering, trades, whatever, we have people here who are capable and would gladly assist her.
Our love for Christ is evident in how we love one another. Being hospitable is a practical way to express that love. The Roman church proved to be hospitable and we do well to imitate their church.
2-The church is well organized
It is clear people are organized in a way Paul is able to keep track of people’s whereabouts. For instance, Paul greets Epaenetus, who he calls his beloved, the first convert in Asia (16:5), who is now in Rome. He sends greetings to Andronicus and Junia who spent time in prison with Paul and who were also known among the apostles (Ro. 16:7). Paul is aware of Prisca and Aquila are now in Rome and are no longer in Ephesus. Somebody from the church had to be tracking and keeping record of people’s whereabouts and who is attending church in the various homes.
Paul also is aware of the goings on in the church. For example, he knows those that are working in the church, such as Tryphaena and Tryphosa who Paul refers to as workers in the Lord and Mary is working hard for the church.
It is not difficult to show from this passage that keeping track of people is a commendable act. Somebody in the Roman church tracked the information and communicated the goings on to Paul. They just didn’t track who was meeting in which home but also who was contributing to the well-being of the church.
God is a God of order, not a God of confusion. God tells us to be good stewards and being a steward does not only pertain to money. We are to care for people and help them to be plugged in and effectively utilized for the glory of God and for His church.
The most important resource we have in church is not the stuff, but the people. Being organized and knowing what is going on with people is commendable. Of course we need not use the information to be controlling or to oversee in a negative way. There is a way to be organized that proves to be efficient and God honoring. Nobody wants to work for an employer who is careless, chaotic, or nonchalant in the way they manage their employees. It is uncomfortable and unpleasant. It is the same in a church. Being organized is a way of showing people are valuable and we care about them.
The Roman church is well organized and we do well to imitate their church and not be disorganized but orderly with our administration of people’s gifts and knowing who is doing what.
3- The people are diverse
We can learn much about the nationality as well as the economic and social class of the people by looking at their names. One thing historians have found is this list of names is comprised of a diverse group of people.
For example, knowing about Aristobulus from other Biblical sources we may determine those of his household could very well be part of an imperial family.
Prisca and Aquila are mentioned in the New Testament seven times and in three locations. We read about them from the book of Acts when Paul meets them in Corinth. They are tentmakers like Paul. They were expelled from Italy when Emperor Claudius ruled all the Jews had to leave. Their business in Corinth is large enough to hire Paul. When Paul left Corinth they went with him and they eventually moved to Ephesus to help Timothy establish a church. Going from Rome, to Corinth, Ephesus, and now back to Rome shows they were well traveled and had the means to get by as merchants in multiple cultures. We see they now are in Rome and have a home large enough for a church meeting. Based on this information we may safely surmise they were not among the poor, but perhaps even wealthy.
In comparison to wealthy there are some who have names that are common for slaves. A slave was property to be used by the owner. They did not have rights like other citizens, but they could purchase their freedom. Roman slavery is not like slavery of the 1800s which we are familiar with. Teachers, accountants, and physicians were often slaves. 30-40% of the population were slaves. Most were slaves because they were in debt or captured from Roman conquest. Many of us would be slaves to the bank who owns our vehicle and home. One thing about slaves is they were not able to change their name until they were free, which they often did. Ampliatus is a common name for a slave so he is likely to be a slave as Paul addresses him in the letter.
Tryphaena and Tryphosa are names occurring among slaves and are names found in a cemetery used chiefly for the emperor’s servants.
In addition to different economic statuses there were a variety of nationalities in the Roman church. Some names are Jewish which makes them from the nation of Israel. An example is when Paul says to greet his kinsman, Andronicus, Junius, and Herodion.
Mark wrote his gospel in Rome. It is in the gospel of Mark we read Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross for Christ (Mk. 15:21) and Mark happens to mention Simon’s two sons, one of which is Rufus. Mark mentions Simon’s son because he would have been known by those reading the letter. It is a way of saying, if you don’t believe me, go ask Rufus. Somehow Paul knew Rufus and sends greetings to him (and his mother) and calls him a choice man in the Lord. Simon, and Rufus, is of Cyrene which is modern day Libya in Northern Africa.
There are a few other nations represented. Epaenetus is a convert from the area we now know as Turkey. Paul sends his greetings to Persis, whose name means “Persian woman”, and Persia we now know as Iran of the Middle East.
So, in this list there are people from Libya, Turkey, Italy, Israel, and Iran. There are Roman citizens, property owners, slaves, nobility, and tradesmen. As one might expect, the church in Rome was very diverse and reflected the cosmopolitan make-up of the capitol city of the vast Roman empire.
We may also imitate the diversity of the Roman church. We need not seek diversity for diversity sake, but we should have a church that represents the surrounding demographics of our culture. Our area of the country is not diverse like New York City, but we may still reflect diversity in other ways.
We don’t want to have music which only appeals to millennials nor do we want to be stuck in singing 80’s, 70’s, or 40’s or 1700 worship music. We don’t want to focus on just families with small children nor do we want to focus only on retired people or college students. We don’t want to be just working class at the exclusion of the wealthy nor do we want to exclude the wealthy because we only want to minister to the middle-class or the poor. Our church needs to, and does, reflect the area we live.
The New Testament teaches there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for we are all one in Christ Jesus. The Roman church population reflected this truth and we do well to imitate their church.
4- They are known for their faith
Paul begins the letter to the Romans by telling them he thanks God for them because their faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. How is faith shown? In other words, how do we suppose they would be known because of their faith? Was it because of what they said? Was it things they did? Was it both? How is the faith of the Romans evident?
Faith is evident because of works. James is very clear on this point. He says faith without works is useless. Those who have true faith demonstrate faith in what they do. Jesus said judge a tree by its fruit. If there is no fruit, the tree is useless. We are not called to judge trees, but we are called to be fruit inspectors. If there is no fruit, no works of faith, in a person’s life, there is reason to believe their faith is suspect. Talk is cheap. Anybody can say they love Jesus, but if there is no demonstration of their faith we have to wonder if their faith is real.
As we observe the names and what Paul says about them, we know they are a people who have fruit.
Look at what Paul writes about Prisca and Aquila. He calls them fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They went beyond just being fellow workers, but they risked their own necks for Paul. The book of acts tells us that while in Ephesus, Prisca and Aquila took Apollos aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. They were willing to give of themselves to disciple someone else. Apollos ended up being the pastor of the Corinth church. Paul says he is thankful for them, and guess what, all the churches of the gentiles are thankful for the work of Prisca and Aquila.
Paul speaks of Andronicus and Junias, likely a husband and wife. They are Israelites and were Paul’s fellow prisoners. They were bold enough to share the gospel that it landed them in prison. Their faith led them to evangelize despite the associated risks of doing so. Paul says they are outstanding among the apostles, which means their gospel work was known well enough that the apostles heard of their labors.
Notice how Paul qualifies people by adding a phrase about Jesus. For example, greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Paul doesn’t just love Ampliatus as a person, which I am sure he does, but Paul calls him beloved because he is “in the Lord.” There are many examples of Paul adding a phrase which helps us to see their faith is evident to Paul:
- Urbanus, fellow worker in Christ,
- Apelles, approved in Christ,
- the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord,
- Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord,
- Persis who worked hard in the Lord, and
- Rufus, a choice man in the Lord.
The faith of the Romans is evident in the way Paul recognizes them for their works and for the way he refers to them as saints, fellow sufferers, beloved in the Lord, workers in the Lord, and as people willing to pay the price that comes with sharing the gospel and making Christ known.
It is no surprise that this church produced many martyrs for Christ, such as Saint Valentine who was willing to perform marriages even though it cost him his life.
Many who belonged to the Roman church were known for their faith in Christ. We do well to imitate their church and let our works be evidenced alongside our proclamation of faith. We should endeavor to have our faith proclaimed, not that we would be famous, but that Christ is made famous through us.
5-The women are involved in ministry
Jesus radically changed the involvement of women in ministry. In John chapter 4, we find Jesus talking to a woman. Throughout His ministry women such as Mary Magdalene ministered alongside Him and to Him. We all have heard the story of Mary and Martha; Martha opened up her home and ministered and Mary sat to listen to His teaching.
Women were the last to be with Jesus at the cross, which I am sure was a comfort to Him, and they were first to be at His grave to anoint His dead body. Women were “last at the cross, and first at the sepulchre.”
In this list there are nine women out of 27 people mentioned. Paul doesn’t just write to greet the women, but he commends them for their work in the Lord. Like Phoebe, many women in the Roman church were very involved with important ministry work.
We’ve talked about Priscilla and how she served and ministered alongside Paul. There are also other women. For example, Tryphaena and Tryphosa “Their names mean, ‘dainty’ and ‘delicate.’ The similarity of their names suggests the two were perhaps (twin) sisters.” Paul recognizes their work in the Lord. Paul say Persis has worked hard in the Lord. He also greets Mary, who worked hard for the Roman church. And, it seems Simon of Cyrene’s wife, the mother of Rufus, also ministered to Paul in some way.
As long as there is a need for prayer, ministry of the word, discipleship, and the thousands of other ways we may minister to people, there will always be a need for women in ministry. A church in which women are not encouraged or given opportunity to minister is both disobedient and unhealthy. We are very thankful the many women in our church that if Paul were to write to us he could easily name as many women as he does men.
The Roman church involved women in ministry and we do well when we continue our practice in this church in making sure women are valued for their gifts, are recognized for their contributions, and have a useful, productive place in our ministry.
6-They are loving
In reading through these verses, we get the sense Paul has a deep appreciation and care for the people in the church at Rome. He has expressed his deep desire of wanting to visit them for many years. Paul calls many of the Romans beloved and approved, showing he had a personal relationship with many.
Because Paul knows they are loving people, he trusts they will receive his emissary, Phoebe, and that they will take good care of her, because that is what loving people do. There are many words he uses which show a loving affection, words such as family, kinsmen, beloved and so forth.
He says of Epaenetus, Ampliatus, and Stachys that they are his beloved, which means they are dear to him. Loving people, such as Aquila and Pricilla, will risk their own necks for you, work hard for you, care for you like a son as Rufus mother cared for Paul. They are people that not only Paul loves, but they are like Persis, who Paul says is beloved by all.
Our church is a very loving church. We cry with one another and we rejoice with one another. When people are sick or in the hospital, they are cared for. When people need encouragement they receive it. Many people give of their resources and talents for others. Our church is as a family and definitely committed to one another. I am confident we can look around the church and call many here beloved with a sincere heart.
The Roman church demonstrated love and we do well to imitate the church in Rome by continuing to love and care for one another.
7-They are in the habit of greeting one another
Remember when Jesus entered the house of Simon the Pharisee and the harlot washed Jesus’ feet with her tears? He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet.” Jesus rebuked Simon because it is common courtesy to greet your guests. Simon didn’t even greet Jesus with a kiss. Simon could not have been more rude.
The least we should do is greet one another. We have greeters at the door of our church for a reason. It is polite and it is right and good. When serving as camp director I greeted every parent and child personally every week. I did so because I thought it was the right thing to do.
Other cultures are very good about greeting. In business, I used to go to Puerto Rico to visit clients. Every day as I entered the manufacturing plants I was greeted, not just by the people I was conducting business with, but by everybody I walked past in the corridor would extend a good morning handshake. This is the custom of their culture.
The word greet is in the passage eighteen times. Paul doesn’t have a problem repeating himself. He wants to be sure they are greeted individually. He could have said, “greet …” and then list all the names, but he greets them all. Paul tells of people who are with him greet them. “I guess we can say there is a whole lot of greeting going on.”
If you remember, Paul was in the process of taking up a collection for the saints in Jerusalem. It is believed many of the contributing churches sent a personal representative and were with Paul at the time of the writing of this epistle. So, when Paul says, “All the churches of Christ greet you” it is possible he intends a literal meaning.
Paul tells the church to greet one another with a holy kiss. He writes this in a few of his letters. A holy kiss was expressive of mutual affection and equality before God. It is the custom of the culture to do this. It still is common in the East and in Europe to express affection by ‘the kiss of peace.” For our culture, we might say, “give so and so a big hug or a hearty handshake for me.” This is one more piece of evidence of the loving nature of the Roman church.
Let’s be sure to greet one another warmly. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. It should grieve us to not say hello to others. (By the way, if you are in the church during the week, don’t think you are interrupting me if you say hello. People are never an interruption. Please feel welcome to say hello.)
The Roman church freely and openly greeted one another in the name of Christ. In greeting one another they demonstrated their value and love for one another. We do well when we imitate the Roman church and greet one another in a loving, sincere way.
When I started the message I said this passage, what seemingly is just a list of names, is a goldmine. From Paul’s greetings we see seven characteristics about the Roman church we may imitate. We also learn a great deal about Paul and his ministry. Isn’t it great to see how God’s word is profitable; even when all we do is look at greetings to people in the first century. God’s word brings satisfaction, wisdom, and joy for those who are willing to mine its depths.
Rejoice in God’s church, the bride of Christ.