We’ve made it to the end of the letter to the Romans and as I mentioned at the end of the study of chapter 15, it seems that chapter 16 is more or less a post-script to the letter where Paul is going to send greetings to some of the Roman saints, by name. We’ll also find out who scribed this letter. Paul was the author of the content, yet he wasn’t the one who wrote it down.
Romans 16:1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: 16:2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.
The first in this line of mentioning is Phebe, a sister in the faith. She is a servant in the church at Cenchrea, which is on the eastern side of Corinth. The only other reference to this place is found in Acts 18:18. But, note what Phebe’s function is – a servant. This might not seem like anything worth noting, but I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that the word servant comes from the same word for deacon. The word deacon simply means “servant” or “errand runner.” It is a function in the body of Christ – a function anyone satisfies should they be serving one another. Sometimes, there are specific needs that arise that call for designated servants to attend to. Perhaps they have the skills and or abilities to minister profitably and therefore would serve in that fashion. This is exactly what was going on in Acts 6.
Acts 6:1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. 6:2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 6:3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 6:4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. 6:5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: 6:6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. 6:7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
The idea of a deacon or a deaconess (as in Phebe’s case) isn’t a gender-specific seat of authority within a church hierarchy, but is nothing more than the function one is carrying out when serving and running errands for the body of Christ. Therefore, as Phebe is serving the body, the body should therefore great her as the saint she is. Now, this isn’t to say that her service is what granted her the status of ‘saint’ (as some branches of Christianity would conclude), rather, she was made a saint by faith and was simply manifesting the sainthood reality in her service. Paul says to greet her as such and not just a saintly, ‘Hello’, but to assist her with any thing she needs help with as she has been a large help to Paul throughout his ministry. (This may actually suggest that Phebe was the letter carrier and delivered this unto the Romans).
Romans 16:3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 16:4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 16:5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.
Priscilla and Aquila were also major sources of help and encouragement throughout Paul’s ministry–even risking their own necks for the sake of Paul. Paul says that he is not only thankful, but commends the churches of the Gentiles unto their care. Paul first met Priscilla and her husband Aquila in Corinth after Paul left Athens. These folks were in Corinth due to Emperor Claudius’ decree that the Jews were to leave Rome. Oddly enough, Aquila was a tent-maker, as Paul was, so they were able to setup joint shop, as it were, and fellowship in the same. Priscilla and Aquila’s interactions however were limited to Paul. There was a fellow named, Apollos of Alexandria who came to Ephesus. Apollos had a great command of the scriptures but seems to only have his knowledge up through what was true as of John’s baptism (John the Baptist’s ministry). John the Baptist had preached that he indeed baptized with water, but one was coming that would baptize them in the Spirit and with fire. Priscilla and Aquila then take Apollos and expand his understanding – after all, Pentecost has come and the baptism of the Spirit is in full effect for those of faith. In other words, Priscilla and Aquila are getting Apollos up to speed with what all has been happening. You see how such an impact they had and why Paul would hold them in high regard.
Paul also extends his greetings to the church that is in their house. As church simply means congregation, it is natural to find churches in a myriad of locations, even houses. It wasn’t true back then and nor should it be true today that we use the word church to primarily refer to a building where the congregation congregates. The church is His body and is an organism, not an organization; it is people. Where two or three are gathered (congregated), Christ is in the midst. The location is immaterial to those occupying the location.
Now, we don’t know if Epaenetus is in the same congregation as Priscilla and Aquila’s (based on the way the verse reads), but nonetheless, Epaenetus is beloved of Paul because he was the firstfruits of Achaia. Scripture uses the term firstfruits quite a bit and it is to refer to the first crop that produces from the plant. Using this language metaphorically, Paul likes Epaenetus to the first crop from the gospel seeds Paul had sewn in Achaia. Or, was it Paul who sewed the seed? Note this when Paul writes to the Corinthians,
1Corinthians 16:15 I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,)
It seems reasonable that firstfruits is plural for a reason – that both Epaenetus and the house of Stephanas were the firstfruits of Achaia. However, what if Epaenetus’ work led the household of Stephanas unto the Lord? Or, what if it were the other way around? Either way, the impact of Paul’s message is clear – these were celebrated as the firstfruits of the region of Achaia.
Romans 16:6 Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us.
Nothing is known about who this Mary is, but she seems to be of the same manner as Phebe. By the way, of the first 5 people mentioned here by Paul, 3 of them were women. Women played a very important role in the ministry of Christ and we have here in Romans 16 some more insight as to what they meant to Paul.
Romans 16:7 Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Oh just let it say what it says. Andronicus and Junia were ALSO in Christ before Paul was. It wasn’t just these two, but these along with many others, were in Christ before Paul. Some make a very big deal that Paul was the first in Christ, but verse 7, from Paul’s own mouth, refutes that entirely. Therefore, it is ventured that being “in Christ” and being “in the body of Christ” must be different notions. And, if one’s theology requires Paul being the first, then it is very easy to see why one might demand these be different notions. It is very easy to get carried away by a theological tsunami without realizing the damage it is causing. Plain and simple: there is zero scripture that makes any sort of distinction between “in Christ” and “in the body of Christ.” It is a figment of man’s imagination in order to keep the door bolted on his theology. Being in Christ necessitates being in His body. Christ is ONE and the body is ONE and we who are IN Christ enjoy the experience of that ONE body.
But, how could this be? How could folks be in Christ before Paul preaches the gospel of grace? Easy–because it is FAITH that unlocks the realm of Christ. Those who respond to Christ in faith, are in Him. Much of Paul’s ministry is devoted to explaining this and how this isn’t just true of Jews of faith, but also of Gentiles. Yes, it was a mystery that God was doing this, but Paul simply opened the panel to allow us to see all of the gears that were already working behind it. That’s the revelation of the mystery. Paul would naturally, therefore, want to salute those who were in Christ before he was. These folks were vitally important. These were the various spokes and Paul became the central hub for this network of grace, but, it didn’t take Paul becoming the hub for others to have been put into Christ by their faith.
We’ll talk more about the mystery when we get to verses 25 and 26, but suffice it to say, just let the scriptures say what they say – folks were in Christ before Paul was in Christ.
Paul will render additional greetings and salutations to other various saints who were either in Rome or Paul had met in other locations but became acquainted with the saints at Rome – either by visiting (as all roads led through Rome) or having moved in.
Romans 16:8 Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord. 16:9 Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 16:10 Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus’ household. 16:11 Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord. 16:12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord. 16:13 Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. 16:14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them. 16:15 Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them. 16:16 Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.
We aren’t told what these folks have done for the kingdom of God, but Paul rejoices over all of them. I might point out that Peter exists nowhere in this list for those who put stock in the idea that Peter became the first Pope in Rome. It would seem rather odd for Paul to skip Peter if that was indeed something that Peter was being established as.
Paul is going to finish his post-script with a warning.
Romans 16:17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. 16:18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. 16:19 For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. 16:20 And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
Here is another set of verses that end up causing controversy because of a misunderstood implication of verse 17. Many will use this as their carte blanche to simply cut ties with anyone who doesn’t believe the way they do. Christians have a bad habit of breaking fellowship over some of the most petty things, all the while citing Romans 16:17 as the justification for their hatchet work. However, Paul has just spent a good deal of time expanding the minds of the Roman saints as to what being in Christ is all about, yet, there were those who were teaching contrary to this reality. This could be “false brethren” (as Paul likens them in the letter to the Galatians), or, this could also be those of the pagan society who were deceiving folks away from Christ. If it is the latter, then I would conclude that these are folks who have made it clear where they stand because otherwise, Paul was sent to the pagans. If it is applied to folks that the Romans were acquainted with that were professors of Christ yet taught against what Paul taught in the book of Romans, then likewise, the saints should mark those folks and avoid them. This isn’t universal permission to divide from someone when you don’t like what they believe. This is a very specific command with a very specific context. I should also point out that this isn’t talking about people who are misinformed or need their understanding refined. These are those who willfully set out to teach contrary to Christ – to divide His body. Paul says that these folks are not they which serve the Lord, but their own bellies – their own internal lust. Yet, the obedience (faith, as we learned through the letter) has come up as an example to all men. Paul desires that they remain wise unto what is good, but simple concerning evil. Being simple concerning evil is Paul’s way of saying to be innocent. This is similar to Jesus’ words in Matthew 10 right after calling His disciples then sending them out,
Matthew 10:16 Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Be innocent concerning evil because it will be God who crushes Satan under their feet. Recall from Romans 14 that they are not to recompense evil for evil. They are not to seek vengeance, but to rely upon the Lord to execute His righteous judgment, in His righteous time. Mark and avoid those who willfully teach against Christ for God has marked these individuals as well and will recompense unto them according to truth.
Paul now lists a few more salutations and we finally find out who it is that scribed this letter,
Romans 16:21 Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. 16:22 I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. 16:23 Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.
However, Tertius isn’t merely a dispensable scribe, but he likewise shares in the heartfelt joy of the same information he is recording from Paul. Timothy is also mentioned. Timothy, whom Paul calls his own son, plays a major role in Paul’s ministry, especially as it relates to the city of Ephesus. Paul’s first letter to Timothy is with the backdrop of what is going on in the congregation in Ephesus. Read Acts 19, the letter to the Ephesians then 1Timothy to get the full experience of Timothy’s leadership there and mountain he faced before him.
I also want to point out that if you go back here in chapter 16 and note, you’ll see many of these folks that Paul is saluting are being called Paul’s kinsmen. Yes, Paul was the apostle of the Gentiles, but in stark contrast to Matthew 15, the overflow from the Gentiles’ table is falling to the Jews as well. Both Jews and Gentiles are in Christ, working to advance the kingdom of God and Paul is thankful for them all. He mentions Gaius and I’m not sure if this is the same Gaius who is the subject of 3John, however, it is interesting to note that Paul makes it known that Gaius is his host and Gaius in 3John is being written to about his hospitality.
3John 1:1 The elder unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
3John 1:5 Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; 1:6 Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: 1:7 Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. 1:8 We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth.
Paul is ready to close out his thoughts and he does so in fine fashion by describing that the the Romans’ stabilization in faith comes from the preaching of Christ – that the Romans were the not just the recipients of all that the prophets had pointed to, but that it has material hold on their lives.
Romans 16:25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, 16:26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: 16:27 To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.
The whole letter is sworn by Him, who is of complete authority and capability to sustain these saints according to the good news that Paul was preaching (and had just preached). He preached the gospel of God (that Christ is the Son of God, by His resurrection) and he preached the gospel of Christ (that responding to the Gospel of God opens the believer up to an eternal realm of grace). There was information about this gospel that was kept secret and seemed to have been hidden since the world began, yet, Paul says that (on this side of Calvary), we can look at the scriptures of the prophets and of the commandments of God and see the mystery manifested. In other words, Paul says that hindsight is 20/20. All that was unrevealed in the Old Testament came to fruition in Christ and as Paul stands on the shoulders of the prophets, he (as a master of the Old Testament himself) can see the wonderful news of Christ, once seemingly more mysterious, but now displayed in plain sight. All of this information is to make all nations obedient, which is of faith. Paul closes the letter in the same fashion he opens the letter – that the gospel of Christ is to bring the nations (Gentiles) to the obedience of faith. And it is to God only who is wise and through Jesus Christ that belongs the glory of all He has accomplished and provided to each believer by grace through faith.
We saw how mankind was no different – Jew or Gentile were on equal footing in their humanity – all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Yet, when we were sinners, God commended His love towards us by Christ dying for us. Christ became the propitiation (fully satisfying payment) for our sin and simply by faith, the righteousness of God is unto all and upon all them that believe. Having believed, God then opens the door to His grace and allows us to stand in His grace, having been justified and set at peace with Him. We know that our physical lives are often mired by sin and we don’t allow who God has made us to be in Christ to be our reality, yet, we understand that when sin is present in our flesh, it is no more I that sin, but it is the sin within my flesh that is sinning. Yet, by not yielding to the flesh’s desire for sin, I do not bring myself under sin’s condemnation and I have my eyes open and my mind attuned to the leadership of the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ. A life lived to please God in the flesh cannot happen because the flesh is enmity against God. The Spirit of Life that resides in us is the key to enjoying the gift of God, eternal life, even now. Not only did both Jews and Gentiles need the same remedy, but in Christ, they have the same reality. They are a new people in God. They are a new nation. They are a new man. They are graft into the Root of Jesse and have become the branches to bear the fruit of the Root to the world. As being graft into Christ, it brings awareness of how to live, one with another. As one in Christ and members one of another, we serve one another in love. We live peaceably with our fellow citizens and in relation to our government. We take responsibility to not create stumbling-blocks for our weaker brothers/sisters in Christ. And, we rejoice to know that all of this was made possible through the joining work of Jesus Christ.
That’s the book of Romans! I hope you’ve enjoyed working through this book and that it has caused you to come to understand more of what being in Christ is all about and just how much He has bestowed up on you!
Romans 11:33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!