Main Idea: When we have Jesus in common, we have all things in common, and can truly love one another just as God loves us.
I’m curious, how many of you would describe yourselves as extraverts? Being around lots of people really energizes you, and you love telling a story in front of a group of people, and you even enjoy raising your hand right now because that gives you a little attention? If that’s you, go ahead and raise your hand.
So how many of you are introverts? You don’t like crowds, you like to be home alone, and you definitely don’t want to raise your hand right now because then people might look at you. If that’s you, go ahead and raise your hand.
I took a personality test about twenty years ago and I found that I actually lack a strong personality. I scored just about right down the middle, being almost perfectly balanced between introverted and extroverted.
Now, you might think that that means I’m the best of both worlds, but it’s actually a bit of a struggle. It means that I often have a strong desire to be around people, but they also kind of wear me out. I earnestly want to convey to others just how loved they are, but I also fear how that would reflect on me, and I don’t really want to be in the spotlight. And yet, because I love others, I often need to force myself to conquer that fear in order to show them the love of God.
And this is something that I think we’ve all struggled with at times.
Even in the church, we’ve often neglected the practice of truly seeing others and making them feel loved because they have worth from God. Because of things like the internet, and social media, and apps, it’s become increasingly rare to have actual face-to-face conversations, and even when that does happen, like on Sunday morning, it can be kind of awkward because we’ve been conditioned to feel like it’s the exception rather than the norm.
And yet, especially in the church, it ought to be normal for us to love one another, even if it feels awkward at first, and even if it means being seen and known by others.
We talked last week about how we can and should have joyful, refreshing fellowship as we worship Jesus together. This week, we’re going to read in Paul’s letter to the Romans how he himself models this kind of fellowship, and it’s all about having deep, interpersonal relationships established not on whether we’re introverted or extroverted, but on Jesus Christ, our Savior. When we have Jesus in common, we have all things in common, and can truly love one another just as God loves us.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchreae. So you should welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints and assist her in whatever matter she may require your help. For indeed she has been a benefactor of many—and of me also. (Romans 16:1-2)
Father, I pray that we would love one another as You have loved us. Help us to be a people who serves You by serving one another. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
As we near the end of Romans, it would be easy to just kind of skip over some of Paul’s closing remarks. Maybe we don’t know who Paul was talking about, and they don’t seem to have anything to do with us today. But even the parts of the Bible which don’t seem at first to be applicable to our lives actually have a lot to say to us.
In the first two verses of chapter 16, we read about Phoebe, who was most likely the one who delivered this letter from Paul to the churches in Rome, as Paul was introducing the Romans to her through this letter. And even though this is the only time that Phoebe is mentioned in the Bible, we can actually learn a lot about her in these two short verses.
Paul says that Phoebe is a servant of the church in Cenchreae. That word “servant” is translated from the Greek word ????????, which is often translated, “servant,” “slave,” or “deacon.” So it’s always the context of the passage which determines how it ought to be translated, and several translations, including the New International Version, New Living Translation, and Revised Standard Version, do translate it as “deacon” or “deaconess,” and I think that may be the correct translation. Outside of the Bible, in other Christian letters, we find many references to women serving as deacons for the first several hundred years of the early Church. But whether Phoebe was a deaconess by title or not, it is clear that Paul thought very highly of her because of her service to the church, and he encouraged the churches in Rome to do the same.
Paul tells the church in Rome to welcome Phoebe in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints. In other words, treat her like family, because she is family. Paul wrote that she’s our sister in Christ, and she’s devoted her time, money, and energy to serving the church, so Paul tells them that she’s certainly worthy of a warm welcome, so Paul commends her to them.
That means that not only should they welcome her, but that they ought to hold her in high regard because of how she’s served him and the church. So he tells them to assist her in whatever matter she may require your help. Whether that be help with finding her way around the city, or being introduced to key individuals who could help her, or even with financial assistance as she sought to minister to others. Because according to the end of verse 2, she was a benefactor of many, including of Paul, meaning that Paul himself also received a huge benefit from Phoebe’s ministry.
So it’s really remarkable that we don’t hear about Phoebe more in the Bible, because she seems to have made a huge impact on Paul and so many others, and yet it also makes perfect sense that we don’t hear more about her, just as there are so many Christians throughout history who have served God faithfully, yet have gotten no recognition whatsoever, because they didn’t serve God for fame or fortune, but in order to point people to the Savior, who gets all the glory.
That’s what Phoebe did. She was simply a faithful servant of God, and we ought to praise God for her example, and even imitate her as she imitates Christ.
And this is what makes the greetings at the end of Romans more than simply closing remarks that we can tune out, since all of this applies to us as well. Because even if we don’t know Phoebe, we do know people like her. I’m sure most of you can call to mind several people who have made a huge impact on you. They were people who were humble servants of God, who set us an example of generosity, humility, and service. Be thankful for them. Let them know how much you appreciate them. And then get busy serving God in the same ways.
Or even, just as Paul told the Romans to do for Phoebe, think of a servant of God that you can assist in any way that they may require your help. Maybe you can offer to help them as they teach, whether to learn from them and to fill in for them from time to time, or maybe commit to praying for them and let them know that whatever they need, you’ll be there for them.
But that’s how we’re challenged from just the first name among many that Paul mentions in closing his letter to the Romans. He goes on in verse 3.
Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life. Not only do I thank them, but so do all the Gentile churches. Greet also the church that meets in their home. Greet my dear friend Epaenetus, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews and fellow prisoners. They are noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles, and they were also in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our coworker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those who belong to the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who have worked hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, who has worked very hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother—and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. (Romans 16:3-15)
And skip down to verse 21 for now.
Timothy, my coworker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my fellow countrymen, greet you. I, Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus greet you. (Romans 16:21-23)
Lots of names! And, by the way, whenever you read names that are hard to pronounce in the Bible, just read them with confidence, because no one else knows how to pronounce them, either.
So like many of the letters that we find in the New Testament, we read in Paul’s letter to the Romans that he simply seems to say hi to a bunch of people at the end. But once again, it’s also more than that. For many of these names, Paul honors them and describes their ministry and sacrifices. He calls them his coworkers, and dear friends, chosen brothers and sisters who have worked hard in the Lord. And even though many of these people, like Phoebe, aren’t mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, we could spend weeks talking about just what Paul says of them here, and their contributions to Paul’s ministry.
So although we won’t look at all the names in this passage, I do briefly want to look at just a few of them this morning.
Probably some of the most recognizable names on this list are Prisca and Aquila, also referred to elsewhere in Scripture as Priscilla and Aquila, who Paul names as coworkers in Christ Jesus. They were a husband and wife team who apparently had a church who met in their home, because in those days, they didn’t build buildings for churches, the Christians simply came together in house churches, and Priscilla and Aquila opened up their home for church.
We need to do more of that. I love when I hear about Bible studies that take place in homes, because there are often many people who feel weird or judged when they even think about going to church, but would attend a Bible study in someone’s home if they were to invite them. And that’s a great opportunity to show sinners like us that God loves sinners like us, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
That’s no doubt the message that Priscilla and Aquila shared with their lives just by opening up their home to others.
Paul also says about them in verse 4 that they risked their own necks for his life. Now, we don’t know exactly how this happened, but apparently Priscilla and Aquila stood up for Paul and defended him when his life was in danger, and they could easily have been killed along with him. This most likely happened at some point when Paul lived with them for a time as it says in the book of Acts, and when he went to the synagogue every day to share the gospel.
In verse 7, we also read about Andronicus and Junia, who Paul says were noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles. Once again, we don’t know the story there, but wouldn’t you want to be described in the Bible like that? Noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles. The apostles, the first ones that Jesus appointed to be His messengers to share the gospel with the world, looked at Andronicus and Junia and said, “these two are exceptional people.” I’d love to know the story there, wouldn’t you?
And then check out verse 12, which says:
Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who have worked hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, who has worked very hard in the Lord. (Romans 16:12)
So Tryphaena and Tryphosa worked hard in the Lord, but Persis worked very hard in the Lord. And I don’t think Paul was discounting the ministry of Tryphaena and Tryphosa, but rather he simply wanted to acknowledge the extraordinary work of Persis.
I’m really bad about this, but I’ve been trying to do better. People who work hard in the Lord ought to be acknowledged, not because they need the acknowledgement, but rather because we all need to be encouraged to follow their example. And there are so many people in our church who work so hard behind the scenes, and I truly thank you for your service to the Lord.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send you greetings. (Romans 16:16)
When it comes to honoring and welcoming one another, Paul says that the way that they should do that was to greet one another with a holy kiss. So, go ahead and do that! Find someone to kiss!
This was one of my favorite verses when I was in high school. I would quote it to the girls all the time. None of them took me up on it, even though I was quoting the authoritative word of God.
But I don’t think the Holy Kiss is necessarily something we need to bring back, though. Two thousand years ago in the Middle East, a kiss on the forehead or cheek was a culturally appropriate way to greet one another, but it wasn’t just a way to express love. It was a way to express loyalty. When you greeted someone with a kiss, you were saying to them, “I see you as family, and I’m going to treat you as family.”
But Paul takes this a step further, and calls it a Holy Kiss. In other words, it’s a way not just to acknowledge someone as family, but as set apart in the Lord. Because, as Christians, we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. Our fellowship with one another isn’t based on liking one another as friends, but on seeing one another as precious to God by grace through faith in Jesus.
Today we might do so with a holy handshake, a holy fist bump, or even a holy hug. But the point is simply that we show love to one another, and we deeply appreciate one another, and we let one another know that in a way that shows them how much we care about them. And we especially want to welcome and honor those who have devoted their lives to the ministry.
The point is, God wants us to love each other! Are we doing that well? Are we having true fellowship, in which we love one another not because of our cliques or because we’re comfortable with each other, but because we’re united by the Holy Spirit in our shared faith in Jesus, our Savior?
And if we have that kind of fellowship, it’s going to show itself in the way that we greet, serve, and support one another.
I read a story about a woman who would always pack her husband’s lunch for him. Sometimes, she’d be able to join him for lunch, and he made the comment that lunch was always so much better when you shared it with someone you loved. The next day, his wife couldn’t join him for lunch, and when he opened up his lunch, he found that someone had taken a bite out of his sandwich! When he got home from work later that day, he asked his wife if knew anything about that, and she responded that since she couldn’t join him for lunch, she took a bite so he knew she was joining him.
She continued doing this for years after that, and every day she did, he would come home from work and tell her, “I saw you joined me for lunch today and it sure was good.”
Now, I’m not suggesting that we start taking bites of each other’s food, but I do think we ought to love sharing life together. We ought to take a bite out of each other’s joys and struggles, and live out a real, joyful, refreshing fellowship in the Lord.
Because, you see, God did the same for us. God came down in the form of a man, Jesus, and He took our struggles upon Himself, and died for our sins, so that we can be holy and righteous in Him, and we can be the family of God.
Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009. He and his wife, Abby, have four children. Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)