Romans 16:1-26.
Common People, Uncommon Faith

         Copyright © 2011, John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.


Some have said that a hero is simply an ordinary person who overcomes extraordinary circumstances.  We tend to list among our heroes those who have demonstrated courage and determination, using these and other resources to overcome difficult obstacles.  Any historical study of those people who might be considered heroes will unveil a common thread amongst those who are given such credit: they are usually quite common people who are drawn out of humble circumstances.  Much secular research has been done in an attempt to determine why some people persevere in hardship and others give up, why some people run out of a burning building while others run into it. 

As Paul closes his letter to the church in Rome, be follows a traditional literary form that acknowledges some of its recipients.  However, Paul always seems to take the literary form to a new level of application whereby he goes beyond simple acknowledgement and uses the opportunity to show his respect and appreciation for those in the Roman church that he has had past ministry experiences with.  When we look at the people in this list we find a set of normal, everyday people with a wide variety of backgrounds, who have each given to the Lord's work in ways that expressed their areas of giftedness. 

During this period in Christian history, the expression of faith brought persecution from a variety of sources.  The church was made up entirely of Jewish membership until Gentiles started coming to the faith.  Their acceptance into the church was more than controversial, necessitating the reversal of generations of prejudice.  Those Jews who came to Christ were rejected by their families and faced systematic persecution by the temple administration.  Paul's persecution of Christians prior to his conversion is an example of this policy.  Christians also found persecution at the hands of the Greeks who considered them "unenlightened."  Roman Christians and Jews were expelled from the region by Emperor Claudius in A.D. 47 for their refusal to worship him as a god.  Nero is traditionally blamed for the burning of Rome, choosing arson that he could blame on the Christians.  These early Christians were accustomed to harsh persecution, and Paul was more than appreciative of their courage, particularly when he recalls the persecution that he himself brought upon the Lord's people. 

Romans 16:1-2.  I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: 2That 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 individual mentioned is Phoebe, a servant from the church at Cenchrea, and the one credited with delivering this letter.  The mention of the letter carrier first in the closing of the letter was normal.  However, Paul goes on to introduce Phoebe to the congregation.  The word for servant, diakonos, is the same word that is translated as deacon, so this description may also be accurately and appropriately translated as "deaconness."  It may not be as accurate to refer to this description as a title of office as we would to understand its literal usage as one who is a dedicated servant.  When Paul advised Timothy on the calling of mature Christians to assist in ministry, he referred to those called by the same term, servants.  The position of the diakonos was one who focuses on non-preaching, non-administrative ministries in the church, providing opportunity for those gifted in teaching and preaching to dedicate more time to their preparation.  There is no inference that the diakonos were a board of governors, or had any management responsibility.  Consequently, there is no real argument to support that Phoebe was a governess in the church.  She was a servant who labored in the church at Cenchrea, a port suburb of Corinth, a city well known for its pagan culture.  We see that her ministry was one of compassion and mercy to those who came to the church in need.  Paul notes that he was a recipient of Phoebe's ministry when He came to Corinth.  Knowing her giftedness in this area, Paul encourages the church to receive her with agape love that characterizes those who are set apart for God's purposes, and that they give her assistance as needed so that she can continue the expression of her gifts.

Romans 16:3-5a.  Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 4Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.  5Likewise greet the church that is in their house. 

If we knew more about the lives of Priscilla and Aquila, we would undoubtedly find a story that is both amazing and inspiring.  Theirs is the kind of life experience that inspire the sagas that fill novels, biographies, cinema productions, and other media that capture our imagination.  However, our only record of this amazing couple is that penned by Paul as the result of his interactions with them.  We first met the couple in Acts 18:2, when having fled Claudius' purge of Christians from Rome, they settled in Ephesus.  Paul had been unable to spend time in Ephesus on his previous missionary journey, and found Priscilla and Aquila still there when he did come and spend three years there.  Aquila and Priscilla opened their home to him, and together they worked as "tentmakers" while ministering to the church that met there.  The word translated "tentmaker" can also refer to a worker in leather, so we cannot conclusively argue that they made tents.  However, if the literal translation is true, it makes sense that they could set up their tents for worship and break them down afterward.  Paul specifically states that they "laid down their necks." This is a grammatical idiom that refers to one's willingly placing their head on the block before the executioner's sword.  Aquila and Priscilla had placed themselves in positions of danger for the sake of the gospel as they housed both individual Christians as well as the house-church during periods of intense persecution.  It could be dangerous for a Christian fellowship to meet as a large group, so they met in small groups in private homes.  Consequently, those who hosted those fellowships were "laying down their own necks," placing themselves in danger, and depending upon God's protection.  The courage of committed Christians like Aquila and Priscilla enabled the church to thrive during this period.  Paul makes a point to thank Aquila and Priscilla for hanging tough, along with those others that also hosted Christian groups.  It almost goes without saying that we never hear of one of these without the other's name. 

They led their home church ministry as a married couple.  Today, most career missionaries are married couples and follow quite closely to the pattern demonstrated by Aquila and Priscilla.  It is interesting that, when Paul refers to this married couple, he refers to them by listing Priscilla, the wife of Aquila first in half of his references.  When we look at the pair, we are reminded of the "one flesh" of marriage.  They were, without question, equals in the ministry.  Some argue that Paul is a bit of a chauvinist because of some of his recommendations concerning women in positions of leadership.  However, when we look at Paul's actual interaction with that leadership, he always commends them as equals.  One may note that several women are recipients of his commendations at the end of this letter.  This list illustrates the importance of women of faith, women who have the faith and courage to hang tough as they exercise their gifts for God's purposes.

Romans 16:5b.  Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ. 

All we know of Epaenetus is contained in this salutation of Paul.  We may recall that Paul had intended upon traveling into Asia Minor on his first missionary journey, but was constrained by the Holy Spirit to go instead into Macedonia.  Achaia refers to that area that Paul failed to visit, so Epaenetus came to the Lord without Paul's influence.  "Firstfruits" refers to Epaenetus as being the first Achaian to come to the Lord.  Epaenetus can be credited as one who responded to his faith with serious commitment.  Rather than remaining in Asian obscurity, we find Epaenetus in Rome, having been engaged with some ministry with Paul in the past.  Epaenetus is credited by Paul as being beloved.  We find in Epaenetus another example of a common individual who responded to his faith with courage and commitment, and one who served in such a way to be loved by others.

Romans 16:6.  Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. 

"Mary" is one of the most common Jewish female names.  Consequently, we have no idea of who this Mary is.  However, we know that she was a Jewish woman in a predominantly Gentile community, and Paul regards her as a hard worker.  The word translated "much labor" makes the English form a gross understatement.  In Mary we see her devotion through her area of giftedness:  simple, hard work that is focused upon ministering to the needs of the church and its members.  The church needs simple and humble people who are willing to put in the elbow grease to get the tough jobs done.  This Mary was such a person.

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. 

Andronicus and Junias are also mentioned only here.  We have some difficulty with the name of Junia, or Junias since the form without the "a" is usually feminine, implying that this may be another husband - wife pair, or possibly brother - sister.  However, the reference to common imprisonment makes the speculation that Junias is a female unlikely if Paul is actually, but not likely, referring to sharing a prison cell.  It is significant that these two are of "note among the apostles," referring to the respect that the actual Apostles in Jerusalem have for them.  The Jerusalem Apostles, those who knew Jesus and were taught by him, tended to have some difficulty overcoming their prejudice towards Gentiles, a prejudice that was engrained in them prior to their commitment to Christ.  There is no question that they overcame this prejudice as they became great stalwarts of the faith, but their interaction with Gentiles was far more limited than that of Paul.  Paul includes these two with those in Jerusalem who were Christians that were subject to Paul's Pharisaical persecutions.  Paul shared prison with those whom he once had sought to imprison himself, illustrating the tremendous change that took place in Paul's life and the unique part that Andronicus and Junias played in it.  Also, the timing of their persecution during Paul's status of a Pharisee opens the possibility that they had seen the risen Christ.  Andronicus and Junias had experienced the harshest of persecution, and here they were with the church in Rome, with their courage announced to all.  The experiences that brought them to this point has certainly emboldened their faith.

Romans 16:8-10a.  Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord.  9Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.  10Salute Apelles approved in Christ. 

We find in this list names that are common, and people we know literally nothing about.  It is a list of people who are known for their hard work and the love that they have received from the church.  These have held to their faith and to solid doctrine, finding approval "in Christ."  These are those who help make up the solid and dependable core of the fellowship, people who are dependable, hard workers.  It is evident that these are not individuals who seek to stand out, but are quite satisfied to simply be a part of something larger than themselves.  Such individuals are the strength of the fellowship.

Romans 16:10b-11.  Salute them which are of Aristobulus’ household.  11Salute Herodion my kinsman.  Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord. 

This next group includes family names of note, and illustrate some of the breadth of those who have been active in the growth of the early church.  He speaks first of a group from Aristobulus' "household."  The Aristobulus name was well-known in Rome, a Hellenist grand-son of Herod the Great, and a friend of Emperor Claudius (Barclay).  As a "household" these would be the Jews and servants that remained as "property" of the emperor Claudius upon Aristobulus' death.  Herodion is also a name that traces back to the Herods.  Narcissus of Rome was an official for Claudius, so again the household refers to those who were his servants and slaves.  Narcissus committed suicide soon after Claudius' death and Nero took the throne.  Though we cannot be certain that those whom Paul addresses are necessarily of the lineages of the famous names Paul drops, their association together tends to infer the nature of this group.  These were people who were common people, servants and slaves of families that were close to the Roman government.  It would take a strong faith and commitment for people who were so closely associated with an emperor who demanded worship to become involved in the Christian church in Rome.  Paul specifically names these, encouraging the as he salutes their courage.

Romans 16:12a.  Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. 

These two, because of the nature of their names are most likely sisters, and may have been twins.  Paul's use of the word for "labor" is particularly interesting in this situation as he refers to arduous, difficult, and consistent work from two whose names literally mean "dainty" and "delicate."  One can almost hear the irony and humor that Paul uses to describe the contribution that these two women have made to the cause of Christ in the Roman church, a contribution that is quite the opposite of their names.  With the amount of importance that the ancients put into people's names, Paul's complement is particularly meaningful.  He figuratively says, "there is nothing delicate or dainty about you two who work very hard for the Lord."

Romans 16:12b-16.  Persis, which laboured much in the Lord.  13Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.  14Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them.  15Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.  16Salute one another with an holy kiss.  The churches of Christ salute you.

The list continues as Paul mentions the names of several more people who we know little to nothing about.  These are people whose names have been recorded and noted by millions over the years, people who Paul become to know as selfless individuals who simply worked faithfully for the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We know about the incidents in the lives of many of the more documented biblical heroes and often think of them as the role models that we seek to emulate, yet when we look at this list we see the solid core of faithful believers that form the foundation of successful ministry.  These are not people who seek the limelight of attention or the fame that comes from great power or highly visible leadership.  These are the soldiers in the trenches who work hard, who minister sacrificially, and thrive in the expression of their faith despite the difficulties of serving in a persecuted church.  We might turn heads if we testified that we wish to emulate the ministry of the likes of Persis, and Rufus, and "Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes and the brethren which are with them."  Yet these common people demonstrate a faith and commitment that Paul himself admires.  These are people worth imitation, and people worth remembering just as much as those names we find far more familiar.  Paul's commendation for this faithful core of people is tremendous: "the churches of Christ salute you."  This is a commendation for every one of you who serves God faithfully outside of the edges of the spotlight, serving behind those who receive the notoriety.  It is those prayer warriors whose relationship with God gives them the quiet and peaceful, yet powerful ministry that nobody sees.  It is those who give generously to help meet the needs of those in their circle of relationships, gifts that go unseen by others.  It is these who lift up the fallen, feed the hungry, and encourage the despondent.  It is these who form the strength of the body of Christ.

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. 

One of the characteristics of the foundational core of faithful servants of Christ is that they are just plain nice people.  These are not the people who are going to be bullies in the congregation.  These are those who cry and suffer when they watch self-centered and prideful Christians usurp the Lordship of Christ for themselves, as they create division in the body and bring the church to its knees.  Paul's words give both encouragement and instruction.  First, Paul acknowledges that there are those in the body who use the church for their personal agenda, and they can certainly be identified by their actions.  Paul advises first, that those who bring conflict to the body should be recognized for their sin.  They should be "marked" in their offense.  Paul's advice can not be understated.  If we limit our exegesis we can come up with a teaching that we should "shun" those who behave so.  However, this word translated "avoid" may be understood in a wider context.  We tend to give leadership to people who make the most noise, those who have the greatest swagger and persona.  However, these are also often those who cause divisions and offences when we lift this personality type to positions of leadership.  Paul's advice is to be wise enough to avoid giving corporate authority to those who demonstrate such attitudes and actions.  The leadership model we employ in the secular organization is a formula for disaster in the Christian body.  The secular model is driven by pride, and the Christian model is driven by faith.  Yet, we employ the secular model in our church and watch while we allow prideful leadership to damage the cause of Christ in the church body.  Paul is simply stating, "do not do this."    He then goes on to describe why this personality type is not an appropriate choice for church leadership.

Romans 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. 

The bottom line is that those who lead the fellowship in this way do not have the same motives as that solid and faithful core who cannot understand why such conflict is being introduced to the congregation.  Those who create division have their own agenda and are not serving the Lord, but serving their own base desires.  They want to have it their own way.  Their raise to leadership serves to enable their own belief that they have a special authority to make decisions for the body.  Their oratory skills, and their demands to win a debate are no match for the humble and peace-loving core who find it so difficult to engage the proud in battle.  However, once elevated to leadership such self-willed people will only engender division and conflict.  Visitors to the body sense the hypocrisy and the conflict, and the testimony of the church is nullified.  Christ is no longer the center of the church, but rather the prideful leadership would rather fight and create division to embolden their own central position.  Paul admonishes this faithful core of believers to not be deceived by the oratory and debate skills of those who demand their own way in the congregation.

As you observe your congregation, is it suffering from divisions and conflicts?  If it is, take a look at those whom you have chosen as leaders.  Have you chosen those who have the more forceful and powerful personalities, or have you chosen those who have demonstrated the greatest Christian maturity and faith?  If you have chosen the former, it is their agenda you are forced to follow.  If you have chosen the latter, you are being led by mature Christian attitudes.  Paul clearly teaches this core of faithful believers to avoid the former and embrace the latter.

Romans 16:19-20.  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.  20And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  Amen.

From the content of this epistle, there is no doubt that there are divisions within the Roman church.  The faithful core of believers that Paul has acknowledged may be thinking that their faithfulness is not recognized as they serve in the shadow of prideful leadership.  Paul encourages that faithful core to understand that their obedience is not overshadowed by the disobedience of some of their leaders.  Their obedience is well-known to all, though they may not realize it.  Their focus on the negative can skew their understanding of the true context of their ministry.  Paul states that they should keep their focus on that which is good, and not be so distracted by that which is not.  When people demand their own way in the body, it is not the faithful membership who they have taken on as their enemy:  it is Christ Himself, and Christ can handle His own battles.  Satan will be defeated, and Paul even states that the defeat will come under their own "feet."  As they maintain their faithfulness, those who seek to control the body will eventually suffer the consequences of their sin.  Paul has already advised the faithful membership to reject the leadership of those who do not deserve that authority, so the seeds of their defeat is already sown.  All the faithful believers need to do is remain faithful, continue in prayer and obedience, and they will witness the demise of satan's demons.

Romans 16:21-26.  Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you.  22I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.  23Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you.  Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother.  24The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.  25Now 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, 26But 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: 27To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever.  Amen.

As Paul brings this epistle to a close, he turns his salutation to those who are with Him as this letter is being written.  This includes Timothy who serves in the church in Ephesus, and several others who have served with Paul in his evangelistic efforts in the region.  We see that Paul dictated his letter to Tertius who actually wrote the letter.  Also at the time of this writing, Gaius exercised his gifts of hospitality by hosting Paul during his stay. 

Paul then closes with a sincere prayer that the readers of the epistle would be strengthened in their faith, that their preaching would be emboldened as it reveals the truth of the gospel, and that it would become known to all nations, bringing people to obedience.

We see in the close of this letter that the church in Rome is blessed with some solid, hardworking, and faithful Christians.  These folks have stayed the course even though there are those in the leadership of the church who abuse their position by their prideful and self-centered attitudes and actions.  It is these faithful Christians who Paul seeks to strengthen and encourage.  Paul has done this in his letter to the Romans by presenting the truth of man's need for God, God's plan of salvation, and a comprehensive dialogue on how to live a life that is obedient to God by demonstrating true love that is without hypocrisy.  All Christians can be encouraged by Paul's commendations in these last verses, commendations given to the common workers in the body, those outside of the limelight of leadership, yet those who do the bulk of the ministry.  Some have argued that churches operate under the 80-20 rule, that 80 percent of the kingdom work in the church is done by 20 percent of the membership.  The need for this core group to remain faithful and strong cannot be understated.  However, Paul also teaches that this core group does not need to be bullied by a small group of self-centered individuals who seek to use the body to appease their own needs for personal power and position, but that the core should reject that leadership, taking away their authority to make decisions, and quieting their voice by refusing to accept their self-assigned authority.  Churches that can do this are churches that are at peace.

In this epistle to the Romans Paul has given us a tremendous body of solid and reliable doctrine on the need for salvation, the means of salvation, and the response to salvation that is expected of every believer by a God who loves them, so much that He demonstrated His grace by choosing to destroy the power of sin to separate from Himself those who turn to Him in faith and trust.  How can we reject a God who would do this for us?  Our only choice is to turn away from our self-centered and prideful choices, and turn to God, accepting His Lordship over us, and accepting the gift of salvation offered to us through Jesus authority as the Messiah and Savior.  To God be the Glory.