Final Instructions and Benediction
© 11/30/16 C. O. Bishop; 12/4/16 THCF
We have been walking (working…studying) through the book of Romans for quite some time now: Today we will complete the journey. That doesn’t mean there will be no more sermons from the book of Romans; it simply means that we have travelled through the book once, at least, in order, and any further sermons will revisit passages we have already studied, either gleaning things we missed, or simply studying things we need to review. Paul is winding up his letter, now: he gives words of commendation regarding quite a number of believers:
Commendations for Servants
16 1I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
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.
Phebe is listed first—he says that she is a servant (a deacon) of the church at Cenchrea, and a hard worker. It is interesting to see that the Greek word “diakonon” as used here, is identical in its usage to the passage applied to the Lord Jesus in Romans 15:8, where Paul referred to Jesus as a “minister”…a servant of the Jews, for the truth of God. It was not a “feminine form” of the word: there is not a special office of “Deaconess” in scripture. The office is “Deacon”, whether male or female, though they may serve in different ways. It simply means a servant, though it carries the idea of vigorous activity. One commentator suggested that it carries the idea of “kicking up dust by vigorous activity.” I don’t know if that is accurate, but there are a number of words that are translated “servant.” Some have different connotations. The Greek word “doulos”, for example, which Paul applied to himself, was specifically a bondman…a slave…possibly by choice, but still a slave. But diakonon is a different word, having to do with the character of service: the ministry, not so much the person.
He also says she has been a “succourer,” or helper, of many, including himself. This word (from the Greek word, “prostasis”) means more than the word diakonon, in that it carries the idea of standing between an afflicted person and the source of their torment. It is not just the busy character of the deacon, it is one who comes to the aid or rescue of another. It can be translated “helper”, but it means closer to a rescuer, or a deliverer. This is the only place in the scripture where this particular word is used. Phebe was evidently a passionate advocate and helper of those who needed it most, and Paul included himself as one to whom she had applied her gift.
Phebe was evidently there in Rome on church business, and there was a real possibility she would need help in completing her work. Paul asked the church there to respond in a Godly way, as the saints of God, to give her whatever assistance she might need. Remember that the word “saint” means “holy”—“separated unto God”; set aside for God’s service, and His agenda. That is what we are all called to be: we are “set aside” by God, for His service and His agenda.
Greetings and Blessings, to Fellow-laborers and Friends
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus:
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.
5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.
Priscilla and Aquila, he considered to be his helpers (the Greek word here is sunergous: “fellow-workers”) in Christ, who had risked their lives for him, and for whom he and all the Gentile churches gave thanks. Paul had physically worked with them, making tents. But they had worked with him, as well; in the work of soul-winning, and edifying the saints for the work of the ministry: they later gave Apollos his training, which he then used powerfully for God.
The Church in the house of Priscilla and Aquila is listed separately. We have no idea how many people were there, but it was definitely a church, meeting in a home…the home of tentmakers who had no seminary degrees, but who were used by God to help with the training up of Apollos. Priscilla and Aquila were seen as valuable laborers with Paul, and had risked their lives for the sake of the Gospel. There was a church meeting in their home: this is further evidence of their activity. And that Church was greeted separately as being also of great value to Paul.
Epaenetus was the first one who was led to Christ in Achaia. We don’t know much about him, but he held a special place in Paul’s heart, as being the “first fruit” in Asia Minor.
6 Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us.
Mary is not an uncommon name. All we know about her is the fact that her faith had moved her to work. She was someone who worked hard to meet the needs of the apostles. It was a gift from her heart, and it was received as an offering to God. It says she bestowed much labor upon them. This was an act of worship to God. We are not told anything more about this person. No one could say that her Christianity was just a Sunday-morning phenomenon. She acted on her beliefs, for the benefit of others.
7 Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Andronicus and Junia, Pauls’ kinsmen were “noteworthy among the apostles,” and were saved before Paul was. I am not sure whether he is saying that they were “noteworthy apostles”, or that the apostles took note of them. The Twelve were certainly not the only apostles: Barnabas was also called an apostle (Acts 14:14). Possibly these two were also apostles. That is the way it seems to read.
8 Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord.
9 Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.
10 Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus’ household.
Amplias, Urdane, Stachys, Apelles, and all those of Aristobulus’ household… All we know about them is that they were a blessing to Paul and he never forgot it.
Are you starting to see a pattern, here? Paul did not see people only as a “flock:” the individuals were important to him. From what we see in scripture, I have to conclude that The Lord sees his flock that way, too—as a group of individuals, each of whom is individually important to Him, and each of whom he knows completely. There is a video on the internet of a small boy in Afghanistan. The video is actually about his use of a sling, such as David used, but in the course of the conversation, the interviewer asked how many sheep he had. The child shrugged cheerfully that he did not know the number. So the interviewer asked (through a translator) how he would know if any were missing, since he did not know how many he had. The child looked a little incredulous at such a silly question, but answered that he would know immediately because he knew them all.
Jesus says that even the hairs of our heads are “numbered.” And in John 10:27, 28 he states that he knows his sheep. If he knows them so well and cares about the details of their lives to the extent that he knows each hair by location and number, how could he not also care about us as individuals? In this chapter, a whole bunch of individuals are called out, individually, by name for special attention…which was included in God’s eternal Word. This is not just a casual newsletter.
11 Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.
Herodian (a relative of Paul’s, evidently) and them who were saved of the household of Narcissus. He mentioned a few groups here without naming them individually, but recognizing that they as a group were important to him.
12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord.
Tryphena, and Tryphosa, and Persis…all servants of God who served faithfully. Persis evidently even more than the others. It is interesting to see that God recognizes degrees of service, as well as the fact of faithful service. This should encourage our hearts, to know that if we serve more, God is not blind to it.
13 Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
Rufus, and his mother (also Paul’s? If that is the case, this is all the information we have to that effect.) Perhaps he considered her his adopted mother. Jesus, from the cross, turned his mother over to John for care, and instructed her to see John as her son, and John to see her as his mother. I really don’t know what this means, in this passage.
14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them.
15 Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.
Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes and the believers with them. Philologus, Julia, and Olympas and the believers with them (more house-churches?)
16 Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.
“Salute all these, and one another; the Churches of Christ greet you.” I am not certain what is meant by the “holy kiss”, but I do know that some churches practice this and other things mentioned in scripture, simply because it is mentioned, whether they understand it or not. There are churches that make an ordinance of physically washing one another’s feet. There are others that will not have musical instruments in their services, because “…there is no Biblical record of musical instruments in the New Testament Church.” (There isn’t any Biblical record of them having special church-buildings either, nor a host of other things that we count normal in our cultures…)
I think it is our responsibility to understand the scripture as best we can, and obey what we understand. It is not acceptable in American culture for men to kiss one another. The Old Russian Believers practice such a thing specifically because of this verse. That does not offend me. On the other hand, I think I am free to warmly greet believers as brothers and sisters in Christ in the manner dictated by our culture. I hope that does not offend them.
Final Warnings and Admonitions
17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
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.
Paul says we are to take note of those who cause division (Greek dichostasias), and avoid them: they are not serving Christ, but self. They will deceive the hearts of the unlearned…that is who they target, and they do so successfully.
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
Paul said that the obedience of this church (their faith and wise behavior) had been widely spoken of, which was good. But then he told them to “be wise in that which is good”, and “simple” in that which is evil. We tend to want to be “worldly-wise” as well as wise in Christ. We call it “sophistication.” The problem with that is that the word “sophistication” comes from the same root as “sophistry.” Sophistry is “reasoning that seems plausible on a superficial level but is actually unsound; or reasoning that is used to deceive,” according to Webster’s dictionary. People use this sort of reasoning and argument at virtually every level, from politics and religion down to sales literature and folk-medicine.
We are mocked by the world as “ignorant” if we don’t have extensive experience with evil behavior, and they shame us for it. People say “Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!” They could be referring to any sort of bad decision-making. And yet Paul says that it would be better if we become experts in the Goodness of God, and in obedience to Him, but go right ahead and wear the label of “Ignoramus,” when it comes to sin. It is just fine to have no idea what people are talking about when they are bragging about the evil they have taken part in. God says “…it is a shame even to speak of the things they do in secret.” (Ephesians 5:12)
It is patently ridiculous to suggest that we should have to “try everything” before we can make decisions in life. To begin with, God has given us some directions regarding life. There is nothing dull or “uncreative” about following His directions, since he is the author and designer of life. His instructions are right, and good, and dependable!
When we see a badly-fitted, and crooked shelf or table, which we easily recognize as being bought from one of those stores where you “take your furniture home in a box, and assemble it yourself”, we may think, “That fool doesn’t know how to follow directions!” Or we may be more kindly in our thoughts; pitying one who has such minimal skills. But, we never think, “Oh, look! How creative! He ignored the directions and just went his own way!” As a rule, we don’t applaud bad decisions in the secular, material, natural world; so why should we applaud bad decisions in the spiritual realm? And yet we do! (Think about what sorts of things give movies better ratings.)
When you see a person suffering the consequences of their choices, please don’t judge or condemn them; but do thank God that they have effectively “done your homework for you!” You don’t have to try that particular type of foolishness. They have demonstrated for you that it is a bad idea. But we can read God’s directions and avoid a great deal of trouble to begin with.
20 And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
I don’t know in what way the God of Peace would crush Satan under the feet of the believers. Perhaps there is a clue in the phrase “God of Peace.” Perhaps walking with God and experiencing His ongoing peace is the key to seeing Satan defeated in our lives. If that is not it, then I simply don’t know.
Greetings From the “Scribe” and Others.
Paul usually had someone else do his writing for him. From what little scriptural evidence is given us, it is probable that he had some serious eye-trouble. The one epistle he penned on his own was written in large script, as he remarked in that epistle. (Galatians 6:11) Further, he commended the same church for their fervent love for him, saying that, had it been possible, they would have given him their eyes. Putting the two ideas together, along with the fact that, later, he could not see that the man who commanded someone else to strike him was the high priest, (Acts 23:1-5) we conclude that his eyes were probably pretty bad. Thus, someone else nearly always did his writing for him.
21 Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you.
22 I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.
23 Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother.
So, we see greetings from all the believers there, including Tertius, who did the writing for Paul of this letter, and who evidently obtained permission to add his greetings. Timothy, Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, along with Gaius (with whom Paul was staying,) Erasmus the city chamberlain, and Quartus, who is simply identified as “a brother,” also extended their greetings. (Note: “Tertius” and “Quartus” are possibly “slave names”: they just mean “#3 and #4.” On the other hand, there are some cultures today where people sometimes name their children that way, so perhaps not. But Rome had many thousands of slaves, so it is entirely possible. Some commentator pointed it out, but I don’t suppose it really matters.)
24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
Notice that his first and last concern for all believers is that they continue to experience the daily Grace of God in their lives. He begins nearly all his epistles with this comment.
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,
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:
27 To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.
He clearly states that it is God’s power to establish (strengthen and stabilize) us, by means of the gospel; the preaching of Jesus Christ, along with the rest of teh scriptures, and the revelation of the mystery of the Church.
He gives his final Benediction, “Glory to God through Jesus Christ. Amen! ”
Lord Jesus, establish and strengthen us through the preaching of your Word: implant it in our hearts. Make us the men and women of God that you have called us to be.