Thomson B Thomas, Mumbai
Every portion of the Bible is beneficial for life and godliness. Even the passage of greetings in Roman's epistle, full of names, gives us gleanings for daily lives. This article takes us through the passage.
Paul was a man in people business, so to say. We see him mostly surrounded by men, addressing them and handling even antagonistic crowds with adeptness, sometimes with appropriate words and other times with a mere show of hands. He is seen with men of renown and also with people at the lowest rung in the society. He loved everyone irrespective of their status or state. Yet he had an intimate attachment to those who were of the household of faith. This is evident in his writings. And among those writings there is no part where it is more evident than in Romans Chapter 16. In verses 3 to 16 Paul gives greetings to many people whom he loved, most of whom he had never seen in person.
When the passage tells about the believers to whom Paul is addressing it also says, may be more than anything else, the nature of the writer, Paul, and that of the church.
Nature of the Writer
Paul was a man who loved the believers for their love and loyalty to the Lord. If the word “countryman” (vv.7,11) means 'a relative' or 'a kinsman', which is probable, then it is clear that there were relatives of Paul in the assembly at Rome. But he is not addressing them first. If the name 'Herodion' (v.11) indicates that he was related to the family of Herod, the royal family, he must be an important person in the society. Also similar might be 'Urbanus' (v.9), if it means that he hailed from an urban surrounding. But that social importance doesn't make them first in the greetings. In fact, the list heads with the mention of a woman. He commends all of them, for their love and labour for the Lord. The descriptions show clearly that the affection he had for these was based on the love of God. He calls Amplias (v.8) the beloved. Definitely this description is just a tip of an iceberg. There is a tomb dating from the late first century or early second century in the earliest Christian catacomb of Rome which bears this same name. Some suggest it is the same person. Elsewhere Paul says, “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!” (1 Cor.16.22). Also, while greeting the Ephesians he says, “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity” (Eph.6.24).
He loved them and greeted them for their love and loyalty to the Lord. That alone was his criterion.
Nature of the Local Assembly
This 'greetings passage' shows the nature of the local assembly also.
Firstly, the passage tells about the diversity in the local assembly.
There are men and women in the list. There are those in higher strata of the society when there are those in the other end of the ladder also. There are families and individuals. There are Jews and Gentiles. All kinds of people are in the list. Some of the names in the list are suggested to be names mostly given to slaves, such as Hermes, Philologos, Julia etc. This should not surprise us as most of the people in the society then were slaves. Only few of them were masters. Commentators consider Aristobulus in the list as the grandson of Herod the great and friend of Emperor Claudius. Narcissus was an influential and powerful man who had much influence on the Emperor. If these were not in the Lord themselves, their households were in the Lord.
Isn't it amazing to note that some of the households in the assembly at Rome were of the 'household of Caesar'! If Rufus is the son of the Cyrenian Simon (Mk. 15. 21) he might've been of a black race. These show the constitution of the assembly. It includes all. All the descendants of Adam are welcome to the flock of God. It is like the Ark of Noah. Just as all kinds of living beings were in it church has the redeemed from every race, rank and gender.
Secondly, it tells about its unity.
In spite of the diversity in the assembly there was transcendent unity among them. This is seen in various ways. Four times in the passage Paul says his friends as being “in Christ” (vv. 3,7,9,10) and five times he mentions them as “in the Lord” (vv. 8,11,12,13). Twice he uses the family terms such as 'brother' and 'sister' (vv. 1,14). He also addresses them as “beloved” and “my beloved” (vv.5,8,9,12). They were his fellow workers and fellow sufferers also (vv.3,7,4,9). Their unity superseded all humanly conceived separations. This was true of all the household churches in Rome Paul addresses in the chapter (vv. 5,10,11,14,15,23). It is worth noting here the spread of humanity after the flood in the time Noah. They spread in all the earth through the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth. Is it not wonderful to see the descendants of these uniting in Jesus Christ, which is evident in the conversion and baptism of Saul a descendant of Shem, Eunuch of Ham and Cornelius descendant from Japheth recorded in Acts 8 to 10. And these are just a precursor of what shall happen in the 'fullness of times' when all things in heaven and earth shall be summed up in Jesus Christ ((Eph.1.10).
Thirdly, it tells about the variety in Christian duties.
The believers mentioned in the list were involved in variety of duties. They might be people come through different experiences also. He begins his greetings with Priscilla and Aquila. He met them first at Corinth in his second missionary journey. They were there at that time as they had fled from Rome due to the persecution of Emperor Claudius. Providentially the Lord brought them into contact with Paul (Acts. 18.1-3). They went with him at Ephesus and remained there for few years (18. 18,19). Their home became a gathering place for the saints there (1 Cor.16.19). These couple became instruments to lead Apollos into deeper truths of the scriptures (18.24-28). Our present passage shows that they even risked their lives to secure the safety of the apostle. As the first fruits of Asia Epaenetus might have suffered for their faith and also would have contributed to the furtherance of the gospel in their area in many ways. Mary 'laboured much'. This may be by extending her hospitality to the apostle and companions. Andronicus and Junia, though not among the twelve were considered as specially sent by God for ministry. They were also imprisoned for the sake of the gospel. Whether they were ministry partners or life partners is not clear. Urbanus was Paul's fellow worker. Apelles was approved, probably by his life and ministry. Aristobulus and Narcissus seem to be unbelievers or men who were martyred for Christ. This we assume because only their households are greeted. Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis, laboured much in the Lord. Rufus's mother was motherly to the apostle. Towards the end of the list Paul compressed many names in couple of sentences. From among them Nereus needs mention. In AD 95 two distinguished Romans, husband and wife were condemned by the authorities, wife banished and husband executed for their faith. The name of their chief servant was Nereus. There are some who think that it is the same person. Probably his masters came to faith through him. Definitely all of them were useful in one way or other for the Lord and His people. Yeah, ministries are varied.
Fourthly, universality of duties is portrayed.
The passage makes it clear that all were involved in the ministry one way or another. There were families involved in the ministry (vv.3,4, 7). Nine out of twenty six persons greeted here are women. Priscilla (v.3), Mary (v.6), Junia (v.7), Tryphena and Tryphosa and Persis (v.12), mother of Rufus (v.13) and Julia and sister to Nereus (v. 15). It is worth noting that Priscilla was ready with her husband to lay down their necks for Paul's sake. Mary bestowed much labour. Junia seems to have been imprisoned with the apostle. About the twin sisters, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Paul says, they laboured in the Lord. Persis laboured much in the Lord. Rufus's mother cared for Paul. So, he tells about her that she was his mother also. All of them had duties to do. Thus, there is now no believer who can say he has nothing to do for the Lord. Men and women are involved in the ministry, though the character and methods of ministry may differ according to the gender differences and differences of the spiritual gifts endowed on each person.
Fifthly, the need to encourage one another is seen.
Paul remembered what each one did for the Lord. From the deeds of these believers he also benefited. About some of them he might have known from others. When he is writing to them he remembers all that and mentions them. This is definitely with the intention of encouraging them to do more. In order to encourage one another there is a necessity to accept one another. Shouldn't all of the Lord's people be characterised with this goodness of them he might have known from others. When he is writing to them he remembers all that and mentions them. This is definitely with the intention of encouraging them to do more. In order to encourage one another there is a necessity to accept one another. Shouldn't all of the Lord's people be characterised with this goodness.
Sixthly, it assures that all that is done for the Lord are recorded and shall be rewarded.
The love, the loyalty and the labour of saints are all recorded. This tells that nothing shall be forgotten. All that the saints have done for the Lord shall be rewarded. The scripture says, “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labour of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb.6.10). Others may forget, but not so with the Lord. The Lord says, “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work” (Rev. 22.12). This must encourage anyone to haste and finish the task given to him as the allotted time for fulfilling it may come to end at any time.
About the Author:
Thomson B Thomas is an evangelist and a Bible teacher. He lives in Mumbai.
This article appeared in the August 2018 publication of Harvest Times.
Kind Permission taken from HARVEST TIMES FOR YOUR FAMILY, GLS MUMBAI, INDIA