Romans 16:1-16 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Romans 16:1-16


"Happy Families"


After having written a long letter full of doctrine Paul is winding down but he's not quite ready to lay down his pen just yet. I for one am glad he didn't sign off before these last two chapters were completed. What a lovely unself-conscious insight they give us of how Christians lived out their Christian lives in the early years of the first century AD.

If we have eyes to see and ears to hear then there is much for us in what might appear at first sight to be simply a long list of mostly unusual names. Even a rapid overview of these 16 verses tells us a number of interesting and important things:

  • there was a great deal of mobility amongst the Christian population in the first century

  • personal relationships were important to Christians in the first century

  • Christians naturally related to one another in churches in the first century

This morning we will see what we can tease out of these verses that might help us to understand better how we might live our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ not in the first century of the Christian era but of the 21 st.

Probably the first thing that strikes us as we read this section is the number of names that are mentioned and there are lots of them.

Paul begins with Phoebe who quite probably carried Paul's letter to the church in Rome – after all she was from Cenchreae which was a port serving the cosmopolitan city of Corinth, the place where Paul wrote this letter.

It's clear that the folk in Rome didn't know who Phoebe was so Paul included a note of commendation – she deserved to be welcomed warmly and afforded genuine Christian hospitality because this was precisely the way she had served so many who passed through the port of Cenchreae where she had her home. The word used to describe her means that she acted as something of a patroness to those she helped – it implies she was a lady of some means who invested in her work of serving the Lord. Paul knew from personal experience just how helpful she could be to travelling Christians and urged the Christians in Rome to treat her properly. (The way in which Paul writes seems to suggest that appropriate styles of Christian hospitality and generosity were already becoming known – Paul urges them to welcome Phoebe "in a manner worthy of the saints".)

But most of the people referred to in this section were members of the church in Rome and to them Paul sends both his own personal greetings and also those of some of the congregations he was presently working with.

Now we've already taken note that Paul had not yet visited Rome - he has also taken time to explain just why this was so. How was it possible then for him to know so many of the people in Rome? After all he addresses 26 individuals in this section, 24 of them by name.

Well it follows if Paul hadn't met these folk in Rome he must have met them elsewhere! Christians travelled. Some, like Prisca and Aquila, had had to leave Rome when Jews had been kicked out of the capital of the Empire and Paul had met them in Corinth before travelling with them to Ephesus where he left them. Well, they had now with a changing political climate been able to return to Rome once more. Others such as Epaenetus had gone on to Rome after having been converted in Asia where Paul had first met them.

Paul had obviously spent differing amounts of time with these different folk but he hadn't forgotten them – they were part of his family now, part of the family of God through Jesus Christ. And these Christians were not living as isolated believers they had linked themselves together with other believers in local churches? Personal relationships were vitally important as Christians lived out their lives – it should be no different for us today!

Have you noticed how the idea of church resurfaces several times in this chapter of Paul's letter?

  • Phoebe is described as being a servant of the church in Cenchreae v.1

  • All the churches of the Gentiles are grateful for the courageous witness of Prisca and Aquila v.4

  • There is also a church that meets in Prisca and Aquila's home v.5

  • The Christians in Rome are greeted by "all the churches of Christ" v.16

  • Gaius has a church that meets in his house v.23

Paul assumes that the Christians in Rome will be in contact with one another – otherwise all the individual greetings he sent could not be passed on!

Sometimes down through the years Christians have given up on church and preferring to live their own lives in isolation but that is not God's way – he has placed us in families and churches provide us with wonderful opportunities to grow in grace and to use our gifts for the common good.

In the church, sure, there are a whole bunch of awkward people but they're Jesus' people!

But who are these people?
Let's take a closer look at these people to whom Paul send his greetings and see what other factors emerge:

  • They're not all the same age – in fact they're not even of the same generation!

Paul writes with his greetings for Rufus and also for Rufus' mother – Paul obviously felt close to this lady because he says she acted towards him as a mother too.

  • They included both men and women – of the 26 individuals mentioned (24 by name and 2 anonymously) 8 or 9 of them were women. (The very fact that the gender of one of the names remains in doubt suggests that gender did not determine how important a person was considered to be in the early church – there is absolutely no hint of any kind that women were second class members of the church even though certain roles within the church were restricted to men alone. The Bible sees men and women as complementary as each fulfils their different callings within the church.)

  • They included both Jew and non-Jew. This is remarkable given the divide that had existed hitherto separating Jew from Gentile. But greetings are passed on to all – sometimes Paul described those to be greeting as his kinsmen or fellow-countrymen which strongly suggests that at least some of those not described in that way were Gentiles.

Prisca and Aquila (v.1) were Jews as were Andronicus and Junia (v.7) andHerodion (v.11). On the other Epaenetus (v.5) is described as a convert from Asia Minor.

  • They included people from very different walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds:

If Phoebe was wealthy enough to function as a patroness v.1 we know that Prisca and Aquila v.3 (cf. Acts 18:3) were artisan tent-makers. As for the names Ampliatus (v.8), Urbanus (v.9), Hermes (v.14), Philologus and Julia (v.15) these were common slave names – though we don't know whether these individuals still were slaves or had gained their freedom. Paul refers to two families within the church – that of Aristobulus and that of Narcissus. These two family heads were dead by the time Paul wrote but had been very well-connected as trusted advisors of the Emperor Claudius. Aristobulus was most likely a grandson of Herod the Great while Narcissus was a freedman who had become very wealthy. There is no suggestion that these two men themselves had become Christians but a number in their families most certainly had.

What is the point of this? Well simply to note that the church of Jesus Christ has place for all types of people – young and old, male or female, Jew or non-Jew, those who enjoyed prestige and status all the way through to those who were at the bottom of the pile as it were. It means the church of Jesus Christ has a place for you! Have you entered into his church yet? And are you playing the role you ought?

Common characteristics
As we look carefully at what is said about these folk there are at least a couple more things that stand out and of which we should take notice:

  • They were good workers – not only had they put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ but they led active lives of committed discipleship, sometimes at great personal cost!

We've already referred to the quality of Phoebe's life that made it easy for Paul to commend her to the church in Rome – she had been a great help to many including the apostle Paul himself (vv.1-2).

What about Prisca and Aquila (vv.3-4)? They had served alongside Paul at risk to their own lives. We catch a sense of their worth when we see that all the churches of the Gentiles esteemed them so highly. They always seemed ready to open their home too for the sake of the gospel: they took Apollos to their home in order to help him and we read of churches meeting in their home in two different locations (v.5 cf.1Cor.16:9)

Then we have Mary (v.6) who worked hard. Urbanus is described as Paul's fellow-worker (v.9). And what about those three ladies mentioned in v.12?

v.12 "Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord."

Once again it is worth noting that more women are singled out than men here – gender is no barrier to service and whatever labours are offered they are to be welcomed and valued!

Surely, it is right for us to ask ourselves the question as to whether we would fall into the category of "good workers".

  • Relationships exist and warm approval is voiced of several: I wonder which you find it easier to do to criticise and find fault or to value and to esteem. Many but not all of us here this morning are British. We who are British don't necessarily find it easy to show or voice our emotions. The English in particular with that stiff upper lip mentality can struggle at this point. We can be suspicious when praise comes our way  and we can find voicing our approval of others difficult too but have you noticed how often Paul employs positive words as he describes those to whom he sends his greetings?

He described Phoebe not just as Phoebe but as "our sister Phoebe (v.1)

Rufus' mother has been a mother to Paul too – it's a warm description, Paul is expressing his appreciation of this unnamed lady (v.13).

Then as he thinks about Epaenetus he thinks about the beloved Epaenetus (v.6) And it is the same with Ampliatus (v.8), with Stachys (v.9) and with Persis (v.12).

Do we value and esteem our fellow believers in the church in this way? Do we love them? Jesus told his disciples that the world would be able to recognise his disciples by the love they had for one another (Jn.13:35) – reading Romans 16 I think Jesus must have been pleased with the fruit of love that was being produced. Do you think he would be pleased with us?

  • And everything is of course related to Jesus! We don't begin with Jesus and then "progress" without him – no, the whole of the Christian life must remain absolutely bound up with him. Here in this section this is underlined by the repetition of phrases and words: in Christ (vv.3, 7, 9, +10); in the Lord (vv.2, 8, 11,12(2x) +13). There are two further references to Christ (v.5, 16).

Last week we had a visiting speaker with us and he shared with Janice and myself something that I trust will be an encouragement to you this morning. He enjoyed his visit with us but was particularly struck by and I use his words "the way you care for one another". In other words there is reality in the way you are seeking to live out your lives as Christians – be encouraged!

Let me add just a little to that – go on living in this way!

If you are not yet doing so, if you are holding back, then pitch yourself in – as a Christian you are meant to be living in warm harmony with your brothers and sisters and working hard alongside them. It is a good thing to do and as long as you are not doing so you aredepriving the body of Christ of what you have to offer and you are missing out too because, as Jesus said, it is blessed thing to give.

Finally, if you are not yet a Christian – you have seen how the Christian life is to be lived out. Becoming a Christian doesn't mean signing a decision card and then going on just as before – it means a whole new way of life. New work, new relationships, new loyalties they're all involved. You don't become a Christian by trying to ape the way other Christians behave but you become a Christian by going to God in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ calling out for the forgiveness of your sins and as he hears and answers you live this costly, demanding but rewarding life as your way of saying thank you to God for his wonderful love and mercy.

To God be the Glory.


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