Speaker: Dustin Scott Passage: Romans 16:1-16 Give Them A Word Of Comfort I want to share something before we dive into the scriptures. This is a cool insight into how God designed the church to work. I woke up this morning, and I was sitting with the Lord. Every time I teach, I try to […]
August 10, 2023
Speaker: Dustin Scott
Passage: Romans 16:1-16
I want to share something before we dive into the scriptures. This is a cool insight into how God designed the church to work. I woke up this morning, and I was sitting with the Lord. Every time I teach, I try to go to the Lord and say, “Do you want me to teach this? Or do you have something different for the morning?”
I felt like the Lord took me back to the prophet Isaiah when Isaiah asked the Lord, what will I cry? What am I going to preach to your people? The Lord’s response to him was, speak tenderly to My people, Israel, and give them a word of comfort. So I asked the Lord this morning, what is that word of comfort? It was just radio silence.
Having sat and listened to pastor Emily and Pastor Gary’s words, there it was — the Holy Spirit working through the body of the church, manifest in the words that each person is bringing. Isn’t that the way that God designed it to be?
We’re gonna be in Romans 16. Before we get started, I want to hone in on this prophetic promise that the Lord makes back in the book of Psalms. It’s in chapter two. This is the Father speaking of the Son. He says, “You are my Son. Today I have begotten You. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance and the ends of the earth your possession.”
That might seem random, but that’s where we’re going to get to this morning. The heritage of the Lord and His possession of the earth. We’re going to be working through the first 16 verses of chapter 16. Just a little bit of housekeeping, I’m going to be reading from the New Revised Standard Version. But has anyone looked here and found a super long list of crazy names? Every translation renders them differently. So I don’t become hopelessly tongue-tied while reading to you, I’m just going to read the way these names sound in Greek to prevent confusion. That’s why the names are going to sound a touch weird. Would you guys stand with me for the reading of the scriptures?
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord, as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but also all the churches of the gentiles. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Israelites who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our coworker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my fellow Israelite Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and greet his mother—a mother to me also. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.”
Let’s pray before we get started.
Holy Spirit, would you come to guide us as we study your word? This is a passage where I myself have been guilty of just flying right past it. But we know that your scriptures are God-breathed, and everything within them is useful for teaching and exhortation. Come teach us how to be the people of God this morning. May the meditations of my heart be pleasing to You, my Lord, my rock, and my Redeemer. If anything I say doesn’t come from you, let it be forgotten. We ask this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And everyone said, amen.
We’ve reached Romans 16. Are you guys ready to nerd out? We’re going to look at Paul’s closing statements to the Roman church.
I once studied under an Old Testament scholar, and her name was Dr. Shearing. She taught me a practical yet profound way of studying the Bible. She was Jewish, brilliant, often quite irritable, and unafraid to tell me when she thought my thinking was either naive or arrogant. She used to jab at me in a most unsettling East Coast accent. Always remember your three worlds of the Bible. I want to bring us through these three worlds which she was referring to.
They’re called 1) the world behind the Bible, 2) the world of the Bible, and last but not least, 3) the world in front of the Bible. This way of reading scripture opened my eyes to its depth and allowed me to see things I wouldn’t have otherwise without her help.
So what are those worlds? What was she talking about? The world behind the Bible consists of the history, archeology, cultural context, geography, and Near Eastern studies. Stated simply, this world is asking the question, what was the Bible saying to its original audience?
The next world is the world of the Bible. The crucial word here is “of.” This could be genre, literary construction, what is the original language saying, textual criticism, cross-referencing, and is this in line with the broad contextual meaning of a passage? This world is asking the question, what does the Bible say about itself? How can we use the Bible to interpret its other passages?
Last but not least is the world in front of the Bible. It uses prophetic inspiration, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, relevance, and practical application to our lives. These are the things it uses to interpret the Scripture. Its question is this. How is God’s Spirit using the scriptures to speak to His people today?
My professor always implored us to remember our three worlds. If you only live in the first, you’ll be a dry, unrelatable, and dusty academic. She would also say if you only live in the world in front of the Bible, you’ll be sleek, you’ll be cool, and you’ll get a lot of likes on social media sites, but your message will be empty and fabricated because it doesn’t have God’s truth. You need all the worlds together.
Why is this important? As Pastor Greg and I studied the seeming goodbye passage, we noticed a very peculiar set of patterns within the text. We could call this a world of the Bible observation.
Paul will meticulously instruct the Christians in Rome to greet one another a whopping total of 17 times in 14 verses. In addition to that, Paul will address these Christians very meticulously as being either in Christ or in the Lord. He does that 11 times.
We can say, as a general principle, whether you’re talking about Jewish religious literature, whether you’re talking Greek philosophy, or English writing today, patterns, bespeak intention. We can deduce that Paul believes in greeting one another. I want to put “greeting” in intentional air quotes. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Paul believes that greeting one another who is in Christ and under His lordship is of particular importance. I want to ask why. I dug into a little bit of the world behind the Bible and studied the construction of letters within Paul’s own time. Did people typically write super long, lengthy goodbye addresses?
I looked into one of Paul’s near contemporaries, a man I think he’s taking a shot at in First Corinthians two when he says, “I didn’t come to you as wise speech or eloquent words,” and his name was Cicero. He was the most popular letter-writer in Paul’s own time.
Cicero usually wouldn’t write long endings to his letters. He typically just ended abruptly like when you’re on a phone call and the person on the other end just hangs up on you.
Cicero was kind of like that. He’d abruptly end his letters or he’d do the typical Roman thing and end with something like may the gods bless you and give you good health.
Paul doesn’t do that. He provides this lengthy goodbye. Why? Within Chapter 16, Paul’s going to address his fellow Christians using family terms, like “sister” or “mother.” We know terms like “body” or “family” carry extensive weight within the church, both in Paul’s time and today. At Vintage, we frequently call ourselves the family of Vintage. Paul’s doing a lot more than saying goodbye in this chapter. He’s theologically landing the plane of the book of Romans.
In Romans one through 11, Paul articulated the central doctrines of the gospel. He talked about justification by grace through faith. We put it this way here at Vintage: trusting belief and the kindness of God made known in the person and work of Jesus.
He talked about the shared plight of humanity and original sin. He talked a lot about God’s covenantal faithfulness. He also talked about the reconciliation we find only in Christ, the reconciliation we find with God, and with one another. He models this a lot on the reconciliation which is happening in the Roman church between the Jews and the Gentiles.
Within Romans chapters 12 through 15, Paul is going to communicate the practical outworking of these truths. He talks about the church as the body of Christ, the coming judgment of believers and non-believers, and the exhortation to love as Christ loved.
Last but not least, we remember his call for Christians to be transformed by the leading of the Spirit and through the putting-on of the nature of Jesus and their daily words and decisions.
Within Romans 16, Paul is going to weave all these things together and model for us how the gospel is meant to be lived in the life of the church. He’s going to do so by highlighting two things, the embracing of our fellow believers and the Lordship of Christ.
Let’s talk about that first one, the embracing of one another. The word Paul uses for “greet” is a lot more than a polite what’s up to your neighbor. We do that a lot in youth group. I walk in there and say what’s up?
The way Paul uses it is the imperative form of the verb which means it’s a command — aspazumai. It is a middle-voice verb that means to acclaim, honor, welcome, or embrace others to yourself.
When it was invoked as a posture of someone’s heart or mind, it meant to be fond of someone or something. That’s why Paul’s going to employ — I want to put a disclaimer here — a very culturally suitable model of a kiss. Don’t do it here at Vintage. If we find you kissing people and kissing babies, I promise, the life safety team will probably drag you out of the room.
Paul uses this image because the kiss models a relational nearness and fondness which exceeds way more than just a hello or an empty acknowledgment of others.
If aspazumai is to be interpreted as embrace, which I believe it should be, Paul embraces the figures of Romans 16 in three interesting ways. He’s attentive to who they are and who they’re becoming in Christ. He’s intentional in giving his time, consistency, and whenever possible, his proximity for the building of relationships with others. Finally, he’s incredibly honoring of other people’s personhood and their contributions to the church.
Let’s talk about the first one, attentiveness. Paul perceives and understands the long story of God and the lives of those the Spirit has brought into his life. He sees their personalities. He knows their characters, sees their struggles, and is cognizant of their personal victories in the Kingdom.
I think pastor Gary puts it well when he tells us to shut up, sit down, and listen to someone’s story. Paul did that.
Second, Paul was intentional. His observations weren’t just the product of distant insights, but the consequences of a long-term, committed relationship. His preferred term for his fellow believers was scenagos. We would translate this word as coworker. It means persons or assistants who work side-by-side, arm-to-arm, for a common cause or goal.
Coworkers in Paul’s mind don’t just casually say hello on Sundays. They don’t just passively attend church. They labor together in the service of Jesus. They are involved in the lives of others, and they take ownership of being present throughout the highs and the lows of other Christians’ lives.
Paul examples honor. He describes his peers as “prominent among the apostles” in verse seven. “Beloved in the Lord,” in verse eight. Even “a mother to me,” in verse 13. He’s unrelenting in his efforts to praise and highlight the invaluable place other people hold within his life and the Church of Christ.
Paul’s greetings are a lot more than just closing formalities. They’re models for how Christians are to live within the service of Jesus and the church. We are to be continually attentive, intentional, and honoring of one another.
In verse two of Romans 16, we find a church that helps in whatever is required. Benefits many, including its leader, in verse two. Risks its own neck for the lives of others, in verse four. Works very hard for others, in verse six. Co-labors and works together, in verses three and nine. Is a family unto others, in verse 13. We’re called into that same life of joy and selflessness.
I want to pause here because Romans has been used a lot in the life of the church to talk about salvation. How do I get saved? How do I eventually go to heaven? How do I go to be with the Lord? Eternal life occupies a little bit of the book of Romans.
I remember when I was a kid, there used to be these things, these pamphlets, and they were called chick tracks. Does anyone remember them? There were a lot of chick tracks that would have this theological instruction manual called the Romans Road. The Romans Road would use the book of Romans to talk about becoming a Christian, confessing Christ, and eventually dying and going to heaven.
The interesting thing is Paul spends a lot more time talking about the Spirit’s drawing together of the church than he ever does on individual salvation in the book of Romans. The reconciliation which exists between all believers in God and the common election we share in the person of Jesus is the center of his message in the book of Romans.
I want us to look briefly at the figures Paul names and behold the miracle that God was putting together at the Roman church.
The first person who Paul’s going to identify in Romans 16 is a woman deacon by the name of Phoebe. There’s been a lot of unfortunate debates surrounding female leadership within the church. Paul’s going to commend Phoebe and the word he employs is soonastaymie, which means to connect yourself with another in a common message or authority. He’s going to commend her as an acting deacon of the Church of Cenchreae.
For those of us geography nerds, Cenchreae is a little coastal village off the edge of Corinth. He commends her as a “deaconos.” That’s where we get the modern title “deacon” from. That can either be a servant person or a formal role or office within the early church. New Testament scholar, Thomas R. Schreiner, says of Phoebe, it is likely that she held the office of deacon for this as the only occasion in the New Testament in which the term “deaconos” is linked with a particular church.
The passage is going to outline Phoebe’s three ministerial roles. The first one is that of a commission deaconos of the Cenchreae church. The second is as an angelos of Paul, a formal messenger of his letter. The last thing she’s going to be called a prostatus, which means a financial supporter of Paul.
What does that mean for us? What does that mean in common language? What does Phoebe do within the life of the church if we understand the culture and the history? It means Phoebe delivered by hand, read, and almost certainly publicly instructed the Roman Christians in Paul’s letter. She was the one who clarified many of his statements and gave context to them. She’s the one who could answer questions because she personally had come from Paul and had been stamped with his authority.
Paul’s going to implore the Romans to spiritually and provisionally support Phoebe as his emissary carrying his authority. The church father’s origin would say of her in the early third century that this passage teaches that there were women ordained in the church’s ministry by the apostles’ authority. Not only that, they ought to be ordained into ministry because they helped in many ways, and by their good services deserve the praise, even of an apostle.
Within this passage, we’re gonna find Prisca and Aquila, who are esteemed teachers. They were a married couple. We find them instructing Apollos in the book of Acts. We’re going to find Junia and her husband Andronicus, who are stamped with apostolic credibility, and there’s a theory that’s pretty credible that Junia might actually be Joanna, the witness of the resurrection in the gospels, but that’s for another time.
These are only a handful of examples of female leadership in the New Testament. I haven’t even gotten to the later apostolic and patristic periods of the church. With that being said, if you want to dive into that topic further, we’re going to have a seminar and a question and answer tonight. We’re going to talk about women and the earthly ministry of Jesus. We’re going to talk more about these women and their lives and significance. We’re going to talk about how we are supposed to understand and interpret passages like First Corinthians 14 and First Timothy two. And last but not least, we’re going to go through the early church and learn more about the great women who helped impact our faith. If that’s interesting to you because you have questions or concerns, or maybe you’re a woman who just wants to learn more about the history of women within Christianity or just a believer who wants to understand why we believe this position is biblical, I’d love to invite you tonight. We’re gonna have a blast.
Within this passage, Paul is going to include nine women, 18 men, five Jews, 23 Gentiles, three married couples, a widow, a slave of Herod the Great’s grandson, Aristopolis the Younger, a noted friend and confidant of Emperor Claudius himself named Narcissus, a pair of wealthy Greek aristocrats — they were probably twins named Trifayna, and Trifosa — and a guy named Rufus who is very likely the son of Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried Jesus’ cross in the Gospel of Mark. That’s a pretty diverse list of people.
I want to submit something to you. A list like this could not have existed as a family or a loving social group anywhere else in the ancient world. Many of them were sworn enemies. Many were prohibited from intermarrying or engaging in community together. Others were starkly divided by issues of sex, social class, ethnic loyalty, political allegiance, and most of all, slavery and citizenship.
No group in the Jewish, Greek, or Roman world contains so much diversity and so much potential for conflict in this church. Yet this is where Paul identifies every person as being one in Christ and members of a singular family.
Paul’s understanding of our mutual salvation in Jesus didn’t just captivate his theology. It captivated the way he treated others. The unity of the Roman church, as relayed through Paul, was grounded in a singular truth, the Lordship of Jesus. The common identity, the attentiveness, the intentionality, the selfless love, the honor, the belonging, the service, these realities were solely grounded in the person of Jesus and His grace and government over the church.
We live in an era where terms like identity, belonging, and community kind of fly around like shrapnel shards everywhere. I think Christians in the West have largely forgotten that these treasures are only accessible when Jesus is established as the Lord of our lives. Through our personal identification with Jesus and our obedience to Him in faith. Through our selfless relationship and act of service to others, and through our participation in the body of Christ, His church.
Not the church is some vague, vacuous entity of all those who believe in Jesus, but a living, breathing sacramental body, consisting of real believers engaged in true worship of God, selfless love, service of their neighbor, and evangelization of the world.
After all, we as Christians can’t view the church as some kind of ghost or formless entity we access through our mental beliefs. No, the church is based on the Israelite idea of Kahal, which means God’s people gathered for the service and worship have its king. It’s embodied. It’s structured. It’s tangible.
What do I think we should do with Romans 16? I think we should embrace the upward and outward focus of Paul. We place ourselves under the Lordship of Christ. We let Him lead us through our daily lives, through obedience to Scripture, and our prayerful relationship with him to the Holy Spirit. We find belonging with those whom we visibly and actively embrace through our attention, our intentionality, and our honor.
Paul’s theology of salvation is not narrow, and it’s not individualistic. It’s churchly. You guys wouldn’t be surprised to know and understand that I nerd out on translation a lot. Sometimes really cool things are found through translating words correctly. Sometimes cool things are found by translating words wrong.
An example of this is the Russian Christians will translate the Greek word for communion as subornost, and it’s kind of a rough translation, but we’ll give it to them. Subornost roughly translates to the English phrase, church-ness, or gathering-ness.
For Paul, election and salvation is a doctrine of church-ness. The whole of the book of Romans is a story of how God gathered up the broken fragments of humanity in Christ and crafted them into a glorious, resplendent, Jesus-bearing church.
The church father, Clement of Alexandria, once wrote, “The will of God is an act. And that act was called the world. But the intention of God is the salvation of all humanity. And that salvation is called the church, made up of men and women, slaves and free persons, Jews and Greeks, all embraced in one Lord Jesus Christ. A place where God’s choosing and love for me already include within itself God’s love and choosing of my neighbor and everyone who confesses Him as Lord.”
The story is really about Christ — about His inheritance, His possession, His spreading out into the whole world through the gospel. That’s why Paul will describe disputers and dissenters as those who serve themselves. They’re enslaved to their own appetites, in verse 18. Dissension always begins in me, with my choice to govern myself. It always ends up in me serving my wants and whims, and almost always results in me disregarding others or just mechanically using them for my own desires.
Christians are called to treat their fellow believers with a dignified embracing love because they occupy a sacred space. That sacred space is the person of Jesus. He grounds their worth, He governs their destiny, and He is their place of belonging. That’s the upward and outward focus, where I refuse to go inward, but I turn upward towards His lordship and outward towards an all-embracing love and belonging that can only be found in His body, His people.
What do I want us to do with Romans 16? How do I apply this to our lives? I think we should embrace one another in the Lord by doing a few simple things. Let’s be perceptive and compassionately attentive to others this week. Let’s stop to ask others what God is doing in their lives — what He’s accomplishing within them.
Let’s arrest our mouths and leave room for their story. Let’s not just ask once, but let’s follow up in the lives of those who surround us so that we can encourage, occasionally rebuke, and cheerlead God’s story for their lives.
Let’s be intentional in the giving of our time, our energy, and our proximity to others. Let’s take time to actually be with others and serve them. Let’s give of our time, our resources, and our energy to see out the success of others in God’s Kingdom.
Let’s be like Paul and adopt a posture of proximity, not forsaking meeting together with other believers, acts which Paul deems sacred. Let’s honor and encourage others into whom Christ made them to be. Let’s see the full potential of God in those we encounter. Let’s compliment a lot, encourage a lot, and build others up a lot.
When conflict comes up, the Jesuitsm who I used to study under had this phrase, live in the best interpretation possible. When conflict arises, see the best in others, knowing that their identity isn’t found in you. It’s found in Christ.
That’s the life of the church. That’s Romans 16. That’s the person and government of Jesus acted out. That’s a life well lived according to Paul’s Gospel.
Romans 16 wasn’t just a closing statement. Thank you for studying with me. Would you stand for prayer?
Lord, as we meditate on Your Word in Romans 16, would You teach us to be attentive, intentional, and honoring like Christ was? He who is in the form of God yet took on the form of a slave. Would we follow His example? Lord, would we recognize that those around us aren’t just people in our life; they’re Your possessions. They’re special to You. They’re dignified to You, and they’re holy before You. So let us treat them that way. Help us to become more and more like the fullest vision of Your church.
God, make the gospel, the Good News, abound in the way that we love each other. Lord, for all the difficult situations that lie ahead for everyone in this body. Would you bless them? Would you keep them? Would your face shine upon them through every situation, every decision, and every encounter? We love You and we ask this in Your holy name, Lord Jesus, amen.
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