Romans 16:1-16 I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has nee of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also. Greet Priscilla and Aquilla, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house.
Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. Greet Mary, who labored much for us. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.
Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved persis, who labored much in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. Greet Philogus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.
Sometimes in our culture, we can forget that the church is not a building, not a place nor activity. It’s easy at times to forget that we are the church. This is not a passage which is studied often or preached on a great deal but it’s one which I personally find very encouraging. Throughout the passage, believers are mentioned by name and the emphasis is on unity in the faith and the individual members which make up the Church of Christ. Each name listed stands as a challenge to us today to follow the Lord ever more closely and serve His people ever more diligently.
First there was Phoebe, a Christian sister who deserved to be welcomed and befriended. There are several things we can learn from her example. The name Phoebe is one of the names of the goddess Diana which leads many scholars to believe she was a convert from a pagan religion. (Actually, when you get right down to it, aren’t we all?) Paul calls her “our sister,” meaning a sister in the faith of Christ. Phoebe was a servant (diakonon) of the church at Cenchrea. This is the same word as deacon. She apparently served in some official capacity in her local church. Paul gives two reasons the believers should welcome Phoebe: first believers are to always welcome and befriend other believers in a manner worthy of the saints. The church is not an exclusive club nor a society of cliques. Secondly, Phoebe had been a helper (prostasis) of many. This word implies that she helped, protected, looked after, and provided for many people. Our example from Phoebe? We are to be servants of the church, constantly ministering to all who are in need.
Next there is Priscilla and Aquilla, a hospitable couple who opened their homes even as they risked death. They were close companions of Paul and were originally residents of Rome. In AD 52, the Roman emperor, Claudius, banished the Jews from Rom and this couple moved to Corinth. They were tentmakers and went into business for a while with Paul. Later, they traveled with Paul to Ephesus where they eventually settled. Throughout their moves, their chief characteristics were an open home and open hearts. They received the young preacher, Apollos, into their home to instruct him in the faith. They opened their Ephesian and Roman homes to church meetings. Paul mentioned that they saved his life, risking their own necks for him. What can we learn from them? Hospitality, helping fellow believers in ministry, and a willingness to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of other believers.
Next in the list is Epaenetus, a courageous new convert. He was probably a member of the household of Stephanas whose house is said to have been the first fruits of Achaia (1 Cor. 16:15). Imagine the real courage it would have taken to become the first convert to Christ in the middle of a pagan culture! Think about the changed life and the surrendering of himself to Jesus. Imagine the attitudes and reactions of his loved ones, friends, and neighbors – ridicule, misunderstandings, questioning, mocking, withdrawal, isolation. From Epaenetus we can learn true courage.
Then there was Mary, a lady who labored much. Notice that Mary was a member of the Roman church and Paul had yet to go to Rome at the time of this letter writing. Therefore, Mary must have ministered to him elsewhere. In fact she labored so much for Paul and his fellow workers that he commends here for this service. We have no idea exactly how she served, but we can learn the value of diligent service from Mary.
Andronicus and Junia were early converts who were imprisoned with Paul. They were perhaps man and wife as Junia is a woman’s name. The things we know about them are interesting. We know that they were related to Paul in some way and were imprisoned with him at some point in his ministry. They were known and highly esteemed by the apostles of Christ and they were believers before Paul, becoming believers before Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 7:54-60). They were well known for their willingness to stand up for Christ and to bear testimony for Him, even if it meant imprisonment or death. May we also be so willing.
Amplias simply has the testimony of being beloved by a minister of the Gospel. This indicates that he was a man of remarkable love, a man who greatly loved others and was greatly loved by others. “By this shall all men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another.” John 13:35
Urbanus was a helper, that is, a fellow worker in the ministry. There are three things here I find noteworthy. He was a man who worked side by side with Paul. He was a man of unusual diligence and he was a man of unusual faithfulness who was loyal to Christ wherever he travelled. He faithfully witnessed and served wherever he travelled.
Stachys is also called my beloved by Paul. He was a believer who was characterized by the greatest of all traits – love. Just imagine the strength of a man whose dominant feature is love! Apelles was a believer who had been tried and found faithful. Apparently, he had faced some great trial and had stood up against it, proving his loyalty beyond question. As far as I know, he was a lay believer yet he stood fast against suffering, trusting the presence of God’s Spirit to carry him through the trial. Personally, I love the term “approved in Christ.” What an endorsement!!!
Those who were of the household of Aristobulus were slaves who were owned by Aristobulus, Herod the Great’s grandson. From this I learn that, no matter where we are, no matter our station in life, Christ loves us. Herodian was another relative of Paul (there’s no reason for translating suggene as countryman instead of relative). This reminds me to be faithful to witness to my family.
Paul then greets the believers in the household of Narcissus. Narcissus was probably the wealthy secretary to the Emperor Claudius and determined the appointments of the Emperor and amassed a great fortune from kickbacks (William Barclay). It’s important here to note that these believers were so faithful in Christ that they stood up for Him even in this kind of a home environment. One of the greatest problems believers face is living with unbelievers. Yet, these slaves in this very prominent household were able to maintain their faithfulness to Christ. We are called to follow Christ, even if, as the hymn says, none go with me.
Tryphena and Tryphosa were two women who labored much in the Lord. The name Tryphena means dainty and the name Tryphosa means delicate. The word labored here means working to the point of exhaustion, toiling to the point of collapse. These two dainty, delicate women worked like horses for the Lord and His church. Persis was a beloved woman who also worked hard in the Lord. She was a woman of such love and ministry that others looked on her as the “beloved Persis.” She labored every which way she was able.
Rufus, chosen in the Lord, was a saintly man. Note the word chosen. Paul does not say chosen by the Lord but chosen in the Lord. The emphasis here is not election (no matter our belief in this area). The emphasis is on a tenderness, a preciousness, and a warmth – an intimate relationship between the Lord and Rufus. He was set apart and had an intimate relationship with Christ. Rufus was probably the son of Simon the Cyrenian who carried the cross for Jesus (Mark 15:21). What an impact this must have had on his life – watching his father carry the cross of our Lord! We can learn to be set apart for Christ – to remember the impact of the crucifixion and how it forever changed us.
Rufus’s mother is mentioned next and Paul calls her his mother in the Lord. On several occasions, she cared for Paul as a mother cares for her own son. When Paul needed a mother nearby, he knew he could count on her. Do we treat fellow believers like family? Can they count on us in times of need?
Several more servants of the Lord are named about whom we know little. Then Paul exhorts us to greet each other in the same manner as these saints, reminding us that we are also servants and fellow workers in the Lord. It’s a good reminder to remain faithful to the Lord and to the fellowship of His people.
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25