by Gordon Franz (continued)
We have conjectured on the ethnicity and social status of some of these saints in the church in Rome. When we get to Heaven, we will be able to sit down and talk with them, hear their own testimonies as to how they came to faith in the Lord Jesus, when and where they met the Apostle Paul, and what they did in the Lord’s work in Rome and elsewhere.
The first thing we note in this chapter is that Paul calls Phoebe, “our sister.” One of the metaphors used for the Church is that of a family. A person is born into God’s family by being “born-again” (John 3:3). The Apostle John writes, “But as many as receive Him [the Lord Jesus Christ], to them He gave the right to become children of God [brothers and sisters], to those who believe [trust in] in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12, 13). Have you trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior and been born into God’s family?
We should also notice the role of women in the church in Rome. The description of their activities is impressive. Of Phoebe, it is written that she was a helper of many. Of Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis, it is written that they “labored much.” While the roles of women may be different than men in the church, the zeal in which it is carried out by these women was noted by Paul. Women were active participants in the work of the Lord in the church at Rome.
Phoebe also set an example of seeking out fellowship with the Lord’s people when she traveled to Rome. When we travel for vacation or business, do you seek out the saints? A “letter of commendation” is always helpful when traveling to places where other believers may not know you. It smooths the welcoming process.
The Apostle Paul highlights three married couples that are serving the Lord together, Priscilla and Aquila, Andronicus and Junia, and Philologus and Julia. Couples with strong marriages working together in the church are important for several reasons. First, to set an example of a godly marriage for others to follow, and second, to illustrate the love the Lord Jesus had for His Church and the Headship of Christ (Eph. 5:22-33).
This list of names gives us a hint at Paul’s missionary strategy. He would lead a person to the Lord and then disciple them. From this chapter we see that Paul kept in contact with those he had led to the Lord. Epaenetus was Paul’s first convert in Achaia and Paul knew where he was and what he was doing for the Lord. Paul also mentions his “kinsmen,” so he had as his priority, reaching his family and friends with the gospel.
Paul says just enough tantalizing facts about some individual so that it should whet the interest of those in the church in Rome to get to know these people better. For examples: What did Phoebe do to help others? What did Aquila and Pricilla do to risk their necks for Paul’s sake? Andronicus and Junia had seen and heard the Lord Jesus. What was that like? Apparently this humble couple did not draw attention to themselves, but pointed people to the Lord Jesus and talked about Him. Paul gives a subtle hint to the Christians in Rome to ask Andronicus and Junia what it was like to have walked (literally and figuratively) with the Lord for close to 30 years. The principle we can learn from this is that everyone has a story to tell. We should get to know the people in our assembly.
Paul mentions the Jewish believers that are living in Rome for two reasons. First, he is reinforcing the truths that he has set forth in Romans 9-11 that God has not given up on the Jewish people. He was still calling out a remnant for his Name, and one day the nation will return to the Lord Jesus (Rom. 11: 26, 27). Second, the Gentiles believers in the church at Rome should not marginalize the Jewish believers (or women or slaves, for that matter), but “greet” them, give them a big bear hug and a holy kiss, and welcome them back into the fellowship of the saints in Rome. Do not marginalize them (cf. Eph. 3).
The title of this paper asks a question. Is this chapter a “grocery list” of names or the focus of the Apostle Paul’s ministry? I think we can see that these names reflect the heart of the Apostle Paul and his missionary practices. His focus was on people: seeing that they come to faith in the Lord Jesus, and then go on to serve Him.
When we see lists of names in the Bible, we should not pass over them lightly. They are real people and the Spirit of God included the names for our benefit. It should be a challenge for the diligent student of the Bible to dig out the gems that are in these lists of names. This exercise would be profitable for our spiritual lives! The lists in the Bible are part of the “all Scripture” of II Tim. 3:16 that are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness! We ignore this chapter to our own spiritual peril.
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