Godly Reputation, Legacy, & Heritage – Romans 16:1-2
If you google the words “financial legacy” you’ll come up with nearly 10 million pages to explore. There is a huge emphasis right now about clearing up debt, preparing kids for college, and leaving children a financial legacy that shows faithful stewardship, and I don’t think this is a bad movement. For the most part, it is pretty easy to determine whether someone leaves a healthy financial legacy or not. The proof is in the pudding if you will.
Leaving a legacy of Godly character is a bit harder to determine though.
- Will folks look back at your life someday and think that you were Godly?
- Will folks think you were fair?
- Will folks think that you played a large part in educating and training people about Jesus Christ?
- Or will they think you were bitter and exacting?
- Will your children think you were a good parent?
- Will your employer think you were a faithful worker?
- Again, when it comes to legacies, the proof is in the pudding.
Here is the thing about legacies though. You will never get to fully know your legacy this side of heaven. It won’t be known until you pass away. Leaving a legacy inherently takes faith because you are working for something you will never completely see or experience. What or whom you have faith in for that legacy makes all the difference.
It is fair to ask, “Are you trusting your own skills and resourcefulness for a Godly legacy or are you trusting the work of God in your life for that legacy?” What we are going to see this week in the book of Romans is Paul’s thanks to some folks who loved and served with him well. We are going to see people worked hard, people who had Godly reputations, and people who were spiritual parents and siblings to Paul. As we examine their legacies, it might do us well to ask this question?
Big Picture Question: What is necessary for you to have a Godly reputation and leave a Godly heritage and legacy?
16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.
Paul is again addressing the Romans church knowing that he will see them eventually. As a closing to his letter, he mentions Godly men and women that he has bumped into during all of his travels. In looking at them, we will see a definitive Godly heritage and legacy inspirationally handed down from God Himself.
Our first example is Phoebe. So, we should ask ourselves, who was this Godly woman? This is what we know about her. She was a servant at the Cenchreae church. She was a patron of Paul’s which more than likely means she supported Paul’s ministry financially, physically, and pretty much every other way. With a name like Phoebe she was more than likely a Gentile convert to Christ as the name Phoebe comes from Artemis of pagan mythology who was associated with the Roman Goddess Diana. Some even speculate she was the one carrying Paul’s letter to Rome as Paul is telling the Romans that she will be visiting.
Now take a moment and consider who Phoebe was with 1st century eyes. In a society that undervalued women in almost every way, Phoebe was an entrepreneur and was successful to such an extent that she was able to provide for her family as well as a missionary like Paul. She also had the gifts of charity and hospitality that we mentioned last week. She was obviously willing to give both financially and sacrificially to make sure that Paul could continue proclaiming Jesus and planting churches. She went against the cultural grain, abandoning her pagan lifestyle to embrace Jesus Christ and commit her life to the expansion of God’s kingdom. The fact that we are studying the book of Romans is more than likely in some part due to her faithfulness.
Can you imagine this for a moment? Let’s make it intensely personal. Can you imagine living your life in such a passionately Gospel centered, Jesus loving manner than 2,000 years from now people will think of you in this way. You live such a Godly life that people recognize that you left godlessness and sin to walk in obedience. You are so charitable and so hospitable that your reputation is one where people know that you sacrificed for self to make sure the churches, missionaries, pastors, were funded and your home was such a hospitable place, people thought of your address as the place to find rest.
I see these qualities growing at SK, and by God’s grace God, you folks have the reputation of being hospitable to the EMS and Police. My prayer is that we would see these qualities grow in a Phoebe like way in each and every home here so that people of every background and place of life would find your homes as the place in which they meet Jesus Christ. But I will say this about our hospitality. We do want to make each other, friends, family and strangers comfortable. But even more so, we want to make the presence of God undeniable. Technically, anyone can invite someone over. Anyone can cook a meal. Anyone can neatly decorate a house for guests.
But if you couple the undeniable, gracious presence of God with hospitality, those two things together will create a Godly legacy and heritage that will endure well beyond your life and mine. When we want to extend hospitality to someone, don’t be fooled into thinking the food, the house, the drinks are the things that make the largest impression of God on someone. Those things do speak to the grace of Christ, but there is something else that must come first. The presence of God in you is what speaks to grace and hospitality first. The Holy Spirit resides or as the scriptures put it “tabernacle” within you, and so God is there as you care for someone. The Holy Spirit’s hospitality must always be the hospitality that we rely on as we care for others and proclaim Jesus. Then the apologetic of grace in your caring for folks is coupled with the apologetic of grace of the Holy Spirit in your life. Then we pray that God would move mightily so that others might come to know this grace of Jesus Christ.
Now Phoebe is also famous for something else, and since we are at this passage, it is appropriate to spend some time discussing the language of this text. Some translations, perhaps even the one you brought with you to worship will translate this verse 2 in this way. Instead of saying, Phoebe, a servant of the church, some translations will interpret the passage, Phoebe, a deaconess of the church. Because of these interpretative differences, firestorms of controversy have sprung up across churches and denominations, and we would benefit from a few minutes discussion around the topic as it does pertain to our church government. How this passage is translated gives us 3 options.
- The Greek word diakonos means deaconess in this case and the example of a deaconess means that the church should ordain women to the office of deacon.
- The Greek word diakonos means deaconess in this case but just because there is an example of deaconess doesn’t mean it is regulative for the church.
- The Greek word diakonos does not mean deaconess in this case, so the church is left with the exhortations of Timothy and Titus to determine whether the church should have deaconesses or not.
Well, let’s figure out what we should do here, and no worries, once we get to the bottom here, I think we’ll find some application to our question about leaving a Godly legacy, but this is a worthwhile discussion. The word servant in this passage is diakonos and some translations interpret the word as deaconess instead of servant. The ESV, NASB, NIV, the Geneva Bible, the NKJV, as well as many others translate the word servant. In the Greek, the word diakonos can be translated agent, intermediary, courier, assistant, or servant, so it can have a wide variety of meanings however all of them imply a person submitting themselves to another as a servant would.
It is not however the same word for slave which is doulos. I first learned the Greek word for slave when I worked at a Christian bookstore. When my boss hired me, he explained what the word meant and then told me that it best explained the job to which I was applying. Made the job look really attractive.
Since the word diakonos is feminine, many feel that means that it should be translated into a feminine specific English word and thus the word “deaconess” shows up for the first time in the English language in the 1530’s when the first English translations were written. The word had no origin prior to that circumstance. And because of that many churches choose to ordain females as deacons. The question should not be, “Is Phoebe called a deaconess in Romans with the intention of proving whether females should be deacons?” The answer to who should be deacons is answered for us I Timothy 3:11.
The proper question is “What does the diakonos mean? Because a Greek word is feminine does not mean that it must be translated into an English feminine word. The same word is used to describe Jesus in a few verses in Romans 15:8 where Jesus is described as becoming a diakonos or servant to the Gentiles. The word there means servant and interestingly enough the translations that interpret Phoebe as a deaconess do not call Jesus a deaconess though they both have the same intention in the passage. In fact, the word is used in multiple places apart from any office or ordination in scripture, and because of this, Phoebe as servant is the better translation. It makes sense then that the root of this word is used as the word for deacon that we have in I Timothy as deacons are set apart servants. The word also can be used objectively. Paul uses the word in Romans 15:31 not as the description of a person but as the act of serving when he asks for prayers to be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that his service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints. In 1 Timothy 4:6, every Christian is called to be a diakonos in their devotion to Christ. Paul says, If you put these things (speaking of Godliness) before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have) followed..
Because of these things, many churches, including this one, do not ordain females to the office of deaconess, though we do appoint both men and women as servants to the deacons whenever necessary. Speaking of men and women having distinct roles within the church at first feels like a chauvinistic approach to ministry but we see this pattern over and over in scripture. Scripture calls husbands to be heads of their households in 1 Peter 2:13-17 and Ephesians 5:22-30 and in that husbands mirror the authority that Christ has over His church. Women are specifically called to the glorious task of childbirth and in that they mirror God the Father in His work of creation. Men and women have some roles that are specific to them just as we see that reflected in the Trinity where the Father elects, the Sons dies, and Spirit applies salvation. Yet just as each member of the Trinity is equal, so still are men and women.
In terms of equality, some folks quote Galatians 3:28 that say that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female. Because of this, some feel that there are no distinct roles for men and women because they feel that passage says that God looks at people and does not see Gender. However that passage is saying that no race or gender has preferential treatment before God. If you feel that passage speaks to God not seeing gender, then you are using the same hermeneutic that seeks to say homosexuality is okay, and I don’t think biblically that is a sustainable argument. God does not prefer one gender over the other but He does see gender because He designed both and both are necessary to represent the image of God.
Now having said that, let’s move back onto the pathway of Godly legacies and heritages. Phoebe led such a Godly life of Jesus-imitating service that she had the privilege of being described in the same way as Jesus – a servant. And how does Paul encourage the Romans to respond to this Godly woman? He encourages them to do 2 things. Welcome Phoebe in the Lord in a way worthy of saints and help her in any way that she needs.
Once again, you see Paul saying:
- Treat Phoebe as an equal saint.
- Don’t look down on her because she is female.
- Don’t exalt her because she is female.
- Honor her as a Godly person just as you would honor any other Godly person because God is using her mightily.
And in addition to honoring her, Paul instructs the Romans to meet this hospitable woman with hospitality. He says, “Whenever she arrives, whatever she needs in terms of food, clothing, and shelter, give it to her.” Honor her for what God is doing in her, and meet her needs. Why? The reasoning for doing these two things is Phoebe has been a patron of Paul’s as well as many other people. Phoebe has done just that for Paul. When Paul needed money, food, or clothing while doing ministry, Phoebe made sure he got it. So do the same for her.
You see, the world calls this type of charity and hospitality “paying it forward” which is the idea that if you care for someone or serve them or perform a random act of kindness, they’ll be able to care for someone else and it will just continue. Though I do think this is true, scripturally, what we call this is Covenantal Faithfulness. You see God has covenanted Himself to us which means He will be faithful in love to us at the risk of His character and name. If He forsakes those He has called to Himself, He is not God. In Genesis, when God promised to be Abraham’s God, God made a sacrifice and personally walked through it as a personal testimony that He would be faithful and make Abraham faithful. Now through Jesus, God has done same thing in showing love to you except this time the sacrifice He offered in declaration of His love was Himself, His son Jesus. So, God’s love is always covenantal.
And your expression of love and hospitality to others is always covenantal. 1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
So if you want to leave a Godly legacy and heritage like Phoebe did, then express love and charity and hospitality as God has expressed it to you.
- If you display love in that way, it is evidence that you know the love of God.
- If you do not display love, if you are not charitable, if you are not gracious towards other, it is evidence that you either do not know love of God, or know it very immaturely.
- If God has so loved you, so you are to love others
Sometimes, we really struggle with knowing whether God is with us or whether God loves us. We struggle with being charitable to ourselves much less charitable to others and the idea of legacy or heritage seems so far away. But John says that in loving one another, we more fully experience God’s abiding in us and God’s love for us. I’m afraid that as you sequester yourself from the rest of the world, you are sequestering yourself from more fully knowing God’s love.
Now having said that, what does it mean for SK to leave a Godly legacy or heritage? It starts simply. If people first interact with us at worship, we show hospitality and grace to them and greet with genuine care and affection. Then we show faithfulness to the scriptures in our preaching and singing showing them Christ in all we do. I was amazed to visit a church recently and was barely greeted by anyone. That type of neglect says that God is not very present there because if he were, people would have not choice but to be welcoming and hospitable.
We can also show that Godly legacy by going into our community and being hospitable. This week is National Police Week. We can leave a Godly legacy by showering these folks with gifts, food, cards from the kids etc. You all have done a tremendous job showing the EMS the hospitality of Christ. This week, we should do the same for the Police. These acts are not just random. They are expressions of love and hospitality.
We can leave a Godly legacy when God blesses us with our new space. How so? We can do our best to reverse the trend of churches considering their buildings as the goal. Our space, no matter where we meet, is merely a tool for the extension of grace and hospitality. It is not the goal. We can meet in an incredible new space, and it can be beautiful and have more than one bathroom, and it won’t matter one bit if the building is the goal. The purpose of that space is to increase the platform whereby we can declare Christ.
If you are married, you leave a Godly legacy and heritage by opening your home others. You can do it by being patient with one another and forgiving past wrongs.
If you are a parent, you can leave a Godly legacy by teaching your children about Christ and teaching them to be gracious and hospitable as well.
If you are a student, you can leave a Godly legacy by showing your teachers and other students that working hard, working honestly, and helping other students is part of demonstrating the love that has been shown to you by Jesus.
Bottom line folks: each and every one of you is leaving a legacy of some sort. If you claim Christ, hopefully you are leaving a Christ-like legacy. If you are inhospitable, you legacy is a bit confusing and contradictory. If you are constantly at conflict with people and discompassionate, and you just want to hideaway from the world, you legacy is contradictory and perhaps even evidence of an unauthentic expression of Christ. But if you claim Christ, cling to grace, extend hospitality and charity to others, then you will be like Phoebe who loved and served in the Kingdom and whose faithfulness is spoken of even now, 2,000 years later.
But let us never forget, anything we do must be rooted in Christ and the Gospel. John 13: 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
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