J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Paul’s BFF – Romans 16:5b-16

Find more of Gordon’s writing on religion at the Raleigh Examiner

You would think in town like Garner or Clayton or Cary that churches would be more connected.  Since these regions are smaller, connectivity would allow for better coverage when city-wide needs arise and would offer individual pastors great support encouragement.  Though relationships in the area are cordial and collegial, I can’t really say they are close, and nobody would describe them as partnerships.  That truth highlights one of the practical benefits of being in a denomination.  Being part of a bound together by vow and accountability helps a church to find wisdom, seek counsel, and be held responsible for their actions and convictions.  Being completely independent leaves no room for accountability.

In my opinion, the lack of connectivity between churches is really a result of the fact that Christians really don’t love each other.  Oh, you might love the ones within your local church or the one’s from an old youth group or something, but sadly, there is a real lack of affection for other believers.  You can see why then the church is often incredibly poor and sharing Jesus with non-believers.  If we aren’t going to love each other in the church, why in the world would we ever care enough to love those outside of it?  Sadly, the folks outside the church know we don’t love them and they know we don’t love each other very well either.  Scripture, however, loving one another in the church is a direction reflection of your love for Jesus.  Jesus said as much in John 13:34

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.

And you know what God promises to do if you love one another.  He promises to make it a testimony to the whole world so that those who do not know Christ might know and love Him as well.  Jesus says as much in verse 35.

35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

With those things in mind, this week in the book of Romans, we are going to see a list of people that Paul loved.  He is going to mention a bunch of people that we don’t know much about and whose names are hard to pronounce.  But what we will see is Paul’s affection for other believers and in turn, we will also see how that love reflects the love of Jesus.  With that in mind, let’s ask this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  How does mutual affection within the church speak to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

5b Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia.

The first person that Paul greets is a guy named Epaenetus.  Epaenetus means “praiseworthy” which is providentially appropriate as he was the first person to profess faith in Christ in Asia.  Asia’s leading city as it was known then was Ephesus which Priscilla and Aquila helped establish.  If you remember, just prior to this verse, Paul commanded the Roman church to care for Priscilla and Aquila because of their faithful service to God, so it would make sense that they are connected to Epaenetus.  You can imagine why Paul is so thankful and mindful of Epaenetus.  He was the guy that started it all in Asia.  You see, some translate “first convert” as “firstfruits” as Epaenetus was the first of many converts to Christianity in the area.  Paul probably sits around the table with Priscilla and Aquila and talk about the good old days.  “You remember when we first rolled in Ephesus?  Man, we didn’t know anybody.  Then we asked Epaenetus where the synagogue, and the next thing you know, he was asking questions about Jesus.  Now thousands of people believe in Asia, and it all started with one conversation.”

I hope we can relate to that here at SK.  I can remember the first person I struck a conversation with at Bushiban coffee shop.  I remember the “random” phone calls people gave me about the start of the church.  I remember worshiping in the Dance Studio with no air conditioning.  I remember the first time most of you walked through our door.  I hope you have many memories of your firsts here at SK.  As we and Paul celebrate the work that God does through people, then we celebrate the work that God is doing through us.  That’s why being connected here and beyond these doors is important.  The world will know that you are Jesus’ disciples if you love one another.  Next, we meet Mary.

6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.

Now, Mary is also translated “Miriam” in some texts, and the name is inherently Jewish.  If you haven’t noticed, there are tons of Mary’s in the Bible including Jesus’ mother, the mother of James, as well as Mary Magdalene.  How do we know which Mary labored in the Roman church?  Well, we don’t.  We can assume that this Mary is neither of the ones mentioned above because there is no record of them traveling to or living in Rome in the latter parts of their lives.  What we do know is that she worked hard for the church in Rome.  Every church has one of these folks, and hopefully more than one.  This is the person who tirelessly and thanklessly cleans the worship space in joy each week.  This is the person who works sound and only hears from folks when there is a complaint.  This is the person who does the bulletins, the powerpoints, prepares the Lord’s Supper, and on and on.

The church only sustains her efforts by God gifting her with talented, willing folks like Mary.  Thankfully, he has gifted SK with many Mary’s.  Next week meet Andronicus and Junia.

7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

So, who are Andronicus and Junia?  Some have wondered if they were married since there names are joined in this way?  But there seems to be some confusion about the gender of their names.  Junia can be either male or female.  Well, when it says “They were known to the apostles,” that can be translated “Men of note among the apostles,” so more than likely Junia was a man.  Some think “my kinsmen” means relatives but he uses the same word later in verse 21 so most think he means “fellow Jews.”  Their devotion, faith and willingness to be imprisoned for the sake of Jesus gave them a Godly reputation that extended as far as to the ears of the Apostles.  The takeaway despite all the Greek wrestling involved is that these Godly dudes were willing to proclaim Jesus even if it meant that fellow Jewish brothers handed them over to the authorities to be arrested.  Their commitment to proclaiming Christ was so great, news of their faithfulness spread across the world.  You know despite so much harrumphing about loss of liberties and hand wringing about our government, I don’t the church today has that much to fear about going to jail over our faith.  When Christians aren’t willing to love the neighbor across the street or over the fence, why should worry about jail.  Christians will stand up and say, “If they make Christianity illegal I would gladly go to prison.”  Well, my question is, “Is that what it is going to take to get folks to proclaim the Gospel?”  I hope not but at least there were Godly people like Andronicus and Junia who went before us is such things.

Let’s take these next couple of names pretty quickly, and then let’s see what we can find:

8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.

Ampliatus is Latin for amplified or enlarged and was a common name for a slave.  Showing that the work of Christ crosses every social barrier, Paul thinks highly of Ampliatus as Paul describes him as “my beloved in the Lord”   This is an intensely affectionate description similar to what David said about Jonathan in the OT.  Paul loved and appreciated Ampliatus not just for what the work he did for Jesus but for who he was as a person.  Next, we meet Urbanus.

9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys.

Urbanus was a name of social rank and status in that day and time.  It was given by wealthy families to their children as an outward way of displaying that their family was above others who didn’t have a lot of money.  Yet, this guy also has come to know Christ and now works for the Kingdom.  Now, look what we have here so far.

  • Priscilla and Aquila – a Jewish married couple who were kicked out of Rome.
  • Epaenetus – a Gentile from Ephesus
  • Mary, Andronicus and Junia – Jewish men and women
  • Ampiatus – a common slave with no social status
  • Urbanus – a rich kid born with every privilege and advantage in the world.

All manner of class, racial, and gender equal before God and co-workers in the Kingdom with Paul.  Rich and poor.  Jew and Gentile.  Men and women.  Somehow, in a culture that was probably more socially diverse divisive than our own, the Holy Spirit brought them together in the church of Rome to work for the sake of Christ.  They were bound together by their mutual affection for Jesus.  I would offer them to for encouragement but before we do that, we would have to look at their example and walk in repentance as this type of wonderfully Kingdom diverse community is rare these days.

Note also that Paul calls Urbanus a fellow worker as he does Priscilla and Aquila except he calls them “my fellow-workers” and here he calls Urbanus “Our fellow workers” which implies a bit less personal relationship.  Stachys is also called beloved as Ampliatus.  The name is specifically Greek so more than likely he would have been from the area of Greece.  Beyond that, we don’t know anything about Stachys.

Notice how Paul describes the next person in his list.

10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ.

Now, Apelles was a name commonly used by Greek Jews, so that means that Apelles was raised as a Jew but not in Israel.  He is wonderfully described as someone approved in Christ.  This is an expression used in that day to show that someone remained faithful to Jesus in the midst of very difficult circumstances.  We really only see this kind of language in one other place in scripture:  2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  The command here is the same as the descriptor used for Apelles.  Paul was commanding Timothy to be faithful in obedience to the scriptures in the midst of difficult times.   Apparently, that is exactly who Apelles was – a faithful person to both Jesus and the scriptures.

Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus.

There are few guesses here about who Paul is talking:  Aristobulus was the grandson of the infamous Herod but there is no historical evidence of him professing faith in Christ.  If it is Herod’s grandson, then more than likely, Paul is addressing the slaves of Aristobulus that professed faith in Jesus.  It is just as possible that there was a different Aristobulus who had either passed away or didn’t believe in Jesus and Paul was addressing his household of faith.  No matter who it was, Paul is thanking an entire household who faithfully served the kingdom.

11 Greet my kinsman Herodion.

Herodion was a fellow Jewish believer but we don’t anything else about him.

Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus.

Church history as equated this Narcissus to a freedman who became rich and powerful during the reign of Claudius.  History has it that when Nero took over, Narcissus killed himself.  Church history generally equates this family as the slaves that lived within this ungodly household who professed faith in Christ and persevered through what would have been immense persecution.  What happened to them once Narcissus died and the Christian hating Nero took power is not known.  What we do know is that their Godliness is such a difficult household has been preserved for thousands of years because of their inclusion in this letter.  Other faithful workers were Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis in verse 12.

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

The first two ladies are typically considered to be sisters who are mentioned for their outstanding labor for Jesus.  Persis is translated Persian lady, so she is definitely a female as well.  Persis is also described as beloved by Paul but notice this time he does not say “my beloved” as he did with Stachys.  Instead, Persis is the beloved of the Roman Church whichh implies that she had a tremendous reputation among the Christians in Rome.  Whereas Tryphaena and Tryphosa were still working for the sake of the Gospel, Persis’ labor for the Lord is seen in the past tense and Paul doesn’t want people to forget the hard work that they contributed to the Kingdom.  Next is Rufus and his mother in verse 13.

13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.

Now, cast your mind back to the only other mention of a Rufus in scripture.  We meet a Rufus in Mark 15:21 who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross for him when Jesus stumbled.  Interestingly, the Gospel of Mark was written in Rome so church historians have generally equated Rufus with the same man in Mark, though it is not possible to be 100% sure.  Describing him as “chosen in the Lord” speaks to Paul’s assurance of Rufus’ character and salvation.  Describing him as “chosen in the Lord” is a way of saying his Godly character was so sure that he most definitively has to be one of the elect.  Rufus’ mother is also mentioned.  Notice that Paul has great affection for her as she mothered and cared for Paul as well.  We have no way of knowing how Paul might have interacted with her but we do know that she had the gifts of hospitality and charity that we studied just a few weeks ago.  You have to go a long way to say that another person was another mother for someone so obviously Rufus’ mom served Paul well.  As we come to a close, we don’t know much about the next group of folks.

14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them.

We don’t know anything about these dudes except that perhaps they made up a house church in Rome.  The same goes for the folks in verse 15.

15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.

Most think that Philologus and Julia were married and Nereus and Olympas were their children.  The saints with them imply that these guys constituted another house church in Rome.  It would make sense as the Roman church was addressed as one in Paul’s letter but more than likely they constituted a gathering of churches.  Paul’s letter is almost like sending a letter to a Presbytery that is made up of lots of smaller congregations.  Finally, we have Paul’s summary statement to the church in Rome.

16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

A holy kiss was a common way that church members in the 1st century greeted each other.  It was a non-sexual sign of genuine affection among believers.  Hendricksen in his commentary makes a great point about holy kisses: they always involved three parties:  God and the two who were kissing each other.  I Peter 5:14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:26 also reference this habit as a kiss of love   Early church father Justin Martyr mentions that the exchange of the holy kiss was actually part of church worship services making it akin to the right hand of fellowship that some churches do today.  We have today as well.  If you are a guy, you give another guy the right hand shake with the left hand double tap on the back.  If you are a guy greeting a female you’ll either go with the wave, the handshake or maybe the Christian side hug so as not to make too personal.  No matter the cultural preference, Paul is sending a warm greeting to these folks from himself and all the other churches that he has been a part of.  The grand takeaway here is a genuine evidence of affection through Christ that Paul had for the churches in Rome and the churches in the area.  In an era when communication was immensely more difficult than what we have today, the 1st century church did a better job of sharing what God was doing in individual’s lives than what we do today.  This sharing of Christ’s work engendered a real affection among Christians.  It works this way – a real affection for Christ will be demonstrated in a real affection for those within the church and those outside the church.

Anything less is counterfeit Christianity.  Let me tell you a little story to illustrate my point.  In 1945, the Nazi’s spared Jew Adolf Burger from the concentration camps, but they didn’t do it because they were being merciful.  Adolf Burger was such an incredible artist that they enslaved him to make exact reproductions of the English currency.  The Nazi plan was to flood the British economy with millions upon millions of counterfeit English money thus rendering all British currency worthless and toppling the government.   The money was created but only small amounts of it entered the marketplace.  The majority of it was placed in trunks and dropped at the bottom of lake 350 feet below the surface at the end of the war.  Had the plan been fully enacted, the British government would have ultimately crumbled because the influx of counterfeit money would have rendered the authentic money useless.  You see, the general principle stands true in almost any arena be it money or faith:  the influx of the genuine weakens the real thing.  Genuine Christianity reflects the love we have for Christ by loving the household of faith as a testimony in loving the rest of the world.  Anything else is counterfeit.

If the church does not genuinely express the love of Christ to each other first and then to our neighbors, then our expression of love to Jesus is counterfeit.  And there are so many things that mask as the genuine article.

  • Republican or democratHome school,
  • Christian School, or Public School
  • Church building or house church
  • Tongues or cessation
  • Sprinkle or immerse
  • If I haven’t hit your or my issue yet, I could keep going.  These things are important in some areas and they play some part in Kingdom work.  But they are counterfeit compared to the genuine love of God expressed to one another.

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.  35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

May 24, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment