Romans is Paul’s most comprehensive and accomplished theological work. It is clear, theologically heavy, and practical. People from all walks of life look at Romans with great awe. Martin Luther wrote, “This epistle is the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel….It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.” It was an autobiography by a man justified by faith.
This letter for growing Christians is a book you go back to again and again in your Christian life. You cannot read through the book of Romans hastily. It’s a book that makes you feel outmatched when you read it and yet compelled to study it. There are verses in it that change your life. For example, Romans 5:8 changed Martin Luther’s life from a Catholic priest to a believer in Jesus Christ. Many of us came across passages from Romans 3:23, 6:23, and 5:8 that changed our lives.
Romans 16 is a chapter that can appear confusing. After the most incredible set of practical and theological doctrines, all of a sudden, there’s a long list of names. So it warrants attention.
What is in a Name?
Paul names 36 people in this chapter. Eight had been with Paul at one time or another; the other 28 were in Rome. He names 27 men and eight women and two others by their relationship to someone else. Notably, he mentions at least two households, three house churches, other unnamed men, and two other women. The households may have been house churches. Most names are Gentile, corresponding to the mainly Gentile population of the church in Rome, and interestingly, most are those of enslaved people, freedmen, and freedwomen.
Dr. Alan Ross writes, “Paul leaves the mountain peaks of doctrine to come down to the pavement of Rome.” People matter. Chapter 16 is an extended list of names of people with whom the Apostle was close and greatly appreciative. He takes time to acknowledge their service to him and the Lord.
Commendation #1: Servant (Romans 16:1-2)
Phoebe, a Greek, is the first believer mentioned in this list. She was the bearer of this epistle—one might argue she may have been entrusted with the whole future of Christian theology! She receives several commendations here: she was a sister in the Lord, a choice servant of the church in Cenchrea (9 miles from Corinth), and she was most helpful in the work of the Lord. While it is a growing trend in many churches to establish the office of deaconess, the language of the NT has to be strained beyond use. To appeal to Romans 16:1-2 is a very far reach. The point isn’t an office but an attitude of serving. And it leads to the context of chapter 16.
Interestingly, when Jesus speaks in Mark 9:35 and Mark 9:40-45, He says, “I did not come to be served, but to serve.” That is the same word used in Romans 16:1. Jesus says, ‘I came to serve; I came to minister; I came to lay My life down for other people.’
Commendation #2: Fellow Workers (Romans 16:3-16)
In this section, 13 times, Paul uses the word fellow workers or an iteration thereof. It’s a made-up word, and Paul likes this expression. He uses it first for Priscilla and Aquila, his fellow workers. He talks about them risking their lives for the work of the ministry. Then, he mentions Andronicus and Junias, his fellow prisoners.
In Romans 16:13, Paul mentions Rufus. Mark 15:21 mentions a man named Simon of Cyrene. Mark wrote for the Romans, and Rufus was well-known in the Roman Church. The father of Rufus had carried the cross for Jesus; the mother of Rufus had been a mother to the Apostle Paul.
Cautions: Defense of The Faith (Romans 16:17-27)
Keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. All the saints – not just elders/leaders – must be cautious of theological troublemakers. Paul likely had specifics in mind, but we glean from other passages to watch out for factious, divisive, and false teachers. These interlopers can be clever, smooth talkers, flattering “saints,” but they are self-seeking.
Christians with Paul send greetings. Timothy, of course, is well-known to us. Tertius is the man who wrote down the letter Paul was dictating. Paul probably wrote Galatians in his own hand, but he employed an amanuensis elsewhere. Romans 16:25 says, “Now to Him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ.” This is how God changes lives.
The mystery noted is likely the age of the gospel when God is fashioning Jew and Gentile into one body. This was Paul’s concern in much of the book and his ministry. This is the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; therefore, the “prophets” mentioned here as “now” revealing this truth are likely the New Testament writers. Paul then returns to his theme of the wisdom of God—all of it, from beginning to end, is the divine plan that is beyond our comprehension. We can only stand amazed at the wisdom of God. “To God alone wise” means that God sets the standards of wisdom.
The cross is the wisdom of God, even though it seems foolish to mankind. Therefore, Paul affirmed that he preached Christ—the power of God and the wisdom of God, for the foolishness of God, is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:21-25).
Why Are We Still Here?
Why are we still here? God calls you when you come to faith in Christ, and you become indwelt with the person of the Holy Spirit, and you’re gifted. The Holy Spirit allows you to do something for the common good, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:7.
Thirty years ago, Howard Hendricks asked, “If you were never more ready for heaven the moment you were saved, why are you still here?” What are you going to do with your time on earth? Stay focused on the main things, and He will use you. He loves to use people, and He will use you.
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