Lesson 63: Romans 16:21-27
No Hidden Secret
by Bob Burridge ©2012
It can be entertaining to watch a skilled illusionist amaze an audience. They can seem to make things and people float in mid-air, or appear to disappear. When I was very young my Uncle Dick taught me how to do a few simple parlor type tricks to entertain family and friends. Though it appeared that I was able to restore cut ropes and torn up pages to their original state, that’s not what was really happening.
The entertaining part for me in watching an illusionist is to try to figure out what he is really doing. There is always a secret that makes something appear to defy the laws of physics.
Several years ago a professional magician put on a series of television specials showing how the most amazing illusions were done. He showed how illusionists make airplanes seem to disappear, how they seem to pass through walls, how they put swords through assistants or cut them into pieces without harming them at all.
The impossible was not really being done. It just seemed that way to those who were not in on the secret that produced each illusion. It is impressive to see the secrets behind what appears to be impossible.
What God calls us to do in his word is neither impossible, nor are the means to do it a hidden secret.
We are called to progress toward Christ-likeness, and to show love toward others, even to those who fail to show it toward us. We are to find joy and peace in the midst of persecution and tragedy.
Without understanding the power of the unseen hand of God acting in us, we would not be able to do the things Paul tells us to do in the book of Romans.
The impossible struggle to honor and obey God by our own powers and devices has led some to spend their time and money blindly following cult leaders, skilled manipulators, and con-artists who claim to have some secret to inner-peace, guiltless living, financial prosperity, or supernatural powers.
The real secret is — there is no secret. God has fully revealed all we need to know. His written word is to be read, studied, and proclaimed openly for all to hear, and for God’s people to understand. It’s not magic. It’s not some guarded secret preserved by a mystical cult or author who wants you to buy his books.
There is an unseen mechanism behind our obedience and the peace we enjoy. It is the work of God in our hearts and lives through Jesus Christ just as he openly promised in his Covenant of Grace.
Paul identifies the mechanism unseen by those not redeemed, and often overlooked by the redeemed in their yet imperfect state this side of the glorious final resurrection. In Christ we can accomplish what otherwise would in fact be impossible.
Paul ends his magnificent letter by turning our thoughts to this important and central theme:
Behind every obedience and blessing is the grace of an infinite and sovereign God.
Like the Apostle Paul, we need not only to show the grace of God at work in us, we need to de-mystify the Christian life by telling others how it is done.
At the beginning of this chapter Paul sent his greetings to a list of particular believers in Rome. He had been encouraged by them, and wanted them to know how the Lord had blessed him and others through their faithfulness.
Now, after warnings about dissenters who come in to mislead believers, and after encouraging them who stand firm in the battle against the evil doers, Paul sends greetings to the Roman Christians from others who were with him.
Greetings are common in the Epistles. Not only were they encouraging to the original recipients of the letters, they also testify that God does change lives, that spiritual success is possible. They remind us of a greater fellowship in Christ, than what we see outwardly.
There are more in the Family of God than those in any particular church on Sundays. We have a union with believers all through the ages, and we have union with those in far off places who are of like faith. So this is not off topic to bring these greeting in at this point. It shows that God is working in a much wider scope than we often realize. We should be greatly encouraged.
Before the final wrap-up of his letter
several individuals are mentioned.
Romans 16:21, “Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you.”
Timothy is mentioned in 12 of the New Testament books. We know of his grandmother, his mother, and of his learning that Jesus was the Messiah. _He had been a faithful fellow laborer in the gospel with Paul on the 2nd missionary journey. Now we see that he was there in Corinth with Paul on the 3rd journey as he wrote this letter to Rome.
The next three are called Paul’s “countrymen”, or “kinsmen” as some translate it. Some believe Paul just means that these were of Jewish descent as he was. Others believe that they were actual relatives of Paul. Lucius is possibly the Cyrene mentioned before in Acts 13:1. He had been called to be a teacher at Antioch along with Barnabas. Jason is possibly the Jason of Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-9). If so, he was the one who let Paul stay with him in his home and who was persecuted by the rioting Jews when they came looking for Paul. Sosipater is possibly the Berean mentioned in Acts 20:4. If so he was one of those who came with Paul to Jerusalem with relief for the Christians there.
Romans 16:22, “I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord.”
Tertius was Paul’s amanuensis, a secretary who actually did the hand writing of the letter. Of course the letter to Rome was composed by the Apostle Paul under God’s direction and inerrant inspiration. But this letter shows evidence of careful planning and editing to get it just right. It’s possible that some type of an outline was laid out and developed into the letter preserved for us in Scripture. There were no word processors, or copy machines to do that kind of work then, so a good copyist would have been very helpful. It was a common practice then. By God’s superintendence of the content of this letter, Tertius added his own greetings to the brothers in the Lord at Rome.
Romans 16:23, “Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother.”
Gaius was possibly the one who was baptized by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:14. There are three other mentions of a “Gaius”, but they are probably others with same name. This Gaius had been a host to Paul and to the whole church. His home was open for hospitality. That was his distinguishing mark. Perhaps he did this in the absence of Aquila and Priscilla who had hosted Paul on his first visit. They also had a church meeting in their house. Gaius may have taken up this duty too.
Erastus was a city treasurer. The Greek term used here for this office is oikonomos (οικονομος). It’s the root of our word economist. We are not sure of the exact nature of his office, but clearly it is proper for believers to hold political positions even in heathen governments. The “Erastus” mentioned in other passages is probably not this one. [Acts 19:22, 2 Timothy 4:20].
Quartus is simply known as “the brother”. He was probably exceptional in his behavior as a brother in Christ.
At the end of this list Paul adds a brief benediction.
Romans 16:24, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”
The textual authority of this verse is questioned by some. However, it has sound support in some very ancient manuscripts. The truth of it is without question since Paul said the same thing in verse 20 which has strong manuscript support.
When we are reminded of our duties, or of our working together in Christ, it is helpful to remember that believers find their rest and ability to serve, worship, and obey in the promise of grace from our Lord Jesus. We are not left to live the Christian life on our own by some set of rules or instructions. We are enabled all along the way by a Living and Sovereign God.
To tie his message together, Paul shows
the power and wonder of God at work.
Romans 16:25-27, “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began, but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith — to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.”
This book does not end as any of the others Paul wrote. Romans is unique in many ways. It is a full and powerful exposition of Christianity. It is what an Apostle would have taught if he had the opportunity to be with his readers in person. It fittingly ends with a grand doxology of God’s majesty and grace. In this ending, Paul brings together the ideas in the introduction to the book, Romans 1:1-11.
Two things about God are the focus of the glory Paul ascribes to him here. He mentions God’s ability to establish us, and his unique wisdom.
First: God has the power and ability to establish us who are his children. (verses 25-26)
The word “establish” here translates the Greek word staerixai (στηριξαι) which is a form from the root word staerizo (στηριζω). It means “to set up, fix firmly, establish, support, confirm, or strengthen”. Jude said a similar thing in Jude 24: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling …” God is powerful and enables believers to endure. We persevere because he preserves us by his grace and power.
One reason Paul wanted to visit Rome was to help “establish” them in their Christian faith. He said in Romans 1:11-12, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established — that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” Since he was unable to go to Rome in person, he encouraged them by this letter.
Paul began this epistle saying that he had been “separated to the gospel of God” (1:1). The gospel (good news) he delivered was that though we are not able to be established by our own efforts or by treasured traditions, yet our Covenant God is able to deliver us, and he has promised that he would do so by grace alone. Our Sovereign God enables us to live as we ought, but by his work in us, not by our own abilities separate from him who is our Creator and Redeemer. Because of the salvation Jesus accomplished, this promise cannot possible fail.
Paul tells us in this closing section that, “the mystery kept secret since the world began” has been revealed. The word “mystery” as used in Scripture, is not a reference to a problem to be solved as in a mystery novel or movie. It is something not humanly discoverable, but known only by God’s revelation. No one can know the eternal counsel of God until he makes it known. God tells us in his good time, when it is most helpful for his purposes to do so.
In past ages, there were things God had not explained or made known. Then, in the era after the victory of Jesus Christ in his death, resurrection, and ascension, these wonders of the Divine Mind were laid open in full for us to behold!
What is the mystery he is referring to here? What was hidden for long ages past and is now manifest?
It cannot be the fact that salvation is by grace through faith. That “mystery” had been revealed long before. Paul’s arguments for “salvation by grace through faith alone” were taken from the Old Testament. He showed that this was known to Abraham, Moses, David, and the Prophets who came after them. His key theme that “the just shall live by faith” in Romans 1:17 came from Habakkuk 2:4.
It cannot be the idea that salvation would be accomplished by a Redeemer dying in the place of the lawbreaker. That was clearly represented in the whole sacrificial system and in the words of the Prophets.
It cannot be the fact that salvation is for all the nations rather than for the Jews only. As far back as Genesis 12:3 Abraham was told that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This fact is revealed in many Old Testament books.
The new part that had just been revealed is that God fulfilled his redemptive promises in the person of Jesus, a virgin born Jew who was God incarnate. He would be the suffering Messiah. He had come to redeem God’s people from among all the nations of the earth. It was that final fitting together of all the pieces in the person of Jesus Christ that had become known so recently to those alive in the days of Paul.
Paul was not departing from what God had been saying all along, as some charged. His message was clearly prefigured in the Scriptures which were written by the ancient Prophets. God had commanded that these treasured Scriptures should be taught to even the Gentiles. As Paul wrote this letter, many from outside the Jewish nation were hearing and obediently believing the eternal promises. The Holy Spirit was clearly at work in the hearts of Gentiles and Jews alike.
The Second thing ascribed to God here is his unique wisdom. (verse 27)
All truth and wisdom reside originally in the eternal mind of God. When we learn truth or gain wisdom, we are (as Dr. VanTil used to say), “thinking God’s thoughts after him”. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
The grammar here in verse 27 is a little complex, but it is not obscure. Literally it reads: “to the only wise God through Jesus Christ to whom is glory unto the ages.” Some say Paul lost his train of thought and switched to doxologizing Jesus, instead of the whole Triune God. That is not really the correct understanding of the Greek grammar. This may not be simple first year Greek, but it is a well known structure beyond the elementary basics.
The “to whom” refers back to the previous subject which here becomes the object, the Triune God. It is what we call a “resumptive use” of the particle with a “suspended subject”. Dr. A. T. Robertson in his extensive grammar manual (pg. 436-437) gives examples of this form.
Glory is pronounced upon the God who is able to establish us (:25) and who is only wise (:27). The idea of glory has its root in an ancient word that means heavy, and immense. God’s greatness and power make him worthy of our worship and praise. When we glorify him, we are being what we were created to be, beacons showing his nature. It is our duty to seek to be holy even as the Lord our God is holy, and that we should exercise dominion here on earth to represent the majesty of the King over all things.
This glory we give to God is offered up only as we come through the righteousness and work of our Savior Jesus Christ. There is no other way by which any man can come face to face with God.
Paul closes with an “Amen”, an affirmation of truth. The whole epistle leads to these great closing facts about God himself, and what it means for us. God is what he tells us he is.
Romans is truly a magnificent summary of the whole Apostolic teaching. It exposes our lostness and offensiveness to the God who made us. It unveils the gracious work of Jesus our Savior, who satisfied God’s justice in the place of his people. It challenges us to continue to live by faith in his word, repentantly and obediently. It shows us what is required of us privately, in our homes, in our churches, and in our communities. It even gives us counsel about the discouragements that so often threaten us inwardly.
The great promise, the amazing mystery held out for viewing by the Apostle Paul, is the Redemptive Grace and Sovereign Glory of God our Creator. He is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.
We are called to do what we are told we cannot do by our own abilities and powers. As a fallen race we will not want to do what is right once it is fully understood for what it is. Yet, we are not asked to do the impossible, and we do not need some secret code or ritual that unlocks hidden powers and abilities.
By grace alone, our undeserving souls are given life because our Messiah took upon himself the death we deserve. With the offense paid for, justice satisfied, and the perfect righteousness of our Savior laid to our account, we are brought back into eternal fellowship with our Maker. He works in us what we cannot do. Yet he moves us to do it willingly and with great joy. While what we do here is never perfect and always bears the stains of our imperfect nature, yet we are moved to do the work of the King as part of his advancing victory over evil.
It is no secret. God has fully and graciously revealed his eternal plan and gospel promise. We need no magical powers or rituals to find full and fulfilling restoration with our God. The Savior sent to represent his people accomplished it all in their place. Once restored, the infinite, eternal and unchangeable God upholds every one of his redeemed children eternally and without fail. God is supremely wise, nothing will take him by surprise.
We are called to trust in his promises and provisions. We rest in the arms of the Creator we have all offended, knowing that his love for us has restored that which was lost long ago among the trees of Eden. We face the daily challenges knowing that the all-wise God has greater purposes than we can understand. Our response to adversity is to meet it with assurance that our God will see us through and eventually bring us to our eternal home beyond all the effects of this world’s corruption.
In whatever we do, we do it all for the glory of our God, and out of gratitude for the immeasurable gift of eternal life purchased by Jesus Christ our Savior at a price beyond our comprehension.
We should make diligent use of all the means God gives us for our spiritual growth. We shall be used of God as his earthly Kingdom Army to trample upon the head of the serpent. We shall enjoy victory for ourselves and for those we love.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)