Lesson 60: Romans 16:1-16
A Good Report Card
by Bob Burridge ©2012
For 9 years I taught Science and Bible in a Private Christian Middle School. One of my responsibilities was to produce a helpful and accurate report card for each student at the end of every quarter of the School year. The academic part was no problem. I just averaged out the grades. However, when it came to the behavior part of the card, that was the real challenge. Students and parents would be personally influenced by the comments I made. It was important to be helpful as well as honest about shortcomings as well as strengths.
I was taught by our very gifted Principle to take a positive approach. When there were problems, we were told to point out what should be worked on, rather than just pointing out the things that were wrong. He also wanted us to find some positive behavior in each student to commend. With most of our students there were obvious strengths that could be encouraged. With some it was more of a challenge. Contrary to the common belief among students, teachers often have a sense of humor. In the privacy of the sanctum called the “teacher’s lounge” they imagined comments for some students along the lines of, “He makes spit-wads very well,” “Her insults toward others are amazingly creative,” or “Her concentration upon her task is so well developed that my attempts to teach do not seem to distract her from talking with her friends during class.”
Aside from a few attempts at humor, we accepted the policy as a serious challenge, not to be taken lightly. The Principle of our school supplied us with a list of Christian traits, fruits of the Holy Spirit, and commendable attributes to help us. It took thought, but we worked on it, we started to see some things we had been overlooking. We discovered that in some of those stubborn students were deep convictions and determination that needed directing rather than punishing. Some with problems submitting to authority may have had some basic skills that needed to be redirected and put to use in a more productive way. Some had leadership potential, or the ability to take a healthy critical look at things to make needed improvements. In some cases we got very nice responses from parents who perhaps saw the first positive and encouraging behavioral words on a report card they had seen in a very long time.
As an added dimension to the challenge this had to be done for every report card, for every student, 4 times every year. A teacher could not just write the same thing every time. Teachers started to look more carefully for the things God was doing in the lives of their students every day. The result was quite helpful to us as teachers, and encouraging to the students.
In Romans 16 we see examples of God at work in the lives of individual believers. Paul had taken notice of good things in others. He was not just wrapped up in his own work.
First, Paul mentioned a woman named Phoebe.
Romans 16:1, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea,”
By commending her, the Apostle was affirming that she had been a valuable and trustworthy person to him. He thought of her as a sister both to himself and to the Christians at Rome. He meant “sister” in the spiritual sense of being part of God’s redeemed family. Our union together in Christ is the single greatest thing we can have in common in this temporary world where we are called to live.
He calls her a servant of the church at Cenchrea (Κεγχρεαι). It was the port city of Corinth on its West side. Since Paul was in Corinth when he wrote this letter to the Romans, it is reasonable to think that Phoebe was the one who carried this letter to Rome for Paul.
In Cenchrea she was known as a servant of the church. The word translated as “servant” here is diakonon (διακονον), a form of the word also used for the office of Deacon. Some have assumed that she was an ordained Deacon or Deaconess. There is no evidence supporting that here. The word simply means one who serves. The word also became the title of the formal office of Deacon. Similarly, the ordinary word for any elderly person [presbuteros (πρεσβυτερος)] came to be used in a special sense for the ordained office of Elder.
The word “diakonos” was the one commonly used at that time for a person who served others. Paul used this word to describe Jesus as a servant to the circumcision in Romans 15:8. Others are often said to be servants in various ways using this same term.
When Jesus ended the Old Testament office of the Levites by his own sacrifice on the cross, God established the formal office of Deacon to carry out the priestly work of overseeing and distributing care to the needy.
In Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus he lays out the qualifications for office making it clear that ordained offices imply an element of headship and leadership in the areas where they function in the church, therefore they are specifically to be held by males in the church. In both Testaments, headship in the church was restricted to men. The restriction was not because men were better or more able. It was to represent the principle of Christ’s headship over the church as Paul pointed out concerning the role of male headship in Ephesians 5:22-33. Those who use Phoebe as the reason why women should be ordained to the office of Deacon read more into this passage than is really there. There is no indication that the reference here is to an ordained office in the church.
Women do have a place of special service in the church, but a person does not need to be ordained to do that. Lydia appears to have been the leader of a prayer circle, probably a group of devoted women. Phoebe clearly was recognized by the church as a valuable servant in some special sense. Women were specially set aside to minister to other women’s needs. The Bible never mentions any females being ordained as church officers.
Titus 2:3-5 explains that the more spiritually mature women of the church are expected to carry out specific duties. Paul wrote, “the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things — that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.”
It is a tragic error to limit important Christian service to those holding an ordained office. All believers (women, men, and children) have a duty to serve diligently. It demeans the whole idea of every-member service in God’s Kingdom to imagine that a person who serves must be ordained. Those ordained are there as leaders in service as well as being doers of Christ’s work. The concept of ordination means a granting of church recognized authority in some particular area of Kingdom work. I respectfully disagree with those who defend ordaining women to the office of Deacon. To redefine the office and the process of ordination as something less than officially recognized headship in some area of church work, is to redefine those terms so that they have different meanings than the way they were used in Scripture.
Paul gave instructions about how they should treat Phoebe.
Romans 16:2, “that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.”
The church was to welcome Phoebe in a manner worthy of those clothed in the righteousness of Christ. All those redeemed are properly called saints. They were to accept her into the Roman congregation as a believer. They were to extend hospitality to her as a new person in a new community, and they were to aid her in whatever business she has to do there in Rome. To stir them to deep gratitude and respect, he told them how she had helped many including Paul himself.
Next, Paul sent greetings to a long list of individuals.
Romans 16:3-5a, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. …”
Paul introduces us here to a wonderful Christian married couple who had worked with him. Priscilla and Aquila had been through a lot in recent years. They were among the Jews expelled from Rome by Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2). In fleeing Rome, and by God’s providence, they settled in Corinth. There they met the Apostle Paul when he came there on his second missionary journey. They had something special in common with Paul, they were also tent-makers. They provided the Apostle a place to stay in their home while he was there. When Paul left Corinth to sail to Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila moved there with him. It may have been there during the riots that they risked their lives for Paul.
When the Paul moved on they stayed in Ephesus. There they helped Apollos learn about Jesus, that he was the Messiah he had been expecting. When Paul returned to Ephesus he stayed more than two years with Aquila and Priscilla. At that time a church was meeting at their house (1 Corinthians 16:19).
When Paul wrote this letter to the Romans he was back in Corinth at the end of his 3rd journey. Priscilla and Aquila were back living in Rome and again had a church meeting in their house. So he commended these two to the Roman believers for their faithful and dedicated service.
Then Paul sent special greetings to some in Rome
whom he had met and served with elsewhere.
Notice the qualities that Paul regarded highly in them.
Romans 16:5b-10, “… Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. Greet Mary, who labored much for us. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus.”
Andronicus and Junia are both male names. Paul calls them his “countrymen” or “kinsmen”. We do not know if they were actual relatives, or just that they were Jews as he was (as he used the term in 9:3) who specially acted as family to him. He calls them fellow-prisoners, but we cannot be sure which time they were in jail with him. Evidently they were looked upon by the Apostles as having an outstanding character. Paul mentions that they had become believers in Christ even before he did.
Curiously Paul mentions those of the house of Aristobulus, but does not greet Aristobulus directly. Some have speculated that he might have died, or was not there in Rome at the time. Some suspect that though his household had become believers, Aristobulus had not. We do not know. It is one of those unimportant but curious comments in the Bible.
Romans 16:11-13, “Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
Rufus is called, “chosen in the Lord.” Few take the word “chosen” in the sense of God’s decree of election to save him from his lost condition. All those in this list were of the elect of the Lord. Perhaps he means chosen for special work as the word was used in Mark 15:21 in the sense that Simon of Cyrene was chosen for a special duty, to carry the cross of Jesus to Calvary. Simon there was the father of men named Alexander and Rufus. The name “Rufus” was not uncommon. Mark’s Gospel (believed written from Rome shortly after Romans) is the only Gospel that includes this information, so there could be a connection there. The Mother of Rufus had been motherly toward Paul, perhaps showing special care for him.
Romans 16:14-15,”Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.”
Finally, Paul brought his greetings to a close with final instructions:
Romans 16:16, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.”
Before you get too alarmed about required kisses being exchanged, it is important to recognize a cultural reference as opposed to a cross-cultural mandate. The holy kiss is not a common practice in most American churches today. In our culture a kiss usually shows the more intimate love of a family or of a romantic partner. In some cultures, a kiss is a more general greeting like our handshake or friendly hug. In many early churches the members kissed one another as a regular greeting. It is still common in some other cultures, but would be quite foreign to most of us in North America. The greeting-kiss was given on the cheek or neck, nothing physically intimate about it. Men greeted men, and women greeted women this way when they met or passed friends on the streets.
The principle being recommended is that we should greet one another in the warmest and most appropriate manner our culture understands. We should show a sincere concern and respect for those God brings across our path and particularly into our church fellowship and worship.
Paul then delivered a greeting from the churches with which he had been personally in contact. It is our duty to extend encouragement as broadly as we are able. This is why we work together with sister churches who share our confidence in God’s word and promises. We are a community, a family, united in faith by the love of Christ.
This section of Romans points out the kinds of things
we ought to notice in other believers.
Notice the kinds of things on Paul’s list:
1. The Apostle was able to appreciate things God had done directly in their lives. These are the works of providence and grace. God had worked in their lives to bring them to trust fully in the work of the Savior. Paul appreciated their place in the family of Christ, and how God had brought them into his life.
2. He also appreciated the work the individuals had done for God’s Kingdom and for Christ’s People. These were things that evidenced spiritual maturity, a valuable display of God’s grace at work in them. This was seen in their unselfish help, outstanding service, even in tender motherly care. Some had labored hard hosting a church in their home, becoming prisoners with Paul, or risking their lives for the sake of the Apostle and the work of God’s Kingdom.
What was most memorable and important to him was not their good looks, sharp clothes, good business deals, sharp wit, humor, honorable titles, or whatever at that time was thought of as being just plain cool. Certainly these attributes and skills are not evil. It is in fact commendable to have them. But Paul took time to look beyond the most visible things to notice the special way God had either prepared them by providence, or had worked graciously in their hearts. He saw what most directly demonstrated God’s love and redemption in them.
These are the things that really last. They are what we really need in our friends, and should encourage in them. It is more important that our friends are believers in God’s provisions and promises, than that they have great talents, riches, or hold high offices. It is far more important that they serve the church and its members diligently, than that they dress well, have natural good looks, or hold graduate degrees. It is more important that they take risks for and stand by one another through all the difficulties that come along, than that they have a good sense of humor, or share some hobby or career skill.
Though every little talent, skill, and blessing is useful and important, Paul remembered most the things that promoted Christian fellowship and growth.
This is how we need to behave toward one another as friends in the Lord. We should be encouraging, supporting, faithful brothers and sisters. We need to be available to give comfort and help when it is needed. We should be willing to take risks for the sake of the work of Christ and the advancing of his Kingdom. We should each be ready to stand together for the faith revealed in Scripture.
Here is a little project to work on as you pray for one another. As you think about those in your life, or as you pray for needs that come along, think of a qualities God is producing in each person’s life that show these kinds of things Paul noted about those he mentions in Romans 16. Imagine you need to find an encouraging behavior or quality in each one for a church report card. Do you see evidence of God’s grace in their life? Do you see qualities you would like to encourage in them and improve in yourself?
Of course none of us is without human weaknesses. Human perfection is a quality limited to the deluded. Do not be distracted by awareness of your own shortcomings and faults, and do not let those of others blind you to how God may be at work in them and using them for his glory. If we fail to see this larger picture, the fault may not be in the person we are looking at. Perhaps we are not looking carefully to behold God at work in the other person’s life. How sad the lessons we miss when we fail to look. What will the others think when they come to your name and try to see Christ at work in your life? Perhaps this exercise will stir us all to pray more for these qualities to be seen in us, rather than prayers about the weather and often unimportant circumstances. By the power of the risen Christ in us, we ought to be carefully cultivating the qualities of Christ in us, and to notice God’s work in others as they grow in grace.
Perhaps it will also improve our joy in the way we greet one another. Maybe it will help us to be less concerned about what we get from one another in our fellowship, and more concerned about what we give by showing these qualities God has worked in us, and by noticing the valuable work of God in them.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)