Who Are These People And Why Are They Kissing
Ro 16:1 I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea,
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. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who labored much for us. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.
With all these names, I thought for a minute we were back in one of those “begatting” chapters of the Old Testament! .....I guess, in a sense we are! Paul rattles off name after name of people who have been spiritually birthed and had become active participants in the early church.
A total of 26 people are named as well as two unnamed people in this chapter of Romans. Paul also greeted several different churches that were meeting in homes. Let’s look at these individuals and see if we can learn more about them.
First of all we read of Phoebe. As we mentioned last week, she was a deacon in the church at Cenchrea. She served the church in this official capacity meeting all the necessary qualifications spelled out in 1 Timothy 3:8-12.
This office was inaugurated by the church for the purpose of freeing up the spiritual overseers, the elders, for prayer and the ministry of the word. The deacons did anything and everything to enable the elders to devote themselves to their calling.
Phoebe was charged with the responsibility of delivering this letter to Rome. This was no small responsibility! Just think for a moment about the impact this letter has had on Christendom. It was while reading this letter that the light came on for Martin Luther.
While reading Romans 1:17, he realized that we are not saved by works, but our justification comes from faith through grace alone! A free gift from God!
Ro 1:17 "The just shall live by faith."
Thus the Reformation was born and the church was turned back to the Scriptures alone for our guide rather than man made laws and the traditions of men. I wonder if Phoebe had a clue as to the impact this letter would one day have on Christianity, and how it would be the impetus for the near fatal wound suffered by the anti-christ in the days of Luther.
Further, it was on May 24, 1738 that a man named John Wesley was attending a meeting in Aldersgate St, in London where Martin Luther’s preface to the Book of Romans was being read.....just the preface!
Writing of the incident he said, “I felt my heart strangely warmed”
A few weeks later he preached a remarkable sermon on the doctrine of present personal salvation by faith, which was followed by another, on God's grace "free in all, and free for all."
This was all made possible because a faithful deacon named Phoebe transported this letter safely to Rome. We could all learn from Phoebe! So often we think it’s the big things we do that make a difference. So often , we want to see immediate results from our work, but here we see the necessity of just being a servant.
Serve the Lord, one moment at a time in your particular situation and let Him take care of the results. Be obedient one moment at a time, be trusting, one moment at a time, and be available! God will bring about the His perfect will through your obedience! Through your trust in His Word!
Paul then instructs the church at Rome to receive Phoebe in a manner worthy of the saints. What does that look like? Well turn back to Rom. 15:7 where we read:
Ro 15:7 Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
So how did Christ receive us? Were their any strings attached? No it was with unconditional love, and this was how Phoebe was to be greeted, not with mistrust, not with the idea that she needed to earn their respect, she was to be received as a co-heir in the kingdom.
Then Paul urged the church to help her with any business she needed to conduct. We don’t know what that business was, but we can take an educated guess that it had something to do with Paul’s planned missionary trip to Spain.
As he mentioned in Rom 15:24, he hoped that the Roman church would help him in this endeavor. One can almost picture Phoebe working with the Romans as she laid our Paul’s itinerary, raised funds, arranged transportation, perhaps even preparing some to travel with Paul.
As she took care of this business, Paul would be able to devote his time to the weightier matters of prayer and Bible Study so he might be able to “impart some spiritual gift” to the Romans. (Rom 1:11)
Paul’s commendation of Phoebe was the equivalent of an earthly “well done thy good and faithful servant” and we would do well to commend those who serve in the church today in a similar manner.
Next on the list is Priscilla and Aquila. These two fellow workers are mentioned in several other places of the Bible. We learned in Acts 18:2,3 that they were tentmakers and that Paul stayed with them for a time in Corinth, where he worked with them making tents.
Ac 18:2 And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. 3 So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers.
Aquila was a Jew who was born in Pontus and then moved to Rome with his wife Priscilla. Evidently there was some persecution that had taken place under Claudius and as Jews, they were forced to leave Rome, but now things had settled down a bit and they were back in Rome. And in fact were hosting a house church at this time.
We also know that these two had planted a house church in Ephesus as Paul mentions them in his letter to the Corinthians. (1 Cor 16:19)
It was at Ephesus that they heard the charismatic preacher named Apollos, and had to take him aside quietly and explain the “way of God more accurately.” These two had a clear understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they worked as a team to further God’s kingdom in every way they could.
Lenski makes a special note here concerning the listing of Priscilla first. It would indicate that she was more spiritually gifted of the two, however in always mentioning her husband with her, it’s clear she always worked under that covering or subjection that was mentioned in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
We also know that they both had a great love for Paul, as we read of their willingness to lay their lives down for Paul. We aren’t told of the incident that prompted this remark by Paul, but we know that Jesus said in John 15:13,
Joh 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.
(NKJV) They loved Paul!
It’s evident that these two were the kind of people who when confronted with a need....met it. “Hey this place needs a church! Let’s start one” and so they did. “Hey this guy could use a job” and so they hired Paul. “Hey this guy is a great preacher, but he could use a little more understanding,” so they pulled Apollos aside and taught him.
Hey, Paul’s life is in danger...the ministry of the gospel to the Gentiles is at stake! Let’s risk our lives for him! O that we would have that same spirit! See a need, meet it! What do you think Priscilla and Aquila would’ve done when they drove by someone struggling to move a mattress into a house?
Next on the list is Epaenetus (Eh pen’ et us) He was very dear to Paul....beloved. He was part of the firstfruits of Achaia (Ak ah’ yah) (the southern part of modern day Greece) That would put him in with the household of Stephanus as we read in 1 Cor. 16:15:
1Co 16:15 I urge you, brethren--you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints--
As a member of this church we know that they had devoted themselves to the “ministry of the saints.” The King James says that they were “addicted to the ministry of the saints.” How would you have liked to be a member of that 12 step group?
What a testimony about a church! When Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus, he again mentioned this church
1Co 16:17 I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. (NKJV)
This church helped fill in the financial shortfall that Paul was experiencing and in 2 Cor 11:9, we read:
2Co 11:9 And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself.
And look what their addiction to ministry to the saints accomplished:
1Co 16:18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
That’s the way of those who are addicted to the ministry to the saints.... they refresh spirits. Their selfless giving is a testimony to the goodness and faithfulness of God as they seek to advance His kingdom.
Next, we meet the hard working Mary. We don’t know what she did, but she worked hard. for Paul and his team. He makes sure she is forever honored in Scripture for her efforts.
Then there’s Andronicus (an drown’ eek us) and Junia. These men were converted before Paul and evidently had something in common with him in that they were Jewish and had served time in prison for their faith. Their imprisonment and faithfulness in the presence of adversity was well noted by all the apostles.
Then Amplias is mentioned, still another who Paul knew personally and regarded as a beloved brother in the Lord. Urbanus was one who had perhaps at one time worked beside Paul in the harvest field, and since Stachys (Stahk oos”) was mentioned in the same sentence, he perhaps was working with Urbanus at the present time.
Special mention is given to Apelles (a pell’ eez) as one approved in Christ, which speaks of some sort of test or trial endured for the faith. Next, he greets the entire household of Aristobulus (air iss tob’ u lus) This would include family members and slaves.
Another greeting for a fellow Jew named Herodian (who was likely a slave) and then the household of Narcissus is mentioned.
Please note the care that Paul takes in addressing these Christians at Rome. And note the mix of people. Jews, Gentiles, rich, poor, slave, free, hard working, and so on. He seemed to have an encouraging word for everyone, something again, that we would do well to emulate! Further, as he encourages this group of people, we get a sense of kingdom activity. This was not a “see ya next week” kind of a church.
He continues, mentioned three hard working women. Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis) Again, we don’t know what they did, but they worked to the point of fatigue as they did what they could to advance the gospel.
Next we have an obvious favorite of Paul named Rufus. Paul call him “chosen or favored in the Lord.” Why would he do that? He did that because of something that Rufus’ father did. And we read about it in Mark 15:21,
Mr 15:21 Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross.
(NKJV) Rufus was there to see his father pick up the cross of Christ on the Via de La Rosa)
It was his father that bore the cross for Christ. We don’t know why there is no mention of his brother or father in Paul’s letter to the Romans, perhaps they had already passed away. But Paul likened Rufus to a brother to him and Rufus’ mother was like a mother to him as well!
Next we have, Asyncritus (uh sin’ krih tus) Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas (Pat’ row bus) and Hermes. Likely members of one of the house churches.
Philologus (fill ol’ o gus) Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympus, again perhaps members of another house church.
That’s quite a list isn’t it? Laborers, servants, leaders, fellow soldiers in Christ, Jews, Gentiles, men, and women. Paul then instructs them to greet each other with a holy kiss.
This is a fairly common instruction in the New testament letters. Paul mentions this instruction in both letters to the Corinthians and his letter to the Thessalonians, and Peter makes mention of this type of greeting in his letter as well.
This was a cultural thing and no one is going to ask you to kiss that person sitting next to you this morning. And although it is a cultural thing, it is also a Christian thing. The word “kiss” makes it cultural, in that it was the common way to greet one another. The word “holy” makes it a Christian thing to do.
The idea here is that we are to greet each other in a culturally accepted way to express our approval of one another in Christ. It is to be warm, sincere, pure, and Christ-like. Now this is not always easily done amongst German Lutherans!
The culturally accepted greeting is often nothing more than a nod of the head, or how bout dem Green Bay Packers! But don’t you dare enter my personal space!
We need to respect personal space in exchanging our greetings. Some people are comfortable with a hug and others are not. Being of German descent, I personally prefer a warm and firm handshake with an occasional “Grace to you” “Peace to You” or the Lord bless you!
But I understand that some people prefer hugs, and I generally let them determine that as I approach them. It’s not rocket science to figure this out. An extended hand usually means a handshake and two open arms generally indicate a hug. Two folded arms usually indicate “say hi, but don’t touch me!
We need to respect all of those attitudes, yet still attempt the warm and vocal greeting, and maintain purity in the physical greeting. A greeting that says, “Hi, isn’t it great that we are in the family of God!”, and nothing more. The important thing to remember is that some sort of greeting in the name of the Lord is proper and encouraged by Scripture. And it’s not just something for inside the church walls.
This is something we ought to do every time we see a brother or sister in our daily business. Imagine the impact that would have on others as they observed two brothers or sisters greeting each other like long lost family members!
Others would realize that something special was taking place....something holy, and who knows maybe it would give them a desire to seek to belong to such a loving family!
As we wrap up today, what did we learn? We learned some interesting things about some rather obscure people in the Bible. But the very fact that they are mentioned tells us that people matter to God. No one is obscure in the Body of Christ.
We all have a role to play, the church needs to be active, and as we play that role, we need mutual encouragement and mutual affection expressed in a proper way. So encourage one another when you get a chance, and learn to greet each other in public with a holy greeting. A greeting that says, “by God’s grace, we are family, and I am glad to see you! This is pleasing to God and makes an impact on those who do not yet know Jesus.