Not long after I was saved, sometime in the 1960s, I went with my then girlfriend (now my wife) and the YPF (Young People’s Fellowship) to a kind of campaign held in a small Welsh town, Bargoed (17 miles north of Cardiff in the Welsh Valleys). I was amazed by what I saw. Thousands of people were milling about the streets, and most of them were Christians. Continuous meetings were being held in every church and hall in the town, and the air was filled with hymns and excited chatter. It was wonderful to be in such a place, on a busy Saturday, all day, amongst fellow believers, whose presence was so all-prevailing! Imagine that today. And how very different it was to the later, and current, charismatic excesses, fake faith and so-called ‘miracles’ that now cause a fake atmosphere.
Paul, writing to Rome, was communicating from Greece, around which was a continual ‘buzz’ of Christians in the Mediterranean countries. Yes, there were attacks on Paul and his group, but the main atmosphere was one of excitement and faith.
Paul was talking about real Christians, not that glossy, superficial brand that seems to fill our churches today. Mainly, those few who are genuine rarely stand up to be counted, or stand with others who are genuine. A very few do so, and are to be commended. In Paul’s day he could commend just about every Christian he met, because they were vibrant and knew the reality of faith. In many places these people knew about persecution, and those who were not currently persecuted were waiting for it to happen to them. Perhaps that was why they were genuine.
Today, persecution is again targeting Christians, but how many will stand firm? I fear that few will do so, and may even fail. This is why true doctrine is needed, and why false Christian teachers must be rooted out. The trouble is, many modern Christians find all this distasteful; like socialites, they frown on anything that gets their hands dirty, such as denouncing bad teachers and anything not of God! Such is ‘so common’!
Let us believe as Paul did. Let us denounce wicked men and bad doctrine. Let us stand firmly in real faith and with genuine intent to follow the Lord. It is not fashionable to believe scripture as it is written, but it is the only way to learn and grow in Christ. Some do not like the preacher, so they do not listen! What a shallow perception of Christ. In the days of the prophets few were acceptable to their contemporaries, but they were to God, from Whose hand and heart they came. Do you recognize men sent by God?
Verses 1 - 16
I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus:
Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.
Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us.
Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord.
Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.
Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus' household.
Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.
Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord.
Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them.
Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.
Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.
Paul finishes his letter to the Romans with greetings from those believers who were around him and helped him, and from some who helped but lived in Rome. A few years ago, I remember mentioning someone who helped me, in one of my newsletters. He was then censured by another Christian, who accused him of allowing his name to be mentioned, bringing up the old chestnut about using “I” and about ‘boasting’. The poor man had no idea I mentioned his name and is one of the least to tell others of his good deeds. The one who censured him, on the other hand, was being quite uncharitable, not knowing the circumstances, and quoting a ridiculous modern idea that we should never mention ourselves or what we do. It is a false modesty. Paul mentions himself and so do others, all of whom use “I” in their communications. If we talk about ourselves to boast, then we may be censured. But, not otherwise. There can be many reasons why personal attributes or deeds are mentioned.
In this case, Paul wishes that others would greet and welcome the people mentioned, and pray for them. How different to today, when almost no-one is commended to anyone else, especially if they do not attend the same church!
Paul commends a long list of fellow Christians. To ‘commend’ in this context is simply to introduce someone. The first is Phebe (Phoibē, ‘radiant’). Though it will offend some, this woman, who lived near Corinth, was a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea. Female deacons were common in the early churches. Some today reject the idea of female deacons, but without scriptural warrant. Paul would not have commended her if he did not approve of female deacons!
I think perhaps the problem comes from a wrong understanding of what a deacon is: a person who helps pastors and teachers etc., to get on with their spiritual tasks, by doing the more menial or ‘non-spiritual’ work, or by offering their expertise freely. They also helped by serving at table during love-feasts, and so on. It is possible that Phebe was one who served at table, or helped to distribute money to the poor. There is no ban on females as deacons, only as pastors/elders/bishops/presbyters. Paul says she is our “sister”, meaning a sister in the faith. She was, he said, a servant of the church at Cenchrea; ‘servant’ being diakonos, or a deacon. Some think she carried the letter from Paul to Rome.
Far from censuring her, Paul asked his readers to welcome her in the Lord, because this is “(becoming) of saints”. In the past I have mentioned (not by name) those many Christians in my home-town who would not welcome me if I was the last man on earth! I have done nothing to cause them harm, or to cause them to shun me. I am no longer hurt or troubled by it, but is this becoming of their status as fellow saints? I do not think so. On occasions when I have hailed them or offered my hand in friendship, the reception has been more than cool, and they give the distinct air of those who wish me to leave them alone. Not so in Paul’s day!
Indeed, he even asked the Romans to help Phebe with whatever she needed, though she lived the other end of the Mediterranean. This was because she was known for her good works, not just towards others but towards Paul, too. Very often, the works of Christians are unsung and unknown. For myself, I do not tell anyone what I do, so they do not know, not even my family. But, some are very ready to accuse me of doing nothing, because I tell no-one!! With some, you cannot win: if you tell others what you do, you are full of pride, but if you do not tell anyone, they do not know what you do and assume you are selfish and do nothing! That is their problem, my friends, not ours.
Paul now introduces two Christians, commending them as fellow helpers, or companions, of his work. They are Priscilla and Aquila, a married couple. Priscilla (Priskilla; Greek) means ‘ancient’. The name used here is Latin, because the couple once lived in Rome but were banished. Aquila, also Latin, means ‘an eagle’. The Greek is Akylos. Like Paul, he was a tent-maker who helped Paul preach and witness. More than that they stood by Paul in his worst hours, putting their own lives at risk in the task of aiding him and giving shelter. Paul was thankful to them, as were the Gentile churches in the area. They are recorded as having taught the mighty apostle and preacher, Apollos. (See separate article on the definition of ‘Apostle’).
How many Christians stand by genuine preachers and teachers? Not many. I have actually had communications from people who say “I admire what you do but am afraid to do the same myself, or support you, for fear of the consequences.” So, they do not associate with me, or my ministry. How different Christians were in Paul’s time! How fearful and self-conscious Christians are today. It is very sad.
Note too, another point of chagrine with many modern Christians, who think churches that meet in homes must be suspect! Paul says “Likewise (greet) the church that is in their house”. It may simply mean that their family was also Christian. But, even so, Paul refers to them collectively as “the church”. In my home-town we meet in my home. It is cheaper than renting a hall or taking on a ‘church’ building! Yes, I know there are charismatic-type ‘house churches’ that are heretical. But, there are also churches meeting in homes because there is nowhere else to go. Check them out before making a false judgment. I know that many in my home-town look down upon us because we meet in my home. Again, how sad.
Paul now asks for the Romans to welcome one of the first converts in Achaia (‘trouble’), or Greece. His name was Epaenetus (Epainetos; ‘praiseworthy’), and he actually lived in Rome. He was “wellbeloved” of Paul. Based on agapē, ‘wellbeloved’ is agapētos; that is, esteemed to be very dear, which indicates a greater degree of love than that of agapē… of the same quality but of a more personal nature, because Paul knew him as one of the most eminent believers in the country; made eminent by his faith.
Next, Paul introduces Mary, or Maria (‘their rebellion’); the name is based on the Hebrew Miriam/Miryam. We know next to nothing about her, other than she worked very hard on behalf of Paul and his fellow preachers. She was not a preacher, but still deserved commendation for what she did ‘behind the scenes’. Mary showed a characteristic of all who are genuine Christians – they labour hard for Christ, not because they have to or with effort, but with bounding love. And, if help is asked, they do not query ‘why?’ but simply give help, without question. Whenever I asked anything of my late mother, she simply gave me whatever it was, and never asked the reasons for my request. This is because she knew that, as a Christian, I must have had good reason. What a lesson!
Next comes Andronicus and Junia, who were possibly married. Andronicus (Andrionikos; ‘man of victory’) was a Jewish Christian and Paul’s cousin (or of the same tribe). Junia (Iounias; ‘youthful’) was a Christian woman who lived in Rome. She was also Paul’s cousin. As such they were well-loved by Paul anyway. Both had become Christians before Paul arrived, and both were now “fellowprisoners”: where they were imprisoned is not made known. They were highly thought of by the other apostles.
Amplias, (Apliatos; ‘large’) was another well-loved Christian at Rome, or, rather, it appears he lived at Rome. Then there was Urbane (Ourbanos; ‘of the city, polite’), who helped Paul and the others, mentioned together with Stachys (‘a head of grain’). This man is thought to have been one of the famed seventy disciples, and bishop of Byzantium.
These are followed by mention of Apelles (‘called’). His name is reflective of utter honesty and ethical standard in Christ. He was dokimos; the word originally referred to coin-makers who were honest, by not shaving too much off newly-minted money to make extra profit. Thus, they were counted to be men of honour, genuine. In this text the same honesty and honour is given to Apelles. Paul also asks his readers to honour “the household which are of” Aristobulus (Aristoboulos; ‘the best councillor’). This either means he and those who lived in his house were all Christians, or that only those who lived there were Christians, not counting the man named.
Then we come to another of Paul’s cousins, Herodion (‘heroic’), and the household of Narcissus (Narkissos; ‘stupidity’; also can mean ‘daffodil’), who lived in Rome.
Next, Paul commends two women: Tryphena (‘luxurious’), and Tryphosa (‘luxuriating’), fellow-labourers in the Lord. And then someone who seems to have worked even harder than the previous two, another woman named Persis (‘a Persian woman’), who lived at Rome.
Paul asks the Romans to welcome Rufus (Rhouphos; ‘red’), a man of the area. Along with this commendation came the man’s mother, who was “also mine”, meaning a woman of great Christian character and so Paul’s ‘mother’ by spirit.
A number of other lesser-known Christians are now grouped together: Asyncritus (Asygkritos; ‘incomparable’), who lived in Rome; Phlegon (‘burning’), also of Rome; Hermas (‘Mercury’), said to be one of the seventy and a bishop of Dalmatia; Patrobas (‘paternal’), of Rome; and all who are their fellow Christians.
Added to these are Philologus (‘lover of the word’), Julia (Ioulia; ‘soft-haired’), Nereus (‘lump’), another male Christian in Rome, to be greeted alongside his sister, Olympas (‘heavenly’), also in Rome, and all Christians associated with them.
Indeed, Paul mentions ALL Christians, that each may greet the other with “an holy kiss”. In this way all the churches of Christ welcome each other. The ‘holy kiss’ is a literal kiss on the cheek customarily given by Christians when meeting or leaving, as a sign of their like faith and affection for each other. Where is this kiss today? Or, rather, where is the like affection? I see it rarely. It need not be an actual kiss, but just a show of affection, even a twinkle in the eye, or a sincere handshake! Let us all sincerely greet each other in Christ. In my own life, I am known to many, but few greet me sincerely, having somewhat against me in their hearts, without good reason. Indeed, most do not bother to greet me at all, preferring to pretend they have not seen me!
Verses 17 - 20
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.
And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
Here is another section not liked by modern Christians: the ‘marking’ of those teaching heresy and other bad things. It is fashionable to support heretics and bad teachers, even when what they teach is proved to be unscriptural. For this reason we have many cults and many secular evils amongst us. It is also why churches have entered a downward spiral of unbelief and doubt.
Others think it is acceptable to just let the heretic speak freely. Some say that because ‘God knows’ we should take a back seat and remain quiet. God forbid! All this is just gutless Christianity, if it is Christianity at all. This ineptitude in dealing with heresy is why so many local Christians are willing to let people say whatever they like without challenge. Indeed, it is thought to be ‘rude’ to say anything! This is not how God or scripture sees it.
Paul is not telling us this is something borderline, with a variety of options. Rather, he sees it as top priority, so important that he pleads with us to carry out this important task. “Mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” It is an irony that in my ministry I have been accused of ‘causing division’ because I do what Paul says and oppose those who teach badly! But this is not what Paul means. He says that it is the heretic who causes division, not the one who opposes him!
We are to “mark” these people. To mark, skopeō, is to observe and think about them, to put a marker on them, to direct attention to what they say and do as a warning, and to take heed. This cannot be done without ‘naming names’ and telling others. The root, skopos, tells us that such an observer is a watchman, who shines a light on what is being concealed. A watchman warns others; that is his role!
“Divisions”, dichostasia, are dissensions or seditions, pulling apart and turning one against the other. These are spoken of as ‘works of the flesh’. It is not the critic or watchman who is at fault, but the one who brings about the heresy, or who influences others to use bad behaviour. The word for ‘divisions’ is derived from stasis, meaning to be in strife or insurrection. And this is what heresy is; it is insurrection against Christ. Today, many Christians have been seduced by heresy of all kinds, some obvious and others less so. Heretic teachers are followed by people who call themselves believers, but who refuse to listen to criticism from scripture. Thus, those who ‘make the bullets’ get others to fire them.
These are actions that cannot be tolerated. They are “offences”, or skandalon: traps, snares, an impediment causing people to stumble into a bed of sin. This is contrary, para, to what true doctrine teaches. “Doctrine” is teaching; what is taught; instruction. Every part of scripture is ‘doctrine’ (see my article on this topic), so nothing in scripture is open to personal interpretation. Paul is saying that he and the other preachers taught truth, and some come along to teach the opposite; these people must be identified and avoided completely, after they have been exposed. To ‘avoid’ means to shun, ekklinō. This, too, is carefully frowned upon by polite society! That is, by those who put more trust in heresy and being sociable, than they do in God’s word. They remain silent in the face of heresy, thereby desecrating God’s word and honour.
Paul explains that these bad teachers do not serve Christ, “but their own belly”. This is a common term of the day, meaning to serve one’s own self. It does not matter if the person does so cynically, to exploit others and gain cash or status, or if he is himself deluded and is passing off religious garbage as genuine. Both are equally destructive of truth and must be shunned. Mainly, those who are heretics are so deliberately, as the text implies. They use “good words and fair speeches” to “deceive the hearts of the simple.” How easy it is to suggest that the ‘simple’ are the only targets and victims; often, today, it is those who think something of themselves, and have an intellect of sorts. They, of course, are too intelligent to be duped! If that is the case, why are they so easily deceived by heresy?
However, says Paul, he is glad to hear that the Romans are better than that, for they are known to be obedient to truth and to God. Even so, he says, they must be wary of new contrary teachings and anything that deviates from what they have been taught by the apostles. No person is above being deceived!
Shortly, said Paul, God will “bruise Satan under (their) feet”. This appears to be an allusion to increasing Roman intolerance towards Christians. It was not yet absolute, but the wind was blowing in their direction and God would be with them. It may also refer to God overturning the teachings of seducers. Paul is trying to show them that being ‘simple’ in belief is hazardous! So many today talk of having a ‘simple faith’ as though it were suitable for mature Christians and some kind of inverted boast! It is not a virtue, but an excuse to avoid truth, difficult questions and answers.
Our faith must grow with our knowledge and experience. If we do not strengthen and grow our faith, we will be open to all manner of evils and wrong teaching. I have witnessed this time and again over the years, even amongst those who consider themselves to be deeply familiar with scripture. Satan is not fussy who he undermines! The more ‘mature’ the Christian is, the better he likes the challenge and the prize.
Paul utters a benediction over the Romans, seeking the grace of Christ to cover them.
Verses 21 - 24
Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you.
I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.
Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
Coming to the very end of his letter, Paul now sends greetings from those closest to him at that time: Timotheus (Timothy; ‘honouring God’), who lived in Lystra; he travelled with Paul. Then Paul mentions another three cousins*: Lucius (‘light, bright, white) from Cyrene; he was a prophet and teacher in the church at Antioch. Jason (Iasōn; ‘one who will heal’) of Thesallonica, who played host to Paul and Silas. Lastly, Sosipater (Sōsipatros; ‘saviour of his father’). *Note: Though mentioned as ‘cousins’ these people may simply be of the same tribe, which would make them related but possibly distantly.
The Romans are now sent a salutation from the man who wrote the letter, Tertius (‘third’). He wrote what Paul dictated, thus acting as a scribe. He lived in the home of Gaius (‘lord’) in Corinth. Greetings were also sent from the “whole church” in Corinth and district, including the eminent chamberlain (city treasurer) of the city, Erastus (‘beloved’). Greetings were also sent from Quartus (‘fourth’), a Roman who was one of the seventy and a bishop of Berytus. Tertius also commends the Romans in the free grace of Christ.
Verses 25 - 27
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,
But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:
To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.
As we should expect from any man sent by God, Paul now turns all the glory back to God. It is God who causes a man to be saved and to be firmly founded on the Gospel. We can preach and teach until the end of time; we can speak cleverly and with human oratorical skills, but it will make no difference. We may even swing the emotions and mind towards God’s word, but it will never last. Only God can cause a person to be saved and become strong in faith, because only He predestinates to election.
Too many pastors and teachers think they need to devise interesting ideas to ‘keep them coming’. Too many think they must employ jokes and anecdotes, usually fished out of a compendium. Too many think they can cause men and women to turn their lives around by ‘covering all the bases’. All use the same kind of arguments. But, none speak as the Holy Spirit dictates. The charismatic churches are crammed to the ceilings with people thus affected by humanly-devised speech and ‘interesting’ material. But, most are pretending to be believers. Only God can raise a man to salvation and only He can give him spiritual gifts, including faith, and strength.
Whatever the teacher or preacher speaks must be found within the ‘mystery’ of the Gospel (the ‘Gospel’ includes the message of salvation, and goes on to include everything in scripture). It was a mystery until Christ came to die on the cross. Now, He has been made known to us, His coming and work declared previously by the prophets and the Old Testament. This is how it was commanded by God, and made known through the gift of faith to each person saved. Therefore, to Him, Who alone is divinely wise, be the glory, as seen in Jesus Christ. Amen.
The same glory must be shown in our day, in the twilight of unfettered Christian witness, as wicked men try to drive our witness from the face of the earth. Few will stand before their tormentors and evil detractors; very few. Are you one of them? Am I?
© October 2009