David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
Romans 16:1-27 - GREETINGS TO THE CHRISTIANS IN ROME
A. Greetings to many different Christians.
1. (Romans 16:1-2) A recommendation of Phoebe.
I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, 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.
a. I commend to you Phoebe our sister: Paul certainly knew the value of what women could do in serving the church. Apparently Phoebe was on her way to Rome (probably entrusted with this precious letter!) and Paul sends an advance recommendation of this sister in Christ so the Romans will receive her and support her during her stay in Rome.
b. I commend to you: Such recommendations were important, because there was both great legitimate need for this kind of assistance, and many deceivers who wanted to take advantage of the generosity of Christians.
c. Servant is the same word translated deacon in other places. Phoebe seems to be a female deacon in the church, either through formal recognition or through her general service.
i. Bible translators have a habit of translating the ancient Greek word diakonon as “deacon” when it speaks of men and “servant” when it speaks of women.
d. She has been a helper of many and of myself also: Paul gives Phoebe one of the best compliments anyone can give. This sort of practical help is essential in doing the business of the gospel.
e. Phoebe: This name is the feminine form of a title given to the pagan god Apollo, the title meaning “the bright one.” Christians, on their conversion, seemed to feel no need to change their names even if there was some pagan significance to their name.
2. (Romans 16:3-5 a) Greetings to Priscilla and Aquilla.
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.
a. Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned in Acts 18:2; Acts 18:18; Acts 18:26 as associates of Paul and helpers to Apollos. Apparently they were now back in the city of Rome.
i. Spurgeon on Priscilla and Aquila: “When two loving hearts pull together they accomplish wonders. What different associations cluster around the names of ‘Priscilla and Aquila’ from those which are awakened by the words ‘Ananias and Sapphira’! There we have a husband and a wife conspiring in hypocrisy, and here a wife and a husband united in sincere devotion.”
b. The church that is in their house: This phrase gives us a clue to the organization of the early church. In a city with a Christian community of any size, there would be several “congregations” meeting in different houses, since there were no “church” buildings at this time. Each house church probably had its own “pastor.”
3. (Romans 16:5-16) Various greetings.
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. 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. 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. Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.
a. Epaenetus is of note because he was apparently among the very first converts of Achaia (the region where Corinth was, where Paul wrote this letter from). Epaenetus was also apparently dear to Paul; beloved isn’t a term Paul used cheaply.
b. Andronicus and Junia are apparently both Jews (my kinsmen) and had been imprisoned for the sake of the gospel (my fellow prisoners). They were well regarded among the apostles, having become Christians even before Paul did (sometime in the first three or four years after Pentecost).
i. Of note among the apostles has the idea that Andronicus and Junia are apostles themselves (though not of the twelve), and notable among other apostles. If there ever were women recognized as apostles - in the sense of being special emissaries of God, not in the sense of being of the twelve - this is the strongest Scriptural evidence. It isn’t very strong.
c. Amplias: There is a tomb dating from the late first or early second century in the earliest Christian catacomb of Rome which bears the name AMPLIAS. Some suggest that this is the same person mentioned in Romans 16:8.
d. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus: The fact that the household of Aristobulus is greeted, but not Aristobulus himself, made Spurgeon think that he himself was not converted but many in his household were. It made Spurgeon think of the unconverted who live with believers in their house.
i. “Where are you, Aristobulus? That is not your name, perhaps, but your character is the same as that of this unregenerate Roman, whose family knew the Lord. I might speak in God’s name good words and comfortable words to your wife and to your children, but I could not so speak to you, Aristobulus! The Lord sends a message of grace to your dear child, to your beloved wife, but not to you; for you have not given your heart to him.”
e. Rufus may be the same man mentioned as a son of Simon the Cyrene in Mark 15:21. This is possible, but Rufus was a common name - so it may have been someone else.
i. Chosen in the Lord has the idea that Rufus had some eminence among the Christians of Rome. It doesn’t really refer to his election in Jesus.
f. Nereus: In 95 A.D. two distinguished Romans were condemned for being Christians. The husband was executed and the wife was banished. The name of their chief servant was Nereus - this may be the same Nereus mentioned here and he may be the one who brought the gospel to them.
g. Of the rest of these names, Paul finds something wonderful to say about almost every one of them - noting their labor, his special regard for them (beloved), their standing in the Lord (approved in Christ . . . in the Lord . . . chosen in the Lord).
i. What a tremendous pattern this is - it shows Paul’s way of casting about uplifting words in a way meant to build up God’s people. He was generous in paying compliments that were both sincere and wonderful.
h. Greet one another with a holy kiss: This might sound strange to us, but Luke 7:45 shows how common a greeting a kiss was. Jesus rebukes a Pharisee because he had not given Jesus a kiss when He came into his house.
i. It seems that this practice was later abused. Clement of Alexandria complained about churches where people made the church resound with kissing, and says that “the shameless use of a kiss occasions foul suspicions the evil reports.”
4. The value of Paul’s extensive greetings to the Roman church.
a. Morris explains that this section demonstrates that the Letter to the Romans “was a letter to real people and, as far as we can see, ordinary people; it was not written to professional theologians.”
i. “They were like the most of us, commonplace individuals; but they loved the Lord, and therefore as Paul recollected their names he sent them a message of love which has become embalmed in the Holy Scriptures. Do not let us think of the distinguished Christians exclusively so as to forget the rank and file of the Lord’s army. Do not let the eye rest exclusively upon the front rank, but let us love all whom Christ loves; let us value all Christ’s servants. It is better to be God’s dog than to be the devil’s darling.” (Spurgeon)
b. Notice the women mentioned in this chapter: Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, the mother of Rufus, and Julia. These women are said to have worked for the Lord.
i. “Ministry in the Spirit by a woman is different altogether from her taking over authority, or infringing upon the order of the assembly of God.” (Newell)
c. Notice their work for the Lord: some, like Tryphena and Tryphosa, labored in the Lord. Others, like Persis, labored much for the Lord. “So there are distinctions and degrees in honor among believers, and these are graduated by the scale of service done. It is an honor to labor for Christ, it is a still greater honor to labor much. If, then, any, in joining the Christian church, desire place or position, honor or respect, the way to it is this - labor, and labor much.” (Spurgeon)
d. Of the 24 names here, 13 occur in inscriptions or documents connected with the Emperor’s palace in Rome. We know that there were Christians among Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22), so Paul may be addressing many of the servants who worked for Caesar who became Christians.
B. Concluding words and warnings.
1. (Romans 16:17-20) A word of warning regarding dividers and deceivers.
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
a. Note those who cause divisions and offenses: This has in mind both those who would divide the God’s people (cause divisions) and those who would deceive God’s people (offenses . . . contrary to the doctrine you have learned). Once these have been noted (marked), they are to be avoided.
i. This is essential to God’s purpose for the church. Truth without unity leads to pride; unity without truth leads to a departure from the true gospel itself. Each of these must be guarded against.
ii. Now I urge you, brethren: The tone here suggests how important this was to Paul; “It may well be that Paul took the pen and wrote these words himself . . . It is quite possible that Paul wrote these words, then passed the pen back to Tertius for a postscript. Something unusual happened at the end of this letter, and this is a very possible understanding of it.” (Morris)
iii. “Mad dogs are shot; infectious diseases are quarantined; but evil teachers who would divide to their destruction and draw away the saints with teaching contrary to the doctrine of Christ and His Apostles are everywhere tolerated!” (Newell)
b. By smooth words and flattering speech deceive: The warning is necessary because these dividers and deceivers do not announce themselves. They use smooth words and flattering speech and always target the simple - usually those who are young in the faith.
i. Deceive the hearts of the simple: This reminds us that dividers and deceivers don’t affect everyone. We don’t have to wait until everyone is scattered or deceived until we are concerned with dividers and deceivers.
c. Do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly: Dividers and deceivers never want to appear selfish. Typically they perceive themselves as noble crusaders for a great cause. Nevertheless, however they may appear on the outside, their motives are essentially selfish and fleshly.
d. Your obedience has become known to all: This means that when it comes to dividers and deceivers, it isn’t that the Romans must correct a bad situation. They are already dealing with these situations well, and Paul is glad about it. Yet they must remain diligent against the attacks of the dividers and the deceivers.
e. Be wise in what is good: This is the best defense against dividers and deceivers. It is of far more use to know the good than it is to know the evil, to learn about the genuine rather than the counterfeit.
f. The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly: Any church with the well-deserved reputation of the Romans, who stays on guard against both dividers and deceivers, will see God crush Satan under your feet shortly.
i. We see that God does the crushing, but Satan ends up under the feet of believers.
ii. Of course, this will not ultimately happen until Satan is bound and cast into the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3); but every victory God wins for us right now is a preview of that event.
2. (Romans 16:21-24) Greetings from those in Corinth with Paul.
Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you. I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
a. Timothy rightly rates a first mention, being one of Paul’s closest and most trusted associates.
b. I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle: Tertius was Paul’s writer as the apostle dictated the letter. This was Paul’s normal practice in writing letters to churches, but this is the only letter where Paul’s secretary is mentioned by name.
c. Gaius had such a reputation for hospitality that Paul can say he was regarded as the host of the whole church.
3. (Romans 16:25-27) Conclusion to the letter: praise to God.
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 has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been 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.
a. With all the dangers facing the Romans - and every church - Paul fittingly concludes by commending them to Him who is able to establish you. Paul also knows that this will be done according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.
b. According to the revelation of the mystery: Paul means this as the whole plan of redemption through Jesus Christ. Though God announced much of the plan previously through prophecy, its final outworking wasn’t evident until revealed by God through Jesus.
i. Now that the mystery has been revealed through the preaching of the gospel, God calls all nations to obedience to the faith.
c. When Paul concludes with to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever, he is reflecting on both the wisdom of God’s plan in the gospel and the fact that such wisdom is beyond man. God had a plan no man would come up with, but the wisdom and glory of the plan is evident.
i. If there is anything Roman explains from beginning to end it is the greatness and glory of this plan of God that Paul preached as a gospel - as good news. It’s entirely fitting that Paul concludes this letter praising the God of such a gospel.
ii. God has also, in the gospel Paul preaches, chosen to glorify Himself through the person and work of Jesus Christ, and to glorify Himself that way forever. Amen!
Monday, February 27th, 2017
the Last Week after Epiphany
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