K. Commendation of Phoebe, and salutations to Christians at Rome.
Romans 16:1, Romans 16:2
I commend unto you Phoebe our sister (i.e. fellow-Christian), who is a servant of the Church that is in Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, worthily of the saints, and assist her ( παραστῆτε, literally, stand by her) in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she too hath been a succourer ( προστάτις, corresponding to παραστῆτε) of many, and of mine own self. This Phoebe was probably the bearer of the Epistle. She appears to have had business, perhaps of a legal kind, that took her to Rome; and St. Paul took advantage of her going to send the letter by her, desiring also to enlist the aid of her fellow-Christians at Rome in furtherance of her business, whatever it might be. Her having business at Rome, and her having been "a succourer of many," suggests the idea of her being a lady of means. Her designation as διάκονος of the Church at Cenchrea probably implies that she held an office there corresponding to that of deaconess, though there is no reason to suppose the distinguishing term διακόνισσα to have been as yet in use. Her function, and that of others (as perhaps of Tryphena and Tryphosa, mentioned in Romans 16:12 as "labouring much in the Lord"), might be to minister to the sick and poor, and to fulfil such charitable offices as women could best discharge. Cf. 1 Timothy 3:11, where γυναῖκας, mentioned in the midst of directions as to the qualifications of men for the office of deacons, probably denotes women who fulfilled similar duties. Cf. also Pliny's celebrated letter to Trajan, in which he says that he had extorted information as to the doings of Christians, "ex duabus ancillis, quae ministrae dicebantur." The Latin ministra answers exactly to the Greek διάκονος. Cenchrea was the port of Corinth on the Saronic Gulf; and it appears from this passage that there was a Church or congregation there, as well as one or more in Corinth itself. It is an interesting conjecture that St. Paul, in speaking of Phoebe having been a succourer of himself as well as of others, may refer to an illness of his own at Cenchrea, during which she had ministered to him, and that his shaving his head at Cenchrea because he had a vow (Acts 18:18) may have been during, or on his recovery from, that illness.
Greet Priscilla (al. Prisca, which is but another form of the same name) and Aquila my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own neck: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the Churches of the Gentiles. And greet the Church that is in their house. For other notices of them, cf. Acts 18:2,Acts 18:18, Acts 18:26; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19; whence we learn that Aquila was a Jew of Pontus, who, with his wife Priscilla, had been settled at Rome, whence, when the Jews were expelled by Claudius, they had gone to Corinth, where St. Paul found them on his first visit to that city; that St. Paul abode with them there, working with Aquila at tent-making, which was the craft of both; that they left Corinth with St. Paul for Syria, and were for a time left by him at Ephesus, where they instructed Apollos on his arrival there; that, when St. Paul wrote from Ephesus his First Epistle to the Corinthians, they sent greetings by it, having then a congregation of Christians which assembled at their house; that, having returned to Rome when the Epistle to the Romans was written, their house there also was made available for the same purpose; and that, when St. Paul was for the last time a prisoner at Rome before his martyrdom, they were once more living at Ephesus. They were probably in good circumstances, having had both at Rome and Ephesus houses large enough to be used as churches; and they were evidently leading and active members of the Christian community. It would seem that Priscilla, the wife, was especially so, and she may have been, like Phoebe, officially employed; for though, when they are first mentioned (Acts 18:2) as having lately come to Corinth, and when they themselves send greetings to Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:19), Aquila's name naturally comes first, yet St. Paul in all other mention of them reverses the order. The occasion of their having apparently risked their own lives in defence of St. Paul is unknown. It may have been at Corinth at the time of the Jewish insurrection against him (Acts 18:12), or at Ephesus at the time of the tumult raised by Demetrius the silversmith (Acts 19:23, etc.), when St. Paul had been in imminent danger. The phrase, "laid down their neck" (not, as in the Authorized Version, "necks"), seems only to denote, figuratively, "exposed their lives to danger." It appears, from the large number of greetings which follow, that there were now many Christians at Rome known to, or any rate known of by, the apostle. It does not follow that he was acquainted with all of them personally. He may have heard of them in the frequent inquiries he had doubtless made about the Roman Church (cf. Romans 1:8). Many of them, however, he evidently knew, and with some had been associated. It was likely that many known to him in various quarters might have had occasion to resort to Rome. There are in all twenty-six individuals to whom greetings are sent, together with two households of slaves, and probably three congregations, as will appear below. Salute (or, as before, greet. The verb is the same as before, and so throughout the chapter) my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Asia (certainly so, rather than Achaia, probably introduced into the text from 1 Corinthians 16:15) unto Christ. Asia means the proconsular province so called, being the western part of Asia Minor, of which the capital was Ephesus. Epaenetus may have been St. Paul's own first convert there during his second missionary journey (cf. Acts 16:6). The fact of the apostle having been then "forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the Word in Asia" does not preclude there having been converts thence.
Romans 16:6, Romans 16:7
Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on you ( ὑμᾶς, rather than, as in the Textus Receptus, ἡμᾶς). Salute Andrenicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles who also were in Christ before me. It is a question whether by "my kinsmen" ( τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου) here and afterwards St. Paul means that the persons so called were his relations, or only that they were Jews (cf. Romans 9:3, where he speaks of the Jews generally as τῶν συγγενῶν μου κατὰ σάρκα. There are in all five persons so designated in this chapter. The designation "fellow-prisoners" implies that these two had been, like himself, at some time imprisoned for the faith, but it does not fellow that he and they had been in prison together. If, in speaking of them as "of note among the apostles ( ἐπὶσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις)," he means to designate them as themselves apostles, this is an instance of a wider use of the term "apostle" than is generally understood (see note under Romans 12:6, etc.). The phrase, however, will bear the interpretation that they were persons held in honour in the circle of the original twelve. The term, οἱ ἀποστόλοι, is certainly often used distinctively of them, as in Acts 9:27 and in Galatians 1:19, by St. Paul himself, the reference in both texts being to his own relations to them; and so here, speaking of two persons, who he also says had been in Christ before himself, he may only mean to point to their having been, as they still were, distinguished in association with the original apostles even before his own conversion.
Greet Amplias (or, Ampliatus) my beloved in the Lord. Salute Urban (i.e. Urbanus) our fellow-worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Salute Apellos approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus' household. As to who Aristobulus might be (viz. a grandson of Herod the Great, mentioned by Josephus, 'Ant.,' 20. l, 2, as being at Rome in a private station), see Lightfoot on 'Philippians,' p. 172, and 'Dict. of Gr. and Romans Biog.,' under "Aristobulus," 5. "Those of Aristobulus" ( τῶν αριστοβούλου) would probably be his familia of slaves (cf. τῶν χλόης, 1 Corinthians 1:11, and below, τῶν ναρκίσσου). The salutation is not to the whole household, but to the Christians among them, as intimated by τοὺς ἐκ τῶν, and more definitely expressed below in the ease of the household of Narcissus.
Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them of the household of Narcissus that are in the Lord. This Narcissus may possibly have been the powerful freedman of Claudius, mentioned by Tacitus, 'Ann.,' 11.29, seq.; 12.57; and by Suetonius, 'Claud.,' 28. The fact that he appears from 'Ann.,' Romans 13:1, to have been put to death on the accession of Nero, A.D. 54, is not inconsistent with the supposition. For his human chattels would be likely to pass into the possession of Nero, and so become part of Caeasar's household, and might still be called by their late master's name. This may also have been the case with the household of Aristobulus above referred to. It is observable that, at a later period, the apostle, writing from Rome to the Philippians, sends special greetings from them "that are of Caesar's household" (Philippians 4:23).
Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persia, which laboured much in the Lord. All these seem to have been Church workers; and the last at least, from the way St. Paul speaks of her, must have been known by him personally, and done work of which he was cognizant. It is to be observed how, in calling her "the beloved," he avoids, with delicate propriety, adding "my," as he does in speaking of his male friends.
Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Observe the graceful way in which St. Paul intimates his obligation to the mother of Rufus, who at some time (though when and where we know not) had been as a mother to himself. Similar delicate courtesy of language is especially observable in the Epistle to Philemon.
Romans 16:14, Romans 16:15
Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes (not, surely, as Origen supposed, the author of 'The Shepherd of Hermes,' which is said in 'Canon Mumtori' to have been written by a brother of Pius I., and cannot well have been of earlier date than the second century), Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren that are with them. Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them. The "brethren" in Romans 16:14, and the "saints" in Romans 16:15, saluted in connection with the groups of persons named, may possibly mean the congregations that assembled under the leadership, or perhaps at the houses, of those persons. If so, there would appear to have been three congregations in Rome known of by St. Paul; for see Romans 16:5, which, indeed, seems in itself to imply that the Church that was in the house of Priscilla and Aquila was not the only one.
Salute one another with an holy hiss. All the Churches of Christ salute you. For allusions to the kiss of peace among Christians, cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Peter 5:14. Justin Martyr ('Apol.,' 85) speaks of it as exchanged before the Eucharist, and it is alluded to by many Fathers, directed in the 'Apostolical Constitutions,' and has its place in ancient liturgies (see Bingham, 15. 3.3). St. Paul, of course, in enjoining it here and in other Epistles, has in view the concord which it expressed. In sending salutations from "all the Churches of Christ", he may be understood as conveying to the Roman Christians the feeling towards them that had been expressed generally by the Churches he had visited. He may have spoken wherever he went of his intention of visiting Rome, and perhaps of meanwhile sending a letter thither; and the several Churches may have charged him with kind messages. Before authenticating these salutations with his usual autographic benediction, he feels bound to add one additional warning. The thought occurs to him, and he cannot but give expression to it. The warning is against a class of persons whose mischievous activity he had had experience of elsewhere, and attempts by some of whom to disturb the peace of the Roman Church he may possibly have heard of. They may have been Judaists, or others who taught views contrary to the received faith, and so caused divisions and offences in the Churches. For allusions to such elsewhere, cf. Galatians 1:6, seq.; Galatians 3:1, seq.; Colossians 2:8, seq.; 2 Corinthians 11:13, seq. For proof of such having been at work afterwards at Rome, cf. Philippians 1:15, seq.; Philippians 3:2, Philippians 3:17, seq.
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause the divisions and offences ( τὰ σκάνδαλα, meaning "causes of stumbling." Both the words have the article, so as to denote things known of) contrary to the doctrine which ye learned; and avoid them; rather, turn away from them; i.e. shun them; have nothing to do with them. The allusion seems to be, not to persons within the Church, but rather to outsiders, who come with new notions to disturb its peace.
For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly (cf. Philippians 3:18, Philippians 3:19). Had St. Paul thought these people sincere though mistaken, he would doubtless have treated them with the tenderness he shows towards the weak brethren. But he regards them as self-interested, and of the flesh; and against such disturbers of the Church's peace he is, here as elsewhere, indignant (el. Galatians 1:7, Galatians 1:8; Galatians 2:4; Galatians 3:1; Galatians 5:11. 12). In speaking of them as serving, or being slaves to, their own belly, it cannot be concluded certainly that he attributed to them habits of sensuality. He may only mean that it is the gratification of the lower part of their nature that they have in view; and there may be allusion to the motive of such persons being the desire of eating and drinking at the cost of the Churches. In 'The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles' (alluded to under Romans 12:6, seq.) the desire to live without working at the cost of the Church is set down as one of the marks of a false apostle or a false prophet. And by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple (rather, innocent, or harmless. So the word ἄκακος is translated in Hebrews 7:26. It is different from ἀκέραιος in Hebrews 7:19, though the Authorized Version makes no difference). For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. This is apparently adduced as a reason for his exhorting them to beware of those seducers, with a confidence that they will not be seduced by them, Romans 16:19 being thus dependent on Romans 16:17. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, but simple ( ἀκεραίους) concerning evil. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
L. Greetings from Corinth.
Romans 16:21, Romans 16:22
Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius (not to be identified with St. Luke), and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you, I Tertius, who wrote this Epistle, salute you in the Lord. It was St. Paul's habit to dictate his letters to an amanuensis (cf. Galatians 6:11; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17). Here the amanuensis interposes his own greeting in his own person.
Romans 16:23, Romans 16:24
Gaius mine host, and of the whole Church, saluteth you. Probably the person mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:14 as baptized by St. Paul himself at Corinth. There is no reason for identifying him with those of the same name mentioned in Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4; 3 John 1:1. Gaius was a common name. He appears to have been one who exercised extensive hospitality to Christians, which the apostle was enjoying at the time of writing. Erastus the chamberlain (rather, treasurer) of the city (not to be identified with the Erastus of Acts 19:22 and 2 Timothy 4:20), and Quartus the brother. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ he with you all. Amen.
G. Doxology. (For its original position, see above.) It may have been written by the apostle with his own hand. It differs, indeed, in form as well as fulness, from other autographic conclusions of his Epistles; but it is a suitable and grand ending of an Epistle of the peculiar character of this; summing up pregnantly in the form of a glowing thanksgiving the essential ideas of the whole Epistle, which had been more or less intimated in its preface.
Romans 16:25, Romans 16:26
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel (i.e. the gospel committed unto me to preach; cf. Romans 2:16; 1 Timothy 1:11; 2 Timothy 2:8), and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery (on the meaning of μυστηρίον, see note on Romans 11:25), which was kept secret (literally, kept in silence) since the world began (literally, in times eternal), but is now made manifest, and through the Scriptures of the prophets (literally, prophetic Scriptures), according to the command. meat of the eternal God, made known unto all the nations unto the obedience of faith. We have seen throughout the Epistle how the Scriptures of the Old Testament are referred to as foretelling the revelation in Christ of the long-hidden mystery (cf. also Romans 1:2); and it was through showing them to be fulfilled that, in all the apostolic preaching, the mystery, now manifested, was made known to all the nations; and this according to the commandment or appoint-merit of God, that the mystery should thus be now at last made known.
To God only wise, through Jesus Christ, be glory for ever. Amen. The great preponderance of ancient authorities, including all uncials but B, have "to God only wise." But the intended sense is not affected by the insertion, the ascription of glory being still to the only wise God, and not to Jesus Christ. Otherwise there would be no sequence to τῷ δυναμένῳ and μόνῷ σοφῷ θεῷ. "In the lively pressure of the great intermediate thoughts connected with the mention of the gospel, Romans 16:25, Romans 16:26, the syntactic connection has escaped the apostle" (Meyer)
Romans 16:1, Romans 16:2
A ministering woman.
Although we know of Phoebe no more than is recorded here, we know enough to feel an interest in her; for she was a friend and helper of the Apostle Paul, and she was probably the bearer of this Epistle to the Roman Church. Observe—
I. THE COMMENDATION OF PHOEBE, BY PAUL, TO THE CHRISTIANS OF ROME. She is described in this passage by three several designations, which could not but favourably introduce her to the notice and regard of the Christian community in the great metropolis of the world.
1. She is described as "a sister." Christianity taught mankind that a true relationship might exist amongst those widely sundered by time and space, and widely severed by education and social position. The followers of Jesus learned to regard one another as brothers and sisters and the great spiritual family, of which God is the Father and Christ the elder Brother and Savior. Coming from afar, even in the vast and populous city of Rome, this, godly matron would and brethren in Christ, would be recognized as a sister.
2. 'A servant of the Church at Cenchrea." Literally, a deacon, or deaconess. This shows us how, from the beginning of Christianity, woman's position was recogmzed and honoured. Christ has taught humanity the dignity of service; and as when on earth he accepted the ministrations of devout and attached women, so now he delights in their labours and self-sacrifice in his cause on earth.
3. The form of her service is mentioned; she was "a succourer of many." Probably a matron of means and social consideration, she had, and used, the opportunity to show kindness to her kindred in the faith, and to others in necessity. She may have shown hospitality to Christian ministers, have visited and relieved the sick poor, have rescued the fallen and neglected. "Of myself also," says the apostle, gratefully and gracefully acknowledging gentle and kindly ministrations, Possibly he had been sick at Cenchrea, upon the occasion when he is recorded to have made a vow, and Phoebe may have entertained and nursed him.
II. THE REQUEST MADE BY PAUL TO THE ROMANS ON HER BEHALF.
1. The footing is described upon which they were enjoined to receive her—"in the Lord," i.e. in the Lord's Name, and for the Lord's sake. This was the light in which Jesus himself had taught his disciples to regard one another. In receiving any in Christ's Name, we receive Christ himself. The Romans were to consider that the Divine Lord did, in a sense, in the person of his faithful disciples, come amongst them.
2. The law of treatment is laid down—"as saints." That is to say, it was to be berne in mind, in their social and religious intercourse, that they were not as the heathen around, that they were a select and consecrated people. Going into this great sinful city, this Cenchrean matron might look for treatment and conversation becoming to saints; she might expect religious privileges, and something more than courtesy—even Christian cordiality and kindness.
3. Such being the sentiments enjoined, it is interesting to see that Paul expected such feelings to prompt to corresponding action. The Roman Christians are desired to assist Phoebe in her business. Whether this was domestic, commercial, or legal, we do not know. In any case, she might well be grateful for an introduction which would secure for her the countenance, counsel, sympathy, and aid of men of wisdom and experience, of character and position. Scripture constantly warns us against allowing good feeling to pass away without leading to suitable expression in action. It is a lesson which even religious and well-meaning people need to have inculcated and repeated.
1. Let Christian communities aim at realizing the fellowship which such passages as this imply and commend.
2. Let Christian women seek, according to their station, opportunity, and ability, to live as servants of Christ and of Christ's Church.
3. Let all Christian people hold in honour those godly women who devote themselves to the succouring of the needy, the neglected, and the sinful
Fellowship in toil and suffering.
Paul had a marvellous power of drawing around him like-minded natures, to whom, by God's grace, he imparted much of his own spirit, and whose assistance vastly increased the effect of his benevolent ministry. Among these were Aquila and his wife Prisca, or Priscilla, whom he first met at Corinth, and to whom he was drawn by their common occupation as tent-makers. If not at that time Christians, they evidently became so through his instruction and influence. They laboured with Paul in the gospel, first at Corinth and then at Ephesus. They returned, at a later period, to Rome, whence, in common with the Jews generally, they had been expelled by Claudius. And they were at Rome, carrying on the same work of evangelization and promoting Christian fellowship, when Patti wrote this Epistle to the Romans. Hence the salutation which occurs in this place.
I. EXAMINE THE SERVICES, MERITS, AND CLAIMS, OF THIS CHRISTIAN COUPLE. They are commended for:
1. Their fellowship with Paul in wore. The Christian life, and emphatically the life of the Christian evangelist, is a life of labour. Not mere activity or business-like effort and assiduity; but labour "in Christ Jesus;" which means, for the sake of Christ, upon the model of Christ, in the Name of Christ, with a view to the approval of Christ. The Lord is himself the bond binding true workers in one.
2. They had endangered life for his safety. Whether in Corinth, or amidst the tumult at Ephesus, these two faithful friends had shielded the apostle from the wrath and violence of the enemies of the faith, and this at the risk of their own life. This was a practical exemplification of the duty and excellence of brotherly love. Thus Paul learned to say, "For a good man some would even dare to die." Thus St. John could teach, knowing that the advice was not impracticable, "We also ought to lay down our life for the brethren."
3. They had cultivated social religion. Wherever they went, these devoted Christians consecrated part of their dwelling to Christian assembly and worship. Being tent-makers, needing large premises, and probably employing many work-people, they had accommodation for such gatherings. Often in the New Testament we read of the "Church in the house." The expression not only reminds us of the duty and privilege of family religion, and household worship; it also teaches us that all our possessions and circumstances should be turned to account in the service of Christ, and especially that we should bring neighbours together to hear the gospel, and fellow-Christians to realize Christian fellowship and to cultivate brotherly love.
II. OBSERVE THE RECOGNITION BY THE APOSTLE OF THESE SERVICES AND CLAIMS. "Honour to whom honour"—a maxim nowhere better justified than in cases like this before us.
1. Paul shows gratitude. Although their ministrations and self-sacrifice were now events of the past, the recollection of them was fresh in the apostle's mind. There are those who think it unwise to express gratitude and admiration; the apostle was not one of these. He gave thanks. And he tendered the thanks, not only of his own heart, but of "all the Churches of the Gentiles"—an expression this, all the more graceful, in that Aquila and his wife were themselves Jews. But they had laboured largely among the Gentiles, who were very sensible of their services. And they had probably saved the life of "the apostle of the Gentiles," on which account those for whom Paul especially laboured owed them a special measure of gratitude.
2. Paul sends greeting. Among the worthies of the Christian community at Rome, the names of these natives of Pontus were included, and amongst them have come down to posterity. Paul obeyed the gospel admonition, "Be courteous," and often set an example of that kind and sympathetic consideration which goes far to ease the working and promote the happiness of human life.
1. Be devoted in Christian labour.
2. Delight in Christian fellowship.
3. Employ social influence for Christ's glory.
4. In Christian intercourse display Christian courtesy.
The twofold bond.
Some men are known and remembered for what they have done; others for the position they have occupied in some great movement, or the friendships they have formed with some great characters. Paul's was a name which overshadowed most of his contemporary fellow-labourers in the cause of Christian evangelization; yet there were those, e.g. Timothy and Aquila, among those mentioned in this chapter who had no mean title to an independent position and memorial. On the other hand, some, like Epaenetus, would never have been remembered except through association with the apostle of the Gentiles. It is a beautiful trait in Paul's character that his heart cherished warm, affectionate recollections of some persons, who, by reason of the obscurity of their position and the slenderness of their abilities, could add no lustre to the apostle's fame, and perhaps little efficacy to his mission. From this verse we learn that a twofold bond united Paul to Epaenetus.
I. THE BOND OF PERSONAL FRIENDSHIP AND LOVE. The Lord Jesus had himself, by his example and by his precepts, constituted Christianity a religion of love. Speaking to his disciples, he said, "Love one another, even as I have loved you." "Having loved his own, he loved them unto the end." He even countenanced a tender, personal, and special friendship; for St. John is often described as "the disciple whom Jesus loved. Now, the Apostle Paul inculcated, with frequency and urgency, the Divine lesson, saying, "Let brotherly love continue;" and eulogizing, especially in his Epistle to the Corinthians, the grace of charity. And he also exemplified the virtue of Christian love in his own spirit, and in the many friendships which he formed. His attachment to Epaenetus was undoubtedly sincere and unfeigned; and what more natural than that, when his friend was at so great a distance from him, Paul, in writing to the Romans, should send a greeting of affection to the beloved associate of bygone days? Christianity sanctifies and elevates human affection.
II. THE BOND OF MINISTERIAL INTEREST. Epaenetus was the firstfruits of Asia's offering unto Christ. This being the case, it is somewhat singular that we know nothing more regarding him. Paul has spoken of himself as ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable. The conversion of the Gentiles was a harvest, a sacrifice; and the firstfruits accordingly must have been to the apostle's mind peculiarly precious. The expression is very suggestive.
1. Of what toil and sowing was this conversion the result! There is no crop without foregoing labour; and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles shows us at what expenditure of labour and suffering the harvest was secured. When the parent instils into the mind of his children from infancy the doctrines and precepts of religion; when the teacher endeavours to bring the youthful mind, otherwise perhaps uncultivated and uncared-for, under Christian training and influence; when the pastor faithfully and continuously scatters the seed of the kingdom in men's hearts, sowing beside all waters; when the evangelist and missionary toil, in uncongenial circumstances and amidst many discouragements, for the salvation of human souls;—all such effort is seed-sowing, of which sometimes only the springing blade may be discerned by the labourer, who is happy indeed if he be suffered to see here and there the firstfruits of his endeavours.
2. How rich, ripe, and promising were these firstfruits! It is proof enough of the Christian character of Epaenetus, that the apostle regarded him as a beloved friend. In this case Paul's labours had proved manifestly not in vain. Here was doubtless a renewed and holy person, adorning the Christian profession, and by ripeness and beauty and serviceableness of character fitted to be regarded as the firstfruits of a province. Now, the firstfruits may be as good in quality as the harvest which follows. In fact, Christian ministers are justified in looking for such results to follow their patient and prayerful toil. Nothing else can reward them; spiritual results, and these only, are the desired recompense.
3. Of a harvest how wealthy and glorious was this individual Christian the earnest and promise! Genius and faith can see in the firstfruits, insignificant, it may be, in themselves, the promise of vast results, extending throughout spacious regions and enduring throughout long ages. So, doubtless, it was in this ease; the Apostle Paul felt the image of Epaenetus revived in his memory, nay, his very name awakened in his mind a glorious vision of the future evangelization of a vast and populous province, of the formation of large and flourishing Churches, of the final salvation of a multitude of precious souls. Such associations, such expectations, would naturally lend an additional interest and sweetness to this warm-hearted greeting communicated from afar.
1. Remark the beauty of Christian courtesy. It is right to remember and to greet ancient comrades in Christian toil, and all who are bound to us by ties of former fellowship.
2. Learn the lesson of Christian love—love unfeigned. Love should be not only of a general, a sentimental kind; it should be personal and faithful, love to individual souls with whom Providence may have brought you into contact.
3. Cultivate the disposition of hope. Regard in every convert to the faith of Christ the proof of Divine power and grace; and see in such the happy omen of a recovered and regenerated world.
A woman's labours for Christ.
During our Saviour's earthly ministry, many devout and grateful women devoted their time, their substance, and their personal ministrations to the Lord. And Christ's apostles, as we may judge from the record in the Acts, were also frequently indebted to the hospitality, the zealous co-operation, and the sympathizing and generous spirit, of consecrated Christian women. From this chapter it appears that the early Churches were, in some cases, assisted in their benevolent and evangelistic work by feminine ministrations. Of Mary we know nothing but what is recorded to her honour and remembrance in this passage, that she bestowed much labour upon the Christians of the imperial city. If she be taken as a representative of pious and benevolent and laborious Christian women, the record concerning her may suggest reflections regarding the vocation of such persons in the Church of Christ.
I. THE NATURE OF WOMAN'S WORK FOR THE SAVIOUR. This is very varied. It may be more public, or more private; it may be domestic, or official. Some are called to nurse in homes or hospitals; some to teach in classes or schools; some to visit the neglected, the dying, the bereaved; some to restore the lapsed to the paths of industry and virtue; some to show hospitality.
II. THE QUALITY OF WOMAN'S WORK FOR THE SAVIOUR. It is often found to be characterized by tenderness and sympathy, by constancy and patience, by sobriety and diligence, by fervour and self-denial.
III. THE MEASURE OF WOMAN'S WORK FOR CHRIST. Mary laboured much; and many resemble her—directing their energies into various channels, spending strength of body and mind in holy service, continuing even amidst many interruptions, and misrepresentation and ingratitude, and labouring even to old age.
IV. THE MOTIVE TO WOMAN'S WORK FOR CHRIST. The Lord Jesus has done much for the elevation and happiness of the female sex, and gratitude for mercy received is in many women's hearts a powerful motive to zealous services. Means are sought by which the thankful may show the sincerity of their love.
V. THE RECOGNITION OF WOMAN'S WORK FOR THE SAVIOUR. This should be spontaneous and ungrudging, generous and expressed. Paul acknowledged the merits of this excellent woman, and by his written salutations admonished the Roman Christians to hold her in honour, and display their gratitude. Yet the best and most desired recognition valued by devout women is the approval and the recompense promised by the Lord himself to every good and faithful servant.
A special salutation.
It is somewhat singular that, the description of these brothers, Andronicus and Juntas, being so full and detailed, we should not meet with any other mention of them, either in the Acts or in St. Paul's Epistles. The connection between them and the apostle was close and manifold, and their claims to consideration were remarkably high.
I. There was FELLOWSHIP IN BLOOD between these brothers and St. Paul. Whether this was a close kindred, or simply consanguinity of race, the term does not make certain. In either case there is a recognition of the claims of kindred. Our blood-relationships, and even our ties of nationality and race, are of Divine appointment, and should not be disparaged or overlooked. When our kindred have a spiritual as well as a natural affinity with us, they should be doubly dear, and should be treated with special distinction and affection.
II. There was FELLOWSHIP IN SUFFERING FOR CHRIST. Paul was often in prison, and sometimes in companionship with those engaged in the same service, and therefore knowingly exposed to the same risks. It must have been a happy and honourable experience to be associated with such a man, even in bonds and imprisonment. Silas had joined him in his midnight hymns in the Philippian jail; Luke shared his imprisonment both on land and by sea; Aristarchus, Audronicus, and Juntas had in some place unknown to us, been his fellow-prisoners. Such community was not to be forgotten. It is a distinction to suffer for Christ, and with Christ's people. "If we suffer with Christ"—and this we do when we suffer with his people, and for his sake—"we shall also reign with him."
III. These men were in THE CONFIDENCE AND ESTEEM OF THE APOSTLES. Some have inferred from the language used that Andronicus and Juntas were numbered among the apostles, in the wider sense of that term. But it is more probable that they are mentioned as held in high respect and honour among the apostles generally. It is sufficient commendation for a man to be known as the trusted friend of the great and good. It is well to ask concerning any Christian—Who are his friends? Not—How is he regarded by the titled and the opulent? but—Is he in the confidence of those who are venerated and trusted servants of the Lord? "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise."
IV. There was PERSEVERANCE AND LONG-STANDING CONSISTENCY OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. The Apostle Paul, when writing to the Romans, had himself been "in Christ" for very many years. But these brothers are mentioned by him as having been Christians before he himself had been brought to subjection to the Lord. As "old disciples," whose witness to Christ had been long and faithful, and who remained what they had been, Andronicus and Junias deserved greeting and commendation- '' Time tries all;" and time sets an approving seal upon those who for a lifetime have adorned the doctrine of God our Saviour. Respect is due to our seniors in the spiritual life. "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning."
1. Learn a generous appreciation of the character and services of brethren in Christ.
2. Forget not the ties of Christian fellowship dating from distant years.
3. Admire the power of Christianity to sanctify the social nature; and seek to afford in social intercourse a living example of this benign influence.
Grounds, for greeting.
Salutations are often empty forms. Yet the original meaning is often very deep and beautiful and appropriate. Our "God bless you!" and "Good-bye!" and "Adieu!" are instances If we sincerely send "respects" and "kind regards," it is well. Salutations are not to be neglected or despised because they are often meaningless or insincere. See in this passage how Paul greeted his friends in Christ. Even as Christ himself, coming to his own disciples, addressed them thus, "Peace be with you!" so the apostle, even in this important Epistle, did not think it beneath him to salute his friends.
I. CHRISTIANITY IS A BOND WHICH UNITES TOGETHER PERSONS OF MOST VARIOUS CONDITIONS AND EMPLOYMENTS. Of the persons greeted, some were Jews and some were Gentiles. Some were persons who had, to some extent, the command of their own time; for they are mentioned as having laboured much with the apostle, or as having entertained him with hospitality. Some undoubtedly were slaves. From the Epistle to the Philippians, written a very few years after this, it appears that members of Caesar's household were numbered among the Christian community at Rome. Recent explorations near the old metropolis of the world have brought to light tomb- inscriptions, including many of the names mentioned in this chapter, in memory of persons in the imperial household. It is all but certain that some of these friends of Paul held such positions, it may be honourable and important, but probably of an ordinary kind. They may have been artificers and craftsmen and household attendants. Two other households are mentioned here—those of Aristobulus and of Narcissus. There seems no reason to suppose that the heads of these households were Christians. They may themselves have been dead at this time, and their bondmen may have passed over by bequest to the emperor. The list includes some Christian Jews, now permitted to return to Rome—persons whom, in their wanderings, Paul had met in various cities of Asia and of Europe, and whose memory he retained in his capacious and affectionate heart.
II. CHRISTIANITY CONFERS HONOUR UPON THOSE WHO ABE LITTLE ESTEEMED IN THE WORLD. The names mentioned in these verses are all, and utterly, unknown to fame. They here glint across our vision, like meteors in the midnight sky, which appear for a moment, only to vanish for ever. Yet Paul esteemed and loved them, and put their names upon this imperishable roll—more glorious and more lasting than the blazoned records of heraldry or the splendid memorials of the historian. It is better to be enrolled among the friends of Christ than to occupy the highest station in the regard of worldly minded men. To be his when he makes up his jewels, this will be honour and happiness indeed.
III. CHRISTIANITY PUTS ITS OWN MARKS UPON ITS ADHERENTS. For example, in this passage, one is described as "in the Lord," implying spiritual union with the Saviour. Another is said to be "chosen in the Lord," and yet another "approved in the Lord"—language which denotes those congenial in character, and obedient in life, to the Lord Jesus Christ, and which points on to a coming and glorious reward. Again, some are described as "brethren" and others as "saints," implying their incorporation into the spiritual family of God, and their holy character and devotion to the Lord's service. Such language assures us that, amidst many faulty and some unworthy Christians, there were not a few amongst the primitive believers who, by their principles and life, must have commended the gospel, and have yielded the truest satisfaction to the apostle's pure and benevolent heart.
IV. Observe, further, sundry RECOGNITIONS or CHRISTIAN SERVICE. One is commended for his "labour in the Lord," and another as having "laboured much in the Lord," whilst a third is described as a "fellow-worker." That Paul laboured more abundantly than all his brethren, he himself has recorded; and such being the habit of his spiritual ministry, he was able and disposed to appreciate the work of his diligent and effective colleagues. There is great discrimination in his language of approbation, and, at the same time, great generosity. We should learn the wholesome lesson, that it is right to appreciate the services of our fellow-Christians, and gratefully to recognize and remember their co-operation.
V. It must strike every reader of this passage that we have here illustrations of the way in which CHRISTIAN APPRECIATION IS INTENSIFIED BY PERSONAL RELATION AND FEELING. One member of the Roman Church he designates "my beloved." In another he recognizes a "kinsman." A third—an aged Christian matron—he designates his own "mother," referring, no doubt, to her tender and hospitable ministrations in former days. Beautiful indeed is natural feeling when thus sanctified by true piety. The Christian family, and the friendly circle, penetrated by Christian principle and sentiment, are nothing less than an earnest of the sacred fellowship of heaven. The Church below thus resembles and prepares for the Church of the Firstborn above.
1. The strongest of all social bonds are those of our common Christianity, which, binding hearts to Christ, binds hearts to hearts. Cultivate these bonds.
2. Christian labourers should never forget those who in former days have shared their toils and sacrifices.
3. Courtesy is a Christian grace, and its exercise smooths the path of social life.
4. Sympathy and brotherliness on earth will prepare for the sweet and immortal fellowship of heaven.
In viewing our human life, we are tempted into one or other of two extremes. To the worldly and the careless, especially when young and prosperous, life seems easy. They are conscious of no temptation, for they yield at once to each congenial suggestion. They are ignorant of struggles, for to them life has never shaped itself as a moral warfare. But there are those who are ever oppressed by a constant sense of the solemnity of life. To such the conflict is a daily and inevitable fact. They cannot drift adown the current; yet, strike out as bravely as they will, they feel as though they made no headway against the waters, as though they could never reach the shore. Struggle they must, they do; yet with many failures and with faint hope of final success. Now, Christianity rebukes the first of these classes for frivolity, the second for faithlessness. The Scriptures ever represent our life as a spiritual conflict; yet they ever summon us to fight the good fight of faith with hopeful hearts; the battle is fierce, but to the brave the victory is sure.
I. THE CONFLICT AND THE FOE. There is a power of evil, a personal and mighty power. Satan seeks to carry captive human souls; and in the effort employs every resource—the fiercest assaults, and the most unscrupulous, insidious wiles. In this Satan deals with men according to their circumstances, their character, their temperament. Over multitudes he triumphs openly. Yet there are those who resist him, who regard him as their deadly foe. Well is it for you if you are aware of your position, your danger, the attempts of the adversary, and your own weakness and insufficiency for a struggle so unequal. Faithful, consistent, experienced Christian! you have not yet finished the campaign; you are not yet beyond the reach of the fiery darts. Young and ardent Christian! dare not to indulge in boasting or to serf-satisfaction. Just where and when you least expect it, then and there the attack may be made. "Resist the devil;" "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation;" "Take to you the whole armour of God."
II. THE HELPER AND DELIVERER. In a conflict such as human life, how can we be blind to our own helplessness and need? Whither shall the assaulted and imperilled turn? Upon whom shall they call? The Christian cannot answer these questions amiss; for he has already sought and experienced the saving strength of God's right hand. Yet he may well need to be reminded of his only hope and refuge. Let us lift up our eyes unto the hills, whence cometh our help. The God of peace is, in the text, set before us as our Saviour. Does it strike you as strange that the Most High should be so described in such a connection? Do you ask—Why is the God of peace invoked, to oppose and to vanquish the foe of souls? The answer is plain. God's nature is peace; his aim is peace; his rule is peace. But his is not the peace of compromise with sin His is the peace which comes with righteousness and with the reign of holy law. Such peace presupposes conflict. War with evil, until evil is vanquished, dethroned, and silent; and then peace, and only then;—such is the principle of the gospel, such is the purpose of God, such is the law of the Christian's life. Divine peace is pure and sincere and lasting. Remember that word of our Lord Jesus, "I am not come to send peace, but a sword."
III. THE RESISTANCE AND THE VICTORY. Here we are, as Christians, members of the Church militant. But Christ is the Captain of our salvation; and the language of the apostle implies that, through the might and grace of our Leader, we shall conquer in the holy war. Christ is the Victor, who has conquered for us. The history of our Saviour's earthly career is a history of conflict. The ministry of the Redeemer was a struggle with the prince of darkness. Witness his temptation, in which he encountered the foe in various guises, and ever vanquished his adversary and ours by the "sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." Witness the crisis of his humiliation and suffering: "This is your hour, and the power of darkness." Yet in that crisis the Lord Jesus beheld Satan as lightning cast from heaven, and he spoiled principalities and powers, making a show of them openly. Then was fulfilled the promise, "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." Christ is the Victor, who conquers in us. For it is in our own hearts that the real conflict is waged, that the true victory must be won. By the cross of Christ, through the presence and strengthening of the Spirit of Christ, the soldier who follows his Captain must come to share the Captain's triumph. He himself has promised that it shall be so. In his humiliation he encouraged his disciples, saying, "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." From his glory he cheers them on, saying, "He that overcometh shall sit down with me in my throne." The individual Christian shall, by Divine grace, be victorious over the tempter who is the foe of his soul. He shall not yield to the blandishments or fall before the onsets of Satan; he shall learn submission to God's will without murmuring; he shall serve without fainting; he shall rebuke without harshness; he shall trust without doubting. The world shall have less hold upon his affections, and heaven shall have more power to attract and charm. "We are more than conquerors through him that loved us." The Church, too, shall go, with the Lord himself, from conquest to conquest. It shall shake off dependence upon earthly and carnal weapons; it shall learn the hard lesson of charity; its pity shall be practical, and its purity shall be glorious; and it shall realize the picture painted by the glowing imagination of the inspired artist.
IV. THE CHARACTER AND THE TYPE OF TRIUMPH. On these points the text is especially explicit. God shall "bruise Satan under your feet." From this it appears that the victory shall be complete. Human wisdom is prone to pronounce this impossible, and represents the moral conflict as one most uncertain in its issues, in which the advantage seems now to be with this party, and anon with that. And so far as this life is concerned, we have no reason to believe that we shall reach a position from which we look down and back upon the battle-field, as those superior to Satan's assaults, delivered altogether from danger and from fear. Yet here we have an assurance of complete and lasting victory. If Satan is to be bruised beneath our feet, that implies that he shall be crushed. The figurative language depicts a conqueror, with his foe at his mercy, possessing no further power for resistance and mischief. "Is it possible," you ask, who have wrestled long and hard with the foe of souls—"is it possible that, over such an adversary, so feeble a soldier of righteousness as I shall ever triumph?" Here is the answer: "They overcame the accuser of the brethren by the blood of the Lamb." Nor have you long to wait; for this shall happen "shortly." The strife is fierce, but it shall not be protracted. When your fidelity is tried and proved, the power of the enemy shall be crippled, and he himself shall be thrust down, and you shall have the crown of life.
"'Tis but a little while,
And he shall come again,
Who died that we might live, who lives
That we with him may reign!"
A comprehensive doxology.
It has often been noticed that the thoughts of the Apostle Paul rushed with such swiftness through his mind that they could scarcely find coherent expression; one seems to follow and to efface that which precedes; and the unity of the whole is with difficulty discernible because of the pressure upon the attention of the several parts. It is so with these closing verses of the Epistle to the Romans; they introduce to the reader's mind so very many subjects, and they contain so many memorable observations, that he is likely to forget that they constitute a doxology. But to the mind of the writer the intention to utter closing words of praise was present and powerful; and the reasons and motives for praise crowded in upon his mind with such rapidity and force that he could hardly bring his Epistle to its conclusion. Let us endeavour to appreciate the comprehensiveness of this great doxology.
I. THIS DOXOLOGY CONTAINS A CELEBRATION OF DIVINE ATTRIBUTES, Three are brought forward, two of them explicitly, and one implicitly, in such a manner as to enhance our conception of God's character, and to summon the Church of Christ to the congenial exercise of lowly and adoring praise.
All these attributes are connected with the gospel which Christians have received, and which is intended for the illumination and salvation of all men. Though benevolence is not mentioned, it is implied in the statements of God's designs of mercy towards all nations, made at the close of verse 26.
II. THIS DOXOLOGY CONTAINS A COMPENDIUM OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE.
1. The substance of Christian truth is Contained in the Person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
2. This is represented as a gospel, or glad tidings from God to men.
3. And as a revealed mystery, something which existed in the mind and counsels of God from eternity, which was treated throughout the earlier ages of human history as a secret, concealed beneath promises and types and sacrifices, but only made manifest upon the institution of the new and spiritual kingdom of truth and righteousness.
III. THIS DOXOLOGY CONTAINS A PROMISE OF WORLD-WIDE BLESSINGS TO MAN. The large heart of the great apostle of the Gentiles was in perfect sympathy with the love of God revealed in Christ, and with the vast scheme of human redemption. It is like himself—the unselfish, compassionate, truly heroic nature that he was—that, in closing this Epistle, which has sometimes been misrepresented as teaching the limitation of Divine mercy and the substitution of arbitrariness for pity, St. Paul should thus refer to the glorious future of the kingdom of the Saviour upon earth. He glorified God that the glorious gospel of the blessed God should be published to all nations, that this should be by Divine prediction and by Divine command, and that the purpose of such publication was, not the condemnation of the sons of men, but salvation, as explained in that elevated and truly Christian phrase, "the obedience of faith."
IV. THIS DOXOLOGY IMPLIES A WISH AND PRAYER FOR THE STABILITY IN FAITH AND HOLINESS OF THOSE TO WHOM AND FOR WHOSE BENEFIT THE EPISTLE WAS WRITTEN.
V. THIS DOXOLOGY CONCLUDES THE EPISTLE WITH AN ASCRIPTION OF PRAISE AND HONOUR TO THE ClOD OF ALL GRACE AND SALVATION, The whole treatise is inspired by a reverent and grateful spirit, and is evidently an effort to represent the true moral glory of the Lord of all; and it is appropriate that it should close as it does with ascribing glory, through Jesus Christ, to God the only wise.
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
"Phoebe our sister:" a sermon to young women.
The Rev. W. S. Swanson, speaking some time ago at Manchester, showed that the religions of the East were powerless to regenerate the heart and purify the life, and that, however excellent some of them may appear in theory, they utterly failed in practice. Among other things he said, "I ask what adaptation have we found in these religions to meet the wants, to heal the wounds of woman, and to give her her proper and rightful position? What have they done to free her from the oppression that imprisons, degrades, and brutalizes her? What has 'the light of Asia' done to brighten her lot? What ray of comfort have these religions shed into the shambles where she is bought and sold? What have they done to sweeten and purify life for her? Why! her place in the so-called paradises of some of them, in the way in which it is painted, only burns the brand of shame more deeply on her brow." Christianity alone has given woman her rightful place. Woman occupies an honourable position in the Bible, and every wise provision is made for her, especially for the widow in her helplessness and loneliness. In the Old Testament we have such noble women as Deborah and Hannah, Ruth and Esther. In the New Testament we have Mary the mother of our Saviour, Mary of Bethany, Lydia, Dorcas, and many others. Women occupied an important place in the early Christian Church. At Philippi, for example, when St. Paul went to the place "where prayer was wont to be made," he found that little prayer-meeting entirely composed of women. In the Epistles of St. Paul we find him sending many messages to the Christian women of various Churches, and commending many of them for their faithfulness and devotion to the cause of Christ. Among those whom he thus mentions is Phoebe. We know nothing of Phoebe's history beyond what is stated here, and the additional fact mentioned in a note at the end of this Epistle that she was the bearer of this letter to the Christians at Rome.
I. PHOEBE WAS A SERVANT. It would appear that she was a lady of some means. She devoted her means and her time to assisting the poor and the helpless. She had been "a succourer of many" (verse 2). But whatever position she occupied, she bears the name of servant. Now, there is nothing to be ashamed of in the name of servant. Every one who is worth anything is a servant in some sense. The less service any one renders, the more useless he or she is in the world. The sovereign upon the throne, the judges and magistrates, lawyers, medical men, men of business, ministers of the gospel, all are the servants of others. Be faithful in your service. The maxim of many in our time seems to be to take all the pay they can and render as little service as possible. That is not honest. Nor is it honest to work only when the eyes of your employer are upon you. "Servants, be obedient to your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord and not to men." Be trustworthy. Regard what belongs to your master or your mistress with as much care as if it were your own. If your employer's children are committed to your care, how scrupulous you should be regarding them! Never let them hear from your lips a profane or evil word. If you are teaching them, seek to communicate to their youthful minds all the good principles that you can. Your work may be a quiet work, but if it is done faithfully it is a lasting work. You may not receive much notice or much thanks from your employer, but he that seeth in secret himself shall reward you openly.
II. PHOEBE WAS A SERVANT OF GOD. That was the secret of her useful and honoured life. It is the highest thing that could be said of any one. Employers are beginning to find out that God-fearing men and God-fearing women are not the worst servants.
1. A servant of God will not be the servant of this world. Many young ladies who call themselves Christians seem to spend their life altogether in the service of selfish pleasure and worldly amusement.
2. A servant of God will not, keep the company of the godless. There is no subject on which young women in our towns and cities need to be more plainly warned than the choice of their companions of both sexes. How many happy and promising young lives have been blighted, how many hearts have been broken, by foolish companionships and too hasty intimacy! The casual knowledge obtained of any one at an evening party or a pleasure excursion is no basis on which to form an engagement on which depends the happiness of a lifetime.
"Thrice blest whose lives are faithful prayers,
Whose loves in higher love endure.
What souls possess themselves so pure?
Or is there blessedness like theirs?"
III. PHOEBE WAS A SERVANT OF THE CHURCH. That is to say, she was a helper of God's people. She was a helper in Christian work. There are many young women whose lives are absolutely wasted, who are utterly wretched and miserable, for want of something to do. How many forms of useful service there are in which a young woman may engage I She may teach in the Sunday school; visit the aged and the sick, and minister unto them in spiritual things, and perhaps also to their bodily comfort and relief; she may invite the careless to the house of God. And a woman's influence is often powerful for good where even a Christian man would utterly fail to reach the hardened heart.—C.H.I.
Words of counsel for a Christian Church.
The practical exhortations given in most of these closing chapters of this Epistle have reference mainly to the duties of individual Christians. The exhortations of this last chapter refer specially to the duty of the local Church in its corporate capacity.
I. ATTENTION TO STRANGERS. Consideration for strangers was constantly impressed upon the Jewish people in ancient times. "Oppress not the stranger" (Exodus 22:21; Exodus 23:1-33. 9, etc.); "The stranger that dwelleth among you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself" (Le 19:34). And Malachi denounces judgments upon those "that turn aside the stranger from his right" (Malachi 3:5). So here Paul enjoins it upon the Church at Rome. "I commend unto you Phoebe our sister … that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you" (verses 1, 2). There is much need for such an exhortation in the Christian Churches of today. Strangers go in and out of our Churches unnoticed and uncared for. False modesty or excessive etiquette prevents the members of the Church from speaking to them. Consider the possible effects of such neglect. A young man, far from home, exposed to many temptations and godless surroundings, enters a church. No one speaks to him. He drifts away. He knows that in the drinking-saloon, perhaps, he will find a welcome and a friendly shake of the hand. "The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light." Why should not Christians be as anxious to welcome the stranger to the house of God as the godless are to welcome him to their haunts of giddy pleasure and sin? Another, hovering on the verge of unbelief, unsettled by the silly popular literature of our day, enters a Christian church. He sees an element of unreality and of selfishness strongly marked. He too drifts away. Or some stranger enters a Christian church who is in trouble or in perplexity, and to whom a word of sympathy or guidance would be welcome. But from the self-absorbed and stand-off Christians no encouragement is received. Can we wonder that such persons are alienated from the Church, are often alienated from Christ? And what does Christ think of all this? Listen to his words on the great day: "I was a stranger, and ye took me not in." And when those whom he shall thus address shall say, "Lord, when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee not in?" then shall he answer them, "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not to me." Attention shown to the stranger is regarded by the Saviour as attention shown to himself. Such attention "becometh saints" (verse 2). But however the Church may treat strangers, they need not remain strangers to Christ. He has a word and a welcome for all.
II. ATTENTION TO ONE ANOTHER. While we are to think of strangers we must not forget our own brethren.
"We have careful thought for the stranger,
And smiles for the sometime guest;
But oft for our own
The bitter tone,
Though we love our own the best."
St. Paul here exhorts that they should greet one another as brethren. "Salute one another with an holy kiss" (verse 16)—the customary mode of salutation at the time. Is not this exhortation also—namely, of friendliness and brotherly kindness among Christians—much needed in the Christian Church of today? How many professing Christians pass in and out of the same church, sit down at the same communion-table, and never exchange greetings with one another! Alas! after centuries of Christianity, we are but beginners in the school of Christ! Our profession of friendship for Christ is not worth much if we are not willing to make friends of his brethren. But it may be said, "We cannot ignore social differences. How am I to recognize in the street as a friend, how am I to shake hands with, one of lower social position?" Ah, yes! pride is the difficulty. Missionaries tell us that caste in Eastern countries is one of the great hindrances to the spread of the gospel. It is the same at home. There is caste in Christian nations as well as in heathen lands. Yet it ought not to be so. Nowhere were such differences more marked than at Rome. There were the well-defined and sharply marked classes of patricians and plebeians. Yet Paul ignores them. Many of the persons whom he mentions by name in his salutations in this chapter were slaves. Yet they also were to be included in the attention of the other members of the Church. Some one may say, "This is quite revolutionary. It would upset all our social arrangements." Perhaps so. And Christianity must make greater revolutions yet in the character and habits of professing Christians if it is to win the world for Christ. More attention and kindness should be shown by one Christian to another than is commonly the case.
III. AVOIDANCE OF THE QUARRELSOME. "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (verse 17). And then he describes the character and motives of the quarrelsome. "For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly" (verse 18). That is to say, those who are quarrelsome in disposition are those who put their own ideas, their own comfort, their own selfish desires or feelings, in the forefront. Interfere with their plans, thwart their ambition, fail to respect their pride, and they are ready to take offence. The duty of the Christian is to avoid such persons. Such is the advice St. Paul gives here. Such advice he gave elsewhere. Speaking in his letter to Timothy of disputatious persons, he says, "From such withdraw thyself" (1 Timothy 6:5). Writing to the Thessalonias, he says, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly" (2 Thessalonians 3:6). The reason of this is obvious. If quarrelsome persons are left to themselves, they will soon have nobody to quarrel with. It is an old saying that it takes two to make a quarrel. It might be added that it takes three to keep it up. A third party often fans the flame. If the Christian is brought into contact with quarrels at all, it should only be as a reconciler. "It is an honour to a man to cease from strife;" "Blessed are the peace- makers: for they shall be called the children of God"—C.H.I.
The object and the strength of a Christian Church.
With these two important thoughts St. Paul closes his Epistle.
I. THE CHURCH'S OBJECT. The Epistle ends with an ascription of glory to God (Romans 16:25-27). This was the great end the apostle had in view in writing his Epistle. And he would have his readers remember that this, too, is the great end for which a Church of Christ exists. "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever." We should glorify the love of the Father. This is the potent influence to draw men's hearts from sin. "God so loved the world;" "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us!" We should glorify the saving power of Jesus Christ the Son. This gives the sinner confidence to come to him. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved;" "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish." We should glorify the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. "Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you;" "When he, the Spirit of truth is come, he shall guide you into all truth."
II. THE CHURCH'S STRENGTH. "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Romans 16:20); "Now to him that is of power to stablish you" (Romans 16:25). The Church's strength is not necessarily in its numbers. Gideon's army was at one time too numerous. "The People that are with thee are too many" ( 7:2, 7:4). Nor in its wealth. Wealth has often been the weakness rather than the strength of the Christian Church. Our strength is in having God in the midst of us, and in our living near to him. This truth is wonderfully verified in the history of the little Church of the Vandois. Through seven centuries of almost incessant persecution, that faithful and primitive little band—sometimes not exceeding a thousand in number—withstood the attacks of popes and princes, defied and defeated mighty armies, "out of weakness were made strong." Their strength was unquestionably in the presence of God with them, and in their unfaltering fidelity to the truth of the gospel. "God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty."—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY T.F. LOCKYER
Romans 16:1-16, Romans 16:21-23
There remain now only salutations and conclusions. But the same courteous love shall be manifested to the end. Nowhere do the ethics of the new life come out more delicately than in these trivialities, as some would deem them, of epistolary correspondence. They are as the fragrance of the rose.
I. First, the letter-bearer is commended to their care. "Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the Church." The mere sisterhood in Christ should be enough, but she was one in honour, the honour that comes of loving service, being a "deaconess" of the Church. How many offices of mercy could be filled then, as now, by the ministrations of gentle women! Some such office she fulfilled—she had been "a succourer of many." Nay, even of Paul also, perhaps in some illness. Surely here was an additional reason why they should receive her, and assist her in whatsoever matter she might have need of them.
II. Next, many Christians at Rome whom he knew are saluted by name—such doubtless as had removed thither from scenes of his former work, and through some of whom, perhaps, the gospel had first been made known at Rome: Prisca and Aquila, those earnest workers, through whom also, in some great peril, his life had been spared at the peril of their own; Epaenetus the beloved; Mary, who in some way had wrought much for them; Andronicus and Junias, kinsmen, who had also shared his bonds, and were earlier than himself in the faith of Christ; Ampliatus the beloved in Christ; Urbanus the fellow-worker, and Stachys the beloved; Apelles, whose Christian faith had been sorely tested, but who had come forth approved from the fire; the household of Aristobulus, who himself perchance was not in Christ; Herodion, a kinsman; those of the household of Narcissus who were in the Lord; Tryphaena and Tryphosa, and Persis the beloved, earnest workers in Christ; Rufus the elect, and his mother, who had also acted a mother's part to Paul; Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brethren among whom they worked; Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints with them. And also, to those whom he knew not, but who were in Christ, as well as to those mentioned, whom he knew, he would have the salutation given: "Salute one another." And not on his behalf alone, but on behalf of all amongst whom he had preached Christ, and who, knowing his intent to visit Rome, had charged him with their love.
III. Yet, again, there are special ones who join him more formally in these salutings: Timothy, his fellow-worker, joined expressly with him in some Epistles (see 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians, Colossians, Philippians, Philemon), but not in this, an authoritative exposition of the gospel, for which he, under Christ, must be alone responsible; Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, kinsmen; Tertius, the writer, suffered, by Paul's exquisite delicacy, to give his salutation in his own name; Gains, the host of the Church; Erastus the treasurer; and brother Quartus.
It was done. The interchange of love was made. An illustration was given of that like-mindedness of love which he wished to see characterize the Churches of God. It only remained now that he should commend them to the grace of God.—T.F.L.
A last warning.
There might, however, be some advent amongst them of a malign influence that should mar this brotherly love, and he must say one warning word. How had the trail of the serpent been on his path! At Galatia, in Corinth, and elsewhere, false teachers had come in, seeking to undo his work; those Judaizers, who sought to corrupt the young believers from the simplicity of the gospel. And would they not seek to undo the work at Rome? Yes, verily; for the obedience of the Roman Christians had come abroad unto all men, and the tidings of their obedience of faith would be but the signal to these destroyers for a new errand of cunning and greed. He warns them.
I. THE WARNING. The work of these false teachers is spoken of first in Acts 15:1, where we read, "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved:" "false brethren," the apostle calls them in Galatians 2:4," who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage." And the whole of the Epistle to the Galatians, and large part of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, were occupied in the endeavour to counteract their poisonous representations. Their aim was to make the Gentiles enter the Christian Church by the Jewish door, becoming indeed but an appendage of Judaic Christianity. A yet baser aim, as we learn here, and from 2 Corinthians 11:20 and Philippians 3:2, Philippians 3:19, was their own sensual aggrandizement: they served their own belly. They would come to Rome, for they possessed truly a missionary zeal, without missionary love; they would come to Rome, and "their smooth and fair speech" might easily "beguile the hearts of the innocent." That these presentiments were sadly fulfilled, we learn from Philippians 1:15-17, and over these false teachers he weeps, as he tells us, in Philippians 3:18,Philippians 3:19. What was to be the attitude and action of the Romans? The prescription was a simple one: they could tell from their observance of other Churches the fruit of their teaching, viz. "divisions and occasions of stumbling," and by their fruits they were to know them. And knowing them? to "turn from them." There was to be no parleying, no disputation; the bird was not to catch the glare of the serpent's eye, lest it be fascinated and drawn into the jaws of death! "Wise unto that which is good' they might be, using their powers of thought to advance themselves in all well-doing. But "simple unto that which is evil;" for any argumentation here is fatal, and a strong, sharp, unhesitating stroke is needed, that shall sunder us for ever from the deadly peril. Such was to be their act on. an absolute avoidance of him who was obviously, at first sight, Satan, but who, if they tarried to gaze and hearken, might soon be "transformed into an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14).
II. THE PROMISE. What! was he against them? Yes, the great foe. They well might tremble. But there was a greater One for them, even God himself; and the ancient promise of Genesis 3:15 should be fulfilled to them, if they had faith in God. "The God of peace," who will conserve the harmony of his people, and the peace of the believer's heart, if there be faith in him; who can control all the confusions and malice of his foes, to work out his designs of good—he shall soon bruise Satan under them! The battle now may seem long, but when we look back from the heights of our triumph, it will be "but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Then
"Fight, nor think the battle long;
Soon shall victory tune your song!"
And meanwhile, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you."—T.F.L.
The final commendation.
The final commendation, left imperfect as regards mere form; but hearts were full, his and theirs, and full hearts do not utter all they feel. "I commend you"—so in Acts 20:32. But they will understand his meaning, without the utterance of the words, and he need but Point upwards, and say, "To him" etc Shall we reverently gaze on this prayer of an apostle's full heart? So we note—the power of God; the principles of the exercise of Gods Power; the glad committal to that wise power through Jesus Christ.
I. God was "able to stablish" them. Paul had expressed the desire in Romans 1:11 to impart to them some spiritual gift, that they might be established. He yet hopes to see them with that intent. And surely he may well trust that this letter, written in fulfilment of his mission from Christ, may have such result. But only God's Power can effect the result, when man has done his best. And God's power can accomplish all things; he is "able to stablish." The manifold stablishment: we need but glance along the line of the Epistle to determine that. In their faith, surely, in God's forgiving love, which was the basis of the new life; in their death to sin, and new life unto God, which such true faith in God's love through Christ must work; in their humility and love amongst one another as Christians; in their submission to the rightful Powers of the state, and their true, love-inspired justice towards their fellow-citizens; in their hope of the coming of God's perfect kingdom; and in their determined resistance of all incoming evil: in this God could stablish them, and God alone.
II. And, "according to my gospel." The reception of God's power was conditioned upon the reception of God's truth, for "the Power of God can act only in agreement with the thought of God" (Godet). If they would be firm in the faith, and in the new life of faith, they must intelligently believe the gospel of Christ. Yes, for Paul's gospel was Christ's gospel, and he preached not himself, but Christ Jesus. And this preaching of Christ was not according to his own skill and wisdom; it had been revealed from heaven (see Galatians 1:11, Galatians 1:12, Galatians 1:16). It had not been always revealed; a "mystery' once, "kept in silence through times eternal" hidden in the thought of God from the beginning, and through the earlier ages of the world's history. Oh, these blessed secrets of God, ready to burst upon us with a shock of surprise! This secret had broken on the world; the mystery was "manifested," and "made known unto all the nations," manifested to the apostles, pre-eminently to Paul, and made known by them. not as an absolutely new thing, but as hinted at in earlier prophecies; made known in their teaching and writing, that all the world might know. And the end, as before, "obedience of faith "—the yielding of the whole mind and heart to the message and grace of the eternal God, that so his power might work in them to their salvation and eternal stablishment.
III. To such a One he commends them, and to the word of his grace. He had taught them according to his best wisdom; should he see them, he will build them up according to his best power. But his wisdom and power are nothing apart from the power of God "only wise;" and when his wisdom and power have done their best, still God's wise power must work all. He may see them; he may not: but, in any case, the eternal God is their Refuge, and round and underneath are the everlasting arms!
To him be the glory, through Christ! "For of him, and through him, and to him are all things. Amen."—T.F.L.
HOMILIES BY S.F. ALDRIDGE
Romans 16:1, Romans 16:2
A Christian commendation.
It is an honour and a help to receive an introduction from one high in authority. Men of exalted station incur a serious responsibility in the matter of granting or withholding letters of recommendation. The Apostle Paul had known what it was to be treated with scant courtesy by the Church at Jerusalem, until he was warmly taken by the hand by Barnabas. Doubtless this remembrance quickened his desire to support and shield others in a similar position. How strongly he advocates the cause of Phoebe!
I. CLAIMS TO THE REGARD OF A CHURCH.
1. As a fellow-believer, a "sister" in Christ. To the instinctive sympathy which nature fosters, grace adds a further reason in the reminder of the one communion to which all belong who have professed loyalty to the one Lord. "Work good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of faith." This mark of distinction is of necessity more visible where the surroundings are not even nominally Christian, and where a confession of faith in the new doctrine is a signal for tribulation and persecution.
2. As an officer of a sister Church. She was a deaconess, a servant of the Church, set apart for special ministration to the female portion of the community. "Render honour to whom honour is due." Office is prima facie an indication of worth, of high estimation by the electing body. There are ranks and orders in the heavenly hierarchy, as on earth.
3. As one in need of hospitable succorer. Need is itself an argument for attention and aid. Other things being equal, the call of the necessitous is paramount. The prosperous can manage well enough, whereas the situation of the distressed is an opportunity for benevolence. Phoebe's errand to Rome implied difficulty and insufficiency, whether she sought redress in an imperial court of law, or the discovery of some lost relations, or the pursuit of some handicraft, or surgical assistance.
4. As having herself contributed to the relief of the suffering. This is the lex talionis in its benignant form. Who is such a proper recipient of charity as the man who has done good according to his means? With the merciful does God show himself merciful. "Give, and it shall be given unto you." The idle vagabonds are not the deserving poor. Charity organization can alone bestow alms without pauperizing.
5. As having ministered to the writer. Though Phoebe's privilege of tending the apostle in one of his sicknesses was also a duty, the grateful invalid by no means forgets her services. What is done to ourselves strikes us more forcibly than the aid we witness rendered to our neighbours. It is like a lantern whose rays are turned full upon our face; we perceive its brightness. Hence the impulse to Christian devotedness felt when with individual consciousness of indebtedness to Christ we say, not only, "He died to save sinners," but also, "He loved me, and gave himself for me."
II. THE RECEPTION BEFITTING THE CHURCH. This is an illustration of the general maxim insisted on in Romans 15:7.
1. A hearty welcome beseems the saints. Reserve and coldness melt away under the inspiring beams of kinship to the Saviour. The deeps of apathy are for ever broken up by the entrance of Christ into the heart. To receive a fellow-member "in the Lord" is to display some of the love and tenderness which Christ manifested towards his disciples. It is quite incompatible with that frigid etiquette which suspects new-comers, and resents as vulgar every outward token of emotion.
2. To render aid to the whole body of Christ is an essential part of every Church's functions. A Church exists, not for its own aggrandizement and glorification, but as an instrument for strengthening and enlarging the one kingdom of Christ. And every power at its command must be utilized as the very law of its life. Where a community or an individual wraps itself up in seclusion, indifferent to the welfare of others, there the process of decay and death has begun. And it is not in the mass, but by single persons, that the world is regenerated and service rendered. The recognition of the real brotherhood of Christians will usher in millennial days. Affection is the central fire of sainthood, burning up what is mean and selfish, and glowing like a coal from the altar of him whose incarnate love is our clearest revelation of Deity.
3. That is poor admiration of an apostle which is content with a grudging compliance with his bidding. Here was a chance presented to the Roman Christians at once to be generous to a visitor, and to fill the apostle's heart with thankfulness. And we today do best mark our reverence for apostolic authority and for the Master whose instructions are thus communicated by a whole-hearted endeavour to carry out the principles of New Testament liberality and beneficence. They have good security who lend unto the Lord.
4. To honour woman for her place and work is a sign of high civilization. It may not be true that only Christianity has treated woman with befitting dignity, but it is certain that Christ paid her signal respect, and that she has been foremost in the acceptance and promulgation of the faith. The prominence of woman in the primitive Church was succeeded by somewhat of obscurity and depreciation; but the Christian idea has again triumphed, and woman's special mission to soothe the aching head, and succour the weary, and to minister to distress as an angel of God, was never so fully discerned and so warmly appraised as now.
"Rise! woman, rise
To thy peculiar and best altitudes
Of doing good and of enduring ill—
Of comforting for ill, and teaching good,
And reconciling all that ill and good
Unto the patience of a constant hope."
Female labour in schools and missions affords the brightest prospects of evangelizing the world.—S.R.A.
A noble encomium.
It is not without significance that this, the most abstruse and difficult of all the Epistles, should have appended to it the longest list of friendly greetings. Doctrine and argument are not necessarily productive of coldness of heart. The apostle was a beautiful example of the blending of the philosopher and the gentleman. Deep thought and elevated diction were not joined to forgetfulness of the courtesies of life. The true refinements of society are worthy of attention; they lessen the friction and harsh grating of the wheels of the machinery. Lofty pillars and strong buttresses may be graceful as well as useful. Of course, reality is ever preferable to mere show, and a rough demeanour covering sincere affection is better than superficial politeness. The tribute of respect which is here paid to Andronicus and Junias suggests several considerations.
I. THE BOND OF NATURAL KINSHIP IS IMMENSELY STRENGTHENED BY A COMMON RELIGIOUS FAITH. A philosophical Utopia which annuls special forms of alliance overlooks a fundamental element of our human constitution. A man's regard for his own family is the first fulfilment of the law to love his neighbour. From this starting-point affection may branch out in all directions. The apostle noted as one of the signs of a corrupt condition that men were "without natural affection." And though our Lord would not permit family claims to interfere with discipleship, he yet rebuked the Pharisees for encouraging gifts to the temple from men who left their own parents in want. 'The Saviour made provision for his mother's comfort even amid the agony of the cross. Christianity may divide some households like a sword and fire, but where the members all receive the gospel, their earthly love is cemented, transfigured, eternalized by loyalty to the same Lord, and participation in the same heavenly hopes and aims. Like Andrew, who brought his own brother to Christ, should our efforts first be directed to the salvation of our own relatives and countrymen.
II. THE SINCERITY OF OUR RELIGION IS PROVED BY FELLOWSHIP IN SUFFERING. Andronicus and Junias had shown, by sharing the imprisonment of the apostle, that they were more than fair-weather Christians. Their fortitude increased the apostle's affection and esteem. They had flinched not when trial came, but underwent shame and loss for Jesus Christ. The Church has always need of stout-hearted disciples, ready to face obloquy, ridicule, poverty, rather than sacrifice principle. We could envy these Christians their imprisonment with the apostle. Who could not wish to be Silas to join Paul in his hymns and prayers in the stocks? One of the inmates of Bunyan's jail was permitted to take the manuscript of the immortal ' Pilgrim's Progress ' and peruse it quietly in his own cell. Fancy being the first reader, permitted to pass judgment upon the work and to urge its publication! To suffer together in a righteous cause has ever bound men to each other in mutual respect and sympathy. Even the Peuinsular and the Crimean veterans have liked to commemorate their common deeds of prowess by annual celebrations. If the apostle was not oblivious of the endurance of these Christians, we may be sure that One on high has never forgotten them. No act of heroism is unregistered in heaven. "Ye are they who have continued with me in my temptations."
III. IT WAS NO ORDINARY HONOUR TO BE OF HIGH REPUTE AMONG THE LEADERS OF THE CHURCH. From a passage in the Acts we learn that Paul had relatives at Jerusalem who were interested in him, and these mentioned in the text may have belonged to that family well known at the apostolic head-quarters. No true man is insensible to the good opinion of men of acknowledged worth. It was one of the qualifications of a bishop that he should "have a good report of them that are without." How easy is it to value the suffrages of worldly society more than the esteem of the followers of Jesus! Yet the applause of the world is an empty breath, the praise of the newspapers soon dies away, military glory is a "bubble reputation." The desire of fame is one of the strongest passions. Eratostratus burnt the temple at Ephesus to secure notoriety. The gospel does not scorn these natural forces, but utilizes them by refining and purifying our motives. It persuades us to approve ourselves to him who searches the heart and tries the reins, whose eyes are as a flame of fire. "I know thy works and thy charity, thy service, and faith, and patience." Voltaire lamented on his death-bed, "I have swallowed nothing but smoke; I have intoxicated myself with the incense that turned my head." "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches."
IV. THEIR PROFESSION STOOD THE TEST OF YEARS. The apostle does not omit to notice their early conversion. They "were in Christ before" him. In any case disciple- stop signified a sharp struggle, and a wrench from old associations. One's real age is determined ethically, not physically. Seniority in Church-membership is not to take precedence of spiritual gifts, but demands courteous recognition. "Ye youngers submit yourselves unto the elder." Age is doubly venerable when like a mellow sunset it crowns a Christian day. We may well ask whether we have advanced in knowledge, spirituality, and usefulness, as others have who commenced with us the Christian race. Are we lagging behind, whilst they have marched to the front? That is a happy competition to be "first in Christ." There is room for all; there need be no disappointed competitors. To be "out of Christ" is to be hopeless and undone. Shall parents and friends press forward to the Master's feet while we remain irresolute, undecided? The law is, "He that asketh, receiveth." Paul outstripped many apostolic compeers.—S.R.A.
Romans 16:17, Romans 16:18
Fomenters of discord.
A bright galaxy of Christian stars has been enumerated in this chapter. In contrast with these "lights of the sky" are those wandering will-o'-the-wisps which lead men astray in the darkness; marshy exhalations conducting to quagmires of destruction. The only course to be pursued in relation to the latter is to avoid them as a plague, as moral lepers whose presence brings contagion.
I. PERSONS TO BE SHUNNED. Those "who cause divisions and offences." True Christianity ever makes for peace. There may be rending and outcries whilst the former evil spirit is undergoing expulsion; there are often searchings of heart and a forsaking of old companions and practices; but when Christ is acknowledged as King, tranquillity reigns in the breast, and peace and love spread their pinions over Christian fellowship. To break up "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" is a sure method of placing stumbling-blocks in the path of the unwary. More harm has proceeded from this source to the body of Christ than has ever resulted from outside attacks. Safety lies in withdrawal from those who walk disorderly, rudely disturbing the peace of the Church.
IX. WANTON PROMOTERS OF STRIFE HAVE A PERSONAL END TO GAIN. They "serve their own belly" Thus ruthlessly does the apostle analyze their motives, and he hesitates not to impute their action to a base desire for self-gratification. Perhaps they aim at notoriety, or they are jealous of the accepted leaders of religious life. The pugnacious see little chance of distinguishing themselves in seasons of serenity. The arm rebels against the governing head, and instead of counting it an honour to minister according to its functions, would rather force the rest of the frame to pander to its single indulgence. The simple are easily imposed on by specious professions and plausible protestations of a regard for the common weal.
III. JUDGE THE CONDUCT OF MEN BY THE STANDARD OF TRUTH. We are not left to our intuitive discernment. What is "contrary to the doctrine" of the apostles can never be allowed as a basis of division. Heavy is the responsibility those incur who initiate strife among Christians. Let them be certain first that what they bring forward as a test is truth, important fundamental truth. If it opposes the ethical rules or the elementary teachings on which the gospel is established, it carries its own condemnation. A speculative theory is not a sufficient reason for throwing a firebrand amongst the articles of faith. Such behaviour differs radically from a religious reformation like that of Luther, where it is a return to gospel simplicity that is contended for, and not an overlaying of sound words with superstition and ceremony. The apostle's warning applies, not to genuine seekers after truth, but to those who delight in making breaches in the Christian fortress. Discriminate between schismatics and dissenters!
IV. THE MAIN SECURITY AGAINST EVIL INFLUENCE AND THE CHIEF PRESERVATIVE OF HARMONY IS AN EARNEST DESIRE FOR THE GLORY OF CHRIST. "Serve our Lord Christ." As a wire introduced into a solution promotes crystallization, so really Christian thoughts and purposes and acts group themselves around the Person of the Saviour. Petty longings are subordinated to the one grand idea of doing the will of the Lord. The foe cares little about the damage inflicted on the kingdom; the servant grieves over every disruption of its peace and power. Even necessary departures from a corrupt Christian society have been deplored as evil in themselves by the good men who have felt constrained thus to prove their loyalty to conviction.—S.R.A.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Salutations and benedictions.
The programme being sketched, the apostle now proceeds to the salutations and benedictions with which his Epistles usually end. And here notice—
I. THE DISTINGUISHED PLACE OCCUPIED IN THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH BY WOMEN. There are no less than nine women specially referred to in this list, and all are active in the Church. Some were deaconesses; for instance, Phoebe, Mary, Tryphena and Tryphosa, and Persis. Oriental society separates the sexes in a way we do not in the West; hence the need of such officials there, and in zenana mission work still. Why should they not exist? Many a work which the Church should undertake can be better done by women than by men. But notice briefly:
1. Phoebe. She was a deaconess of Cenchrea, the port of Corinth. It was she who carried the precious Epistle to Rome. Some business led her thither. She is the bearer of the finest Epistle ever written to a Christian Church, and in it she has a magnificent introduction.
2. Prisca. Called Priscilla, and mentioned before her husband Aquila. Perhaps she was the better Christian. At all events, they had a "Church in their house." They had been very kind to the apostle, and had prosecuted with him their tent-making trade.
3. Tryphena and Tryphosa. Their names suggest voluptuous living—but they had been transformed by grace into hard workers (cf. Godet, in loc.).
4. Persis. Likely an aged deaconess. Her work is over. She had done much—had doubtless done what she could, and did not need to go to her work in company, like the preceding pair, but could face it alone.
5. Mother of Rufus. She seems to have been the widow of Simon the Cyrenian, as Mark 15:21 suggests. Paul had likely lodged with them when in Jerusalem, and received maternal sympathy from the good lady. Hence he speaks of her as his mother too.
II. NOTICE THE PARTICULAR KNOWLEDGE PAUL POSSESSES OF THE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH IN ROME. This long list is a very particular one, and shows how the apostle has them all at his fingers' ends. He seems to have had that very enviable faculty for remembering names. And his particularity in the matter was from the love he bore them, as references in the words used over and over suggest.
III. THE SALUTATION WITH THE KISS OF HOLINESS. The arrangement was men kissed men, and women women, as is the Oriental fashion. It indicated a deeper interest in one another's welfare than we are inclined for in the West.
IV. THE ADVICE TO AVOID TROUBLES OF THE CHURCH. (Mark 15:17-20.) Prudence was necessary in the doing of good and a desire to avoid all pugnacity. On peaceful lines they might expect the victory over the evil one.
V. PAUL'S FELLOW-WORKERS AT CORINTH SEND GREETINGS TO THE CHURCH AT ROME. (Mark 15:21-23.) The apostle had made good way at Corinth, from the greetings he was here enabled to send.
VI. THE DOXOLOGY. (Mark 15:24-27.) He carries his praise and hope upwards, and lays all at the feet of God. So should it be always.—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Romans 16". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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