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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Romans 16

 

 

Verses 1-27

Communications, Greetings and Closing

This chapter has a character peculiar to itself; and being a fifth subdivision of the last division (chapters 12 to 16) of the book, we may expect in some sense a resume of the practical results of the truth in the lives of saints. Indeed it is manifestly a sort of Deuteronomy - God with man, as it were, rehearsing the ways of the wilderness. Thus, can we not discern in it a little picture of the judgement seat of Christ - ending with its ascription of glory to the God of supreme wisdom, through Jesus Christ?

It is a much longer list of salutations and commendations than we find anywhere else. This should lead us to expect some fruitful teaching of special truth connected with the Lord's commendation of His saints. May His Spirit guide us in discovering something of it for our own souls.

But first we see the careful order observed in connection with the visit of Phebe at Rome. She evidently was the bearer of this epistle, her home assembly being at Cenchrea. Thus Paul commends her to the saints at Rome, and her title to fellowship with them is clear. Such an example is manifestly intended to be followed today, that there should be no reception without clear knowledge of the person. This is simply proper care, and we owe no less than this to the Lord, whose Name deserves every reverential honor. It is lovely also to notice that this is no mere formal letter of introduction, but a warm commendation of one whose service to the saints and to Paul himself merited special mention. He solicits the willing assistance of the Roman saints on behalf of whatever needs this sister might have.

Phebe's name means "radiant"; how clearly thus does she illustrate the bright reflection of Christ in practical life (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18) - a prime reason surely for His commendation "in that day."

Then we have greetings to, and warm approval of Priscilla and Aquila, whose lives meant less to them than identification with a persecuted apostle and a rejected Lord. This stand of theirs was a well-considered one, we may be assured. For Priscilla means "venerable," and gives us the thought of well-proven stability, honor, truth, that commands respect. And Aquila means "eagle," - a picture of the faith that soars into the very heavens.

Thus, if we find in Phebe the sweet radiance of occupation with Christ, Priscilla on the other hand shows us that the knowledge of Christ is no mere idealistic fancy that carries souls away, but is according to clear, sober, established truth. But although perfectly rational, it is no mere rationalism; as Aquila would teach us. For the true knowledge of Christ draws the heart away from the world and all its things, and gives the character of the soaring eagle - heaven its proper element.

Here then are three outstanding characteristics from whence true service flows, and for which there will be warmest commendation from the Lord: first, the radiant reflection of Christ; second, the lowly, sober, steadfast witness to the truth of God; and third, the character of heavenly-mindedness, with its detachment of heart from present scenes. How well this summarizes the proper subjective character of the church on earth.

Here we see also that there was an assembly in the house of Priscilla and Aquila - not the only one in Rome, for we see indication of four others also (vv. 10, 11, 14, 15).

Next is the salutation to "my well beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ." We have already seen the characteristics that are commended. Now is it not rather shown us what will be the issue of the judgment seat - the rewards of godliness? Thus, "well beloved" and "worthy of praise" are in a most becoming place. He is "the firstfruits of Achaia" - a little picture - shall we not say? - of the Church brought to glory - "a kind of firstfruits of His creatures" (James 1:18) - just a beginning of the harvest yet to be reaped. "Then shall each have praise of God," is a fitting commentary here (1 Corinthians 4:5).

"Greet Mary, who bestowed much labor on us." Here we have the blessed truth of exaltation following self-humbling (cf. Luke 14:11). For she had made herself a humble laborer, by the love that delights to serve; but her name means "exalted." Shall we not follow her example, - with such an end in view?

Andronicus and Junia are linked together as kinsmen and fellow-prisoners of Paul, and of note among the apostles. On earth they were in bondage, suffering apparent defeat; but the name Andronicus means "victory of men." Such will be the triumph realized in glory. "Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:57). Junia ("youthful") on the other hand, gives to us the contrast to the gradual decay and enfeebling of the long time prisoner on earth. Time here may soon rob us of the fresh vigor and energy of life; but in glory we shall have in this sense "perpetual youth." "Behold, I make all things new" (Revelation 21:5) - and this is a newness that will never wear off. For a brief season they had been "the offscouring of all things"; now there is eternal victory and freshness.

Amplias next means "enlarged," and he is called "my beloved in the Lord." It is doubtless a contrast to "the day of small things," and in glory we shall know as also we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). Brought into a large place, our vision and service will be enlarged.

Urbane follows - "our helper in Christ Jesus," whose name signifies "man of the city." Here is the thought of the pure fellowship of the heavenly city - each inhabitant helping in his place for the joy and blessing of all. "God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city" (Hebrews 11:16 JND).

Stachys is connected with Urbane - his name defined as "plant," and called "my beloved." This implies permanency in the very sphere of eternal life, with resulting fruitfulness. "Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God" (Psalms 92:13).

"Salute Apelles approved in Christ." This name means "plain," and surely teaches us that the blessed light of the glory will dispel every dark and doubtful thing, and all will be clear as the day to our souls. "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Blessed anticipation!

Next we have an entire company saluted, and it would seem that this marks some change in the line of teaching. As an individual Aristobulus is not saluted, but those who are of his household. His name - "best counselor" seems to point us to the Lord Jesus Himself, who delights to make known His counsel to His friends (John 15:15). If in verse 5 the gathering mentioned as the church is typical of the entire church, then how easily we might recognize in this company of verse 10 a little picture of Old Testament saints brought to the household of our Lord - "friends of the Bridegroom." "I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you" (John 15:15). This will be as true for the company of Old Testament saints as for the Church, though both will be distinct companies in the Glory.

Next we have Herodion, a kinsman of Paul, whose name means "heroic." This may well tell us of the valiant character of the saints in being fully identified with the Lord Jesus in view of His judging the world. Whether or not we are today valiant soldiers, in "striving against sin" we shall be then. "The armies in heaven" will follow Him (Revelation 19:14). Does this not too have a striking kinship to Paul's heroism for the truth of God in his earthly path?

If all this be true, then we might expect "the household of Narcissus" to represent another company thoroughly distinct. The name in this case means "stupifying," and it seems evident that we have reached the point where the world has become as it were drugged and insensible to impending judgment. "They received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie" (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11). Do we not then see in the household of Narcissus a picture of that godly company who will suffer persecution and martyrdom at the hands of these insensate earth-dwellers? They are as it were the gleanings of the first resurrection - raised after the main part of it has taken place (Revelation 20:4).

Next, "Tryphena and Tryphosa" are coupled together as those "who labor in the Lord." The first means "delicate," the second, "broken off." In the former can we not discern that delicate adjustment of the balances of the sanctuary, the penetrating discernment of the Lord of glory in separating the precious from the vile, just as judgment is about to fall? "He stood and measured the earth" (Habakkuk 3:6).

Tryphosa ("broken off") must accompany this, for our Lord will complete the work He begins. The unfruitful branches will be broken off (John 15:6; Romans 11:22). These saints were laborers in the Lord; and the solemn work of discerning and breaking off the vile will be fully for the glory of the Lord.

The same principle applies in the case of "the beloved Persis, which labored much in the Lord." Her name, meaning "destruction" brings us to the awesome vengeance of God upon the world of the ungodly "Who shall be punished from everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power" (2 Thessalonians 1:9). But she "labored much in the Lord." Is there not here a reminder of that long, patient, love-begotten labor that is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance? But patience with the rebellious must come to an end, and then the saints will be fully acquiescent in the solemn resulting judgment.

In his becoming place we find next "Rufus chosen in the Lord." "Red" is the meaning of his name, and brings to mind the vivid description of the Lord Jesus in Isaiah 63:1-19, when He returns from the judgment of the nations with garments of world-wide glory - the Conqueror - His garment stained with blood. For, as purple speaks of His royal title over Israel, red on the other hand tells us of the splendor of world-wide greatness. Babylon the great has assumed this scarlet glory now, but she will be humiliated to the dust, and He whose right it is shall be alone glorious in all the earth.

Most salutary in this place is the added word - "and his mother and mine." Doubtless the mother of Rufus had shown a mother's love and care for Paul. But what is the fruitful principle that will produce the world-wide glory and blessing that Rufus illustrates? The legal covenant will not do it, for this is the bondwoman; both she and her children are slaves. Nor indeed will the corrupt woman Babylon: she is "the mother of harlots and abominations." "But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all" (Galatians 4:26). This is the heavenly principle of divine grace, of which the birth of the Lord Jesus is the blessed fruit - His death also, and resurrection. And all who are of faith have the same blessed liberty of being sons of the freewoman - identified in grace with the Lord of glory.

Thus, if Rufus here represents Christ in future splendor and glory, Paul would remind us that the Church also has the same mother. "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise" (Galatians 4:28). Isaac is clearly a type of Christ, and as he was son of the freewoman, so are we. Blessed relationship to the One who will have all the world under His feet! As the grace of God has given His Son, so also has His grace linked us up with Him in such relationship.

Verse 14 now gives us a group of five names "and the brethren which are with them." This would seem perfectly to fall into its place as another distinct company, this time a picture of Israel coming into possession of the great blessing procured for them by the mighty conquest of the Lord Jesus. Let us see how closely the names will agree with this.

Asyncritus stands first, as well he might, for his name means "incomparable." Psalms 113:1-9 refers to this very time, when the Lord will make "the barren woman" (Israel) to be a joyful mother of children," (v. 9) and the language of Israel will be, "Who is like unto the Lord our God, Who dwelleth on High, Who humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in Heaven and in the earth!" (v. 5, 6) Then indeed will their eyes behold with rapture the incomparable glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. He will have His true place in their eyes, and fullness of blessing cannot but flow from this.

Phlegon however means "burning," and teaches just at this point a solemnly necessary truth; for the blessing comes only "when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning" (Isaiah 4:4). "And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness" (Malachi 3:3).

Do we not see the results of this immediately following? For Hermas, meaning "sand-bank" reminds us at once of the promise of God to Abraham, that his seed would be not only "as the stars of the heaven" - type of the heavenly company - but "as the sand which is upon the sea shore," referring plainly to the earthly seed (Genesis 22:17). Blessed fulfillment of the counsel of our God!

Patrobas ("a father's step") follows, for being Abraham's seed, they "also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham" (Romans 4:12). The fresh vitality and sweetness of faith in the Living God will have its influence in their walk.

The meaning of Hermes is "teacher for gain"; for at long last Israel will have learned to bow the shoulder to the easy yoke of Christ, to find that in learning of Him is true profit. "Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go" (Isaiah 48:17). This will be blessed rest at last, after weary years of greedily seeking gain only to lose it - "because they sought it not by faith."

Thus far at least all seems to fall into its fitting place without the least straining. Now verse 15 gives us the last company referred to, and in fact the last of the individuals saluted. We might naturally expect this to be some representation of the Gentile nations who will inherit blessing when Israel has come into hers. And again the meanings of the names bear striking witness that such is the case.

Philologus then means "fond of learning." This character will not of course be confined to Gentiles, but it will be such a contrast to a former indifference to the ways of God, that the Spirit of God marks it particularly. Thus Isaiah, speaking of the mountain of the Lord's house established at Jerusalem, says, "All nations shall flow into it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His way, and we will walk in His paths" (Isaiah 2:2-3). To press home this marvelous truth, Micah uses almost identical words (Micah 4:1-3). A change indeed from the willing ignorance of God that so marks the Gentile nations today!

Julia is next in line, and "of the wheatsheaf" is a meaning that seems to fit the case perfectly. For this speaks of the fruit of the field (type of the world), rather than of the vineyard, which is Israel. Thus Joel speaks of the Lord's judgment of the heathen - the Gentiles - saying, "Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe" (Joel 3:12-13). The true fruit of the harvest will be gathered, but not without the sharp sickle of judgment doing its solemn work. Our God knows where the fruit is, and how to gather it.

Nereus next, meaning "water nymph" - an ancient seagod - points us again to the Gentile nations, of which the surging, restless sea is ever a picture. Isaiah 60:5 is a most appropriate comment here, as Israel is told, "Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee." The world's wealth and possessions are thus seen brought into subjection to the Lord of Glory. It will be a wondrous turning to God from idols.

Now Olympas completes the list, and the meaning of his name has not been ascertained with any certainty. However, this was the name of the Greek god of games, which cannot but arouse interest when it so follows Nereus, a sea-god. Thus if we see in Nereus the conversion of the world's treasures, does Olympas perhaps teach us that there will also be a change in its pleasures? "O let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for Thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth" (Psalms 67:4). At any event, the triumph of the Lord Jesus over the gods of the heathen is surely indicated here, and it is difficult to see how these names could fit into any other place in the list.

If, as is evident on the surface, the book of Romans develops the counsel of God in grace to ruined mankind, on the ground of pure righteousness then is it not quite consistent that in this last chapter we have some summing up of the results of divine grace exercised in righteousness? Thus it seems no mere fancy that these five companies illustrate the various families that are subjects of grace. What but divine wisdom could have so ordered these things?

In coming to verse 16 we find there not only salutations from the apostle, but instructions to "salute one another with an holy kiss," and also "The churches of Christ salute you." Here is warm personal fellowship with becoming holiness, on the one hand, and on the other hand, full corporate fellowship. How important that both of these be maintained according to truth and holiness. The former we must not neglect as though it were automatically included in the latter; nor must we dare to sacrifice the latter under the plea of maintaining the former. This would be advocating independency of gatherings for the sake of unity of individuals - a thing utterly incongruous, and yet alas! not uncommon. How zealous is the Spirit of God to draw out in hearts the true regard of the work of God in other saints and companies of saints.

An almost startling contrast to all of this faces us in the second section of the chapter - verse 17 to 20. But all that offends against the true unity of the spirit of God must be solemnly judged. Let us remember too that the judgment-seat of Christ will deal with this serious question of those "which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned," - and no separating element will be allowed to remain.

Evidently at this early time men of such character had already begun their damaging work - and Paul presses upon the saints their responsibility to "mark" such men, and "turn away from them." If it is clear that a man is using his ability to make or to widen breaches between saints, then his claims or so-called convictions are not to be listened to. If he is clever in argument - as such men commonly are - then it is the more dangerous to allow discussion with him, for he will deceive and sway the hearts of the unsuspecting. This is merely the selfish serving of his own pride that delights to persuade men to his point of view: It is not serving the Lord Jesus Christ, though there may be abundance of "good words and fair speeches." Plausible in argument, even to reasoning minds, but faulty as to holy judgment, mercy, and faith, are the most subtle forms that evil assumes.

"For," says the apostle, "your obedience is come abroad unto all men." Theirs was a testimony that he was jealous should be maintained without the blight of selfish contention. "I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil."

Is it necessary that we should be informed of all the history of evils or of all the details of the workings of evil in order to be preserved from it? This word answers decisively. To have our souls filled with the good Word of God is our serious need - not occupied with discerning evil, but so occupied with good that any evil that may present itself may immediately be discerned and judged. "Wise unto that which is good" is a blessed word for our souls. Just as a bank teller is trained diligently in handling only good currency, in order that a spurious coin or bill would be immediately detected, so should our souls be well-trained in that which is good. Then the evil, whatever form it takes, would be discerned through its dissimilarity to the good.

Let us take good heed to this, for it is a common practice of division-makers to educate souls to be mere controversialists against evil as they see it; and their perception of evil is often very largely distorted because of their having handled it too much. In fact, evil will very often turn and contaminate the very man who is seeking to expose its workings. Thus it sets most subtle snares, and if a man must, through faithfulness to God, contend against it in any given case - as indeed, sometimes this is essential - yet it must ever be with a real sense of dependence upon God, recognizing that power for this is found only in Him. In this most particularly must the soul be guarded by the warning that it is easily possible that a thing begun in the spirit may end in the flesh.

But the conflict against evil is not committed to our hands, as though the outcome depended upon our prowess. The end is a settled matter: "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." How much wiser for us then to occupy ourselves with the God of peace. Not that we should be ignorant of Satan's devices, but this is far different than occupying ourselves with them. "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you" - contrast indeed to the disgrace of division-makers!

Verses 21 to 24 now give the salutations of various saints to the Romans. If the first section of the chapter teaches the Lord's recognition or commendation of individual saints, it seems consistent that this section should intimate the saints' recognition of one another in glory. This too is a sweet anticipation. All causes of division and discord will have been solemnly judged, as we have seen, and hearts will be fully free to flow out in salutation of one another. The significance of the names and their order here seems rather difficult to perceive, but the first, (Timotheus meaning "honoring God") doubtless tells us that the true recognition of God's honor is the basis of all recognition one of another.

It will be noticed that Tertius was Paul's penman in the writing of the epistle (v. 22). Galatians is the only apparent exception to Paul's practice of employing an amanuensis (Galatians 6:11). Verse 24 gives us a second benediction, similar to the first (v. 20), with the exception that the word "all"is added. Consistent surely with this section, it is the heart that expands to embrace all the children of God.

The final three verses of our chapter give us a fourth section. Here we find a brief summing up of the purpose for which the epistle was written - that is at least the immediate purpose. Four is the number of testing on earth, - the number of our own weakness which requires mercy from God. All that has gone before is to have effect upon our lives here. It is to give us the strength of firm establishment in the grace of Christianity - for as we have seen, "Romans" means "strong ones." But this power is only of God, and is revealed in a distinctive way in Paul's Gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.

Paul was God's particular instrument in revealing "the mystery which was kept secret since the world began." His gospel necessarily introduces this most momentous subject, though the full extent of the mystery is not at all discussed in the book of Romans. Certain features of it are plainly seen of course, such as Israel's present setting aside (chs. 9-11) to make way for the present blessing of the church - a unity of Gentile and Jewish believers. Ephesians 3:1-21 will open the subject far more fully. But it is clear that Paul desires for the saints an establishing upon those truths of Christianity that are so distinctively in contrast to God's dealings in former ages. The blessed cross of Christ, His resurrection, and the coming of the Spirit of God at Pentecost introduce this great change in the dealings of God with man. Thus the time has come for Him, through Paul, to reveal the mystery of this present dispensation, which had from past ages been "hid in God."

This was made manifest both in the oral ministry of Paul and those to whom he communicated this fresh ministry, and also "by prophetic scriptures" - scriptures that have the distinct character of revealing the mind of God for the new dispensation being introduced. These scriptures of course remain as the clear and final authority as to the character and extent of the revelation.

The revelation and the means of it are "according to the commandment of the eternal God." The sacred title here - "the eternal God" - presses upon us the truth that, far from this dispensation being an after-thought conceived because of circumstances, it had been from the past eternity in the mind of God, a settled purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His own will. Blessed to know the glory of, and to trust in One who is the absolute Master of eternity!

In contrast to the law, which was given by Moses and addressed only to Israel, this New Testament revelation is for the sake of "all nations," and calls for their "obedience of faith." It insists upon faith as the living principle which links the soul with the eternal God and the revelation of His pure and blessed grace in Christ Jesus. Nothing else can appropriate or apprehend the realities of this new and glorious manifestation.

These glimpses of God's wisdom can surely only stagger the mind, and call forth the wondering admiration of the heart. Shall we not then heartily join in this final simple ascription of glory to Him - "To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen." It recalls to us the closing verse of Romans 11:1-36, and is a fitting close to this fundamental book of divine counsel.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Romans 16:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/romans-16.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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