Dr. Richard L. Strauss
October 20, 1991
Purpose: To help us cultivate a willingness to serve, to suffer and to love.
Did you ever make the honor roll--any honor roll? The honor roll of academic excellence, the honor roll of outstanding sales, the honor roll of years of faithful service. It felt good, didn't it? Through my high school and college years I was an average student. Once in awhile I made the honor roll; most of the time I didn't. But I finally got it together in seminary and graduated with high honors. And I can tell you for sure, it felt good.
Did you know that there are several honor rolls in the Bible? We're all familiar with the honor roll of faith in Hebrews 11. Romans 16 contains such an honor roll. It's a list of twenty-four people whom Paul greets, and about whom he says something complimentary. What an honor! To be commended in the inspired Word of God which has been preserved for nearly two millennia and read by millions of Christians the world over.
How did Paul know these people, since he had never yet visited Rome? Some of them he had met and worked with in his travels in other parts of the empire. Others he may have known only by reputation. But one way or another he knew them and considered them worthy of mention in this personal conclusion to his letter. If the rest of the folks in the congregation at Rome had known that they could have been mentioned in God's inspired Word, they might have lived a little differently and done whatever they needed to do to make this honor roll of saints.
What did these people do to deserve this honor anyway? If we knew that, we would also know what is important for us from God's perspective. We could arrange our priorities and live our lives in a manner that would someday earn God's coveted words of commendation to us--"Well done, good and faithful servant," as well as warrant us some of those precious and priceless crowns that will be given out to lay at Jesus' feet in adoration and worship--a grand and glorious honor!
So that is the question we want to address as we look at this passage of Scripture--"Why were these people honored?" I found major three reasons.
They Were Honored Because They Served
If there is one thing that grabs our attention above all else as we read this passage it is that these people were active in the service of Christ. They labored for the Lord. It didn't matter whether they were male or female (and at least six of the people mentioned are women). It didn't matter whether they were slaves or free (and the names in the passage would indicate some of each). It didn't matter whether they were rich or poor (and they cover the gamut from wealthy business people to poor folks who had nothing). It didn't matter whether they came from Jewish, Latin or Greek stock (and there are some of each here; refer to Morris, p. 163). It didn't matter whether they were commoners or members of the imperial household (and both are represented on the list). One of their priorities in life was to invest their time and energies in serving the Lord.
First there was Phoebe. Romans 16:1-2. "I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also."
The word servant (diakonos) is sometimes translated "deacon" in the New Testament, and for that reason some Bible scholars think this refers to a special office in the church, the office of deaconess. Other scholars insist that it simply means Phoebe faithfully served the community of believers in various ways in the city of Cenchrea where she lived. Whichever you prefer, one thing is certain--Phoebe gave of herself sacrificially in serving the Lord. She seems to have been a wealthy, upper-class business woman who was visiting Rome in conjunction with her business (and most scholars believe it was she who carried this letter from Paul to the church in Rome after he wrote it from the nearby city of Corinth). Her business undoubtedly kept her busy. But she was never too busy to serve the Lord.
Then there were Priscilla and Aquila. Romans 16:3. "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus."
They, like Paul, were tentmakers. He first met them in Corinth after they had been forced to flee Rome under an edict issued by Emperor Claudius expelling all Jews, and Paul lived in their house while he ministered in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). Now they were back in Rome. But the important thing is that they were Paul's "fellow-workers in Christ Jesus." In other words, they had a mind to work in the fellowship of the gospel. They faithfully served the Lord.
Look on down through the chapter. In Romans 16:6 there is Mary "who labored much for us." In Romans 16:9 we meet Urbanus, "our fellow worker in Christ." In Romans 16:12 are Tryphena and Tryphosa, "who have labored in the Lord."
Paul must have had a smile on his face when he mentioned their names. They were probably sisters, maybe twin sisters, and their names meant "dainty" and "delicate." But as frail as they might have been, they "labored (kopiao) in the Lord," a word that means to toil to the point of exhaustion." They gave it everything they had, they worked until they were too weary to work anymore. These people put a priority on their Christian service.
And there's Persis in the same verse "who labored much in the Lord." The same term for "labor" is used of her, but the word much is placed in front of it, just as it was for Mary (verse 6). Persis and Mary each gave it everything they had, and then gave a little bit more. No wonder they are commemorated by being included in this honor roll of saints. They faithfully served the Lord.
You know, there's so much to do in our day. There are so many things clamoring for our time and attention--work, hobbies, sports, entertainment, travel. And it's easy to get so wrapped in them that there is no time left to serve the Lord. Oh, we can carve out an hour or so on Sunday morning to go to church, but don't ask us to commit ourselves to a regular job in the church. We just don't have time for that.
I read an interesting parable about time for service. Once upon a time there was a church staff looking for teachers for their young people, children and preschoolers for the new Sunday School year.
And some adults said, "I don't want to leave the sweet fellowship and study in my adult class," but the drug pusher on the street said, "Not even the threat of jail will keep me from working with your children." And some adults said, "We have to be out of town too often on the weekend," but the porno book dealer said, "We're willing to stay in town on weekends in order to accommodate your children."
And some adults said, "I'm unsuited, unable to work with children or preschoolers," but the movie producer said, "We'll study, survey, spend millions to produce whatever turns kids on." And some adults said, "I could never give the time required to plan and go to teachers meetings," but the pusher, the porno book dealer, and the movie producer said, "We'll stay open whatever hours are necessary every day to win the minds of the kids."
So...the adults stayed in their classes and enjoyed the sweet fellowship and absorbed the good Bible study, and could go out of town often on weekends, and were free to do whatever was good to do in place of teachers meetings. And when Sunday came, the children came to their classes and no one was there except the church staff going from one room to another trying to assure them that someone would surely come to teach them. But no one ever came, and the young children and preschoolers soon quit coming because they had gone to listen to others who did care about the things they did and what went into their minds" (Pulpit Helps, October 1985).
I can assure you, the folks in that story would never have made the honor roll of saints who served. How about you? If you had been a member of the church at Rome, would Paul have included your name on this list? Do you think your name will be on a future honor roll of saints who served--the one that will be released at the judgment seat of Christ? Don't you think it will be worth your while to plan for that day? Start putting priority on serving the Lord. Make it more important than those other things that occupy your time and attention. Make yourself available to do whatever it is God has gifted you to do.
These folks in Romans 16 were honored because they served...and because they suffered.
They Were Honored Because They Suffered
Go back to Priscilla and Aquila again. Romans 16:4. "Who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles."
We don't know what these two dear friends of Paul did to help him which endangered their own lives, but evidently it was widely known in the early church. Paul doesn't even explain it. We do know that they were with Paul in Ephesus in Acts 19 (refer to Acts 18:24-26) when a riot broke out against believers, fomented by the silversmiths who made idols of the pagan goddess Diana. Maybe it was on that occasion that Priscilla and Aquila stuck their necks out and endangered their lives for the Paul and the gospel. They were willing to suffer.
There are other suffering saints on this list as well. Romans 16:7. "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me."
It's not clear whether Junia is a man or a woman. But if a woman, then these two are probably husband and wife. Since they were not of the twelve, Paul is probably using the term apostles in the non-technical sense of people whom the church sent out to carry the gospel to places that had never heard it. Paul says they were "in Christ" before him, which means that they may have been in that original group of people who were born again on the Day of Pentecost. They could have been the ones who carried the gospel to Rome and planted the church there. We don't know that for sure. But we do know that somewhere along the line these two shared a prison term with Paul for their faith in Christ. They were willing to stand up for Him even if it meant suffering.
There's one more Christian on this list who apparently suffered for his faith. Romans 16:10a. "Greet Apelles, approved in Christ."
Being tested and approved would imply that he was subjected to difficult circumstances, possibly persecution or imprisonment, but had passed the test and remained true to Christ through it all. No wonder he made this honor roll of saints.
I wonder if any of us would qualify for this honor. We may get the opportunity to check it out. There is a growing bias against evangelical Christians in our society. We are one of the only groups left who can be openly mocked without question. It's not considered "politically correct" to ridicule anyone else.
Some people in influential places are openly challenging the fitness of Christians to hold certain positions, since the decisions of Christians, they contend, are always influenced by their beliefs. Franklin Littell, a Temple University professor, recently told a conference of religious leaders, scholars and attorneys that the past decade has seen "more cases involving the infringement of religious liberty...than in the entire history of the American republic up until 1980 (National & International Religion Report, January 2, 1989). And it's going to continue. The Bible teaches that.
A recent issue of National & International Religion Report (August 12, 1991) told of a ninth grade girl in Dickson County, Tennessee--that's supposed to be the Bible belt. Her teacher refused to approve her research paper topic about Jesus even though other students were allowed to submit papers on reincarnation and the occult. The teacher also gave her a zero grade for the assignment when she declined to select another topic. The school's principal, superintendant, and school board backed the teacher. I would say that young girl is qualified for the honor roll of saints. She was willing to stand up for the Lord Jesus even though it meant persecution.
Are we? We can look for this kind of discrimination to increase in days to come. Will we stand true to our Savior when the heat is on? Are we willing to suffer for our faith in Christ? Or will we cave in and deny Him? Those who make the honor roll of saints will be those who maintain their testimony for Christ, come what may. They will just keep living for Him and doing His will, whatever the people around them do.
These folks in Romans 16 were honored because they served and honored because they suffered. One more reason for their listing in the honor roll of saints.
They Were Honored Because They Loved
The last few chapters of this book have been punctuated with exhortations to love one another, and the people on this list are supreme examples of that very Christ-like love Paul has been talking about. That seems to be the major point in Phoebe's commendation. Romans 16:2b. "for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also."
How did Phoebe help others? How did she show her love? Well, you see, Cenchrea, where she lived, was a suburb of Corinth. It was the port suburb. It was where the ships docked. Phoebe lived in a major Old World port. There were a lot of people who came through her town, many of them fellow-believers. What they usually needed was a friendly face, a cordial greeting, and place to stay until their ship was scheduled to sail. And Phoebe's home was always available. She demonstrated the love of Christ by being hospitable and ministering to those people who had that need. She expressed the love of the Lord.
And then there was Priscilla and Aquila. We know that Paul lived in their home in Corinth (Acts 18:3). But read Romans 16:5a. "Likewise greet the church that is in their house." Ah-ha! The church met in their house.
It's interesting: Just about every time we meet this couple in Scripture, there is a church meeting in their house. There were no church buildings in those days (and no building programs!), so some believers, like Priscilla and Aquila, opened their homes for believers to gather.
Is your home open to people in need? We usually think of our homes as sanctuaries where we can get away from people and enjoy a haven from the hassles of life. But maybe God wants us to use our homes as tools to express His love. It's often our biggest possession--financially, it usually is.
Are you willing to use that possession as a tool for the glory of God and ministry to others? Are you open to having a caring group in your home? We have 45 caring groups in our church. There's room for a whole lot more in a church our size. People gather together in small groups and study the Word and pray for each other, to encourage and support one another.
Are you willing to use your home to house missionaries that come through and minister to us, or for students from singing groups that minister in our church? Would you consider having a foreign student stay with you for awhile? Or would you be open to having a foster child. It's about using your home to minister in love to others. It was that kind of love that earned these folks a place on the honor roll of saints.
The love of Christ permeates this entire chapter. After these first two, we read in Romans 16:5b, "Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ." The first person we are privileged to lead to the Savior usually holds a special place in our hearts. This person, Epaenetus, was the first person to trust Christ in Achaia in Paul's ministry and that meant a lot to him. He calls him "my beloved."
Drop down to Romans 16:8-9, and 12b. "Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. ...and Stachys, my beloved." "Greet Persis, the beloved."
Paul didn't use that word carelessly, folks. Paul truly loved these people, and they loved him, and each other. The pinnacle of that love is in Romans 16:16a--"Greet one another with a holy kiss." That's not a romantic kiss on the lips, but the familiar cheek to cheek embrace by which people greeted each other warmly in that culture. What Paul is saying is simply, "Reach out to one another with warmth and friendliness." Minister to one another. Care for one another.
There are so many lonely and hurting people around us, and it's easy to just walk by them absorbed in our own problems. God wants us to look up and see them, then reach out to them with a friendly smile, a cordial handshake, and, when appropriate, even a warm embrace. That says, "I care about you. You're important to me. I want to minister to your needs." It may be just the thing they need to ease their pain and brokenness.
It's easy to seek out our friends, greet them warmly and enjoy their company, but ignore everybody else. We don't do it on purpose. Without even meaning to do it, we form little cliques that shut out strangers. These saints in Rome were loving people, but even they needed to be encouraged to reach out to one another with greater love. That's what Paul is doing in verse 16.
We need that kind of encouragement, too. We can never hear it too much. We must heed the exhortation of the apostle John, who said, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God" (1 John 4:7). It's so very crucial to our ministry to one another in the body. Those who truly love others are worthy to be included on the honor roll of saints. Will you be among them?
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
They were honored because they served, because they suffered, and because they loved. And they are a worthy example for us to follow. These saints alone stand tall as people whose lives we can look at and emulate. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we rose to the challenge and allowed the Spirit of God to take control of our lives so that we, too, become people who are willing to serve, and willing to suffer if need be, and certainly willing to love! We would hear similar words of commendation from the lips of the Lord Jesus some day, "Well done, My good and faithful servant."
The only way that's going to happen is if we give attention to these things. Don't just go out and forget about them. Let the Spirit of God take control of your life and produce in you the very character of Christ: a willingness to serve, to suffer, and to love.
If you have your outline open to "The Challenge to Life," it might be worthwhile to look at it right now to see a couple ways to apply the truth of the Scripture to our lives this morning. Are you serving the Lord through the ministry of Emmanuel Faith? If not, would you be willing to? What spiritual gifts do you have? How could you serve Christ through this local church?
Have you experienced some bias against you because of your faithfulness to Jesus Christ? How did you handle it? Were you satisfied with the way you handled it, or could you have been more Christ-like in your attitude? How do you think the Lord would have wanted you to handle it? Preparing, you see, can help you deal with it the next time it happens.
How can you demonstrate the love of Christ to those in need in this local body? Are you willing to be one who truly loves others?
You know, as I was studying this passage and seeing these things in the lives of these people, the thing that impressed me above all else is that there is one supreme example of all three of these things, and that's the Lord Jesus Christ. He said in Matthew 20:28, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve." Number one: to serve.
"And to give His life a ransom for many." Number two: He suffered in our place for our sins. Why did He do that? That verse doesn't tell us but there are many others that do, like "God proves His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
What led Him to suffer for us? His love. His supreme, sacrificial, unconditional, eternal love.
Of course, that's not only an example for us, but it's also our only means, our only hope for forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. That's the good news that we have for you this morning, particularly if you've never experienced the assurance that you're God's child and that heaven will be your eternal home. You see, Christ died for our sins. That's the greatest hope we have as human beings. He was buried and He rose again the third day in order to offer us forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and assure a place in heaven.
Do you have all that? You don't deserve it. I don't deserve it. And there isn't anything I can do to earn it. Jesus paid for it in full at Calvary. He asks me to acknowledge my sinfulness and the fact that I don't deserve God's favor, and simply put my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That's what He asks of you. Oh, it will change your life if you mean business with Him. It begins when you put your trust in Him.
Let's bow together in His presence prayerfully. With our heads bowed reverently before God, I want to ask you this question, which I ask every Sunday morning: Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior from sin? Have you acknowledged your sinfulness--your desperate need for forgiveness by an infinitely holy God, which you don't deserve, but which Jesus paid for at Calvary?
If you're not sure you have His forgiveness and His eternal salvation, I'm going to ask you to make that decision right now. The one thing you need to do to receive eternal life is to put your faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ--His sacrifice at the cross for you. And if you're willing to do that, then why not settle it in prayer right now, in the quietness of your own soul. You don't need to speak out loud. Just settle it with God in your own mind and heart.
"God, I'm a sinner. I know that. And I know that my sin has displeased You and separated me from You. But thank You for sending Your Son to Calvary to pay for that sin, and for offering me eternal life. I accept Your gift right now. Lord Jesus come into my heart right now and save me from sin."
You see, "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord." Trust Him, will you?
If you know the Lord as your savior, have the Christians in Rome been a challenge to you? Do you need to work on any of these areas? Do you need to yield to the Spirit of God and let Him work in these areas? Willingness to serve. Willingness to suffer, if need be. An expression of Christ-like love. Talk to Him about it right now, will you?
Father, do Your work in our hearts personally and individually, and as a result of that, in our entire church. Oh, how we need a great moving of Your Spirit, a great expression of Your power. We plead for it, Dear Lord, in Jesus name. Amen.
Continue to ROM 37: Does It Matter What You Believe?