BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES/'Ministry in the family of God'
Wednesday, May 7, 2014 1:00 PM
We come to a section in Romans chapter 16 that is filled with greetings. In fact, from verse three to verse sixteen, twenty-six different people are mentioned. Greetings are given to them from several different groups, the churches in the east, the churches of the Gentiles planted by Paul in Asia Minor.
You might be asking yourself a question, isn't this fairly extraneous stuff? What are we going to get out of a list of greetings? I want to assure you, this is not a futile exercise. In fact, the passage we're going to study today is filled with implicit guidance on a number of vital subjects for our own time.
The Local Church as a Mission Sending Body.
Let's start in verse three. Here we are told of Paul's greetings to Prisca, or Priscilla, as she's usually called in the New Testament, and Aquilla. Now, the first time we meet Priscilla and Aquilla, we meet them in Acts 18:1-2. They've been in Rome, they've had to flee from Rome because of the persecution of the Jews by the Emperor Claudius. Now they're in Corinth, and now here in Romans, they are back in Rome again.
I want to suggest to you that as they move back and forth from Corinth to Rome and back that their purpose was economic, and it was missional. In other words, they had a missions goal. Their goal was to establish the kingdom. Their goal was to spread the gospel. Their goal was to plant churches. We know from the book of Acts that this couple was used to disciple Apollos, a mighty minister in the Lord, who understood the teaching of John the Baptist, but didn't understand the fullness of Jesus' and Paul's preaching. This couple discipled him so that he could preach the gospel with all its glory and all its power. We know that this couple had a church meeting in their home in Rome. We're told that in verse four, "Greet the church which is in your house." This couple was committed to the spread of the gospel, and we see something of the early Christian attitude toward missions in this couple.
Are you missions-minded? The early Christians expected gospel success in their missions, and they were patient. They were ready for it to happen. They knew it was coming. They were patient. Are you expectant in gospel missions?
The Church as a Family
Let's look at the church as a family. You could look at verses three through five, eight, nine, and twelve, especially, although I'm going to draw from every verse in the passage. We learn from this passage that Christians are expected to manifest the reality of the communion of the saints in their greetings, in their gratitude,, and in their relationships.
First of all, notice the constant "to-ing and fro-ing" of greetings, from the Gentile Christians to the church at Rome. From the Jewish Christians back east to the church in Rome. There are greetings from Paul to individuals. Ascriptions of what these individuals have done for the church in Rome and have done for Paul. The communion of saints is not some idealistic dream. It is an expected, practical reality in the body of Christ, and Romans chapter sixteen proves that it was experienced.
We're all part of one body, but every single one of us has different roles. And this is seen even by some of the things that are said about these people. If you look at verses three and four, you find out that some of these people risk themselves for ministry. If you look at verses four and five you'll find out that some of these people hosted gospel work in their homes. If you look at verses six and seven and eight you'll find that some people worked hard in the ministry. Some of them worked for the church at Rome. You'll also find from other passages that some of these were especially beloved by Paul or were especially choice individuals. They're all part of one body. They have different roles.
Pay attention to verses three through five. Let me remind you of the importance of women in the early Christian ministry is here again made clear. Of the 26 people mentioned in this passage, thanked by Paul, greeted by Paul, nine of them are women. That is astonishing in a male-dominated culture and in the male-dominated background of Jewish Christianity, that nine of these 26 people are women. It shows you the expansive role of women in ministering in early Christianity.
In verses five and eight and nine we see Paul talk about people with whom he is especially close. It is possible to have an especially close friendship with certain Christians without offensively or inappropriately discriminating against other Christians. You know, we might think if we're all brothers and sisters, maybe we're supposed to love everyone else the same, and we're not to have especially favorite friends. Well, that wasn't the case for Jesus and it wasn't the case for Paul, either. Epaenetus and Ampliaetus and Stachys are all called people who are beloved to Paul. These are especially dear and close friends to him. And yet, he doesn't discriminate against the other Christians and the other Christians aren't jealous of this particular relationship.
The Church at Work
In verse 12 we meet Tryphena and Ttryphosa. Those are two female names. It's very apparent from the similarity of these names that these names have been given to two girls from one family. Now, the really interesting and gentle irony about this greeting is this: Tryphena and Tryphosa are names that mean something like delicate and dainty. And look at what Paul commends them for: For being hard workers. Now you can see Paul's tongue in his cheek really enjoying the fact that two women named delicate and dainty are hard workers for the Lord.
If you look in verses 3,6,9, and 12, you will find similar phrases about workers-my fellow workers, worked hard for you, our fellow worker, workers in the Lord, worked hard in the Lord. Notice how Paul notices the work of Christians. He knows about it, he notices it, he draws attention to it. If Paul knows the work of Christians, you can best believe that there is no work of a Christian which is unnoticed or unrewarded by the Lord, and we see that from Paul's constant reference of appreciation to the work of Christians.
You get a sense here in Romans 16 of the ministry and the work of the church. Paul is calling attention to faithful servants of the Lord in the church. My friends, you might not have thought it, but even greetings in God's word are profitable for reproof and correction and training in righteousness that the man of God may be equipped for every good work.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.