Updated: Jan 13
Rev. Erik Veerman
Greetings to the Gathered Church
Our New Testament reading comes from Romans 15. It’s connected to our sermon text. In fact, we’ll be in the book of Romans for 3 weeks.
There are a couple of reasons why. First, you may remember that our very first sermon series was in the book of Romans, chapter 8. We were launching as a church plant at the very beginning of COVID – and what better chapter in the Bible to give us encouragement than Romans 8!
Remember chapter 8 verse 18 - “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” And then a couple of verses later… “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” Romans 8 helped us navigate the fear and suffering that COVID has brought.
And the book of Romans is full of foundational theology. Understanding God, his world, redemption, and ourselves.
But rather than someday taking 2-3 years to preach through Romans, we’re going to occasionally come back to Romans between other book studies. So maybe we’ll get through it in 10 years.
The second reason we’re in Romans also answers why we are jumping to the end of chapter 15 and chapter 16. Here’s why: our Acts series concluded about a month ago. It concluded our study of the history of God’s work in the early church. But, in some way, we were left with questions about Paul. What happened to him and what about the church in Rome? So, we’ll get some answers today about Paul and the church in Rome.
So, hopefully that gives you some background.
Paul wrote Romans while he was in the city of Corinth – he was on his third missionary journey. And he was about to head to Jerusalem for the last time.
Reading of Romans 15:22-33, Romans 16:1-16
At the end of Acts, you may recall, Paul finally arrived in Rome. And as we read earlier, he longed to be with the church there. He even mentioned in chapter 15 that he desired to not only make it to Rome but also head to Spain.
We know from the last chapter of Acts, that Paul spent a couple of years in Rome. He was under house arrest, but he had complete freedom to meet with people. Share the Gospel. And he was protected by the Roman soldiers that were chained to him. But if you’re like me, you’ve probably asked the question, what happened to Paul next?
Well, Scripture doesn’t exactly tell us. We’re given some hints like in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. However, a couple of the early church fathers indicate that eventually Paul was exonerated. No surprise there. His trial was a sham, anyway. If the historical accounts are accurate, the next thing that Paul did was travel to Spain. We don’t have any surviving letters to the church in Spain, but his desire had been to make it there.
Regardless of whether he made it to Spain, what did happen was a major persecution arose against the church in the Roman kingdom. Nero, the Roman Caesar, began to fiercely oppose the Christians and the Jews. Nero burned Rome and blamed the Christians. We have many accounts of his persecution against the believers.
And we know from the book of 2 Timothy, which was the last book that Paul wrote. Paul was back in prison. Likely this was a separate imprisonment from his first imprisonment in Rome. Paul knew his time in this world was short. According to the early church historian Eusebius, soon after Paul wrote his last letter, Nero had him beheaded.
Assuming that’s true, not only was Paul an apostle, but in the heavenly kingdom, he will be regarded as one of the honored martyrs who gave his life for the Gospel.
But what of the church in Rome?
Well, Romans 15 and 16 here give us names and some details of the church. Even though Paul had never been to Rome before his arrival at the end of Acts, we get the clear sense here that he loved the church. Chapter 15 verse 23, he “longed for many years” to visit them. He even has this confidence in chapter 15 that he will soon be with them. Look what he writes to them in verse 32. “by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.”
And that turned out to be true. It had been only a couple of years between Paul’s letter to them and his arrival in Rome. Can you imagine the reception that he received!? Paul’s joy and the church’s joy.
And that brings us to the beginning of chapter 16. Which, you know, sometimes we skip over lists of names in the Bible. I know you do that. Like in the book of Numbers. So and so begat so and so, …and we’re so tempted, when no one’s looking, to just jump ahead to the next chapter. Right!? I personally know the temptation! But I want you to think about the names. They each represent someone created in God’s image. In this case, they were either servants in the church, or their households were.
Paul knew them or knew of them. In many cases, he had served alongside them at other churches he helped establish.
As we work through these people and Paul’s comments, I want you to think through the people you’ve served alongside or worshiped with in the church in years past. For me, lot’s of people come to mind. Like going back to the church I attended in college. People I served alongside in the youth group ministry there, others with whom I sang in the choir. I also have dear friends and ministry partners from our parent church, Westminster. And now, the Lord has brought us together here at Tucker Pres.
You see, the beginning of chapter 16 is a beautiful picture of the local church. God had brought them all together from different places, called to faith at different times, from different backgrounds. Just as he has done for us here. And it’s encouraging to read.
Rather than having points this morning, as we look at these verses, I want to draw out several principles. As we get to them, I’ll make them clear.
And like I mentioned earlier, one of the most amazing things here is that Paul had never been to Rome! Yet look at all the people and households that he is greeting. It’s an amazing testimony to God’s work. And it’s a picture of the church for us. Paul was intensely relational. Think of the hundreds and hundreds of people he met, many he led to faith, others he served with. He never forgot them. And Paul dearly loved these people.
“Greet my beloved Epaenetus… Ampiliatus, my beloved in the Lord… my beloved Stachys… beloved Persis.” Do you hear that heart felt love for these dear saints? He longed to be with each of them. For many reasons. Besides serving alongside of some of them, in the case of Andronicus and Junia, he had been in prison with them. Maybe that was in Philippi. Kinsman there likely indicates they were his relatives as well. Or consider Rufus’s mother – Paul says, greet her, for she “has been a mother to me as well.”
Here’s the first principal for the church:
1. Cherish one another in Christ.
God has brought us together to worship, to disciple and minister to one another, to pray for and serve others. And we’re to cherish, to love each other.
I think part of that is captured in the beginning of verse 16. “Greet one another with a holy kiss”
Now, I’m not advocating that you kiss one another. No, that’s not culturally common for us. Maybe we should translate it, “greet one another with a holy side-hug.” In seriousness, it gives us a glimpse of the affection we’re to have for one another. In these first 16 verses, that word greet is used 18 times. 16 of them, it’s Paul sending his specific greetings to specific people. But here, he directs them to greet one another. Not just with a “hi, good to see you” No, but to cherish one another in the church. To deeply care for one another. We’re called to be a church that embodies Paul’s model and the encouragement he gives for us to love one another.
And part of what that involves, and this is going to lead us to a second principle… part of what that involves is giving and receiving people for the expansion of the church. I’ll give you several examples here and explain it more, but here’s the second principle for the church:
2. Embrace the global work of the church in Christ.
We’re not isolated congregations. No, the church is one church with many local manifestations. We’re to minister alongside one another, share people, and resources, and participate together in planting new churches.
Look at the sentiment that Paul highlights at the end of verse 16. “All the churches of Christ greet you.” He was affirming to this new congregation in Rome… that the churches in Asia Minor, in Macedonia, in Greece, in Jerusalem, in Syria, they all greet you. We’re in this together.
In fact, many of those in the church in Rome had come from those various churches. Isn’t that amazing to think about? We don’t often think of the people of the first century as moving around a lot. But for the sake of the church, they did!
We see a personal glimpse of that right in verses 1 and 2. Pheobe was moving to Rome. She’s the one delivering Paul’s letter to them. She was a servant in the church in Cenecrae – that’s right near Corinth. It’s where Paul wrote this letter. He affirmed her service, he wrote “Welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints.” Care for her needs. She’ll need help resettling.
Sending and receiving people. That’s the hardest part of this principle. It will be hard for us if and when we get to the place of wanting to plant a church. I’m not saying we’re near that point. But Lord willing we will get to that point, maybe that’s years away. But that’s what the church should do. It’s how the church in Rome started. And it will be hard. Difficult to send dear friends away, partners in ministry.
But think about the Lord’s work here at TPC. How God brought us all together. Think about what God has been doing to deepen our relationships and work together. For the purpose of starting a new church.
Take a second. Look around the room. I’m being serious. This is not a ploy to get you to wake up. Well, maybe. Look around. God has brought us together. We’re developing new relationships, new ministry together, discipleship, and worshipping together. I was thinking of listing your names. But even thinking of that made me a little teary at what God has been doing. We are an example of the local church embracing the global work of the church in Christ
And it’s not that we’re just receiving. No, we’re also sending out. You see, the sending and receiving of people includes people moving for work and other reasons. Priscilla and Aquilla are an example of that. If you remember, they were originally from Rome. They had to flee because of persecution. They met Paul in Corinth, served alongside him there. Then went to Ephesus. But we learn here that they are back in Rome, back home.
Even in our short time, we’ve said goodbye to some for jobs, and school, and marriage. And we can say to the church in Jackson, MS, and Lynchburg, VA, and Durham, NC, and Huntsville, AL, and Copper Mountain, CO. We can say to the church in all those cities… “greet our beloved in the Lord.”
Why? because the local church is part of the global church. It’s a web of relationships and ministry together, and greetings in Christ. And we are called to embrace the global work of the church in Christ.
And related to that second principle is a third thing that the local church should be seeking. Striving to represent the global church. That’s the third principal.
3. Strive to represent the global church in Christ.
Let me put it this way, because I don’t want to be confusing. We should strive to represent, in part, the global church. “strive to” meaning more than just desire. For the sake of the Gospel, we welcome people to the church from any background and any situation, whether similar or different from each of us.
Why am I saying this? Well, look at this list of people in the church in Rome. They represented people from all over the northern Mediterranean region including people from different of societal divisions. Priscilla and Aquilla were Jewish. We know that from Acts 18. Also Jewish were Paul’s kinsman whom he identified. Likely Mary was, too, named after the Hebrew Miriam. A couple other names like Appeles and Rufus were common Jewish names found in inscriptions and graves in Rome. Rufus is mentioned in the Gospel of Mark chapter 15.
And I should add, names in the first century were much more indicative of a person’s heritage. Several Greek names are scattered throughout Paul’s list like Asyncritus, Phlegon, Patrobus and Philologus. The list includes names derived from Greek mythology like Hermes and Olympus.
Two households are mentioned, Aristobulus and Narcissus. It’s not clear whether they were also believers, but the Gospel had reached their households – which would include servants and perhaps extended family.
On the other hand, the name Amplias, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis were all common names in Roman imperial households. So quite a diversity in the church in Rome.
Yes, a lot of that is deduction based on names and brief comments and cross references. But overall, it points to a first century church that brought the Gospel to every tribe, tongue, and nation, and every situation in life and societal status. One that welcomed people from all over. Supported and cared for all who would believe in Christ.
To be sure, every church’s context is different and the Lord is the one who brings people. But it’s something for the church, for us, as a church, to strive for - to represent the global church in Christ.
But how does this all happen? What brings people together from all these backgrounds and situations. Think of the cultural and societal differences that each brought to the church community in Rome. What would give them that unity to be a people committed to love one another, living in fellowship and working in ministry together?
Well, the answer is also lies here in these verses. In fact, it’s the how to all of these principles. How to cherish one another, how to embrace the global church, and how to welcome and love people no matter where we are each from, no matter our situation in life.
Here’s the last principle… and I would say, the most important and unifying principle for the local church:
4. Unite together in Christ.
Meaning, we should make our union in Christ the main thing that makes us a local church. That unity in Christ is all throughout these verses. It’s the most prevalent theme that brings this all together. It’s what connected Paul to these believers. It’s what connected them to one another. And it’s what connected them to all the churches.
Do you see it in these verses? I think it’s easy to skip right over, but it’s right there. “In the Lord,” “In Christ,” “In Christ Jesus.” For example, “Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ.” or “Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus.” 10 direct references to these believers being in Jesus. The only other idea in these verses used more is the word “greet.” But that greeting is because each one of these saints is “in Christ.”
It’s what unites them. It’s what unites us.
And allow me to get a little theological here. This is more than just saying that Christians are united because we believe the same thing about Jesus. No, it’s much deeper than that. The Holy Spirit unites us to Christ. We are ingrafted into the vine – Christ. That’s one of the metaphors Scripture uses to describe our union. He abides in us and we in him. Through that work of the Holy Spirit, we are in Christ. We draw our strength from him, are forgiven and justified in him.
Earlier in the book of Romans, chapter 6, Paul explains the benefits of our union with Christ. We’ve died in him and will be raised in him. We have a future hope because of that union. In other words, through our union with Christ, we receive all the blessings and benefits of Jesus’s death on the cross and his resurrection. And part of that. Part of our union in Christ, is we become united to one another. We’re adopted into the family of God. And that’s what’s emphasized here. We’re united together because we’re united in Christ.
That little phrase, “in the Lord,” “In Jesus” “In Christ” is used all throughout the New Testament. It’s full of meaning and grace.
It’s what unites all these church principles together. Did you hear that phrase “in Christ” in each of them?
1. The first principle, cherish one another in Christ. It’s the reason and the means to call one another beloved.
2. The second principle, embrace the global work of the church in Christ. Our union in Christ is the reason the local and global church are partners together.
3. Third, strive to represent the global church in Christ. We’re united in Christ to all believers – no matter our ethnicity, our age, our job or neighborhood or income.
We are the body of Christ. And in that union, we can seek to unite to one another in him.
So, for our little congregation, may we love one another… and see our church as the Lord’s church and part of his broader church, here in Tucker and all over the world. All of it in and through Jesus.